Aphelion Issue 293, Volume 28
September 2023
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Aristeas Of Passyunk Avenue

by Paul Lubaczewski

"Roger......Roger, can you hear me?"

This, sounded like it was coming from a far way away.

"Roger, can you say something? Can you open your eyes?" Closer now.

Eyes open, a blank, blue-eyed stare is revealed. Then confusion. There is a mental check-down list that people have when they wake up: who? what? where? and when? These were the eyes of someone who was currently without almost all of that salient information needed to begin the transformation to stable and confident consciousness.

"Where?" the voice croaked.

"Calm down, Roger, you're fine, you're fine. I'm sure things will come back to you," said a middle-aged face that suddenly filled his vision.


"Well, you can talk, so that's a good sign. We'll take our time, but I need you to do a few things for me, Roger. I'm a doctor, just a few things for me, and we'll see where we are. Just nod if you understand," said the man. The man the other had labeled as Roger nods his head, his eyes confused, almost animal in their bewilderment about everything.

"Good, good, very good," said the man his patient/doctor smile crinkling the wrinkles around his eyes making them deepen. "Now, I'm going to show you a light, I just need you to follow it with your eyes."

"OK, that's good as well. We're not going to try and get you up and about just yet today." said the doctor. "Before I leave you with the nurses, do you have any questions for me?"

"Where am I? Who am I?" The handsome face creased in thought.

"Good questions; right to the point. You, are Roger Bristed, and you are in a hospital. You should be proud of yourself right now; not many can say they've cheated death the way you have. In fact, absolutely nobody can."


A group of men and women in lab coats sitting around a conference room table. The table was brown Formica, the walls were gray-white, the light, neon, the people were quivering with excitement. The people are all edgy and exhausted, the normal state and being of a research team who can see the finish line and are hoping for good news.

Eventually, a thin little man with a balding head couldn't take it any longer, "Jesus Christ, Larry, this isn't a presentation of the findings, you don't need to work the room for suspense. You examined him; what did you think?"

The room fell silent, and the younger doctor, with only a light touch of gray in his beard, ran his hands through his dark brown hair and then sighed, "He's fine."

"What the hell does that mean, Larry? Fine? A man with a broken leg who has had it stabilized can be called fine!" the older man said.

"I mean, if you didn't know that the man had been stone cold dead as a door-nail, you'd have no idea. Fine, in other words,"explained Larry with a tired expression.

"Any hiccups at all? " asked a woman, mid-thirties, petite with straight brown hair.

"Well," Larry said, "his memory isn't there. He doesn't know his back story or how he got here. I guess that's to be expected. But other than that."

"Any guesses on IQ? I mean, did he lose brain function?" asked the first man.

"He seems, and here's that word again, fine," Larry had an almost weary smile at that.

"Well, should we applaud?" the woman asked.

"Ladies and gentlemen," said Larry, "regardless of what happens next, we wanted our own Frankenstein's monster, and I just had a lovely conversation with him about motor flexibility. If not applause, at least it's Miller time!"

The room erupted.


Doctor Victoria Grayson was one the more recent additions to the team. She was a neuromuscular therapist by way of paying the bills, but she had already published some definitive articles on the brachial plexus and nerve grafting. When the team was in final assembly for their eventual crowning achievement, her name had made the short list. The team had been built in steps, from the top; it wasn't until the nuts and bolts were being put together that she had gotten a call. This was an appealing job right from the get-go, doing real work for food and shelter, rather than giving rub downs to pampered old ladies whose main illness was hypochondria. Well, it was a selling point. Her goal in her fifteen years of full adulthood had been research, not application and therapy; unfortunately, she was cursed by an inability to write a good abstract, so her opportunities had been less than hoped for. Being poor at what seems a minor point has scuttled many a promising career through history.

"So how are we today, Roger?" she asked brightly of the medical wing's sole patient.

He smiled before replying, "Well I don't know how you are, but I feel wonderful!"

"I see," she smiled back. "Well, I see our sense of humor is operational; why don't we look at the range of motion on your wrist as well?"

"Awww shucks, do I gotta, ma?" Roger grinned.

"Well, I can see you at least remember how to be glib; now let's see about the wrists."



Committee meetings are where progress goes to be slaughtered, but since they were considered a model of modern thinking, they are also unavoidable. Dr. Lawrence Timmons was the man running these as the titular head of the entire project. This in no way made him enthusiastic about the prospect of a meeting, but, like a man walking to the electric chair, he knew he was doing this whether he wanted to or not. Might as well have some dignity about the whole thing.

"Alright, kids, stop liking each others statuses and threatening each other with protractors for a little bit; we've got to go over progress," Larry said. He knew he was really going through this to get it into the notes for the final paper, and all the real collaboration between the doctors in the room would happen by email or in private discussions, but, it was how things were supposed to be done. This was all just pageantry to be duly recorded for posterity, not for any real purpose.

"I'll go first," said Victoria raising her hand. "Might as well get the nerve expert done first."

"Very well; how is he, according to you? "Larry smiled.

"It's in my notes, if anybody wants them, but really, he seems fully functional," Victoria replied, looking down, letting her hair drop a little in front of her face.

"That's all?"

"Well, he's got everything you'd expect. Sometimes he needs to be reminded on how to do certain things, but he has feeling and motor control in everywhere I've been able to work with him. I might need to take him for a walk soon, and maybe bring Bill along for it; see how he is with a higher sensory load. But, everything, except for maybe his memory, seems to function fine," Victoria answered. Bill was Doctor William Ambrose, an Otoneurologist who had been a whiz at sports medicine rehab once upon a time, but now was here to cope with any balance issues that may be related to brain damage.

