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 which happened 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 present tense? Why is everything now? Since the accident, I have lost touch with the past. My memories are still there, somewhere in the distant outposts of my mind, but it is as if they happened many lifetimes ago. Or as if they belong to someone else and I have only read about them, never really experienced them except perhaps in dreams.

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

Thoughts like these have been burning inside my brain ever since I was released from the medical unit. The psychiatrists call it paranoia and say that it is common among people who spend a long time hooked up to life sustaining machines. Maybe they are right. A friend who knows about such things tells me that the doctors who cared for me are the best in their fields, world renowned, the best that money can buy. The best that Claire's money can buy.

And that is what worries me.

I will start again. It happened last week, but in my mind last week is today, 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. Her auburn hair is cut short, baring the smooth, pale skin at the nape of her neck. How many times did I kiss her there? It has been months since we last touched, but my lips still recall the sensation of her flesh. Does her new flesh recall the sensation of my lips?

She wears a loose fitting robe of grey linen which falls away from her right shoulder exposing lightly freckled skin. On the back of her arm four inches above her elbow there is a black, kidney shaped mole. Claire hated that mole. She talked about having plastic surgery to remove it. But it is still 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 from injuries that should have killed me, while Claire opted for the easy way out, the quick fix.

As she takes my hands in hers, I study her eyes. They say that you can tell a Change by its eyes, but hers are just as I remember them, blue grey with a 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 of her size. "I'm glad you came," she murmurs. "I missed you." She sounds sincere, 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 twisted slowly 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 herself differently, 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 the same woman. I push her away. But before I turn to leave I make the mistake of looking at her face one last time, and in her eyes I see an emotion which stops me in my tracks. She is afraid.

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

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

I should have expected this, but I did not. Why didn't I? Because I secretly believe that Changes are better than the rest of us, stronger mentally and emotionally as well as physically? When you no longer have to fear death or disease, you obtain immediate enlightenment--or so the popular wisdom goes. But the woman who stands before me, wringing her hands and gnawing her lower lip is a far cry from the serene bodhisattva I expected. Nor is she the unfeeling machine, the cold, beautiful android of my nightmares. Her skin and all it contains---muscles, bones, heart, brain, blood--all of these are synthetic, but the essential thing, the thing 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 talk about."

Claire laughs. She has two kinds of laughter, a rich, deep laugh of amusement that comes from the belly and a short, high pitched little bark which 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. "I was 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 maid bring some champagne."

"I came here because I want some answers!" It is at times like these that I realize how much my body has changed. After two months on a respirator, my vocal cords have been permanently scarred and what was meant to be a shout sounds 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 soothing voice says "Hush now. I don't know what answers you think I have, but I'll do what I can." And then, to buy herself time she adds "Sit down and tell me about it."

This is unnecessary. Claire's family owns Luna's largest news net and nothing happens anywhere on the New World that she does not know about. But I decide to play along with her in order to buy myself some time. Before I came 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 generation Lunans, Claire craves wide open spaces, and she can not stand to have a chair or sofa get in the way when she wants to pace. The only piece of furniture is a small natural wood table shaped like a cube. On top of the table, a single white peony blossom floats in a blue porcelain bowl. I was with her when she bought the bowl from an antiques dealer in New Atlanta, and though it looks plain, almost rustic, I remember that bowl vividly 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 other than stiff and clumsy. She looks away, pretending not to notice while I force my knees to bend. It hurts like hell, but I manage to get my legs into semi lotus position, and after the spasm of pain fades, I begin my story.

"It began months ago in a place called Dead Horse, one of the old orbiting cities. The original name of the place was New Havana and it was intended to 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 Aspen and building ski slopes, they ran out of credit and their company went bankrupt. A caribou meat processing company out of Earth bought the station to use as combination slaughter house and giant deep freezer. As you can imagine, Dead Horse is a grim place, nothing but blood, ice, and caribou carcasses."

Claire covers her mouth with her hand. "It sounds awful." Like all her family, she is a strict vegetarian. Or was a strict vegetarian. Changes do not eat.

"Let's just say that people are not exactly lining up to get a chance to live there. The only humans in residence are the plant manager, a biologist and an engineer, and they are just there to supervise. All the real work is done by Cybots. One group handles the unloading of the animals from freighters 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 the slaughterhouse don't club the animals to death the way that Old World meat packers used to. They use PCFibs--portable cardiac fibrillators--to kill the 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 does it I can hardly resist the urge to hug her, because it seems to prove that despite everything that has happened she is still Claire. If only I could be as sure of myself. But the difference between us is that she knows what was done to her, she knows what she is. And what am I? That is the question which has brought me here today.

