by Deborah Koren © 2003

It started as a tingle in the sole of his right foot. It increased to an itch and he stamped his boot against the floor hoping that would satisfy it. It seemed to make it worse.

He bore it with gritted teeth until the itch became torture. Leaning over, he tore at the laces with stubby fingers until the knots came free. Then he ripped the boot off and scratched at the sole with his nails.

“Ahh,” he said. It was like sinking into a Jacuzzi, like the first sip of a really really good cabernet, like....

You see?a voice said. Reaction to physical stimulus, exactly as predicted by my equations, here.

It was a woman’s voice. He looked around but did not see anyone. Or anything for that matter. He glanced back down at his foot, but saw nothing but blackness. He must have taken the boot off by memory and feel.

“Hello?” he said. “Yo? Who’s there?”

Well, look at that. No, here on the monitor. I don’t recall that in your equations. A man’s deeper tones this time.

Not this soon. This is very good.

“Hey, I can’t see! I can hear you but I can’t see anything!” He recognized a flare of panic in his voice. Voices in his head... that wasn’t good. Not good at all. He twitched at a memory, of a cell and white-coated attendants. Funny, though, it wasn’t a strong memory, didn’t even feel like his. In a way, that scared him even more, and he tried to put it out of his mind.

Here, is that better? The woman’s voice again.

It was as if she threw a light switch. Abruptly he had a view of a man and a woman staring down at him. What do you see? she asked and he knew the question was directed to him and not her companion.

“Man, woman. Both thin, too young... doctors?” he said. “White Coats.” He tried to look around the room, but even though he swiveled his head back and forth, he could only see straight ahead. Straight at them.

The man looked at the woman. White Coats?

That would be Melanie Southren’s thought,she said. Hated doctors.

“Excuse me!”

She glanced back down at him and actually smiled. Feigned insult, she said. Did you read that?

He’d had enough. He stood up, on one booted foot, one bare foot and walked away from them.

Except his view didn’t change.

An uncontrollable shiver ran through him. He could feel the cold floor beneath his bare foot. He could feel the muscles in his legs shifting with each step, his arms swinging, the breeze he caused with his own passage.

They watched him.

He tried to close his eyes, and found he couldn’t even do that. He gulped in a breath as his heart rate flared. He couldn’t even blink. He could feel his eyelids come down, but nothing changed. White Coats. What had they done to him? Panic swelled in his chest, and he ran. He knew he was running, every fiber of his being acknowledged the forward strides, the slap of his bare foot and the clomp of his booted one. He knew he was running, but he was going nowhere. His sight remained locked on the doctors. He sobbed and threw himself to the floor.

And still nothing changed in his single focus view.

“Bastards! Bastards! What the fuck have you done to me?”

And who would that be? the man asked, almost wearily.

Sammy Allen. Real-estate broker. She shrugged. We took all volunteers.

“Get me out of here!” his voice was rising in panic again, and he didn’t even try to control it. “Please. Why can’t I blink?”

Are you sure it can take integration? The man crossed his arms.

She flipped through the pages on her clipboard and pursed her lips. It has to. It’s just an amalgamation of twenty-six memory sets, sparked at random by what we’re saying. The physical dexterity response appears significantly higher than predictions, but for this to work....”

He tried to interrupt. “Stop this!”

The parts must integrate.

“Hey! Stop! Get out of my head!” he was sobbing again, and he could feel the tears on his cheeks. “Can’t you see me? Can’t you see I’m a person. I have rights. There’s a constitution.”

The man grimaced. You appear to have the emotional response mechanism programmed correctly as well.

She looked at him sharply. Save your sarcasm.

Well, which of the volunteers was a blubbering coward?

His mouth dropped open, worked soundlessly. Why couldn’t they see? Why couldn’t they hear his pleas? They had to be figments of his own imagination. They were the amalgamation, not him. Mental invaders sent to destroy his sanity. He wasn’t a volunteer. If he was he’d have some recollection of it, wouldn’t he? Wouldn’t there have been waivers and questionnaires and tests?

Time? she said.

His shoulders slumped abruptly and he nodded to himself. A mountain of paperwork. And the pretty assistant pointing and saying Sign here, please, sign here. He did recall.

The man checked his watch and said, 15:33.

Logged. Let’s begin.

“No!” he said, not sure if he was crying for the person he had been or the person he would become.

It started as a tingle in the soul.

x x x

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