Copyright © 2011, Mark Betz
“Are you sure you don’t want me to come in with you?” Janna said, resting her hand on his forearm.
Marton shook his head. “I don’t think you can,” he said, reaching down to take the handle of the small, leather overnight bag at his feet. It was light, loose, just some toiletries and a pad, things they had said he would want afterward. When he straightened a wave of dizziness pulsed through his forehead, and his right knee throbbed. The knee had been hurting for a week. Sometimes it felt like someone were drilling into it. Damned disease wasn’t anywhere near his knee.
The woman standing next to him smiled sympathetically at Janna. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Storen,” she said, “but only the patients are permitted in the preparation ward and transfer theater.”
She had introduced herself as Margerie Farbro when she met them at the institute’s front door, all smiles and reassurance. As Adment, Client Relations, it was apparently her job to make Marton feel comfortable. So far she had been unsuccessful. Another, much younger woman approached them, clad, like everyone else they had seen since arriving, in a white ankle-length lab smock.
Margerie took Janna’s arm and steered her toward the newcomer. “Kenda will show you to the family lounge. There’s a panel there, and some refreshments. I’ll come out and see you as soon as Marton is prepped, ok? We have a lot to talk about.”
Kenda smiled and nodded, and then walked to the opposite side of the reception area and opened an opaque glass door with the word “Private” lettered on the front. Janna started toward her, but then turned suddenly and reached out to take Marton’s hand. “It will be ok, won’t it?” she said, her eyes gleaming. “It’s a new life.”
Marton let her hand drop. He knew he should try, and some part of him felt insistently guilty about it, but he just didn’t have the energy. Not then. “Yep, a new life,” he said, and smiled before turning away. What about the old one? He didn’t see her pass through the glass door marked “Private”, but he heard the soft whish of the pneumatic regulator when it closed.
“Shall we?” Margerie said, her hand on his elbow now, and he nodded once and allowed himself to be steered through the door, feet moving on autopilot, the bag swinging at his side. She said nothing as they moved down long, carpeted corridors painted comforting, earthy reds and browns, and hung with paintings and photographs depicting lovely scenes and happy people. Perhaps she had been Adment at the institute long enough to know that their clients did not appreciate chatter. Perhaps she had nothing to say.
After several minutes she led him through a richly panelled door at the end of a shorter hall with several other such doors. The office on the other side was spacious, with a large desk of polished wood in front of a tall bookcase stuffed with ponderous volumes. At the far end of the space was a round table and four chairs that did not look much used. A panel occupied most of the wall near the table, and the other walls were hung with pictures and mementos of the office’s occupant. One of them, a photo in a mahogany frame, showed him with an arm around the current President of Calexico. Marton had met the man too, several times. He was a fat, soft-faced idiot with moist, meaty hands, and the second largest nation in North America could probably have found a more capable leader in any slush bar in L. A.
Margerie ushered him into a soft leather chair in front of the desk, patted him on the shoulder, and left. A moment later the door opened again, and shut with a clunk of real wood. It was an ostentatious affectation, but Marton loved wood. He had put some in their home in Eureka, and Janna had never let him forget it. She hated anything that felt like flaunting. If this wasn’t flaunting, he didn’t know what was.
“Mr. Storen,” the man who had opened the door said, stepping into view and extending one hand. “How good to see you again. You are feeling well?” He was perhaps seventy years of age, with shoulder length white hair and a tightly-cropped beard. In his other hand he carried a pad which he set down on the desk. Marton could see his own face on its surface, distorted from the angle.
“Dr. Gruenwald,” he said, reaching up to take the offered hand. It was dry, the handshake firm and direct. “No, actually not well these last two weeks. But thanks for asking.”
“No?” Dr. Gruenwald said, and moved around to sit in the tall swivel chair on the other side of the desk. “Well, this is unfortunate, yet understandable at your stage. The illness becomes aggressive.” His accent was clipped, precise, European. “But it ends today, yes?”
“I’d rather you say ‘begins’. I’m not spending a hundred million to buy an end.”
“No, indeed not. I should certainly have said ‘begins’. Today is your beginning. And what price can be placed on that, Mr. Storen?” The doctor spun the pad around and brought it near. For a long minute he studied it in silence, and then he tapped again and slid it across so that Marton could reach it.
