Becoming Estevan

Becoming Estevan

By McCamy Taylor

She looks as beautiful now as she did the day she died---

Start over. The tense is wrong. I am telling the story of something whichhappened a week ago. "Looks" should be "looked."

She looked as beautiful now---

Damn it, why can't I get it right? Why is my mind stuck in the presenttense? Why is everything now? Since the accident, I have lost touch withthe past. My memories are still there, somewhere in the distant outposts ofmy mind, but it is as if they happened many lifetimes ago. Or as if theybelong to someone else and I have only read about them, never reallyexperienced them except perhaps in dreams.

In contrast, everything which has happened to me since the fire isdisturbingly clear, the images etched upon my mind, yesterday and last weekand last month superimposed on the present as if I am living it all now.The doctors say that personality change is common after a severeconcussion, but sometimes I think that more than my personality haschanged. Sometimes I feel as if I am living in a different skin--and I amnot talking about the burn scars. It goes deeper than that. Did the firetouch me inside? Or did something else touch me? Did they do it to me, evenafter I told them not to?

Thoughts like these have been burning inside my brain ever since I wasreleased from the medical unit. The psychiatrists call it paranoia and saythat it is common among people who spend a long time hooked up to lifesustaining machines. Maybe they are right. A friend who knows about suchthings tells me that the doctors who cared for me are the best in theirfields, world renowned, the best that money can buy. The best that Claire'smoney can buy.

And that is what worries me.

I will start again. It happened last week, but in my mind last week istoday, so I will tell it that way.

She looks as beautiful now as she did the morning we boarded the shuttle, and if I am still alive fifty years from now, she will look the same. Herauburn hair is cut short, baring the smooth, pale skin at the nape of herneck. How many times did I kiss her there? It has been months since we lasttouched, but my lips still recall the sensation of her flesh. Does her newflesh recall the sensation of my lips?

She wears a loose fitting robe of grey linen which falls away from herright shoulder exposing lightly freckled skin. On the back of her arm fourinches above her elbow there is a black, kidney shaped mole. Claire hatedthat mole. She talked about having plastic surgery to remove it. But it isstill there. Why?

Did I imagine it all? Perhaps there was no shuttle accident, no explosion.Perhaps I did not spend all those months in the Burn Unit recuperating frominjuries that should have killed me, while Claire opted for the easy wayout, the quick fix.

As she takes my hands in hers, I study her eyes. They say that you can tella Change by its eyes, but hers are just as I remember them, blue grey witha thin rim of brown around the pupils. Maybe the technology has improved.Or maybe she was always less than human.

Her voice has not changed. It is soft but surprisingly deep for a woman ofher size. "I'm glad you came," she murmurs. "I missed you." She soundssincere, but is she still capable of feeling emotions like love or sorrow?Can her new body feel the pain of loss which is like a knife being twistedslowly in the gut or the longing which grabs me by the throat?

I can not help myself. I reach for her and kiss her. Her skin is the same,her scent is the same, but she feels different. She holds herselfdifferently, stiffly, as if she does not want to be touched.

Ah ha! I think. Here is the proof I have been looking for. She is not thesame woman. I push her away. But before I turn to leave I make the mistakeof looking at her face one last time, and in her eyes I see an emotionwhich stops me in my tracks. She is afraid.

In the old days before the accident, Claire and I had a natural rapport. Wehad no need for the electroenchalophone or neuroimager or any of the otherdevises that are so commonly used by lovers to turn one night stands into"relationships". Often I would return home from a shift at LunaPol, andbefore I ever laid eyes on her I knew whether Claire was happy or sad orangry simply by the way the air felt in her apartment.

It has been months since our minds touched, but I can still feel the linkthat connects her thoughts to mine, and suddenly, without warning, I aminside her head and I understand everything. She is afraid to let me touchher because she is worried that I will detect some subtle difference, apheromone that the biochemists could not reproduce or a change in the colorof her aura that will repulse me. Despite her flawless skin and hershining hair, she is as unsure of herself as I am.

