The embrace didn’t make any noise. It was followed by the wet smacking of an enthusiastic kiss. It echoed slightly in the tiled room and mixed with the hum of the cooling unit.
“Stop. Someone will see.” The man’s white coat swayed when he pushed the woman away.
“No one’s around. What are you afraid of? Getting caught?” She winked, slowly and deliberately, to show she was teasing.
“I’m not afraid of anything; but he’ll hear us. It’s not professional.” He wagged his finger at her to show that he was teasing too.
“Bobby, he’s not going to notice.” She walked over to the imaging unit and slapped her hand on the side. It’s metal casing boomed in the hollow room. She leaned over, looked at Bobby; and then looked at the feet protruding from the scanner’s tube. She raised an eyebrow and poked the sole of one of the feet. “See. Nothing.”
“Stop it, Cassie.” Bobby’s attempt to change the subject didn’t hide the fact that he raised his voice more than he intended. “I mean, let’s get started.”
Their soft soled shoes chirped away on the linoleum, followed by the deliberate click of a door latch. The cooling unit continued to hum.
“So, what do you want to do first?”
Cassie’s feigned deference was pointless; there was an established protocol. Bobby took it for the olive branch it pretended to be and played along. “Well, why don’t we start with baseline?”
Keyboard strokes clicked quietly, punctuated by the occasional snap of switches. This quiet music lasted approximately the length of time it takes to forget a quarrel with a new lover.
“Telemetry online?” Cassie checked the equipment readings; satisfied by what she saw she rose and stretched, arching her back and lengthening her arms. She was well practiced at the art of looking casual while moving seductively. And this maneuver had the intended effect.
“Almost.” Bobby leaned back in his chair admiring her performance.
Cassie walked around the console to his chair and pushed it upright, returning him to his work. She rubbed his shoulders while he finished calibration.
“Have you ever seen him before?” Bobby smiled up at her when he pressed the button to initiate the baseline scan.
“No, this is only the second time the parents would allow it. I guess they finally got desperate enough to let us have a go again.”
“Cassie, be nice. This hasn’t been easy for them. Most marriages crumble under the pressure. They managed to stay married and keep him at home for almost thirty years.”
“Christ, it’s not like he’s that much trouble to manage.” Cassie returned to her chair and then focused her attention on the data flowing across the monitor.
“You know why they, what did you say? ‘Got desperate enough’.”
“Nope, I just thanked my lucky stars that I get the chance to take a peak inside that massive noggin. It should make a nice write up.”
“He bit her cheek.”
“What? Who’s cheek?”
“His mother’s. She was kissing him and he took a piece out of her cheek.”
“Oh my god. I didn’t know there was aggression.” Cassie’s mouth hung open for a moment like she was waiting for more words to come out. Finally she unstuck her brain from the thought of someone biting her on the cheek. “I guess I’m glad we used the restraints. How did they manage at home? I’ve seen the mom; she didn’t look like she’d stand up to a stiff breeze.”
“They told me that he’s usually quiet as a lamb.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Uhh, you noticed that he’s completely nonverbal, right? No speak-y the English-y…”
The baseline scan stopped abruptly and signaled it’s completion with a beep. This allowed Bobby to turn suddenly to his display without Cassie noticing his pout.
“Ready for Alpha Scan?”
The machine thumped to life and began it’s prescribed motions. It drowned out the hum of the cooling unit with bangs and clanks. Through the glass the muffled conversation continued.
“Is the mother ok?”
“I know the surgeon who worked on her, apparently it wasn’t pretty; but they patched her up.”
“Can you imagine that? You commit your life to something and as a reward you get metaphorically bit on the ass. Cheek. Get it?”
Bobby forced a chuckle. “She’s going to be ok. But I guess his behaviors have really started changing lately.”
“Really? Did they check for a brain tumor? Anything else dramatic? Like the bite.”
“Episodes of chorea in response to certain stimuli, like when they bathe him. Oh, and echolalia.
“The echolalia is tone, not word based.”
“And the chorea?”
“He gave his father a shiner when they were getting him into bed.”
“How quick was onset?”
“Last two months.”
“Any history of volitional movement?”
The glass dividing the machine from the observation room didn’t block out all the noise. At the halt in conversation the noise level seemed to increase. Each doctor searched for something different in the broken rhythm.
“The parents think it’s a miracle.” Bobby started the Beta scan.
“Miracle my ass. Who the hell knows. It’s not like we’re dealing with standard neurochemistry or even neuroanatomy. It’s so far off normal baseline we could be dealing with anything. Did you look at the previous scan? Physical stimuli displayed in olfactory regions, aural stimuli, in Gustatory regions. That brain is like scrambled eggs.”
“I’ve seen similar displacements in synthetes. I saw some woman who tasted noises. The functional scans supported it. She said Beethoven tasted like consumee. And that nails on a blackboard tasted like coffee grounds. Now that’s weird.”
“Yeah. But look at the scans; this brain can hardly be called human.”
“Don’t say that.” Bobby didn’t say that she shouldn’t even think it.
“What?” Cassie asked over her shoulder while she walked out of the room.