"Thanks for fleshing it out Vicky," Larry said, smiling. She had never once called him Lawrence, so he figured he was entitled, and she had never complained. "Bill? You're fine with that?" The old man started at the question for a second but then nodded. "Good, good, but that brings us to the elephant in the room, so, Conner? You want to give us any updates you have?"

The thin, bald man, who had been so pugnacious during the previous meeting, rose to his feet. Doctor Conner Joseph, a psychiatrist with a secondary degree in neurology, dozens of papers, many of note, and a trait common in many psychiatrists: he had enough emotional ticks to fill a skeleton closet.

He looked especially frustrated, and flustered, but this didn't necessarily mean anything; he often looked that way. Because he often was.

"Damned if I know," he said.

"OK, was there a memo that went around about only giving short concise incomplete answers that I didn't get?" asked Larry.

Conner exhaled mightily and his hand rubbed his balding head. "I know, I know, keep it light, right, Larry? But Christ, man, I just don't know. If you brought him to me as a patient, I'd say it was amnesia, plain and simple. But everybody here has to admit we've pushed the boat out so far we can't even see the shore now. He has regular responses, he had no problem remembering how to talk, he recalls everything that's happened since he woke up, but I can't get him to admit to a single tangible memory before that."


"Not a damned thing, I mean he might not recognize them as his own memories, that's a possibility. But another possibility is this: we reconstructed a 90-year-old man's brain using stem cells, he was dead for an amazingly long time while we did it, and now it's connected to a body we built in a bunch of tanks by what is essentially WiFi. With all of that, it's entirely possible the memories just got blanked!" Conner was practically yelling by the end with frustration.

"Conner, calm down. We know you raised the possibility even when we were working out the theoretical problems. Everybody here knows that. We also all know that you warned Mr. Bristed that there was every plausible reason to expect it. Keep working with him, see if something is there. If not, Mr. Bristed himself had a lengthy bio written and recorded to give to himself instructions. So let's try this instead, does he seem of healthy mind? Emotionally OK?" Larry said as soothingly as possible.

Conner sighed and almost smiled, "Well, if anything, he seems really happy."


Roger Bristed was indeed happy. He was also in full possession of his memories. It had taken some time for them to come back, to be sure, almost like they had been bottled up in one portion of his brain, but with a slow leak that had allowed it to spread elsewhere. But, one of the things that were making him happy, was right now, he was a man with absolutely no responsibilities at all, and a fine young body to enjoy the lack of them with. It had seemed to him, that most of his life had been spent with his nose, nay the vast majority of his face, pressed hard to the grindstone, and right now he was slumming.

He was a young man, who was taking a walk on a sunny day, in a well-manicured park he owned, with a pretty young woman. It wasn't exactly perfect; William Ambrose was scrabbling along behind them watching his gait for issues and taking notes, but still, since the man rarely talked, he was easy enough to ignore entirely.

"So, why did you get into this line of work anyway?" he asked Victoria.

"I suppose that's simple and childish enough. Doctors help people; when I was a little kid I wanted to help people. Once you're eyeballs deep in med-school, though, well, everybody ends up finding something that, either they think pays well, or just fascinates them. For me, it was the nervous system. You can get a pinch in one part of your body, and not feel another part all of the sudden, or twitch like a fish. A minor pinch in the system and the low watt pain it causes changes your entire personality. You can't say it isn't interesting," she answered at length.

"So, how did you end up here?" he asked with a smile.

"You should know, you hired me," she teased.

"Amnesia, remember?" he smiled.

"Well, to fill in that blank I suppose, I'm terrible at getting grants. I have the ability to suck the life out of any research the second you ask me to write the abstract. Heaven help me if they want an interview for the college paper or something, even I wouldn't read that, and I'm me. The man you used to be was convinced by a few of the other notables that they had checked the research I had been able to do, and that I would be worth hiring."

"Did I interview you personally?"

She smiled at that coyly, "Well, I'd have to say it was a much different person then."


"Still nothing, Conner?"

"Gods, it's frustrating, Larry; everything says his memory should be coming back," the balding man fumed, "but the best I've gotten out of him is brain wave jumps when I mention certain topics."

"You don't suppose he's faking it, do you? "asked Larry.

"Why in the hell would he be preventing himself from being declared sound enough to take over an enormous fortune? Scratch that; unproductive speculation. Maybe he has some kind of trauma block, is all I can figure, Larry, I swear to an outmoded system of belief."

"Don't you mean god?" asked Larry, with his eyebrow cocked.

"What's he got going that we don't?"


Roger sat alone in what had once been a common room for patients in this wing. He had the place to himself, he had the wing to himself, actually. There had been some expansions and shifts shortly before he had made the decision that he was going to go through with this before he ran out of time. It was frightening to make the decision to risk death during the operation, but that was coming no matter what he did. He didn't want a natural death to happen somewhere where he couldn't get to his team quickly, so this wing had been cleared and readied for his team, and for him. It had just been a matter of money, and he had a lot of that.

Now, he couldn't wait to get away from his team.

He wanted to live like a young man, with an old man's knowledge and experience. In full function and capability, with all the things he knew now, all the money he'd made, but with a mind that was no longer disintegrating and without a body that already had. He had given them as much data as he wanted to; they had film, they had readings, they had notes; what they didn't need anymore was him.

But if he just admitted that his memory was back, they'd hand him over to the fetters of his own corporation, and worse, a publicity tour. It would go from a prison where nothing was expected of him, to one where everything was.