I should have expected this, but I did not. Why didn't I? Because Isecretly believe that Changes are better than the rest of us, strongermentally and emotionally as well as physically? When you no longer have tofear death or disease, you obtain immediate enlightenment--or so thepopular wisdom goes. But the woman who stands before me, wringing her handsand gnawing her lower lip is a far cry from the serene bodhisattva Iexpected. Nor is she the unfeeling machine, the cold, beautiful android ofmy nightmares. Her skin and all it contains---muscles, bones, heart,brain, blood--all of these are synthetic, but the essential thing, thething that makes her Claire is still there.

My heart rises in my throat. I reach for her again--And then I remember why I am here.

"We have to talk."

Frown lines appear between her eyebrows. "Talk about what?"

"About what happened to me last week."

The frown lines deepen. "I heard. You were almost killed."

"Correction, I was killed. But I didn't die. That is what I want to talkabout."

Claire laughs. She has two kinds of laughter, a rich, deep laugh ofamusement that comes from the belly and a short, high pitched little barkwhich she makes when she is nervous. This laugh is the second kind.

"Heavens, you say the strangest things!"My jaw muscles tighten painfully beneath the burn scars on my cheeks. "Iwas killed yesterday," I repeat emphatically. "Someone tried to murder me,and I should have died, but I didn't."

"Congratulations. Did you come here to celebrate? I will have the maidbring some champagne."

"I came here because I want some answers!" It is at times like these that Irealize how much my body has changed. After two months on a respirator, myvocal cords have been permanently scarred and what was meant to be a shoutsounds more like the last wheeze of an old dying dog.

I see pity in her eyes. She lays her hand on my arm, and in a low soothingvoice says "Hush now. I don't know what answers you think I have, but I'lldo what I can." And then, to buy herself time she adds "Sit down and tellme about it."

This is unnecessary. Claire's family owns Luna's largest news net andnothing happens anywhere on the New World that she does not know about. ButI decide to play along with her in order to buy myself some time. Before Icame here, I thought I had made up my mind what I was going to say and do,but after seeing her I am no longer sure.

There are no chairs in the room. Like so many second and third generationLunans, Claire craves wide open spaces, and she can not stand to have achair or sofa get in the way when she wants to pace. The only piece offurniture is a small natural wood table shaped like a cube. On top of thetable, a single white peony blossom floats in a blue porcelain bowl. Iwas with her when she bought the bowl from an antiques dealer in NewAtlanta, and though it looks plain, almost rustic, I remember that bowlvividly because it cost more than most people make in a lifetime.

We sit cross legged on straw mats on the floor. She is as graceful as ever,but the scars on my legs make it impossible for me to be anything otherthan stiff and clumsy. She looks away, pretending not to notice while Iforce my knees to bend. It hurts like hell, but I manage to get my legsinto semi lotus position, and after the spasm of pain fades, I begin mystory.

"It began months ago in a place called Dead Horse, one of the old orbitingcities. The original name of the place was New Havana and it was intendedto be a gambling resort, but something went wrong with the heating system,and the engineers could not get the temperature above freezing.

"Before the investors could get around to changing the name to New Aspenand building ski slopes, they ran out of credit and their company wentbankrupt. A caribou meat processing company out of Earth bought the stationto use as combination slaughter house and giant deep freezer. As you canimagine, Dead Horse is a grim place, nothing but blood, ice, and cariboucarcasses."

Claire covers her mouth with her hand. "It sounds awful." Like all herfamily, she is a strict vegetarian. Or was a strict vegetarian. Changes donot eat.

"Let's just say that people are not exactly lining up to get a chance tolive there. The only humans in residence are the plant manager, a biologistand an engineer, and they are just there to supervise. All the real work isdone by Cybots. One group handles the unloading of the animals fromfreighters out of Earth, another group runs the slaughterhouse where they--"Claire shudders. "I don't think I want to hear this."

"But you have to hear it. It is important to the story. The Cybots in theslaughterhouse don't club the animals to death the way that Old World meatpackers used to. They use PCFibs--portable cardiac fibrillators--to killthe animals humanely."