Another click announced the door’s opening. Rubber squeaked to and fro around the room. Plastic and paper crackled. And small objects plinked against the top of a metal table. All the while the cooling unit hummed.
“Sorry, Bobby, I didn’t hear you. What did you say?” She shouted at the glass but then lowered her head back to her task.
Bobby watched her prepare the injection for the next scan before he flipped the switch on the microphone. “He’s just as human as you or I.”
Cassie’s ear tilted toward the speaker, trying to find the implication in the digitized voice.
“Just because he doesn’t walk and talk like everyone else doesn’t mean he’s not human.” Bobby continued. “He’s like a diabetic or an HIV patient. The only difference is that his disease is in his brain rather than his pancreas or his immune system.”
Cassie knew the injection burned when administered. She depressed the plunger forcing the solution through the clear tubing. But the feet never stirred, the toes never curled. The breathing rate never changed. The cooling unit let out a sigh that drowned out the shoe sounds and the door click. Then it slowly revved back to its prior hum.
“It’s not organic brain disease or a chemical imbalance. It’s not environmental. It’s defective.” Cassie arms folded across her chest when she sat down in her chair.
The gesture was not lost on Bobby. “You’re treading an awfully slippery slope Dr. Mengele.”
“Don’t Dr. Mengele, me. You can’t honestly think that that thing in there is human.”
“If he isn’t human who is?”
“Humans have a concept of self and others, morality and social structure. There are dozens of definitions of what makes us human and none of them would include the patient. And language. What about language? You said there was tonal echolalia. Ma Ma Ma Ma Ma is not language.”
Cassie had leaned back in her chair so she could look down her nose at Bobby.
He turned away from Cassie to begin the next set of tests. He silently initiated the prescribed sequence. His back glared at Cassie so she also turned to her monitor. They sat in silence for a while, both pretending to be engrossed in the scan.
Bobby snuck a glance at Cassie. His eyes lingered on her heart shaped lips. Another glance at her collarbone, that he kissed only hours before.
“Pleasure.” He got up and stood behind her. He leaned down and kissed the nape of her neck through her hair. His kisses continued toward her ear after she murmured her approval. “His mother said he smiled at her. He expressed pleasure. Isn’t that enough to be human?”
Their spat, suddenly unimportant, began to dissipate under the increasing physical desire. For a while they forgot; and their bodies strived towards a biological imperative.
“Is this pleasure?” Cassie whispered in Bobby’s ear.
Harsh breaths floated into the room over the speaker, made harsher by distortion. The neglected microphone transmitted the mumbles that followed. And the sighs that followed still. They intermingled with the sound of the cooling unit; until the air itself began to hum.
Bobby straightened his tie and quickly turned off the intercom before Cassie returned. Her cheeks flushed walking in from the hallway. Bobby mistook the smug look in her eyes for satisfaction; so her words stung.
“If I went in there” She pointed through the glass. “And I sucked on ‘his’ cock he’d get a hard-on too. Right? And if I climbed on top of him I could probably fuck him until he came. Perhaps? Would that bring him the same pleasure? Are you willing to reduce pleasure to the excretion of endorphins? Would it make him smile like he smiles for his mom?”
“I don’t doubt the mother saw a smile. I’m sure she deserved it. Or thought she did. It must be a terrible burden to work so hard without appreciation or results.”
“Have you ever talked to the parent of a severely autistic child? They describe the milestones of their children’s lives as miracles.”
“It is not miraculous when a six year old learns to wipe their own ass. It’s sad. I’m sure parents of autistic children think it’s more triumphant when their child finally does something normal. I bet some of them would even say that their children bring them more joy than any normal child could. But it’s just a lie; a lie they have to tell themselves to survive.”
“Wow” Bobby finally managed. “That’s a pretty cynical view of the world.”
“It’s hard not to get cynical watching millions of taxpayer dollars spent so some mother can get the entirely selfish joy of seeing a smile.”
“I had no idea you felt that way.”
“Well, now you do.”
“So. I just want to get this straight. You despise his parents for bringing him into the world and loving him?”
“No. I pity them for their delusions. That thing in there couldn’t care less if his parents dropped off the face of the earth as long as it didn’t cause discomfort. He’s a binary machine. The scans show it. Hard or soft; Light or Dark; Hungry or Full. His life doesn’t include pleasure, just the absence of pain. His brain doesn’t work like it should. Without medical intervention he would have died at birth. All he is now is a medical oddity. A footnote.”
“But you’re willing to exploit him for your research. You decry his existence but you’ll use him for your own ends.”
Cassie’s arms dropped to her side. Bobby’s affection for her returned at her submission. He began to walk toward her, excited by their argument and his victory.
“I’ve got what I need.” She turned to the console and collected her data. She straightened and looked Bobby in the eye. “And you got what you needed. They just weren’t the same things.”
Before Bobby knew what happened she was gone. He called for a transport and shut down the machine.
Inside the room the cooling unit silenced. An ear drum muted; and tiny hairs finally stood still as the tides that bent them ceased. No impulse stimulated jagged nerves. Brain chemistry returned to its usual state. And the cessation of pain brought a smile to lips ignorant of emotion.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED