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The first awakening was just awful.
She was naked and terribly cold. She appeared to be in a plastic coffin, from whose walls grew wrinkled plastic arms with plastic hands that did things to her. Most of the things hurt dreadfully But I don't have nightmares like this, she thought wildly. She tried to say it aloud and it came out "A."
Even allowing for the sound-deadening coffin walls, the voice sounded distant. "Christ, she's awake already."
Eyes appeared over hers, through a transparent panel she had failed to see since it had showed only a ceiling the same color as the coffin's interior. The face was masked and capped in white, the eyes pouched in wrinkles. Marcus Welby. Now it makes enough sense. Now I'll believe it. I don't have nightmares like this.
`'I believe you're right.'' The voice was professionally detached. A plastic hand selected something that lay by her side, pressed it to her arm. `'There."
Thank you, Doctor. If my brain doesn't want to remember what you're operating on me for, I don't much suppose it'll want to record the operation itself. Bye.
The second awakening was better.
She was astonished not to hurt. She had expected to hurt, somewhere, although she had also expected to be too dopey to pay it any mind. Neither condition obtained.
She was definitely in a hospital, although some of the gadgetry seemed absurdly ultramodern. This certainly isn't Bellevue, she mused. I must have contracted something fancy. How long has it been since I went to bed "last night"?
Her hands were folded across her belly; her right hand held something hard. It turned out to be a traditional nurse-call buzzersave that it was cordless. Lifting her arm to examine it had told her how terribly weak she was, but she thumbed the button easilyit was not spring loaded. "Nice hospital,'' she said aloud, and her voice sounded too high. Something with my throat? Or my ears? Or my . . . brain?
The buzzer might be improved, but the other end of the process had not changed appreciably; no one appeared for a while. She awarded her attention to the window beside her, no contest in a hospital room, and what she saw through it startled her profoundly.
She was in Bellevue, after all, rather high up in the new tower; the rooftops below her across the street and the river beyond them told her that. But she absorbed the datum almost unconsciously, much more startled by the policeman who was flying above those rooftops, a few hundred feet away, in an oversize garbage can.
Yep, my brain. The operation was a failure, but the patient lived.
For a ghastly moment there was great a abyss within her, into which she must surely fall. But her mind had more strength than her body. She willed the abyss to disappear, and it did. I may be insane, but I'm not going to go nuts over it, she thought, and giggled. She decided the giggle was a healthy sign, and did it again, realizing her error when she found she could not stop.
It was mercifully shorter than such episodes usually are; she simply lost the strength to giggle. The room swam for a while, then, but lucidity returned rather rapidly.
Let's see. Time travel, huh? That means . . .
The door opened to admitnot a nursebut a young man of about twenty-five, five years her junior. He was tall and somehow self-effacing. His clothes and appearance did not strike her as conservative, but she decided they probably werefor this era. He did not look like a man who would preen more than convention required. He wore a sidearm, but his hand was nowhere near the grip.
"What year is this, anyway?'' she asked as he opened his mouth, and he closed it. He began to look elated and opened his mouth again, and she said, "And what did I die of?" and he closed it again. He was silent then for a moment, and when he had worked it out she could see that the elation was gone.
But in its place was a subtler, more personal pleasure. "I congratulate you on the speed of your uptake," he said pleasantly. "You've just saved me most of twenty minutes of hard work."
"The hell you say. I can deduce what happened, all right, but that saves you twenty seconds, max. `How' and `why' are going to take just as long as you expected. And don't forget `when.' " Her voice still seemed too high, though less so.
"How about `who'? I'm Bill McLaughlin."
"I'm Marie Antoinette, what the hell year is it?" The italics cost her the last of her energy; as he replied "1995," his voice faded and the phosphor dots of her vision began to enlarge and drift apart. She was too bemused by his answer to be annoyed.
Something happened to her arm again, and picture and sound returned with even greater clarity. "Forgive me, Ms. Harding. The first thing I'm supposed to do is give you the stimulant. But then the first thing you're supposed to do is be semiconscious."
"And we've dispensed with the second thing," she said, her voice normal again now, "which is telling me that I've been a corpsicle for ten years. So tell me why, and why I don't remember any of it. As far as I know I went to sleep last night and woke up here, with a brief interlude inside something that must have been a defroster."