"There's nothing humane about killing and eating animals," she says darkly.Claire's habit of interrupting me used to drive me crazy. Now when she doesit I can hardly resist the urge to hug her, because it seems to prove thatdespite everything that has happened she is still Claire. If only I couldbe as sure of myself. But the difference between us is that she knows whatwas done to her, she knows what she is. And what am I? That is the questionwhich has brought me here today.

"I didn't come here to debate the ethics of eating meat. I am just givingyou the facts. PCFibs kill the animals quickly and painlessly, then theCybots skin and dress them. The pelts go into one bin, the antlers goesinto another and the carcasses are stored on hooks in the freezer.Freighters visit the station regularly to carry the meat, skins and antlersto wholesalers on Luna.

"It is an efficient operation, but six weeks ago something went wrong onDead Horse. One of the slaughterhouse Cybots killed the plant engineerwith a PCFib then cut his throat and skinned him and hung his corpse upalongside the caribou carcasses in the deep freezer. It took the tworemaining humans over a week to discover the body, and by that time theCybot had disappeared.

"It is clear now what must have happened. The Cybot stowed away on anoutbound freighter, the Matsua. The worker was a type JYm3, the ones peoplecall 'Jim,' caucasian type, medium brown hair, brown eyes--"

"I know the model you're talking about. The city uses them to clean thestreets."

"And the air ducts and sewers and all the other nasty inaccessible placeswhere human workers won't go. That's what makes Cybots so useful. And theJYm3 is the most common model CyboCorp makes. The Matsua had twenty-threeon board when it docked at Dead Horse. No one would have noticed one Jimmore or less. It was a perfect escape vehicle.

"But the plant manager had no way of knowing the Cybot had escaped. Whenthe plant manager's corpse was discovered and the faulty unit turned upmissing, he assumed it had wandered into an air lock or fallen into one ofthe garbage disposal chutes and that it was either floating in space ororbiting Luna in the Junk Belt. He notified his superior back on Earth,and she registered a complaint with CyboCorp which promised to launch aninvestigation.

"It did not occur to any of them to notify the police. As far as they wereconcerned, the engineer's death was accidental, the result of a machinemalfunction, and therefore not a LunaPol matter. And of course, there isthe problem of jurisdiction. Technically, the old orbiting cities are stillOld World colonies, but no one on Earth gives a damn about anything thathappens off planet and you know how they are about anything that has to dowith cyborgs or androids."

I glance at her out of the corner of my eye. She must know that theNorthern Hemisphere Counsel recently passed a law exiling all artificialhumanoids, including Changes, from their territories. And what the NorthernHemisphere does, the leaders of the Southern Hemisphere are sure to do,too.

Claire used to talk about buying one of the islands of Hawaii--yes, she isthat rich--and retiring there when she turned one hundred. Now, she willnever be able to visit the Old World much less live there. Does she feelangry? Is she regretting her decision? Her face reveals nothing, and therapport which seemed so strong between us half an hour ago is now gone so Ican not tell what she is feeling.

I return to my story. "The Jim escaped on the Matsua, and as far as weknow, nothing out of the ordinary happened while it was on board. Four dayslater, the freighter docked at Kennedy Six. We assume that this is wherethe Cybot changed ships, because the next incident occurred on a luxurypassenger liner called the New Orient Express which docked at Kennedy Sixabout the same time as the Matsua.

"One week after the New Orient Express left the space station, there wasanother death, this one even nastier than the first. Someone ordered boiledhead of cabbage for supper, but the Cybot working in the kitchen served upa boiled human head instead."

"How awful!" Claire's face looks slightly green. How odd. Do Changes feelnausea?

"Oh, it was. I hear there was a riot in the dining car. People trampledeach other trying to get out, and everyone was either screaming orvomiting, except for those who had already fainted. There was even a seconddeath. One old billionaire on his way to Tranquility Three to get a Changehad a heart attack and died and by the time they got him into cryo it wastoo late.