“Mr. Storen,” he said, resting his arms on the polished desktop, “this is a formal step, which we have previously discussed. At this time I must ask you to confirm your desire to proceed by indicating so on the pad. The top box indicates your agreement that you have been fully briefed on the nature, benefits, and risks of the transfer process. The lower indicates that you wish to undergo the treatment. When you indicate in the affirmative in the lower box the second payment of thirty-three million dollars will be debited. The third and final payment will of course be due once you are conscious and have passed post-procedure validation.”
Marton took the pad up in both hands. The screen was a simple, stark display, black text on white, black borders, crisp like all the white labcoats, and the corners of the earthy-toned hallways, crisp like the decision he was making, an irrevocable contrast. He held it for a moment, and then set it back down.
Dr. Gruenwald leaned back and clasped his hands in his lap. “Questions, Mr. Storen?”
“Marton, then,” he said, smiling. “It’s not unusual for clients to have doubts. If I can help…”
Marton sighed. “I feel so damn vulnerable. I don’t like it.”
“Some anxiety and insecurity is to be expected,” Gruenwald said, sitting up. “Many of our clients need to be reassured that their, ah, legal situation on the other side will be as we promise. As we’ve discussed, your assets are in escrow, the necessary record changes are already prepared, and the accounting firm of…”
“Yes, yes, I recall. Piedmont. If you can’t trust the people who signed off on the ConMetal bail-out, you can’t trust anyone.” Marton had lost nearly thirty million dollars on that deal when the stock tanked after the government sold out its share. “It’s not really that.”
“You’ve talked to references,” Gruenwald said.
Marton nodded. He had met with two fit, happy, blonde men in their early thirties, who claimed to be dead industrialists. As proof went it wasn’t much. Any con worth the name could pull that off. He hadn’t asked for proof, anyway. “It’s not that,” he said. “References, promises, scientific theories and practices… Doctor, I’m in the merchandising business. What do I know about all that? Nothing. You could tell me anything. I want to believe you. The alternative is very unattractive.”
Gruenwald nodded. “And yet…”
Marton gripped the armrests of his chair and stared at the pad on the desk. His face looked grainy and skewed on the screen, but it was his face. His face. He shifted, and the leather cushion squeaked under him. On the bookshelf behind Gruenwald a small digital clock blinked. The ventillation system came on and in the far corner of a room a potted plant shuddered as the air in the room began to move. Marton looked up. “I don’t know who I’ll be,” he said.
“You,” Gruenwald said. “In every internal respect that matters: memories, thought patterns, reactions, emotions, hopes, dreams. Self-consciousness. All the things that make us who we are.”
“But the body…”
“Will be very strange at first. Exceedingly strange. But you will become used to it. People have body parts removed, and they become used to it.” Gruenwald picked his stylus up from the desk and held it in both hands, rolling it between thumbs and forefingers. He smiled. “If you could have a body part added,” he said, “something which is fortunately no longer legal, you would become used to that too. It is the same here. In a few months you will feel as if it has always been yours, and Marton, it is a younger and much better body.” He put the stylus back down. “It is worth every penny of one hundred million dollars.”
“But my friends, relatives, work, relationships…”
Gruenwald dismissed the question with a wave. “Salvation has a cost, Marton. We discussed this in detail, and if you have serious doubts on the matter then I’m afraid we must think of postponement.”
Marton shook his head. “No. Doubts? Of course. Lack of resolve? No. We’ve stipulated that the alternative is not acceptable.”
“Marton Storen has to die,” Gruenwald said, not unkindly. “In fact he is going to die. There is no cure for the disease that affects his physical body. His friends will mourn him. His colleagues will try to emulate him. His relatives will remember him. And some months from now, after a suitable period, his lovely wife Janna will begin a relationship with a somewhat younger man. He will be good looking, and as intelligent as her former husband. They will be a perfect match. Her friends will consider her lucky, and be glad that she has been able to move on.”
Marton laughed. “And I’m supposed to associate with these people, for the rest of my life, and never say anything? Never tell my friends and relatives who I really am?”
“Yes,” Gruenwald said.
“And you’re sure that I won’t?”
Gruenwald shrugged. “One can never be certain.”
“It doesn’t seem to worry you much.”
“It is something of a self-regulating situation,” Gruenwald said.
“How do you mean?”
“Imagine that you decide to tell the world,” Gruenwald said, “and so you and Janna book yourselves onto one of the reality streams, and the video host, well-briefed of course, as they always are, asks you for your big secret.”
Marton smiled at the notion. “Why not?” he said.