"I thought you had remembered, from your first question. I hoped you had, Ms. Harding. You'd have been the first . . . never mindyour next question made it plain that you don't. Very briefly, ten years ago you discovered that you had leukemia . . ."
"Myelocytic or lymphocytic?"
She paled. "No wonder I've suppressed the memory."
"You haven't. Let me finish. Acute Luke was the diagnosis, a new rogue variant with a bitch's bastard of a prognosis. In a little under sixteen weeks they tried corticosteroids, L-aspiraginase, cytosine arabinoside, massive irradiation, and mercrystate crystals, with no more success than they'd expected, which was none and negatory. They told you that the new bone-marrow transplant idea showed great promise, but it might be a few years. And so you elected to become a corpsicle. You took another few weeks arranging your affairs and then went to a Cold Sleep Center and had yourself frozen."
"They had just announced the big breakthrough. A week of drugs and a high-helium atmosphere and you can defrost a living person instead of preserved meat. You got in on the ground floor."
"And the catch?"
"The process scrubs the top six months to a year off your memory."
"I've been throwing around terminology to demonstrate how thoroughly I've read your file. But I'm not a doctor. I don't understand the alleged `explanation' they gave me, and I dare say you won't either."
"Okay." She forgot the matter, instantly and forever. "If you're not a doctor, who are you, Mr. McLaughlin?"
"Bill. I'm an Orientator. The phrase won't be familiar to you"
"but I can figure it out, Bill. Unless things have slowed down considerably since I was alive, ten years is a hell of a jump. You're going to teach me how to dress and speak and recognize the ladies' room."
"And hopefully to stay alive."
"For how long? Did they fix it?"
"Yes. A spinal implant, right after you were thawed. It releases a white-cell antagonist into your blood-stream, and it's triggered by a white-cell surplus. The antagonist favors rogue cells."
"Slick. I always liked feedback control. Is it foolproof?"
"Is anything? Oh, you'll need a new implant every five years, and you'll have to take a week of chemotherapy here to make sure the implant isn't rejected before we can let you go. But the worst side-effect we know of is partial hair-loss. You're fixed, Ms. Harding."
She relaxed all over, for the first time since the start of the conversation. With the relaxation came a dreamy feeling, and she knew she had been subtly drugged, and was pleased that she had resisted it, quite unconsciously, for as long as had been necessary. She disliked don't-worry drugs; she preferred to worry if she had a mind to.
"Virginia. Not Ms. Harding. And I'm pleased with the Orientator I drew, Bill. It will take you awhile to get to the nut, but you haven't said a single inane thing yet, which under the circumstances makes you a remarkable person."
"I like to think so, Virginia. By the way, you'll doubtless be pleased to know that your fortune has come through the last ten years intact. In fact, it's actually grown considerably."
"There goes your no-hitter."
"Two stupid statements in one breath. First, of course my fortune has grown. A fortune the size of mine can't help but growwhich is one of the major faults of our economic system. What could be sillier than a goose that insists on burying you in golden eggs? Which leads to number two: I'm anything but pleased. I was hoping against hope that I was broke."
His face worked briefly, ending in a puzzled frown. "You're probably right on the first count, but I think the second is ignorance rather than stupidity. I've never been rich." His tone was almost wistful.
"Count your blessings. And be grateful you can count that high."
He looked dubious. "I suppose I'll have to take your word for it."
"When do I start getting hungry?"
"Tomorrow. You can walk now, if you don't overdo it, and in about an hour you'll be required to sleep."
"Well, let's go."
"Eh? Outside, Bill. Or the nearest balcony or solarium. I haven't had a breath of fresh air in ten years."
"The solarium it is."
As he was helping her into a robe and slippers the door chimed and opened again, admitting a man in the time-honored white garb of a medical man on duty, save that the stethoscope around his neck was cordless as the call-buzzer had been. The pickup was doubtless in his breast pocket, and she was willing to bet that it was warm to the skin.
The newcomer appeared to be a few years older than she, a pleasant-looking man with grey-ribbed temples and plain features. She recognized the wrinkled eyes and knew he was the doctor who had peered into her plastic coffin.