"After a brief search, they found the headless corpse in the laundry. Ittook only a few hours to determine that the passenger was killed by one ofthe ship's Cybots, because the ship's cameras recorded it all. The Jim useda PCFib just like the ones used on Dead Horse, then it butchered the deadman with a knife and tossed the body down a laundry chute and hid the headin a bin labelled "cabbages" in the kitchen.

"We still don't know if the Jim that killed the passenger was the same onethat cooked his head and served it in the dining car. It could have been anaccident that it was discovered the way it was. My bet is that the killerhid the head in a place where it would not be found right away, and thenext time someone ordered cabbage, the kitchen Jim opened the cabbage binand pulled out the first thing it saw and cooked it.

"Since there was no way of knowing which Jim was responsible the ship'scommander decided to shut them all down. Better to do too much than toolittle, that was her reasoning. Of course, it meant that the skeleton humancrew had to do some real work for a change and passengers had to carrytheir own luggage and wipe their own asses, but at least no one had toworry about being hacked to death by a deranged Cybot.

"The New Orient Express completed her cruise without any furtherunpleasantness. It docked here, in Tranquility Three, two weeks ago, andthe first thing the commander did after landing was call the local LunaPoloffice to report the death of a passenger due to machine malfunction. Thepassenger's body was handed over to the coroner for a confirmatory autopsyand the ship's Cybots were shipped to CyboCorp's main lab to be analyzedto see which one was responsible and what went wrong with its programming.Everything by the book.

"There was just one problem. The Jim that killed the passenger was not onthe ship's roster, and when they rounded up and deactivated all the ship'sCybots, they missed the stowaway. Somehow it managed to hide until the shipdocked at Tranquility Three and somehow it managed to sneak off the shipwhile the passengers were disembarking."

"It had human help," Claire interrupts. "There must have been someonehelping it, or someone must have reprogrammed it. Jims just aren't thatsmart."

I smile. Or rather, I try to smile. The scars make it difficult for my faceto form any expression other than a grimace. "You're being generous. Jimshave the IQ of slime mold. Yes, as soon as we heard about the killings, weassumed that someone had tampered with a Cybot, but we had no proof and noclue about who it might be. Was it a terrorist group? There are dozens ofantitechno cults on Earth that routinely sabotage machinery, but they havenever shown any interest in what happens on Luna. Was it an extortion plot?If so, why had there been no ransom demands? The most popular theory atheadquarters was that the plant engineer back on Dead Horse reprogrammedthe unit in order to act out some sick sexual fantasy. But again, we had noproof. All we had was one butchered corpse on Dead Horse, another headlessbody on the New Orient Express and twelve minutes of computer videoshowing an anonymous Jim killing and decapitating a human. The only reasonwe knew that the Cybot escaped was because two days after the New OrientExpress docked in Tranquility Three, another body was found. This one was asmuggler who went by the name of Tish. She was found in the Underground.Her throat was--"

She covered her mouth with her hand. "Please. I've already heard all thehorrible details."

"That's right. Your news net was the first to break the story. There was aNet 3 reporter on the scene even before the first LunaPol officer arrived.But there is one thing your reporter left out, one detail no one but theLunaPol coroner knew. The smuggler was killed with a PCFib before she wasbutchered, which meant that this was not a gang related killing or a psychomurder, it was the work of the Cybot from Dead Horse.

"As soon as we saw the pathology report, we knew that the Jim had managedto escape once again. And this time it was not on any space freighter thatcould be docked and quarantined while it was searched. It was loose inTranquility Three, a dome with over two thousand Cybots, seventy-threepercent of them JYm3s. And it was up to us to find it before it killedagain, or worse, before people found out that a murderous Cybot was roamingthe streets of the city. Do you remember the riots in New Detroit?"

"Yes. A Cybot accidently cut off a little girl's arm with gardening shears."

"Remember what happened next?"