He wasn't a fool, though; he had accounted for all of this, so he had taken steps before he had taken risks with this procedure. He'd shifted money, lots of it, more than he would ever need and then some. In addition, he had created an all-new person, at least in the eyes of all the computers that ran the world. One with a driver's license, a bank account, social security card and birth certificate. It was amazing how much some well-placed dollars could grease the wheels of government. Well, maybe not that amazing, he mused; he'd done it all his life, and what caused more problems, a few fake documents for one person, or a bunch of environmental easements?

Everything for a well-kitted new life was sitting there; all he need to do was to get himself out of here. His original game plan, if everything had worked to this point, was pure Occam's razor, the simplest solution: just bribe one of the guards to open up everything and go on lunch. He'd hired them, after all; it was elegantly obvious.

But now he was beginning to think he had a cheaper alternative.

It began with a twinge, almost like an itch, when he was outside on walks with Victoria. A mild burning itch right at the top of his spine, but only when he was in certain spots around the grounds. The more he thought about it, he never noticed it inside the building, only on the grounds. Like the feeling of removing a hot blanket on a steamy night, and suddenly the wind makes you itch. Like your nerves are responding, not to the presence of something, but by its sudden absence.

He began to develop a theory, but he needed something to test it out: he needed a laptop. This took hinting, followed by begging, and eventually descending into threats, but eventually, he convinced Doctor Joseph that it might help jog his memory. Finally, after a week of being at loggerheads, reaching the point of telling Doctor Joseph he no longer would speak to him at all, he was "gifted" (could you say something was a gift when it was your money that paid for it?) a laptop with enough parental controls to permanently stunt the emotional growth of a four-year-old. But that was fine.

He didn't need the laptop to call anyone or to gab on a social media site. He just needed to check a theory he had. The rest of the day outside, when the tingle happened, or didn't, he checked the laptop he was carrying with him, telling Victoria he was keeping an eye on a story in the news cycle about a southeast Asia conflict that had caught his interest. Victoria was still young enough to not think anything of somebody tracking a story obsessively like that. In a weird way, Roger was wearing the ruse in plain sight; his young body made him look like someone young enough to obsess over a story on the net, when if he had still been wearing his previous flesh, it would have looked completely mental to have a ninety-year-old doing it.

Now he was sure what it was.

It was the WiFi signal, or lack thereof.

Since then, Roger had been doing a lot of research.

And, experimenting.

He now understood, that what was connecting his brain to his spinal column wasn't a proper station, it couldn't be, at least it shouldn't be. There lay the problem with making any judgments, the specialist Doctor Handschin had made something completely different and new for this, so what it should be, was difficult to say. Victoria and Handschin had spent many hours working out how to make the nerve signals jump from the brain to the rest of the body, rather than attempting to re-connect every nerve connection individually. Roger felt jealous about that for some reason. But that was the grand idea that made the whole thing that was him work, reconnecting a brain that had been removed and tinkered with, to the endless supply of nerves that ran the body itself.

It was a known fact that devices that weren't stations could indeed cause WiFi interference; video senders, security cameras, even microwaves could do it. Could the thing, whatever it was, be giving him an in, a way into a network? It felt like it, but just like the equipment operating him was new, how do you even explain this sort of feeling? The feeling like there was an off-ramp for your identity to take, floating all around you? No matter what he did, he would be making this up as he went along, but one thing he had never been lacking in: the belief in his own rightness, and his own abilities.

The next question for him was, could he get on top of the surface interface of the security computers? He didn't need to get deep, just deep enough to punch in a passcode. He wasn't entirely stupid, he had prepared an override code. The good doctors who had acted as all the king's horses and men to his Humpty Dumpty didn't know about it, but he had to get access to a terminal or a keypad to punch it in. He just needed a door that led outside from this wing, and the gate to pop open for fifteen minutes, and then, glorious freedom! Maybe the freest he had been in his entire life. He could not help but be humored; here he was going to be trying to hack into his computers, in his research facility, so he could get him the hell out of here.

All he had to do was convince the system that he was in the service set. That his brain had every right to be hooked into it.

His first few experiments at it had been total failures. He had to spend a bit of time in quiet contemplation over that before he figured out what his problem was. But then it had come to him, it was the total lack of control. Some part of his conscious brain was terrified that if he dedicated his total self to getting into the system, he would lose control of his bodily functions and die. He knew that was just ego, it's such a blow to the ego to remember that our consciousness really has very little to do with the operation of one's own body, it's a blow most people aren't willing to accept and acknowledge. It can handle all of the base operations without you, and even inside of yourself and your own body; you do not have total control. If you try not to breathe, and pass out, your body picks up the pace and the beat as soon as your meddlesome personality is out of the way. For a man who had built himself a massive fortune, often through pig-headedness over rightness, this was completely contrary to his thinking. But it was true, whether he wanted it to be or not.

He had to teach himself to float, without worrying about his heart beating or his lungs breathing, or worrying about someone entering the room, and that was easier said than done. But, eventually, after more failed attempts, and a side jaunt into studying Buddhist meditations, he was just touching the fringes of the connection! The nicest thing he could say about his imprisonment, it gave him time to study and experiment, as long as he pretended he was watching TV. Nobody assumes anything bad about somebody vegetating in front of American TV, it's considered a base state to have a vacant stare.


A world of bright colors swirled. Lines flashing, like lightning before a summer storm, there and gone before being categorized in the mind's eye. Disorientation, no directions, fear, chaos, a bright colored fog. Never seen again. Where are the limbs? What am I directing? What am I? Where? Panic? Roger! Me! BACK NOW!


The first successful venture had not been entirely satisfactory. He almost quit right then and there.