McLaughlin said, "Hello, Dr. Higgins. Virginia Harding, Dr. Thomas Higgins, Bellevue's Director of Cryonics."
Higgins met her eyes squarely and bowed. "Ms. Harding. I'm pleased to see you up and about."
Still has the same detached voice. Stuffy man. "You did a good job on me, Dr. Higgins."
"Except for the moment of premature consciousness, yes, I did. But the machines say you weren't harmed psychologically, and I'm inclined to believe them."
"They're right. I'm some tough."
"I know. That's why I brought you up to Level One Awareness in a half-day instead of a week. I knew your subconscious would fret less."
Discriminating machines, she thought. I don't know that I like that.
"Doctor," McLaughlin cut in, "I hate to cut you off, but Ms. Harding has asked for fresh air, and"
"and has less than an hour of consciousness left today. I understand. Don't let me keep you."
"Thank you, Doctor," Virginia Harding said. "I'd like to speak further with you tomorrow, if you're free."
He almost frowned, caught himself. "Later in the week, perhaps. Enjoy your walk."
"I shall. Oh, how I shall. Thank you again."
"Thank Hoskins and Parvati. They did the implant."
"I will, tomorrow. Good-bye, Doctor."
She left with McLaughlin, and as soon as the door had closed behind them, Higgins went to the window and slammed his fist into it squarely, shattering the shatterproof glass and two knuckles. Shards dropped thirty long stories, and he did not hear them land.
McLaughlin entered the office and closed the door.
Higgins's office was not spare or austere. The furnishings were many and comfortable, and in fact the entire room had a lived-in air which hinted that Higgins's apartment might well be spare and austere. Shelves of books covered two walls; most looked medical and all looked used. The predominant color of the room was blacknot at all a fashionable colorbut in no single instance was the black morbid, any more than is the night sky. It gave a special vividness to the flowers on the desk, which were the red of rubies, and to the profusion of hand-tended plants which sat beneath the broad east window (now opaqued) in a riotous splash of many colors for which our language has only the single word "green." It put crisper outlines on anything that moved in the office, brought both visitors and owner into sharper relief.
But the owner was not making use of this sharpening of perception at the moment. He was staring fixedly down at his desk; precisely, in fact, at the empty place where a man will put a picture of his wife and family if he has them. He could not have seen McLaughlin if he tried; his eyes were blinded with tears. Had McLaughlin not seen them, he might have thought the other to be in an autohypnotic trance or a warm creative fog, neither of which states were unusual enough to call for comment.
Since he did see the tears, he did not back silently out of the office. "Tom." There was no response. "Tom," he said again, a little louder, and then "TOM!"
"Yes?" Higgins said evenly, sounding like a man talking on an intercom. His gaze remained fixed, but the deep-set wrinkles around it relaxed a bit.
Higgins nodded. He took a bottle from an open drawer and swallowed long. He didn't have to uncap it first, and there weren't many swallows that size left. He set it, clumsily, on the desk.
"For God's sake, Tom," McLaughlin said half-angrily. "You remind me of Monsieur Rick in Casablanca. Want me to play `As Time goes By' now?"
Higgins looked up for the first time, and smiled beatifically. "You might," he said, voice steady. " `You must remember this . . . as time goes by.' " He smiled again. "I often wonder." He looked down again, obviously forgetting McLaughlin's existence.
Self-pity in this man shocked McLaughlin, and cheerful self-pity disturbed him profoundly. "Jesus," he said harshly. "That bad?" Higgins did not hear. He saw Higgins's hand then, with its half-glove of bandage, and sucked air through his teeth. He called Higgins's name again, elicited no reaction at all.
He sighed, drew his gun and put a slug into the ceiling. The roar filled the office, trapped by sound-proofing. Higgins started violently, becoming fully aware just as his own gun cleared the holster. He seemed quite sober.
"Now that I've got your attention," McLaughlin said dryly, "would you care to tell me about it?"
"No." Higgins grimaced. "Yes and no. I don't suppose I have much choice. She didn't remember a thing." His voice changed for the last sentence; it was very nearly a question.