She recites the facts in an expressionless voice as if she is reading roughinfo from one of the Net 3 terminals. "Three hundred people were killed,four thousand injured. Three thousand Cybots deactivated, two thousandpermanently. The city computer was downloaded, air system and heatingsystem inactivated, all transportation brought to a halt."She does not mention the six Changes who were killed by mobs. One of themwas Lu Su, her own cousin. All of the Changes were important people, richpeople, but to the angry citizens of New Detroit they were just moremachines.

"Technophobia. By now you would have thought that we would have outgrownit, but the events in New Detroit proved that we haven't. It is waitingthere, just below the surface of our consciousness, and anything can set itoff. That is why the Director decided to keep the Cybot killings quiet, atleast until after the Jim was caught and the danger was over."

"But the murderer has been caught, and the police never said a word abouthim being--"

"Let me finish the story, then you can ask questions. The Director decidedthat the best way to catch the Cybot was to use a decoy, so she flooded thestreets of Tranquility Three with LunaPol officers disguised as tourists,smugglers, street peddlers, drug dealers and vagrants.

"Before we could put the plan in motion there was a second killing, anothersmuggler murdered in the Underground. If you think about it, the Old Cityis an ideal place to commit a murder. There are no cameras, no security,the lighting is bad, and almost no one goes there except criminals. So weconcentrated our operation in that part of the city."Two days later, the Jim attacked one of the decoys. It happened in the oldChinese district. The officer's name was Harroun and he was a nice guy,married, with three kids and a widowed mother. We know that he wasn't takenby surprise, because he had time to signal for back up before he waskilled, and his breaker had been fired--"

"His what?"

"His breaker. It's slang for something something circuit breaker. It's aweapon which blocks the motor circuits of Cybots, paralyzing them."

"A Unipolar Galadian Circuit Breaker." A tiny muscle at the corner of hereye begins to twitch, a sign that she is nervous. Is she remembering thatbreakers work on Changes, too? "Go on."

"All the undercover officers were given breakers, and since they work ata range of up to twenty feet we assumed that we were well protected. Butwe were wrong. Harroun had a chance to fire his, and it didn't save him. Hewas killed just like all the others, murdered with a PCFib and thenbutchered. Eviscerated this time."

I have seen it all, but the memory of poor old Harroun slumped on the damppavement, his guts hanging out between his knees makes me pause. Clairelooks as if she is about to vomit. Except she can't. There is nothing inher stomach. Changes run on batteries not food.

I pull myself together. "After Harroun's body was found, the officers atLunaPol were understandably nervous. There were rumors that this was somenew kind of cyborg, a prototype with special light weight lead shielding ora different kind of circuitry that could not be inactivated with thestandard breaker. A lot of the other officers refused to go back on thestreets. But you know how stubborn I am. And since the accident, it justdoes not seem to matter to me whether I live or die, so I spend the nextthree nights crouched beside an old rusty cooling unit in the Russianquarter, with a liquor bottle in one hand and a breaker in the other. It ishot down there, and steam rises from the pavement..."

I am doing it again. I am changing tenses. But this is how I told thestory to Claire. As soon as I finished the part that was told to me andbegan to recount my own memories, the past became the present, and I amdown there--

"...among the centipedes and albino rats, stinking of my own sweat andcheap liquor. The bottle is just for show, but it is so hot that I take asip from time to time to cool myself off. At first I worry that the alcoholwill dull my reflexes, but it does not seem to have any effect on me.Maybe I am so charged up with my own adrenaline that nothing can bring medown, or maybe they gave me so many pain killers while I was in thehospital that I'm now immune to ordinary sedatives. It doesn't matter. AllI care about is getting that damn robot before it kills anyone else. Andafter we capture it and dismantle it, we will find the bastard whoprogrammed it to kill.

"These are the kind of thoughts that keep me going for three days andnights without sleep or food. I do not even have water, except for thesteam I absorb through my pores and the few sips I take from my bottle. Iam convinced that the Jim is going to find me, and I know that if by somemiracle I survive the encounter I will probably die of exhaustion anddehydration, but I don't care.