But he knew he'd have to try again; this had become a point of pride. After getting over his panic, he realized something important. He had kept his sense of self in there. He had been able to get back to his body, there was some kind of lifeline there after all. He hadn't even considered the possibility of getting lost before he tried this, or he might have just gone for the bribe, but it obviously had been there, he now saw. This was learning, this was progress, and the next time would be better.

And it was; the next time in, he could see the data thread he had followed back in a panic last time, like a throbbing line tethered to what he thought of as himself. There wasn't a real, solid him, though. The more he thought about it as he looked about, it set off another panic, and he had to follow his line back to his body. But it was still progress.

The next time he went in, he finally began to be able to see the data move back and forth. He was only casually observing, and not sure what he was looking at, at first, but it just looked like clouds to him, moving onward. The information clouds ignored him entirely, eventually finding the path they needed and then just zipping off as a line of light.

The next time he was beginning to sense the code itself, the order in the fog. This is what he really needed. Once he could see the code as the letters and numbers it represented, he could piggyback the incoming data stream to the computer that was in charge of the locks. It also meant learning a lot more about coding than he knew now, but even with the parental blocks, he had the whole wide web to study from, and nothing but time to kill.


It took him a month, but getting into the computer, once he slipped that last little bit, and finally got in. Making each step of the way more commonplace and matter-of-fact to himself, so he could attempt the next step was the only way he saw, so that was the way he went. The data stream was more organized, it had that going for it at least. There were lines, paths, directions. The whole thing seemed less nebulous and more controlled. More like a circuit board and less like clouds of electrons looking for a ground to take them off to their destiny.

But there were a lot of paths to take.

At last, though, he'd been able to find the code, and the place in it for those magic letters and numbers, the ones that only he knew. He had found his way out! And tonight, when the cars rolled out off of the lot, he was leaving. There were so many things he had wanted to do, for years, as responsibilities and infirmities and just life had sapped his time and ability away from him. Well, now he was a young man again, with an almost perfect body. He wasn't going to let these opportunities pass him by.


"Larry, I'm telling you, we might as well go public now!" the youngest doctor in the room said.

"Tim, I appreciate your feelings, but we're still trying to give Conner some time."

"Look, everything everybody did is working," stated Tim Handschin in exasperation, he was only a mouthpiece here, he was speaking for most of them now.

"I know, Tim, but, look, everybody's work looks that much better if we can walk him out there in full possession of his faculties," Larry replied in almost an extended sigh. Which is really what it was, they'd been having this argument for a month now.

"It's been over a year now, Larry," Bill interjected, "without the old man giving direct orders ... I mean I know you're the project leader, but maybe we should put this to a vote?"

There were a few grunts and grumbles of agreement around the table. Victoria wasn't among them, neither was Conner, but Larry could see the way the wind was blowing here. "Alright, tell you what, it's late. Let's consider the idea, look at it as a group, and, I want to stress this, talk to our patient. We can put it to a vote just as easily tomorrow as tonight. This way, we've all got a night to think it through."

Eventually, the room had cleared out except for Victoria, Conner, and Larry. "Tough room, huh?" Victoria asked with a smile.

Larry rubbed his forehead and leaned back, "You aren't kidding, Vicky, but the thing is ..."

"They're right," Conner interrupted him.

"What?" asked Victoria and Larry in unison.

"Look, I know I come across as a grumpy old man," said Conner. He quickly raised his hand to forestall any objections, "Please, don't argue. I come across that way, because that is what I am. But really, Larry, thank you. You've kept the dogs off me for longer than I had any right to ask you. Not only that, but you had the good grace to do it without me asking, and I want you to know I appreciate that, colleague to colleague. If I wasn't such a bundle of neurosis I might actually try and be friends with you." Larry smiled at that, and Conner continued, "Look, at this point, if it was a normal patient, I'd be recommending more chemical or physical therapies, but really, I don't even want to consider electric shock, and drugs would make all of our data go crazy on us. Whatever we've tried here, we have made a man, a perfectly healthy one at that: we owe it to him to not screw with his chemistry by treating him like a lab rat."

Larry tapped his finger on the arm of his chair for a moment, his other hand on his chin, finally he said, "All right, we'll hash it all out tomorrow. If that's what the team wants, and that's what the patient wants, we can go gracefully into a bright new day."


The next morning, the entire team was assembled in the conference room by quarter of nine, enjoying coffee and doughnuts, all but one. Larry was nowhere to be seen. His absence was glaring and the team was murmuring among themselves about it. Larry was always punctual, and always started the meeting; the fact that it didn't officially start for fifteen minutes didn't change anything, Larry was the one who usually unlocked the room and let everyone in.

Finally at five of, the door opened and Larry walked in. Missing was his usual hellos that everybody got in the morning. He looked harried and almost desperate; he looked like a creature in a snare, frightened and ready to snap at anything. Tension immediately flooded over the room as he went to the head of the table silently. Larry was the cheerleader for the team, the guy who kept morale up, and he looked like he wanted to run for it. In that situation, you automatically check the exits yourself.

"Folks, if you could quiet down," Larry raised his hand for silence. "I wanted to start today by announcing my decision to check with the patient, and if he was fine with it, to hold a vote on whether or not we should go public now. I can tell you now, that is not so much of a going concern at the moment." He was cut off by an eruption of voices, so he raised his hand again for quiet, "At some point last night, Mr. Bristed was removed from our facility, either by himself or by as-yet-unknown agents."

At that point, nobody had a big enough hand to raise that would quiet things down.


Slowly but surely, everybody filtered out, given orders to "work together to see how in the hell we can go public and not look like we just pulled a publicity scam," leaving just Conner, Victoria, and Larry again.