"No, she didn't."
"None of them have yet. Almost a hundred awakenings, and not one remembers anything that happened more than ten to twelve months before they were put to sleep. And still somehow I hoped . . . I had hope . . ."
McLaughlin's voice was firm. "When you gave me her file, you said `used to know her,' and that you didn't want to go near her `to avoid upsetting her.' You asked me to give her special attention, to take the best possible care of her, and you threw in some flattery about me being your best Orientator. Then you come barging into her room on no pretext at all, chat aimlessly, break your hand and get drunk. So you loved her. And you loved her in the last year."
"I diagnosed her leukemia," Higgins said emotionlessly. "It's hard to miss upper abdomen swelling and lymph node swelling in the groin when you're making love, but I managed for weeks. It was after she had the tooth pulled and it wouldn't stop bleeding that . . ." He trailed off.
"She loved you too."
"Yes." Higgins's voice was bleak, hollow.
"Bleeding Christ, Tom," McLaughlin burst out. "Couldn't you have waited to . . ." He broke off, thinking bitterly that Virginia Harding had given him too much credit.
"We tried to. We knew that every day we waited decreased her chances of surviving cryology, but we tried. She insisted that we try. Then the crisis came . . . oh damn it, Bill, damn it."
McLaughlin was glad to hear the profanityit was the first sign of steam blowing off. "Well, she's alive and healthy now."
"Yes. I've been thanking God for that for three months now, ever since Hoskins and Parvati announced the unequivocal success of spinal implants. I've thanked God over ten thousand times, and I don't think He believed me once. I don't think I believed me once. Now doesn't that make me a selfish son of a bitch?"
McLaughlin grinned. "Head of Department and you live like a monk, because you're selfish. For years, every dime you make disappears down a hole somewhere, and everybody wonders why you're so friendly with Hoskins and Parvati, who aren't even in your own department, and only now, as I'm figuring out where the money's been going, do I realize what a truly selfish son of a bitch you are, Higgins."
Higgins smiled horribly. "We talked about it a lot, that last month. I wanted to be frozen too, for as long as they had to freeze her."
"What would that have accomplished? Then neither of you would have remembered."
"But we'd have entered and left freeze at the same time, and come out of it with sets of memories that ran nearly to the day we met. We'd effectively be precisely the people who fell in love once before; we could have left notes for ourselves and the rest would've been inevitable. But she wouldn't hear of it. She pointed out that the period in question could be any fraction of forever, with no warranty. I insisted, and got quite histrionic about it. Finally she brought up our age difference."
"I wondered about the chronology."
"She was thirty, I was twenty-five. Your age. It was something we kidded about, but it stung a bit when we did. So she asked me to wait five years, and then if I still wanted to be frozen, fine. In those five years I clawed my way up to head of section here, because I wanted to do everything I could to ensure her survival. And in the fifth year they thought her type of leukemia might be curable with marrow transplants, so I hung around for the two years it took to be sure they were wrong. And in the eighth year Hoskins started looking for a safe white-cell antagonist, and again I had to stay room temperature to finance him, because nobody else could smell that he was a genius. When he met Parvati, I knew they'd lick it, and I told myself that if they needed me, that meant she needed me. I wasn't wealthy like herI had to keep working to keep them both funded properly. So I stayed."
Higgins rubbed his eyes, then made his hands lie very still before him, left on right. "Now there's a ten-year span between us, the more pronounced because she hasn't experienced a single minute of it. Will she love me again or won't she?" The bandaged right hand escaped from the left, began to tap on the desk. "For ten years I told myself I could stand to know the answer to that question. For ten years it was the last thing I thought before I fell asleep and the first thing I thought when I woke up. Will she love me or won't she?
"She made me promise that I'd tell her everything when she was awakened, that I'd tell her how our love had been. She swore that she'd love me again. I promised, and she must have known I lied, or suspected it, because she left a ten-page letter to herself in her file. The day I became Department Head I burned the fucking thing. I don't want her to love me because she thinks she should.
"Will she love me or won't she? For ten years I believed I could face the answer. Then it came time to wake her up, and I lost my nerve. I couldn't stand to know the answer. I gave her file to you.