“Why not, indeed?” Gruenwald smiled back. “Simply tell the interviewer that you are the… how would you say it? The spirit? The spirit of the late Marton Storen? Or imagine it was Janna who said it. ‘Here is the personality of my late husband in this younger man’s body.’ How would people react?”
Marton was silent, and after a moment the scientist continued.
“They would think she was insane, of course. Most would pity her, and wonder why you participated in the delusion. And in your particular case the authorities would certainly want to question the apparently sane young man who seemed to be encouraging a wealthy widow into neuroses. In the aftermath of your disclosure, naturally, some people would try to confirm your story. Perhaps some would even make it here, where they would find what people always find when they come here uninvited: a quiet, boring genetic research institute with Calfed backing and a long history of involvement in entirely unremarkable projects. You see what would happen.”
Marton saw, and understood why Gruenwald looked like the guy holding all the cards at a poker game. “Has anyone ever slipped?” he said.
“Once, some years ago. A very unfortunate situation. The client in this case was a woman. Her husband was eventually judged incompetent and his affairs placed into the hands of a court appointed receiver. She is living out her days, her somewhat extended days, in a medical facilty in a remote corner of the world. Very pleasant, I’m told.” Gruenwald sat back in his chair. Hand played.
“It would be a shame to spend a hundred million dollars and blow it like that, wouldn’t it?” Marton said.
“It would,” Gruenwald said.
“A hundred million is still a lot of money.”
“You can afford it, Marton.”
“Yes,” Marton said, picking up the pad again. “Guess I can.”
There was no sensation of motion, and only the patterned acoustic tiles sliding by on the ceiling gave Marton any indication that the gurney to which he was strapped was going somewhere. The soft, rubber wheels moved in silence over what he imagined was some hard, institutional surface, though he could not see it. The occasional squeak of a soft-soled shoe betrayed the presence of the two technicians walking behind him, whom he also could not see. The technicians had called it a PTU when they strapped him on to it. He’d been puzzling over the acronym during the several minutes’ glide down the long hall, and had decided it must mean Patient Transfer Unit. Whatever it meant, the one he was on moved at a steady pace and seemed to know where it was going.
Marton rolled his head to one side and watched doors slip past, vaguely brown metal set in neutral beige walls, clinical in contrast to the luxo-office motif upstairs. Some doors were unmarked. Some had signs or number plates. The sign on one door said “Terminal Processing.” He wondered when they would come to the end of the hall. It seemed like he had been moving along this way for many minutes. That was another puzzle. How could the building contain a hallway this long? They had taken him down an elevator, so maybe all this was underground. He tried to recall what was next to the nondescript industrial building the institute occupied, but his mind was unfocused. He felt very relaxed. It was very pleasant to lie here and watch the tiles slide by. That this was obviously due to the injection they had given him in the prep room didn’t make it any less enjoyable.
“You’re doing fine, Mr. Storen,” a voice said from somewhere above and behind.
Yes. Yes I am. When he had finally tapped the pad Gruenwald had been all smiles. Walked around the desk to take his arm. “So we’re ready,” he’d said. But ‘ready’ had meant nearly two hours of prep in a cold white room full of people in surgical gowns and facemasks. Marton wondered about Janna. She was always restless, and the drama streams would only hold her attention for so long. For him the two hours had been stressful, right up until they gave him the juice. He’d been disrobed and clad in some ridiculous half-gown. His head and face had been shaved smooth as the skin of an apple, along with patches on his forearms and calves. He’d been probed and prodded, made to answer childish questions over and over while people stared earnestly at displays of text and banks of flickering lamps. He’d been injected no less than four times. Nobody asked him how he felt. Nobody acknowleged what was about to happen, which only made Marton more apprehensive. At one point he had actually considered leaping up and bolting. Then they gave him that last injection.
A muted tone from somewhere in the base of the PTU yanked Marton’s attention back to the present. The unit whined softly as it decelerated and wheeled right through a set of double doors that swung wide at its approach. The tube-white ambient light of the hall was replaced by a soft blue as Marton glided to a stop. It reminded him of the light in an acquarium tank, or one of those swimming pools you could look into through windows in the side. The ceiling of the room rose to a high dome maybe twenty feet over his head, and the light pulsed and fused across its surface. Marton stared, aware that he should be looking around, curious about this place, but without the will to care. His eyes kept slipping out of focus, and he didn’t feel he could be bothered with refocusing them. It would be fine to just lay here for awhile and feel the light, wouldn’t it? No need to do anything hasty.