"Why in the hell didn't the guard spot anything?" demanded Conner for the hundredth time. "I mean, we pay them to guard one person, you'd think they'd be at least watching the damned monitor!"

"Somebody got into the system, Conner; I have no idea how. They fed video into the monitor feed that just showed him sleeping on a loop, and putting empty halls on repeat that are supposed to be empty is no great feat if you can do the first one," sighed Larry.

"How?" asked Victoria quietly.

"Anything I say here would be nothing but guessing ..."

"So, guess! It's not like we have anything else to go on," interrupted Conner.

"Well, if I was to guess, I'd say he had people on the outside with a way into the system, who were on a timeline. If we didn't announce by a certain point, bust him out of here. For all we know, he's being hustled over to some other lab, one that understands better that he is still the boss," said Larry bitterly.

The implications of what he had just said hung heavily in the almost vacant conference room. Anything that was said next, was going to be apologetic in nature. Larry had been the team lead on this, and their creation had just traipsed right out of here, without so much as a single press conference to show for it.

"I'll pack up my things," Conner said quietly.

"Bullshit," replied Larry through the hand that was over his eyes. Pulling his hand down, he said, "Look, you weren't to know; who would have guessed that the patient himself had a double-cross planned? He didn't mention any damned time lines to me. Remember me? Project lead?" He could see that Conner wasn't done beating himself up, so he leaned forward to look the man directly in the eye, "Look, buddy, we've known each other for a long time. I know you, and if you say you had no idea if he was ready, and that he had no memories, I know nobody else would have seen anything different. I'm not going to second guess you now. Do me the biggest favor you can right now, get together with the other team leads, put together a working presentation, as best you can, and be ready in case we get him back. For all we know it was a glitch in the system and he decided to take a walk, so do that for me OK?"

Conner stood up, and made for the door and opened it. Standing there, he turned back to Larry and Victoria, "All right, but favor for favor; if it comes down to anyone needing to fall on their sword about this, I'm the one doing it. Don't argue, I insist. People are more willing to forgive the psychiatric field for 'missing something' then they are for a hard working team lead." Before he left he actually smiled grimly, "And besides, I'm older, I don't have as many working years left anyway."

After he left, Victoria and Larry just sat in silence for a while. Both of them considering what they could say that might make the other feel even slightly better about this. This had been years of work, mountains of data, new untested technology, and precision surgeries. All of that had gotten up and just left before they could unveil it to the world. "Buck up kiddo, it could be worse!" does nothing in a situation like this, except to remind all involved how hard pressed it would be to be worse, and to possibly reconsider the IQ of the speaker.

Finally, Victoria broke. She reached into her pocket, pulled out something and slid it across the table towards Larry. "This is the key to my house. After we're done putting out the worst of the blazing fires, you and I are going to watch a movie; a comedy, for preference; I will get us something for takeout."

Larry spluttered to alertness at that, "Vicky, I don't think that would be entirely ..."

"Shush right now, Larry. I didn't say we were going to make mad monkey love, I said we'd watch a movie and have dinner. Both of us have been working non-stop for months, and because of today, that is only likely to get worse. We are both upset, and I don't feel like being alone. Seeing as you are the only man I can currently stand in a social situation, or woman, for all of that matter, you have been elected to serve as the victim to keep me company," Victoria said firmly.

Larry couldn't help but smile at that. "Gee, you make it sound so appealing."

"Well, I know a good place for takeout, so that should be nice. Do not expect me to cook. If I had bothered to learn to cook in my life, I might be still married. But then again, if that's what it took to save my marriage to Allen, it's probably for the best," she said with a smile playing across her lips.

"Do I at least get a say in the movie?"

"We'll stream something, so we can argue about it then. Come by around eight; if I'm not home it means I'm out getting dinner; let yourself in, there's beer in the fridge," she said, all business.

"Can I argue?" he asked.

"No, I am not sitting at home tonight worrying by myself," she said with a laugh.


It had been a long day of networking and note comparing; tomorrow didn't look like it would improve much. They had film on every aspect of the surgeries. They had film on the therapy. They had notes aplenty, external drives bulging with material. But what they didn't have anymore was the man himself. It was going to take buckets of work to plaster that part over.

Everybody had spent hours beginning the work of hooking their research on to their neighbor so the whole thing flowed as a cohesive piece of research. In theory, they had already been doing that, but there were so many disciplines and fields involved, getting them all to merge together without the primary object was proving damned nigh impossible. Damned nigh, but not completely; they'd get there. When those who had led the little mini-rebellion had pushed it, they were expecting to have a walking, talking test subject. It would have been easier then, each individual department head could just write their own paper and reference each other in the footnotes. But without the man himself, they all felt they needed a much more cohesive and integrated larger whole. Sort of a "bury them with bullshit" defense mechanism.

But now, Vicky was at her little house in the burbs, her sanctuary. Well, it wouldn't be for long; it was 5:30, and she expected Larry to come over in an hour or so, then she supposed it would be a shared sanctuary. Everybody worked hard all day, but the shell-shock of what had happened was obvious, so late in the afternoon, Larry had called everyone together. His suggestion, which was readily conceded by all, was, look, we've all had a major blow, and we probably need some time to adjust, they could better work out full collaboration schedules tomorrow morning, and make a fresh start with a new direction and set of goals. But for tonight, everybody should get the hell out of here, and get their heads in the right place in their own manner.

Victoria secretly flattered herself to think he'd also considered that this would ensure they'd have more time alone.