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

"It is an efficient operation, but six weeks ago something went wrong on Dead Horse. One of the slaughterhouse Cybots killed the plant engineer with a PCFib then cut his throat and skinned him and hung his corpse up alongside the caribou carcasses in the deep freezer. It took the two remaining humans over a week to discover the body, and by that time the Cybot had disappeared.

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

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

"And the air ducts and sewers and all the other nasty inaccessible places where human workers won't go. That's what makes Cybots so useful. And the JYm3 is the most common model CyboCorp makes. The Matsua had twenty-three on board when it docked at Dead Horse. No one would have noticed one Jim more or less. It was a perfect escape vehicle.

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

"It did not occur to any of them to notify the police. As far as they were concerned, the engineer's death was accidental, the result of a machine malfunction, and therefore not a LunaPol matter. And of course, there is the problem of jurisdiction. Technically, the old orbiting cities are still Old World colonies, but no one on Earth gives a damn about anything that happens off planet and you know how they are about anything that has to do with cyborgs or androids."

I glance at her out of the corner of my eye. She must know that the Northern Hemisphere Counsel recently passed a law exiling all artificial humanoids, including Changes, from their territories. And what the Northern Hemisphere 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 is that rich--and retiring there when she turned one hundred. Now, she will never be able to visit the Old World much less live there. Does she feel angry? Is she regretting her decision? Her face reveals nothing, and the rapport which seemed so strong between us half an hour ago is now gone so I can not tell what she is feeling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The New Orient Express completed her cruise without any further unpleasantness. It docked here, in Tranquility Three, two weeks ago, and the first thing the commander did after landing was call the local LunaPol office to report the death of a passenger due to machine malfunction. The passenger's body was handed over to the coroner for a confirmatory autopsy and the ship's Cybots were shipped to CyboCorp's main lab to be analyzed to 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 on the ship's roster, and when they rounded up and deactivated all the ship's Cybots, they missed the stowaway. Somehow it managed to hide until the ship docked at Tranquility Three and somehow it managed to sneak off the ship while the passengers were disembarking."

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

I smile. Or rather, I try to smile. The scars make it difficult for my face to form any expression other than a grimace. "You're being generous. Jims have the IQ of slime mold. Yes, as soon as we heard about the killings, we assumed that someone had tampered with a Cybot, but we had no proof and no clue about who it might be. Was it a terrorist group? There are dozens of antitechno cults on Earth that routinely sabotage machinery, but they have never 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 at headquarters was that the plant engineer back on Dead Horse reprogrammed the unit in order to act out some sick sexual fantasy. But again, we had no proof. All we had was one butchered corpse on Dead Horse, another headless body on the New Orient Express and twelve minutes of computer video showing an anonymous Jim killing and decapitating a human. The only reason we knew that the Cybot escaped was because two days after the New Orient Express docked in Tranquility Three, another body was found. This one was a smuggler 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 the horrible details."

"That's right. Your news net was the first to break the story. There was a Net 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 the LunaPol coroner knew. The smuggler was killed with a PCFib before she was butchered, which meant that this was not a gang related killing or a psycho murder, it was the work of the Cybot from Dead Horse.

"As soon as we saw the pathology report, we knew that the Jim had managed to escape once again. And this time it was not on any space freighter that could be docked and quarantined while it was searched. It was loose in Tranquility Three, a dome with over two thousand Cybots, seventy-three percent of them JYm3s. And it was up to us to find it before it killed again, or worse, before people found out that a murderous Cybot was roaming the 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 rough info from one of the Net 3 terminals. "Three hundred people were killed, four thousand injured. Three thousand Cybots deactivated, two thousand permanently. The city computer was downloaded, air system and heating system inactivated, all transportation brought to a halt." She does not mention the six Changes who were killed by mobs. One of them was Lu Su, her own cousin. All of the Changes were important people, rich people, but to the angry citizens of New Detroit they were just more machines.

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

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

"Let me finish the story, then you can ask questions. The Director decided that the best way to catch the Cybot was to use a decoy, so she flooded the streets 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, another smuggler murdered in the Underground. If you think about it, the Old City is 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 we concentrated our operation in that part of the city. "Two days later, the Jim attacked one of the decoys. It happened in the old Chinese 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 taken by surprise, because he had time to signal for back up before he was killed, and his breaker had been fired--"

"His what?"