"And then I saw her on the monitor, heard her voice coming out of my desk, and I knew I couldn't stand not to know."
He reached clumsily for the bottle, and knocked it clear off the desk. Incredibly, it contrived to shatter on the thick black carpet, staining it a deeper black. He considered this, while the autovac cleaned up the glass, clacking in disapproval.
"Do you know a liquor store that delivers?"
"In this day and age?" McLaughlin exclaimed, but Higgins was not listening. "Jesus Christ," he said suddenly. "Here." He produced a flask and passed it across the desk.
Higgins looked him in the eye. "Thanks, Bill." He drank.
McLaughlin took a long swallow himself and passed it back. They sat in silence for a while, in a communion and a comradeship as ancient as alcohol, as pain itself. Synthetic leather creaked convincingly as they passed the flask. Their breathing slowed.
If a clock whirs on a deskface and no one is listening, is there really a sound? In a soundproof office with opaqued windows, is it not always night? The two men shared the long night of the present, forsaking past and future, for nearly half an hour, while all around them hundreds upon hundreds worked, wept, smiled, dozed, watched television, screamed, were visited by relatives and friends, smoked, ate, died.
At last McLaughlin sighed and studied his hands. "When I was a grad student," he said to them, "I did a hitch on an Amerind reservation in New Mexico. Got friendly with an old man named Wanoma, face like a map of the desert. Grandfather-grandson relationshipclose in that culture. He let me see his own grandfather's bones. He taught me how to pray. One night the son of a nephew, a boy he'd had hopes for, got alone-drunk and fell off a motorcycle. Broke his neck. I heard about it and went to see Wanoma that night. We sat under the moonit was a harvest moonand watched a fire until it was ashes. Just after the last coal went dark, Wanoma lifted his head and cried out in Zuni. He cried out, `Ai-yah, my heart is full of sorrow.' "
McLaughlin glanced up at his boss and took a swallow. "You know, it's impossible for a white man to say those words and not sound silly. Or theatrical. It's a simple statement of a genuine universal, and there's no way for a white man to say it. I've tried two or three times since. You can't say it in English."
Higgins smiled painfully and nodded.
"I cried out too," McLaughlin went on, "after Wanoma did. The English of it was, `Ai-yah, my brother's heart is full of sorrow. His heart is my heart.' Happens I haven't ever tried to say that since, but you can see it sounds hokey too."
Higgins's smile became less pained, and his eyes lost some of their squint. "Thanks, Bill."
"What'll you do?"
The smile remained. "Whatever I must. I believe I'll take the tour with you day after tomorrow. You can use the extra gun."
The Orientator went poker-faced. "Are you up to it, Tom? You've got to be fair to her, you know."
"I know. Today's world is pretty crazy. She's got a right to integrate herself back into it without tripping over past karma. She'll never know. I'll have control on Thursday, Bill. Partly thanks to you. But you do know why I selected you for her Orientator, don't you?"
"No. I don't think I do."
"I thought you'd at least have suspected. Personality Profiles are a delightful magic. Perhaps if we ever develop a science of psychology we'll understand why we get results out of them. According to the computer, your PP matches almost precisely to my ownof ten years ago. Probably why we get along so well."
"I don't follow."
"Is love a matter of happy accident or a matter of psychological inevitability? Was what 'Ginia and I had fated in the stars, or was it a chance of jigsawing of personality traits? Will the woman she was ten years ago love the man I've become? Or the kind of man I was then? Or some third kind?"
"Oh, fine," McLaughlin said, getting angry. "So I'm your competition."
"Aha," Higgins pounced. "You do feel something for her."
"I . . ." McLaughlin got red.
"You're my competition," Higgins said steadily. "And, as you have said, you are my brother. Would you like another drink?"
McLaughlin opened his mouth, then closed it. He rose and left in great haste, and when he had gained the hallway he cannoned into a young nurse with red hair and improbably grey eyes. He mumbled apology and continued on his way, failing to notice her. He did not know Deborah Manning.
Behind him, Higgins passed out.