"Sitting in one spot like that for so long gives me a different perspectiveon the Underground, and I realize that it isn't deserted. There are lots ofpeople down there, smugglers mostly, and a few drug dealers and a couple ofschizophrenics that have managed to cut out their implants. The kind ofpeople who don't like to draw attention to themselves, but they don't seemto care if an old wino sees them.

"And the Cybots! The place is crawling with them. Every time one of themwalks past me, my first instinct is to remain very still so that it won'tnotice me. But soon I realize that if the Jim doesn't see me, it won't tryto kill me, so after that every time a JYm3 goes by I stand up and pretendthat I have to urinate or vomit.

"The three days pass slowly. I do a lot of thinking about you and me andthat shuttle accident. Every now and then, I look down at my reflection ina puddle of oil and see a stranger, and I begin to wonder if maybe I madethe wrong decision. I said that I didn't want to live if I couldn't have myown body, but this skinny, scarred old man isn't me. And I think a lotabout death. When I die and they cremate me, will my ashes be more 'me'than a synthetic likeness would have been? Ashes can not see and hear andthink and feel. Ashes can not do, and it's what we do more than anythingelse that makes us what we are." I laugh self consciously. "Pretty deepthoughts for a grade 2 LunaPol officer."

She leans forward to touch my hand. From the expression in her eyes I knowthat the rapport between us is strong again and that she is with me as Irelive the events which happened in the Underground. Before the link canbreak I move on to the important part of my story.

"On the third day, I see a LunaPol officer disguised as a Hari Krishna. Hemust recognize me, because no one else in Tranquility Three has scars likemine, but he just walks on by without signalling or saying a word.

"Less than thirty seconds pass and then the Cybot appears. I say the Cybot,because this is the one. I know it from the first moment I lay eyes on it.Though it looks like any other Jim, with plain brown hair and pasty whiteskin, this one is different because it does not move like a machine, itmoves like a hunter stalking its prey. And its prey is Pol, the copdisguised as a Hari Krishna. If it manages to sneak up on him from behind,it may kill him before he has a chance to use his breaker.

"As the Cybot passes, I begin to make groaning noises as if I am waking upfrom a drinking binge with a bad hangover. The Jim pauses and glances oncein my direction and then makes a motion as if it is about to continue itspursuit of Pol, so I stand up and stagger out into the street.

"I am right in its path now. To follow Pol it will have to go around me,and it seems ready to do just that when suddenly I stand up very straightand look the thing in the eye. And it looks back, and suddenly it seems tosee me not as a piece of human filth littering the streets but as a worthyopponent, and instead of moving forward it takes half a step backwards andto the left, not because it is afraid but because it wants to positionitself so that the light will be behind it and in front of me, blinding me.But I take a step, too, and now the light is coming from the side and weare standing face to face not three feet apart, me with my breaker in myleft hand, it with its PCFib in its right, and it is like one of those oldwesterns where the two gun fighters are standing in the streets of adeserted desert city waiting to see who will be the first to fire.

"We activate our weapons simultaneously. My finger squeezes the trigger,and the breaker makes that little clicking sound it makes when it is beingdischarged. And just as the noise starts, I see that the Cybot's pastywhite finger has pressed the button of the PCFib and the red light is aimedstraight at my heart. And I wonder which of us will hit the ground firstand what it will feel like to die.

"Only we don't fall down. And I do not die.

"My first thought is that both of our weapons have malfunctionedsimultaneously. The same thoughts must be going through the Jim'scircuitry, because it decides to test its weapon. It points the PCFib at arat which is chewing on a piece of an old circuit board. The animalimmediately drops dead.

"It's the expression on the Cybot's face which finally helps me tounderstand the truth. It has the kind of hard, plastic, immovable featuresthat all Cybot's have, but its eyes open and close and its jaw has hinges,and right now it is so surprised that its jaw is hanging open and its eyesare wide, exactly the way that mine are. Or must be. I don't have a mirror,but I feel as surprised as the Jim looks---

"And suddenly I realize what is wrong here. Cybot's don't have facialexpressions, because they don't have emotions. But this Jim has emotions.He is startled, confused. Scared.

