by Gary Ross Hoffman
That's all that I could get out. The stabbing pain in my gut would've had me
jumping out of bed and screaming at the top of my lungs a few years ago. Now
all I can do is let out a pathetic gasp.
Even that seems liked a small victory. I haven't been able to speak since they
permanently placed a tube down my throat.
There's no more jumping for me. I barely have the strength to move at all.
When I do, I usually regret it. Screaming is out of the question as well. My
lungs hardly move any air these days. I'm sure the doctors are going to plug
another machine into me soon, one to do my breathing for me.
I'm dreading it.
It's just not fair. Nothing in my body works right. I can't eat, I can't move,
I almost can't breathe. Why, why, then, do my pain receptors work at
Crap. Someone is entering my hospital room. Can't they leave me alone? Nothing
they do helps ease the pain. All they can do is make my life more miserable.
It hurts when they move me. It hurts when they clean me. Everything they do
to me hurts. Even the noise they make is almost unbearable. Everything
reverberates in my head like it's an echo chamber. The crashing, clattering,
banging, clanging, it drives me up the wall.
But worse, by far, is when they speak to me. Do they expect me to answer?
Don't they realize that their jabbering hurts my head?
"Sorry to intrude," says a male voice. "What is your full name, please?"
Shut up! Just shut up and go away!
"Oh. Sorry. Just a moment..."
No, don't touch me... oh....
Wet. He's wiping my ears with something. Doesn't hurt. Strange...
"Is that better?" he asks.
What the..? It is better. He still sounds a little loud, but at least
his words aren't bouncing around inside of my skull. Why couldn't someone
have done that months ago?
"Sir? Your full name, please?" he asks. He's a persistent cuss. Most of them
are, the doctors, the nurses, the technicians and all the rest of the
hospital's useless cast of characters.
Arthur. Myron. Johnston. And it's Johnston with a T, not Johnson. Now shut
up and leave me to rot in peace.
"Arthur Myron Johnston, not Johnson. Got it. Thank you," he says. "Please
listen very carefully, as I have an important proposal to make."
What is the matter with you people!!? My guts are killing me! My head is
full of cotton and my sinuses are full of concrete! Every part of me is in
agony! Don't you think I find that a little distracting!? Do you think
I can focus on what you're saying!?
"Ah. I see. Well, I'm reluctant to do this, but it appears to be necessary,"
the man says.
He reaches into the pocket of his coat... how do I know this? My vision is
practically non-existent. But somehow I know that he is pulling out a brown,
He leans forward...
"Guucckk.. acckk..," I protest, as he places the puppy on my chest.
But there is no pain. I feel the pressure of the puppy as it roams around,
apparently looking for a comfortable spot to lie down. Its meanderings should
feel like torture, but they do not.
"I'm sorry about this, Mister Johnston," says the man. "But the relief you
feel is only temporary."
I barely hear the man. I am amused by the puppy's wanderings. It has huge,
floppy ears, which swing and sway as he sniffs and walks around my torso.
Ha-ha! It's fun to watch him.
But how can I be watching the dog's antics? My eyesight is shot!
"Just a side-effect," says the man.
And how can you hear me? I can't talk!
"It's not important," he says. "Are you feeling better?"
I lay still, stunned. This man.. he wipes my ears, and suddenly I can hear
clearly. He puts a puppy, a puppy on my chest and...
And the pain in my gut subsides. And my chest. Has the dog anesthetized me?
No. I can still feel it walking around, its soft paws gently touching me,
kind of tickling...
I actually feel good. Oh mercy, I never thought I'd feel this way
again! And now the puppy has picked his spot and is snuggling against me.
I can feel its warmth. It's spreading... slowly... oh! The pain in my
joints... it's... it's fading.
"Mister Johnston, I regret having to do this. The effects are only
temporary," the man apologizes.
Thank you, I say, mentally, at least. It may be temporary, but I'll take it.
"You probably believe that I can cure you. I'm afraid that I cannot."
That thought hadn't crossed my mind. Until now.
"You have a terminal illness. There is nothing I can do to change that,"
the man says.
I sense a big "However" coming.
The man hesitates. The puppy squirms and makes himself more comfortable.
Shivers of pleasure run up and down my body.
"Yes, 'however'," the man admits.
Okay, you have my full attention, I say, or rather think at him. It's not
true, though. The puppy has most of my attention.
"Think of your life as a book, entering the last chapter," the man continues.
Yes, I know that I'm dying. Get on with it.
"The book will end, no matter what."
Yes, yes. And it just might end before you get to the point.
"There, ah, could be a 'Volume II'," he says.