Throughout the intervening next day Higgins was conscious of eyes on him. He was conscious of little enough else as he sleep-walked through his duties. The immense hospital complex seemed to have been packed full of grey Jell-O, very near to setting. He ploughed doggedly through it, making noises with his mouth, making decisions, making marks on pieces of paper, discharging his responsibilities with the least part of his mind. But he was conscious of the eyes.
A hospital grapevine is like no other on earth. If you want a message heard by every employee, it is quicker to tell two nurses and an intern than it would be to assemble the staff and make an announcement. Certainly McLaughlin had said nothing, even to his hypothetical closest friend; he knew that any closest friend has at least one other closest friend. But at least three OR personnel knew that the Old Man had wakened one personally the other day. And a janitor knew that the Old Man was in the habit of dropping by the vaults once a week or so just after the start of the graveyard shift, to check on the nonexistent progress of a corpsicle named Harding. And the OR team and the janitor worked within the same (admittedly huge) wing, albeit on different floors. So did the clerk-typist in whose purview were Virginia Harding's files, and she was engaged to the anesthetist. Within twenty-four hours, the entire hospital staff and a majority of the patients had added two and two.
(Virginia Harding, of course, heard nary a word, got not so much as a hint. A hospital staff may spill Mercurochrome. It often spills blood. But it never spills beans.)
Eyes watched Higgins all day. And so perhaps it was natural that eyes watched him in his dreams that night. But they did not make him afraid or uneasy. Eyes that watch oneself continuously become, after a time, like a second ego, freeing the first from the burden of introspection. They almost comforted him. They helped.
I have been many places, touched many lives since I touched her, he thought as he shaved the next morning, and been changed by them. Will she love me or won't she?
There were an endless three more hours of work to be taken care of that morning, and then at last the Jell-O dispersed, his vision cleared and she was before him, dressed for the street, chatting with McLaughlin. There were greetings, explanations of some sort were made for his presence in the party, and they left the room, to solve the mouse's maze of corridors that led to the street and the city outside.
It was a warm fall day. The streets were unusually crowded, with people and cars, but he knew they would not seem so to Virginia. The sky seemed unusually overcast, the air particularly muggy, but he knew it would seem otherwise to her. The faces of the pedestrians they passed seemed to him markedly cheerful and optimistic, and he felt that this was a judgement with which she would agree. This was not a new pattern of thought for him. For over five years now, since the world she knew had changed enough for him to perceive, he had been accustomed to observe that world in the light of what she would think of it. Having an unconscious standard of comparison, he had marked the changes of the last decade more acutely than his contemporaries, more acutely perhaps than even McLaughlin, whose interest was only professional.
Too, knowing her better than McLaughlin, he was better able to anticipate the questions she would ask. A policeman went overhead in a floater bucket, and McLaughlin began to describe the effects that force-fields were beginning to exert on her transportation holdings and other financial interests. Higgins cut him off before she could, and described the effects single-person flight was having on social and sexual customs, winning a smile from her and a thoughtful look from the Orientator. When McLaughlin began listing some of the unfamiliar gadgetry she could expect to see, Higgins interrupted with a brief sketch of the current state of America's spiritual renaissance. When McLaughlin gave her a personal wrist-phone, Higgins showed her how to set it to refuse calls.
McLaughlin had, of course, already told her a good deal about Civil War Two and the virtual annihilation of the American black, and had been surprised at how little surprised she was. But when, now, he made a passing reference to the unparalleled savagery of the conflict, Higgins saw a chance to make points by partly explaining that bloodiness with a paraphrase of a speech Virginia herself had made ten years before, on the folly of an urban-renewal package concept which had sited low-income housing immediately around urban and suburban transportation hubs. "Built-in disaster," she agreed approvingly, and did not feel obliged to mention that the same thought had occurred to her a decade ago. Higgins permitted himself to be encouraged.
But about that time, as they were approaching one of the new downtown parks, Higgins noticed the expression on McLaughlin's face, and somehow recognized it as one he had seen beforefrom the inside.
At once he was ashamed of the fatuous pleasure he had been taking in outmaneuvering the younger man. It was a cheap triumph, achieved through unfair advantage. Higgins decided sourly that he would never have forced this "duel with his younger self" unless he had been just this smugly sure of the outcome, and his self-esteem dropped sharply. He shut his mouth and resolved to let McLaughlin lead the conversation.