When she got in and set her keys and coat down, she saw the phone was blinking; somebody had left a message. That was kind of weird, most people just emailed her or messaged her, maybe it was her Mom. Most likely it was her Mom, now that she thought of it, Mom was the only one who left messages anymore, now that she was more or less caught up on her student loans. Those people used to call all the time. Mr. Bristed might have just screwed up their lives, but he had provided enough money to make that problem go away before he had suddenly gone away.

She picked up the phone, waited for the menu to start and punched in her code. Finally, she heard, "Hello, Vicky ... it's Roger Bristed. Look, I didn't want to leave you guys in the lurch like this, but ... look, I just couldn't be cooped up anymore. I paid for all of this to live again, not go to a more comfortable jail than the kind you usually get. I'm willing to discuss it with you if you come alone. I have a house, one of many I technically own, near your place at 2010 Willow. Really, come alone, I'll be here all night, but if you bring anyone, trust me, I can get out of the house with you being none the wiser. This is a one-night-only deal, I'm leaving the area tomorrow. I'm not going to go back at all without conditions, so this is a show of trust here."

Well, that was a fly in the ointment of a pleasant evening seeing if she could entice Larry to hit on her, wasn't it? She was going, obviously, a chance to pull all of their bacon out of the fire was too good to be true at this point, even if it interfered with her life. Of course, if her work didn't interfere with her life so often, she might not be that upset about one date being screwed up.

She wrote out two notes for Larry, one for the door, directing him to come in, and the other she left on the phone with her passcode to check the message himself. If he wanted to do anything else past that point it would be his call as director, but right now, Roger was willing to talk to her. Next, she went through her calls to see if caller ID had given a number to call back. The first one was a number she didn't recognize, so she hit call back.

Finally, after five rings the phone picked up, Roger's voice came through clearly, "So, are you coming?"

"Ummmm ... uh, yeah."

"Good, I'll have dinner waiting." CLICK.


Larry was sweating heavily, even though it wasn't that hot. This had all of the earmarks of an honest-to-god date, and he hadn't even been close to one of them in over a year, maybe longer; it hadn't gone well. It wasn't that he was bad looking, or out of shape, or had a bad personality. The reason he didn't date was the same reason he was divorced: the work got in the way.

He was also trying to not read too much into this. It could be everything she suggested, two co-workers getting together and trying to blow off a little steam by hanging out. He also didn't want to make a complete ass out of himself if that's all it was. A forty-two-year-old academic control freak trying to play things cool, he wondered if it was too late to consider praying.

Eventually, he found himself parked outside of her house, a little ranch affair in a quiet cul-de-sac of a neighborhood, with little pre-fab houses perfectly spaced. He noted, that despite everything, her house still looked like that of a single, research minded scientist, with little gardening projects surrounding it that had all gone mutant with neglect. He smiled at that; it wasn't that different then his own historic house outside of the city's tentacled sprawl's grasp.

Before getting out of his car, he reached into his glove box and pulled out his emergency cologne and antiperspirant. It was steamy tonight, and he was nervous, no point in ruining everything--even a friendly get together--with unexpected body odor. The walk up the little driveway had a distinct gallows feel to it, which reminded him, if nothing else, he really needed to get out more.

There was a note on the door when he got there, "Let yourself in, note on answering machine--Love, Vicky."

Well, "Love" was a positive, wasn't it?

He felt self-conscious as he opened the door and let himself in; she had neighbors, after all, and who knew how nosy they were, or judgmental for that matter. Nothing for it; she told him to let himself in, so, in he should go. The living room was more or less what he expected: tidy, organized, dusty and un-lived in, mainly. A home owned by someone who was far too busy for dusting or vacuuming. He had a bigger version of it, so he knew the symptoms.

He went into the kitchen and grabbed himself a beer, then went to hunt down the next note. It took him a minute to find the phone in the dining room that was connected to the living room. Sure enough, there was a note propped on the receiver. "Big news! Roger Called! Will only talk to me, 2010 Willow. Code to listen to message is 2113. Wish me luck--Victoria."

Dang, there went the love.

Why in the hell did he only want to talk to Vicky?

Alarm bells were ringing like mad. He'd known Roger as an old man, and while it was difficult to jibe the lost, seemingly pleasant young man with the one he had been, he did seem to remember him being briefly married to a Playboy model when he was 78. He was egotistical, self-centered ... now that he thought about it, he also remembered that marriage ending with accusations of abuse, and the old man being the abuser.

He wasn't an old man anymore, and Vicky was practically Larry's girlfriend! Well, maybe he was overstating the last part, but there seemed to be potential there. Not to mention, she was a friend and a colleague. Most importantly, she was a friend. If this guy was beating his wife at 78, he could be considered well and truly dangerous, full of the strength of youth!

He needed to take a drive, first to the facility.


"I really do appreciate you coming here Vicky," Roger said setting a plate down on a tray next to her in the living room. It had dinner: meatloaf, and mashed potatoes. Roger had apologized, saying he preferred 'American food' generally. But, he had promised the wine went spectacularly with it.

"I'm surprised you contacted me, though," Victoria responded taking a sip of wine.

"Well, you were one of the few people there to treat me like an actual human being," Roger smiled, "but please, we can discuss that after dinner; I for one, am famished."

The food, as promised, was very good American style fare. Victoria did feel some guilt about blowing off dinner with Larry, but this might get their guinea pig back in his cage, so it took priority. Larry would be there tomorrow, Roger might not be. She was pretty sure that if this worked out, Larry would forgive her. Dinner was followed by sorbet, which was a surprising choice, Victoria thought. Usually, younger men preferred ice cream, with lots of nuts and chunks in it; sorbet was such an old-person thing to pick for a dessert, but it was a tasty sangria flavor.