“Marton,” Gruenwald said, his voice echoing as if from the bottom of a deep well, and then his head appeared in a halo of blue above. “I want to show you something.”
Hands grasped his head and gently turned it to the left, and suddenly Marton had a sapphire-toned view of the entire space. The room was circular, and around the outer edges were banks of equipment, stainless steel piping, panels of lights. There was a constant low hum, and somewhere a blower whushed softly, pushing a steady flow of slightly cool air that Marton could feel on his damp forehead. Several people in the ubiquitous white lab coats stood around the periphery, attention turned outward. But it was the thing that occupied the center of the room along with him that drew his eye, the source of all that beautiful blue light.
The man floated in a long tank, immersed in some clear fluid aglow with light that seemed to be coming from below, down in the closed steel base that supported the tank four feet off the floor. The vessel, Marton thought, but not a man yet. He floated without any apparent support, a mask over his face from which streams of bubbles regularly erupted. Tubes snaked down from the mask to fittings in the floor of the tank, and other tubes were connected to what must be intravenous points on his body. His hair, blonde, Marton knew from the literature, floated out in a luminous cornflower wave. He was trim, without any signs of fat, the muscles of legs and upper arms distinct.
“You,” Gruenwald said.
“He’s beautiful,” Marton said, at last, and with effort. “How did you… where…”
“It is the single most expensive component of our service,” Gruenwald said, gazing at the tank, his eyes reflecting the blue glow. “It accounts for nearly forty-percent of the cost.”
“I can’t imagine,” Marton said, “what this will be like. I can’t.”
“In two hours you will know.” Gruenwald raised a hand and two technicians moved the gurney over to the center of the room. Marton could see the tank rising up on his right like a glowing azure wall. Within there was nothing but light, no bubbles, no figure. A second tank then, hidden behind the one where the body floated. For him. A tiny voice in the back of his head reminded Marton that he hated being immersed, had panicked on a dive outing in Catalina two years ago, had even fought being placed in a bathtub when he was an infant. The voice faded as he relaxed and surrendered himself to the narcotic. He did not particularly notice the technicians attaching conductive pads to his arms and legs, nor did he care much when they slathered ice-cold gel on his newly-shaved head.
Marton was idly wondering what purpose the gel served when he felt pressure on his arm, and a sharp pain in his hand, and rolled his head to the left. Gruenwald was standing next to him, placing a piece of tape over an IV inserted into a vein on the back of his left hand. The tube ran up to a large bottle hanging from a pole that had been attached to the gurney. Gruenwald reached into one pocket of his lab coat and withdrew a clear vial. From the other pocket he took a large syringe and filled it, drawing until the vial was empty. Having done this he removed the cap from the syringe and inserted it into a rubber grommet on the IV line, and looked down at Marton with a smile.
“Marton, I would like you to count backwards for me.” He took Marton’s wrist and held it with two fingers, apparenty feeling his pulse. “Can you do that? Start with the number ten and count to one.”
“Ten…” Marton said. “Nine…” And then the blue faded to navy, and the navy to inky black, and the last thing Marton remembered before he fell headlong into a field of a billion, billion stars was his own voice saying “Eight.”
The man leaned back against the pillows that a nurse had piled up for him, and held his right hand in front of his face, flexing the fingers slowly. The adjustable bed in which he lay was in the center of a perfectly white room. White floor, white walls, white acoustic ceiling, the only features an occasional stainless steel fitting or stenciled label. An IV bottle hung from a stand on his left, and from it a tube ran down to a needle in his forearm. A rack of monitors stood off to the right, and wires ran from the instruments to adhesive patches on his chest. There was an occasional soft beep from one instrument or the other, and the hum of far-off ventillation, but otherwise the room was silent. The man reached over to the bedside table and picked up a small mirror that was sitting there. He held it up. The face… it was less of a shock each time he looked. The first time had literally made his heart skip a beat.
A door in the far wall clicked and swung wide, and an older man in a white lab coat entered the room, carrying a pad in one hand. The same man had been in for a brief visit earlier… Gruenwald, he called himself. After him came the nurse who had previously piled up the pillows. She was pushing a cart with a small video unit mounted on it.
Marton. He heard the name in his own voice, in his mind, as clear as if he had spoken it. It meant nothing to him now, but it must be important. They had said the important things would come back first.