It immediately took a turning he could not have followed if he tried.
As the trio entered the park, they passed a group of teenagers. Higgins paid them no mindhe had long since reached the age when adolescents, especially in groups, regarded him as an alien life form, and he was nearly ready to agree with them. But he noticed Virginia Harding noticing them, and followed her gaze.
The group was talking in loud voices, the incomprehensible gibberish of the young. There was nothing Higgins could see about them that Harding ought to find striking. They were dressed no differently than any one of a hundred teenagers she had passed on the walk so far, were quite nondescript. Well, now that he looked closer, he saw rather higher-than-average intelligence in most of the faces. Honor-student types, down to the carefully cultivated look of aged cynicism. That was rather at variance with the raucousness of their voices, but Higgins still failed to see what held Harding's interest.
"What on earth are they saying?" she asked, watching them over her shoulder as they passed.
Higgins strained, heard only nonsense. He saw McLaughlin grinning.
"They're Goofing," the Orientator said.
"Goofing. The very latest in sophisticated humor."
Harding still looked curious.
"It sort of grew out of the old Firesign Theater of the seventies. Their kind of comedy laid the ground-work for the immortal Spiwack, and he created Goofing, or as he called it, speaking with spooned tongue. It's a kind of double-talk, except that it's designed to actually convey information, more or less in spite of itself. The idea is to almost make sense, to get across as much of your point as possible without ever saying anything comprehensible."
Higgins snorted, afraid.
"I'm not sure I understand," Harding said.
"Well, for instance, if Spiwack wanted to publicly libel, say, the president, he'd Goof. Uh . . ." McLaughlin twisted his voice into a fair imitation of a broken-down prizefighter striving to sound authoritative. "That guy there, see, in my youth we would of referred to him as a man with a tissue-paper asshole. What you call a kinda guy that sucks blueberries through a straw, see? A guy like what would whistle at a doorknob, you know what I mean? He ain't got all his toes."
Harding began to giggle. Higgins began sweating, all over.
"I'm tellin' ya, the biggest plum he's got is the one under his ear, see what I'm sayin'? If whiskers was pickles, he'd have a goat. First sign of saddlebags an' he'll be under his pants. If I was you I'd keep my finger out of his nose, an' you can forget I said so. Good night."
Harding was laughing out loud now. "That's marvellous!" A spasm shook her. "That's the most . . . conspicuous thing I've ever baked." McLaughlin began to laugh. "I've never been so identified in all my shoes." They were both laughing together now, and Higgins had about four seconds in which to grab his wrist-phone behind his back and dial his own code, before they could notice him standing there and realize they had left him behind and become politely apologetic, and he just made it, but even so he had time in which to reflect that a shared belly-laugh can be as intimate as making love. It may even be a prerequisite, he thought, and then his phone was humming its A-major chord.
The business of unclipping the earphone and fiddling with the gain gave him all the time he needed to devise an emergency that would require his return, and he marvelled at his lightning cleverness that balked at producing a joke. He really tried, as he spoke with his nonexistent caller, prolonging the conversation with grunts to give himself time. When he was ready he switched off, and in his best W.C. Fields voice said, "It appears that one of my clients had contracted farfalonis of the blowhole," and to his absolute horror they both said "Huh?" together and then got it, and in that moment he hated McLaughlin more than he had ever hated anything, even the cancer that had come sipping her blood a decade before. Keep your face straight, he commanded himself savagely. She's looking at you.
And McLaughlin rescued the moment, in that split second before Higgins's control would have cracked, doing his prizefighter imitation. "Aw Jeez, Tom, that hard cider. If it ain't one thing, it's two things. Go ahead; we'll keep your shoes warm."
Higgins nodded. "Hello, Virginia."
"Gesundheit, Doctor," she said regarding him oddly.
He turned on his heel to go, and saw the tallest of the group of teenagers fold at the waist, take four rapid steps backward and fall with the boneless sprawl of the totally drunk. But drunks don't spurt red from their bellies, Higgins thought dizzily, just as the flat crack reached his ears.