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

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

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

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

I pull myself together. "After Harroun's body was found, the officers at LunaPol were understandably nervous. There were rumors that this was some new kind of cyborg, a prototype with special light weight lead shielding or a different kind of circuitry that could not be inactivated with the standard breaker. A lot of the other officers refused to go back on the streets. But you know how stubborn I am. And since the accident, it just does not seem to matter to me whether I live or die, so I spend the next three nights crouched beside an old rusty cooling unit in the Russian quarter, with a liquor bottle in one hand and a breaker in the other. It is hot down there, and steam rises from the pavement..."

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

"...among the centipedes and albino rats, stinking of my own sweat and cheap liquor. The bottle is just for show, but it is so hot that I take a sip from time to time to cool myself off. At first I worry that the alcohol will 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 me down, or maybe they gave me so many pain killers while I was in the hospital that I'm now immune to ordinary sedatives. It doesn't matter. All I care about is getting that damn robot before it kills anyone else. And after we capture it and dismantle it, we will find the bastard who programmed it to kill.

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

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

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

"The three days pass slowly. I do a lot of thinking about you and me and that shuttle accident. Every now and then, I look down at my reflection in a puddle of oil and see a stranger, and I begin to wonder if maybe I made the wrong decision. I said that I didn't want to live if I couldn't have my own body, but this skinny, scarred old man isn't me. And I think a lot about 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 and think and feel. Ashes can not do, and it's what we do more than anything else that makes us what we are." I laugh self consciously. "Pretty deep thoughts for a grade 2 LunaPol officer."

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

"On the third day, I see a LunaPol officer disguised as a Hari Krishna. He must recognize me, because no one else in Tranquility Three has scars like mine, 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 white skin, this one is different because it does not move like a machine, it moves like a hunter stalking its prey. And its prey is Pol, the cop disguised 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 up from a drinking binge with a bad hangover. The Jim pauses and glances once in my direction and then makes a motion as if it is about to continue its pursuit 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 straight and look the thing in the eye. And it looks back, and suddenly it seems to see me not as a piece of human filth littering the streets but as a worthy opponent, and instead of moving forward it takes half a step backwards and to the left, not because it is afraid but because it wants to position itself 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 we are standing face to face not three feet apart, me with my breaker in my left hand, it with its PCFib in its right, and it is like one of those old westerns where the two gun fighters are standing in the streets of a deserted 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 being discharged. And just as the noise starts, I see that the Cybot's pasty white finger has pressed the button of the PCFib and the red light is aimed straight at my heart. And I wonder which of us will hit the ground first and 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 malfunctioned simultaneously. The same thoughts must be going through the Jim's circuitry, because it decides to test its weapon. It points the PCFib at a rat which is chewing on a piece of an old circuit board. The animal immediately drops dead.

"It's the expression on the Cybot's face which finally helps me to understand the truth. It has the kind of hard, plastic, immovable features that 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 eyes are 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 facial expressions, 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 the breaker has no effect on him is because the killer is not a Cybot, he is human.

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

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

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

"It was while I was dictating my final report that I realized that one thing still had not been explained. I knew why my breaker had no effect on the 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 it right 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 the Underground. At this point in my story I had planned to to pull it out and point it at my own head to see what Claire would do. But that kind of melodramatic gesture is not my style. And anyway, I do not need to trick the truth out of her. With our minds linked as they are now she can not lie to me.

"He ran because he knew that he couldn't kill me, but I could kill him. He ran 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 words I have to say. I am afraid that by saying it I will make it true, and until this moment I have been able to delude myself that what happened in the Underground 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 who must be human because no one would make an artificial man who looks like that, 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 they fooled me into thinking that I was recovering from second and third degree burns. All the months I spent in rehab, all the scars, all the pain--it was all part of an elaborate lie. Tell me I am wrong, Claire. Tell me that the doctors did something to me that makes me immune to the PCFib. Maybe I needed an artificial heart, and they gave me one, but everything else is really me. And maybe they threw in a new pair of kidneys while they were at it. And a new set of lungs. And new eyes and new ears--where do you draw the 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 to die! They tried to save your body, but it was no use. You were going to die, 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 love you. Despite everything that has happened. Butthat does give me the right to 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 her and she loves me. And if the love is not exactly the same love we had for each other before the shuttle accident, what difference does it make? Nothing in this life ever remains the same, nothing ever stands still. We are all in the process of changing, of becoming, and even if my skin is not the 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 to happen. But at last I am able to lean forward and take her in my arms and say

"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 not really matter whether or not they Changed me, because the most important thing is that I am still evolving, still becoming me, Estevan.

The End

Copyright 1998 by McCamy Taylor

McCamy Taylor: "I write speculative fiction with elements of fantasy, science fiction and horror. While I have written a handful of short stories, my main interest is long fiction."

You can send email to McCamy Taylor here and you may visit her web site here.

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