For the moment my mind goes blank. Volume II. A continuation? I might live?
"No. The book, your life, will definitely end soon."
Then, what is Volume II?
The man is suddenly ill
at ease. He has something difficult to tell me. Is it too complicated for me to
"Possibly," he says.
If you're trying to
tell me that you're an alien, I already figured that out.
The man grimaces, as if
I'd used an unpleasant, but accurate word.
"Not exactly an
alien..., alright, for the sake of simplicity, yes," he says.
So, you've got science
that would look like magic to me. Don't worry. I won't freak out.
The man looks somewhat relieved, but still nervous.
Go on, I'm listening, I say.
"We can... enshroud...
no, that's too complicated. When you die, we can ensure that your mind
lives on. We can create a new body and instill your mind into it," he explains.
You can clone me?
"No, well, yes, we could,
if that's what you want. But that's just one possibility. We can create a better
body for you. Or a mechanical body. Or a non-human body. There are numerous
You can transplant my brain into an alien body? Or a robot?
"No, no, you misunderstand.
Your brain will die with the body you currently inhabit..."
So, what you really
want from me is to make a copy of my brain...
"No... look. I'm sorry
I'm not being very clear about this," the man says.
We both take a deep breath, he literally, and me mentally.
"Think of your mind
as something that is housed inside your brain. It is a complex mass of
energy patterns that are constantly changing from moment to moment. When the
physical support structure dies, that would be your brain, those energy
patterns start to dissipate. They cannot be retrieved once they're gone."
I'm with you so far.
"We can.. oh, it's difficult to come up with a proper analogy..."
Build scaffolding around it?
The man thinks about it.
"Hmmmm, close. More
like we would provide an 'escape pod' for your mind to reside in until we can
create a new structure which can support it."
Sounds great. What's the catch?
"Ah yes, the catch," he
sighs. "As I said, this would be 'Volume II'. Volume I will be permanently
"Meaning you won't
suddenly be visiting your loved ones in a brand new body. As far as everyone is
concerned, you will have died."
I sigh mentally. There
are a lot of things I would like to do, mistakes I would like to correct,
people to whom I'd like to say "I'm sorry".
"You wouldn't have been
able to do those things in any case," the man says.
Sadly, he is correct. I
left it all too late. And now I'm a decrepit old man, dying in a hospital room.
The man is not offering me a do-over.
But, what is he offering? And more to the point, why?
"We need your knowledge, your experience," he says.
But, you're aliens!
What could I possibly have to offer? You must be centuries ahead of us!
Once again the man takes a deep breath.
"Mister Johnston, I am
a human, just not the same species of human as you are. We are,
genetically related. As for us being
'centuries ahead of you', that's true in some respects. But in certain areas,
we are woefully behind. In fact, Earth, with it's myriad of cultures and its
staggering population of seven billion, has already overtaken our knowledge
base in several fields of science. Please don't ask for explanations. The
truth is so complicated, so utterly fantastic, that it would take weeks to
explain it all to you."
I'm not a scientist. I still don't know what you want from me.
"During much of your
life, you were a geologist," the man says.
You need a geologist? You're not serious.
"I am very serious."
To do what? Study alien planets?
That stopped me cold. I
couldn't think of a single thing to say.
"Mister Johnston, I
must leave now. Think about what I've said. I will return some time before you
die. You can give me your answer then," the man says.
He reaches for the
puppy, which jumps up and evades him. It runs up and begins licking my face.
"Huu huu huu," I
laughed as the puppy's rough tongue tickles my nose, my cheeks, my eyes.
"Roger, behave," the
man says, scooping up the puppy. "Mister Johnston, I'm afraid that your
symptoms will now begin to return. By the end of the day, it will be as if they
had never left. I wish I could ease your suffering, but I cannot."
The man puts the puppy
back into his coat pocket, then turns and leaves.
* * *
The man was right. Not
long after he left my hospital room, I began feeling twinges in my joints.
Within an hour, they were giving me constant pain. Then my guts started
twisting uncomfortably. By the end of the day, I was writhing in agony.
It is now two days
later. I'm in as bad a shape as I've ever been. The doctors and nurses look at
me with pity and concern. They do not believe that I have long to live. They're
The whole episode of
the visit from a not-exactly-alien from another world could have been a
hallucination brought on by my mind's need to escape its suffering. Or perhaps
it was induced by the cocktail of medications they keep pumping into me.
My eyesight is now
perfectly clear, the sores on my cheeks have disappeared, and my sinuses no
longer bother me. The three places the puppy licked me.
If... when the man returns, I will accept his proposal.
I hope he brings Roger with him.