Gruenwald pulled a chair to the bed and sat down. He reached over and felt the man’s forehead, and then glanced up at the rack of instruments.
“Very good,” he said, softly, and then turned back. “You’re feeling well? No excessive thirst or headache?”
“No, none, thanks. I… ” What was it he had meant to ask? It had been right there, but when Gruenwald finished speaking and he reached for it… nothing. It felt like vertigo.
“Yes, please,” Gruenwald said, “ask anything.”
“I don’t… ah…” And then there it was, the sounds, the voice, all back where they should be. “A name… Marton?”
Gruenwald nodded and smiled broadly. “Excellent! Yes, Marton is your name. Only 72 minutes of consciousness, too. A very good sign indeed. Do you remember anything else?”
“No, nothing,” Marton said.
“Do you recall your sensations as you regained consciousness?” Gruenwald had tapped his pad to life, and was entering notes with his forefinger as he spoke. Marton looked over at the nurse and saw a red light glowing on the camera. She was recording his responses.
“Just, um… the sensation of sound first, and then light. Thirst. Very thick-mouthed. But right after that…”
“Yes, go on.”
“I don’t know if I can put it into words. Horror, I guess. Everything felt wrong. I felt wrong. Like I was… inhabiting someone. It felt filthy, invasive, claustrophobic… I don’t know how to say it.” Marton reached over and picked up a cup of water from the table, took a drink and set it back down.
Gruenwald had been nodding along and entering notes. He looked up. “Perfectly normal, Marton, I assure you. The patterns are set, but mental integration does not occur until the subject regains a state of consciousness. At the moment you awoke it began, but at that moment you were still entirely unintegrated. You were in fact inhabiting someone.”
“The feeling only lasted a short while,” Marton said. “It was as if… I settled in, I guess that’s the best I can do to describe it. I felt myself settling. The body wrapped itself around me. That felt as wonderful as the initial feeling had been horrible.”
“Integration proceeds very rapidly,” Gruenwald said. “And later, after perhaps thirty minutes had passed, you are fully conscious and are able to perceive your body, how did you feel then?”
Marton held up the mirror so that Gruenwald could see it, and then set it back down on the table. “That was a shock. A big shock.”
“A necessary shock, which is why the mirror was there when you awoke. How many times have you looked now?”
“Five or six. It got better once I was able to step back a bit. It’s not a bad face.”
“So, the face,” Gruenwald said. “And the body?”
Marton looked down at his hands and flexed the fingers. “That… well, there’s no other way to say it. It’s glorious.”
Gruenwald smiled, and tapped to enter a note on his pad. “Go on.”
“Everything just feels so.. smooth, so fluid and strong. I mean, forget the face. I don’t remember very much yet, but I know that whatever place I was before, I didn’t feel like this. I feel, powerful.” Marton had a sudden clear impression of a throbbing pain in his knee, but his knee felt fine. Better than fine.
Gruenwald was peering at him over the top of his glasses. “You’re recalling something, yes?”
“I had pain in my knee.”
“Yes! You did. It had been bothering you quite a bit.”
“You told me to expect the important things to return first,” Marton said. “Is that important?”
“Abstract concepts and high level emotions are not the only things you will remember. The memory of chronic pain, and the reality of its current absence, are very important to your mind. It has been trying to help you deal with that pain for some weeks now, so it needs you to acknowlege that the pain isn’t there… or at least that is my theory,” Gruenwald said, with a slight shrug. “Most non-elective patients go through an early process of remembering and then discarding much of the discomfort they experienced before the procedure.”
Gruenwald motioned to the nurse. She pushed a button on the side of the cart and the red light on the camera went off. At the same time the camera itself sank down into the cart, and a flat display panel flipped up into view. She wheeled the cart around so that it was positioned where Marton had a clear view of the screen.
“One last thing, Marton,” Gruenwald said. “This is what we call an imprinting. You’re about to see a video of someone close to you. The person will say very little. Who the person is, and your relationship, will become clear to you over the next few days or so as you recover and continue integration. Shall we?”
Marton nodded. The nurse pressed another button and the screen flickered, and then showed the head and shoulders of a woman. She was perhaps fifty or so, shoulder-length blonde hair, crows-feet around the eyes, thin lips. Marton could see that she had been attractive. She stood against a green backdrop and stared into the camera, her eyes occasionally flicking to look at something or someone to her right, as if awaiting some signal.