"Was everything as good as promised?" Richard asked with an easy smile.

"Oh, dinner was delicious, thank you," Victoria replied.

"But I'm sure there are some things you wish to discuss," he said cutting to the chase.

"Ummm ... yeah." His directness flustered her. "What can I do, to make you happy?"

"Other than not telling leadership that I'm here, and continuing to let me enjoy your company? Not much," he said with a smile.

"Then, why even call me? We do kind of need you, to present our findings, so you knew what I'd ask for," she insisted.

"Not really, you need me for maybe one appearance and a going over by an independent source, for corroboration at best. But you don't need me as a prisoner in my own facility," he said tersely.

"How'd you get out?" she demanded.

"My, my," he said, getting up and moving the trays out of the living room, "that was rather blunt, don't you think?"

Victoria put her hand to her head, she did feel a bit off, and now that it was pointed out, that was rather blunt for her. But she'd really only had two glasses of wine, less than you'd drink to get relaxed at a lengthy conference, she shouldn't feel this buzzed.

"I ... I'm sorry ... that was a bit much. I think the food must not have agreed with me," she confessed, shifting a little in her seat to talk to him as he put away the trays.

"Well, please, don't get up, you may hurt yourself, and now isn't the time for that," he called out to her. As he came back into the room he said, "No, I suspect the food agreed with you perfectly. The Flunitrazepam that was in your wine and sorbet, probably not as much."

Now he was standing in front of her, his legs parted wide, in an almost military style, his face had gone from friendly to dark, and then to leering. "I certainly need you like this, so we can talk at first. You see, I have a few confessions to make," he paused as if for effect. "Firstly, I've remembered everything for quite some time."

He heard her little, shocked intake of breath and his smile grew wider now, predatory in manner. "Some of the things I remembered come from when I was a very young man, Vicky, and those are the things I want to talk about. I was one of the last real self-made men, you know? Real estate at first, I just had a knack as they say. Just knew what rat trap tumbledown was going to be the next hot zip code, as it were."

Now he reached down, and took her chin in his hand, and smiled, showing teeth. She tried to pull away, but her muscles just wouldn't obey. He saw the fear and frustration in her eyes, "No use struggling, my dear, your body isn't taking any calls at the moment. But where was I? Oh yes, do you know numerous psychiatrists over the years have described some of the super rich as psychopathic? Completely without concern or empathy for others, only concerned with their own pleasures? In my case that would be more accurate then your friend Conner would ever have guessed.

"You see, before I discovered my gift for real estate, I did numerous odd jobs around the country. I traveled a lot, and I suppose those qualities need release, wouldn't you say? A dark spot, that needs to be sated so you can get up for work the next morning when you don't make enough money but you have to do it anyway? I know of seven women, all highly intelligent, all willing to sit in the background and not assert themselves, all single, and all very pretty, who would say so if they could speak. That I found a way to released those urges. Of course, that would take an Ouija board, and the exact location of the bodies."

Now he leaned in and began unbuttoning her top. He could see the terror in her eyes, and she could see him relishing it. "But, things change, you find a financial calling, you get busy, and while you're busy you get old. You want more money to amuse yourself with, but you work so hard you never have the time, and then one day, you don't have the physical ability. I stopped because I found a different outlet for my drive. But oh my, do you miss it, remembering ... the look on their faces, when they finally realized, it's gotten way too late to finally assert themselves!"

His face had twisted in a disgusting mask of lust for a moment, but twisted back to just his grin as he regained his composure, that was horrible enough seeing how he could just turn off the evil lurking inside of himself. He stopped. Her shirt was unbuttoned now, and he stared fiercely into her eyes as he said, "I've spent decades trapped in a withered body, and months trapped in that facility. Now, can you even begin to imagine what I am going to do with you?"

A car door slammed in the driveway.

"Oh, you naughty girl, who did you tell? Larry? Conner? No matter, one more for the party, but, I fear he won't be staying long at all," Roger practically skipped off happily, his mood turning manic, and she could hear him now rattling around in the kitchen. A moment later he was back, carrying an absolutely enormous bread knife. "I could just shoot him, of course, but I think even my neighbors would notice that. I'd have to leave in a hurry, and that would cut into our, 'special time together'. But I don't think one or two stabs with this will be any less efficient, do you?"

He smiled looking at the tears running down her face, "Oh sweetie, don't cry for him, he's gonna go fast, which is something you could only wish was going to happen to you!"

There was a pounding knock on the door.

"Oh, entertaining can be such a bother," Roger sighed exaggeratedly, and then went over to the door.

He opened the door just a crack, Victoria couldn't see who it was, but knew it must be Larry. "Victoria? Why yes, she's here, but she's a bit indisposed, old man, you know how it is!" Victoria could hear the crazy in Roger's voice as his speech got more and more jovial while this entire night had turned into a nightmare, she only prayed that Larry could catch it too.

"Speak to her? Why I suppose so, but it's very odd, if you ask me," Roger said stepping back, the knife behind his back.

It was now or never, desperation and panic flooded Victoria as she could see Larry coming in, over Roger's shoulder. He hadn't spotted her yet, but she gathered every ounce of strength she could and said loudly, though she had been trying to yell, "Larry! Look out! He's got a knife!"

Larry looked at her and then glared at Roger who was already beginning to swing the knife around to attack the other man. As if an angry Thor had appeared in the room, there was a sudden crackling off electricity that erupted where the two men were. Roger collapsed on the ground, the knife clattered away as he began to twitch.

Larry looked at her again and saw the tears on Victoria's face glistening in the lamp light. He immediately leaned over his stunned and twitching foe and began to pummel him in the face. He only stopped punching when it was clear the monster was not just stunned but unconscious and bloody.