"As he turns and starts to run, I finally realize the truth. The reason thebreaker has no effect on him is because the killer is not a Cybot, he ishuman.

"I catch him at the corner. He still has the PCFib in his hand. He knowsthe weapon is useless against me, but he is so desperate that he aims it atme anyway, and as he does so I grab his arm and turn the weapon towards hischest. My thumb presses down on his finger which covers the red button. Itdischarges and he stiffens and then goes limp in my arms. I listen for aheart beat and hear nothing. He is dead.

"I'm not about to let the bastard get off so easily, so I thump his chestand then start doing some old fashioned CPR. A few minutes later, themedics arrive with their life support machines and we save him. Save him sothat the psychiatrists can take him apart and figure out what makes a humanget plastic surgery to make himself look like a Cybot and then go on amurder spree."

I watch her face closely. Has she figured out the point of my story yet? Ittook me over twelve hours to realize the significance of what happened downthere in the Underground, but I have an excuse. I was distracted, first bythe need to save my life, then by all the back slapping and congratulationsI had to endure and finally by all the forms I had to fill out back at thestation.

"It was while I was dictating my final report that I realized that onething still had not been explained. I knew why my breaker had no effect onthe killer, but why did his PCFib have no effect on me?

"The answer was so obvious I couldn't believe that I didn't think of itright away. I am sure the murderer did. That was why he turned and ran."

In my pocket there is a breaker, the same one I carried with me in theUnderground. At this point in my story I had planned to to pull it out andpoint it at my own head to see what Claire would do. But that kind ofmelodramatic gesture is not my style. And anyway, I do not need to trickthe truth out of her. With our minds linked as they are now she can not lieto me.

"He ran because he knew that he couldn't kill me, but I could kill him. Heran because he knew that I was what he was only pretending to be."

I pause, not to be dramatic but because it is hard for me to say the wordsI have to say. I am afraid that by saying it I will make it true, and untilthis moment I have been able to delude myself that what happened in theUnderground does not have to mean what I think it means.

"He ran because he knew that I am not human."

Our eyes meet. In her pupils I see myself, a scarred, twisted creature whomust be human because no one would make an artificial man who looks likethat, would they? Did they?

"They Changed me, didn't they?"

Claire looks away.

"The doctor's Changed me, and then to cover up what they had done theyfooled me into thinking that I was recovering from second and third degreeburns. All the months I spent in rehab, all the scars, all the pain--it wasall part of an elaborate lie. Tell me I am wrong, Claire. Tell me that thedoctors did something to me that makes me immune to the PCFib. Maybe Ineeded an artificial heart, and they gave me one, but everything else isreally me. And maybe they threw in a new pair of kidneys while they were atit. And a new set of lungs. And new eyes and new ears--where do you drawthe line, Claire? When do I stop being me and start being a machine?"There are tears in her eyes. In a choked voice she says "You were going todie! They tried to save your body, but it was no use. You were going todie, and I couldn't bear to lose you, Estevan. I love you too much!"

My throat is so tight with emotion that I can barely speak. "And I loveyou. Despite everything that has happened. Butthat does give me the rightto interfere with--with what you are. No one has that right. Claire, I--"But what is the use? I have already said everything that needs to be said.It is what we do that makes us what we are, and at this moment I love herand she loves me. And if the love is not exactly the same love we had foreach other before the shuttle accident, what difference does it make?Nothing in this life ever remains the same, nothing ever stands still. Weare all in the process of changing, of becoming, and even if my skin is notthe flesh nature intended me to have, it is the skin fate gave me.My anger has not completely dissipated. It will take years for that tohappen. But at last I am able to lean forward and take her in my arms andsay

"It's all right. I understand. I would have done the same thing for you."And as I lay my scarred cheek on her smooth hair I realize that it does notreally matter whether or not they Changed me, because the most importantthing is that I am still evolving, still becoming me, Estevan.

The End

Copyright 1998 by McCamy Taylor

Aphelion's Lettercolumn

Return to the Aphelion main page.