“Hello Marton,” she said, when the signal had apparently been given. “My name is Janna.” She paused for a moment, and then half-opened her mouth as if to say something more. The eyes flickered again, another signal. She smiled and remained silent, and the screen went blank. The nurse reached down and pressed the button again, and the screen went dark and flipped back down with a hiss. She gave Marton a smile and briskly wheeled the cart out of the room.
“She seems nice,” Marton said, looking back at Gruenwald. “My mother? Or an older sister?”
Gruenwald just smiled and patted his arm. “In good time, Marton. All in good time. And what would be good for this time is for you to get some more rest.” He stood, and pushed the chair back over against the wall. “If you need anything, just press the button on the bedrail there, and a nurse will assist you.” With that he strode to the door and left the room.
Marton leaned back, took a breath, and exhaled slowly. Even breathing felt good. He held up his hands again, flexed them, tensed his right arm and ran his left over the bicep, feeling the firmness there. Joy flooded through him, and he wanted to shout and run and laugh out loud. This was going to be ok. In fact, this was going to be much better than ok.
For a long time Marton did not realize that he was awake. There were only sounds, dim and far off. A voice, the thud of a door, the squeak of shoes on tile. They all seemed part of the same dream. The dream started blue and turned to black, and in the darkness images whisked by, faces, buildings, a green park under a blue sky, the bumper of an autocar, a girl, his mother’s hand reaching down to wipe something from his chin, a game he played on his first pad. The images whirled and became splashes of light, like when he was a child and pressed his thumbs into his eyes and held them there.
It was the tingling that convinced him he was not dreaming. First in his fingers, little pin pricks of ice cascading down his hands, and then in his feet. He tried to move, consciously decided to move, but there was nothing, no connection. His back was tingling now, felt like it was strapped to a block of ice, hard numbness at his shoulder blades, his buttocks. Where am I? It was his first clear thought.
Why can’t I see? He strained to hear any sound, something that might provide an anchor to reality. There was a hum in the background, familiar, normal. He remembered it from… before, somewhere. Ventilation. An office. What else? Gas hissing in a pipe, very faint. The clink of a hot water line. Footsteps thudding dully above. Voices, far away, then near. The sound of a door. The voices even nearer, moving around him.
“Didn’t think they’d ever get this one done.” A young voice, male, off beyond Marton’s feet somewhere.
“Took longer than I expected.” Another male, older. There was the sound of a drawer sliding open, and then shut.
“Got dinner plans, brother. Very big night,” the younger one said.
“Terese? The one from the front office you’ve been sniffing after for the last month?”
“Man, I could say something, but I’ll keep my mouth shut,” the older one said.
“Say what? You better keep your mouth shut. I’m in love, man.”
The older one laughed. “Ok, Lothario, burn ‘im and urn ‘im, and then you can go meet your Camila.”
Marton’s lower legs were tingling now, and he became aware of the sensation of light, dull and red. He tried to open his eyes, but again there was no connection between his initiative and the rest of his body. A little swell of panic rose up, like bile in his throat, and he forced it back down. Recovery. I’m in recovery. There was a sudden stabbing pain in his knee. What the hell?
“Hey, check his pupes and pulse,” the older voice said, this time from off to Marton’s right. “Something in the orders about a mix-up on the anesthesia dosage. Groony wants to be sure.”
“This guy?” the young one said. “Nah, he’s lunchmeat.”
Footsteps, pressure on his chest, and light flooded Marton’s mind. A brilliant pinpoint moved back and forth, and then the red haze snapped back into place.
“Unreactive. Elvis has left the building.”
“Ok then,” the older one said. “Light her up.”
More footsteps, a moment passed, and then a dull thump followed by a steady roar. Marton felt the stabbing pain in his knee again, and the panic forced its way back up his throat like an acid wave. Something must have gone wrong. He was still here. He was still old Marton. Suddenly he realized he could see the ceiling. The view was blurry, and his eyes felt like someone had rubbed sand under the lids. He tried to move his fingers, and felt them twitch. He swallowed, and tried to roll his head toward the voices. His field of view wobbled. What were they doing? He tried again and his head flopped over, his cheek coming to rest on cold stainless steel.
The two men stood at the wall, the older one on the left, examining something in front of them. To their left a large, square metal door protruded slightly from the white tiles. The roar came from behind it, steady, powerful, consuming. A small glass window set in its face was aglow with flickering white light, which also spilled from the edges where the door met the frame. The younger one turned around. His eyes met Marton’s, and his pad clattered to the floor.