After he was sure of Roger, he picked up the knife and walked towards Victoria. Remembering himself a little, he set it carefully on a coffee table and then walked the rest of the way to her. "Are you OK? " he asked his voice overflowing with fear and concern.

She managed to eke out one word quietly, "Drugged."

He pulled back a second, and then told her, "OK, first I'm going to rebutton your front if you don't mind (slight nod), and then, I'm going to figure out what to do about this mess."

He got up after he was done, and went back over to Roger's unmoving form, "Thankfully I packed a sedative with me, so I'm just going to make sure he doesn't get up for a while."

When he was done he came back over to Victoria, "All right, here's what we're going to do; you're going to sleep at my house. In the guest bedroom, I might add. I have some ideas what he gave you, but I want to make sure I can keep an eye on you. I do have an actual medical Ph.D., you know? But first, we are going to drop this piece of shit in the special wing in a plexi cage."

"Bet you didn't know about that part of the building huh? They ran human trials here, it gave them somewhere to put the ones with violent reactions, which apparently were actually pretty common. I've read the notes. It's where I got this," he said holding up a black stun gun, "it must pack a hell of a wallop judging from the look ol' Roj had on his face when I hit him with it."

He leaned down and looked in Victoria's eyes, "It's gonna be alright, OK? I'm gonna toss him in the trunk, and I'll be right back for you."


Larry dragged Roger's inert form down a hall in a section of the building that he himself had had to turn the power back on to tonight. When he reached the long-unused guard desk, he let go of his burden and booted up the security computer. It took a couple of minutes, the operating system was two upgrades ago, and it ran a bit pokey. Thank god nobody knew who was going to be in here, the security on these things was awful, if he remembered correctly. Once he got to the main screen, though, it only took a moment to punch in his own override code. After he that, he looked the thing over and remotely opened the main door to a series of plexiglass cells that were all visible from this station, not unlike a high-security prison.

Opening the first door in the hall remotely as well, he bent down and picked up his monster, his creation. It took him a few more minutes to drag him the rest of the way to the cell. He let the body fall on the floor; he wasn't particularly gentle about it. He looked down at the thing, he didn't even want to call it a man. Vicky had gotten a little more lucid, and had been able to give very few details. But with what he saw when he had come in, it was more than enough to paint a picture.

He kicked the thing in the ribs before he left.

As he was leaving the facility, he called Conner. "Hey, Conner, it's Larry ...Yeah, I'm just leaving the lab right now; look this is important. You know I don't call if it isn't. We got him back ... No, it's not as great as you think ... How so? He hurt Vicky ... No, she'll probably be all right, I'll get back to you on that part. Look, it turns out, just because someone can afford to pay, doesn't mean we should give him a new body. He claimed to have done some things in the past, Vicky isn't very lucid right now, but when I stopped him ... well, it doesn't look good ... Uh-huh, yeah, well you weren't to know, Conner, that's what psychopaths do, they hide it. I've got him locked in the old 'special case' wing of the lab ... No don't bother, I sedated him pretty heavy, he won't be up till morning anyway, I figure. Oh, and don't worry about shocking him anymore, it says on the stun gun I fed him at least 10 million volts, and he's still alive, unfortunately ... Right, keep me informed, then, I'm going to stay with Vicky until I'm sure she's fine ... All right, talk to you tomorrow, Conner."


A quiet room looks forlorn and abandoned. The way the morning light streams through the plexiglass. The beams making motes of dust dance and spin with every little puff of air that drifts through looking for someone, anyone, to notice.

The small pools of blood on the hard concrete floor. The light adding depth and reflection. What is really only one color given a variety of hues by the cold light of day. The only spots where it really is a different color, is at the edges, where it's gone almost black as it dries.

If you, the reader, were actually there, viewing all of this, you would be the room's only occupant.


Larry was starting to calm down. Vicky was sleeping comfortably in the guest bedroom; he had checked on her a few times now. He made sure there was water and aspirin on the nightstand if she woke up when he was out of the room. He'd called Conner to appraise him of the situation, and now, he had nothing to do for the first time in hours.

It looked like it was going to be an all-nighter, but, he wanted to be awake in case Vicky woke up. He'd read up on what drugs might have affected her like that, and all of them had a potential for amnesia, so he couldn't let her wake up alone and that confused in a new place like that. There was probably going to be enough psychological scarring as was.

But, there would be time enough to cross that bridge when they got to it. He already liked the feel of 'they' in that equation. Tired or not, it felt good, he'd saved the day, and he was beginning to think that everything was going to be all right.


The open road is freedom, every American knows this deep in their heart of hearts.

The young man at the wheel of the Infiniti convertible certainly does. The sun gleams off his white teeth, it makes his blue eyes glow and glitter, fading bruises are on his face, but the important thing is, they're fading. A perfect scene, a well-heeled young man with crisply trimmed and possibly dyed hair, with an open road to drive on, with all of America lying at his feet.


© 2016 Paul Lubaczewski

Bio: Paul is a bit of a jack of all trades, or as he likes to put it "keep it interesting". Caver, photographer, Scadian, brewmaster, musician with the late 80's early 90's punk band The Repressed, music critic for Spark-Plug Magazine and New Wave Chicken, DJ, as long as it's interesting. Originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he's lived all over the United States, finally settling in the mountains of Appalachia for the peace and adventure they provide. He loves his wife Leslie and his three children: two adult girls and a teenage boy, and with the boy about, it's a wonder he gets any writing done at all.

E-mail: Paul Lubaczewski

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