“Holy jeezit fuck me he’s awake,” he nearly shouted.
The older one turned and his face went pale. “I thought you checked him!” he said, angrily.
“Nothing!” the young one said. “Not a fucking thing. I swear. They can’t juice him right, and now it’s my fault?”
Marton tried to speak, but his lips felt like tingling strips of blubber, and the only thing that came out was saliva. “Christ,” the older one said, and then he turned and ran across the room to a panel set in the opposite wall. He punched a button, and there was a bright ding from speakers somewhere in the ceiling.
“Dr. Gruenwald, TP, stat!” he said.
A few seconds passed while Marton tried to get control of his voice, and the two techs stared at him in horror, and then the door burst open and Gruenwald entered. When he saw Marton he stopped and his features sagged and turned as pale as the page of an old bible.
“Mare Maria ens lliure! How?” He turned to the techs. “How? You were told to check him and redose!”
The older tech gestured toward the younger. “He checked him, said he was unreactive.”
“He was!” the younger one said.
The older shrugged. “It was your call.”
“And you are senior,” Gruenwald said. “Get out, both of you.”
“Doc,” the younger tech said, “you…”
“Out! Now!” They fled, and the door slid shut behind them. Just before he left the older one turned and took a last look, and Marton thought he saw pity in the man’s eyes, or fear.
Gruenwald turned back to Marton, walked toward him. Marton tried again to speak, but all he could manage was a wet “Wha…”
“Marton, I am so sorry,” Gruenwald said. “This has never happened. Should never happen.” He reached into his lab coat pocket and withdrew a vial and syringe, much like the ones Marton had seen before, a lifetime ago, before the blue dream. Quickly he filled the syringe, speaking as he drew back the plunger. “It’s my fault you see. A partial vial. I thought I read the markings right.”
“Whaa… what…” Marton’s breath came in ragged gasps, panic surging through his chest. “What are…”
“Marton, Marton,” Gruenwald reached out and smoothed the hair away from his forehead. “Surely you understand? The implications? There cannot be two, Marton. There cannot be two.”
Gruenwald picked up the IV line and inserted the syringe into a rubber port.
Gruenwald looked down, and Marton saw there were tears in his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said, and pushed the plunger down to its seat.
Marton gasped, and the room went dark from the edges. Not fair. Dammit, not fair. They always said transfer. Every time they discussed the procedure they said transfer. Transfer! The train of thought disintegrated into nothing more than confused disappointment as the light faded completely, and the last thing that Marton perceived was the squeak of hinges, and the roar increasing until it became a blanket of white noise that swept him away.
Everyone acted as if he should be nervous, like the moment was full of unbearable stresses, but Marton felt fine. He’d never felt better. Two weeks he had been in this room, remembering, thinking. Tomorrow they were moving him to a condo in Corona Del Mar, near the beach. He was looking forward to it.
They brought her in a little after noon, and the minute he saw her Marton knew that all the things he’d been feeling for the last ten days, since remembering who she was, were true and right. They led her into the room and then withdrew, except for the little Indian woman, the psychologist. She took Janna’s arm and led her toward the bed, a smile on her face.
“Marton,” she said, “I have someone who wants to see you.”
Marton adjusted the bed so that he was sitting up straighter. The motors whined softly. “You can leave us,” he said.
“Really, I think I should stay just a moment…”
“No,” Marton said, “leave us, please. I want to speak with my wife alone.”
The psychologist frowned, and for a moment Marton thought she would argue. But in the end she too withdrew. Janna took the chair next to the bed, reached out to touch his chest, ran one hand down his arm. “Oh, Marton,” she said, and leaned over to kiss him. Her lips were papery, dry. “It is you, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he said.
“My God,” she said. “I don’t think I really believed it was possible until this very moment. Marton, you look… you look really wonderful.”
“I feel good. It’s been wierd, but I feel strong now. Ready to move on.”
“Oh, me too!” she said, and took his hand in hers. “Isn’t it going to be wonderful, Marton? To begin fresh? Do all the things we wanted to do before? I’ve been thinking about Africa, honey. Remember how you always wanted to go on safari? Why don’t we just do it? As soon as you’re strong enough, we will. I love you, Marton. This will be a wonderful life, won’t it?”
Marton looked at her for a moment, and then gently withdrew his hand from hers. “Janna,” he said, “we need to talk.”