Eyes report: a middle-aged black man with three days' growth of beard, a hundred meters away and twenty meters up in a stolen floater bucket with blood on its surface. Firing a police rifle of extremely heavy caliber with snipersights. Clearly crazed with grief or stoned out of control, he is not making use of the sights, but firing from the hip. His forehead and cheek are bloody and one eye is ruined: some policeman sold his floater dearly.
Memory reports: It has been sixteen weeks since the Treaty of Philadelphia officially "ended" CW II. Nevertheless, known-dead statistics are still filtering slowly back to next-of-kin; the envelope in his breast pocket looks like a government form letter.
Ears report: Two more shots have been fired. Despite eyes' report, his accuracy is hellisheach shot hit someone. Neither of them is Virginia.
Nose reports: all three(?) wounded have blown all sphincters. Death, too, has its own smell, as does blood. The other one: is that fear?
Hand reports: Gun located, clearing holster . . . now. Safety off, barrel coming up fast.
The slug smashed into Higgins's side and spun him completely around twice before slamming him to earth beside the path. His brain continued to record all sensory reports, so in a sense he was conscious; but he would not audit these memories for days, so in a sense he was unconscious too. His head was placed so that he could see Virginia Harding, in a sideways crouch, extend her gun and fire with extreme care. McLaughlin stood tall before her, firing rapidly from the hip, and her shot took his right earlobe off. He screamed and dropped to one knee.
She ignored him and raced to Higgins's side. "It looks all right, Tom," she lied convincingly. She was efficiently taking his pulse as she fumbled with his clothing. "Get an ambulance," she barked at someone out of vision. Whoever it was apparently failed to understand the archaism, for she amended it to "A doctor, dammit. Now," and the whip of command was in her voice. As she turned back to Higgins, McLaughlin came up with a handkerchief pressed to his ear.
"You got him," he said weakly.
"I know," she said, and finished unbuttoning Higgins's shirt. Then, "What the hell did you get in my way for?"
"I . . . I," he stammered, taken aback. "I was trying to protect you."
"From a rifle like that?" she blazed. "If you got between one of those slugs and me all you'd do is tumble it for me. Blasting away from the hip like a cowboy . . ."
"I was trying to spoil his aim," McLaughlin said stiffly.
"You bloody idiot, you can't scare a kamikaze! The only thing to do was drop him, fast."
"I nearly blew your damn head off."
McLaughlin began an angry retort, but about then even Higgins's delayed action consciousness faded. The last sensation he retained was that of her hands gently touching his face. That made it a fine memory-sequence, all in all, and when he reviewed it later on he only regretted not having been there at the time.
All things considered, McLaughlin was rather lucky. It took him only three days of rather classical confusion to face his problem, conceive of several solutions, select the least drastic, and persuade a pretty nurse to help him put it into effect. But it was after they had gone to his apartment and gone to bed that he really got lucky; his penis flatly refused to erect.
He of course did not, at that time, think of this as a stroke of luck. He did not know Deborah Manning. He in fact literally did not know her last name. She had simply walked past at the right moment, a vaguely-remembered face framed in red hair, grey eyes improbable enough to stick in the mind. In a mood of go-to-hell desperation he had baldly propositioned her, as though this were still the promiscuous seventies, and he had been surprised when she accepted. He did not know Debbie Manning.
In normal circumstances he would have considered his disfunction trivial, done the gentlemanly thing and tried again in the morning. In the shape he was in it nearly cracked him. Even so, he tried to be chivalrous, but she pulled him up next to her with a gentle firmness and looked closely at him. He had the odd, inexplicable feeling that she had been . . . prepared for this eventuality.
He seldom watched peoples' eyes closelypopular opinion and literary convention to the contrary, he found peoples' mouths much more expressive of the spirit within. But something about her eyes held his. Perhaps it was that they were not trying to. They were staring only for information, for a deeper understanding . . . he realized with a start that they were looking at his mouth. For a moment he started to look back, took in clean high cheeks and soft lips, was beginning to genuinely notice her for the first time when she said "Does she know?" with just the right mixture of tenderness and distance to open him up like a clam.
"No," he blurted, his pain once again demanding his attention.
"Well, you'll just have to tell her then," she said earnestly, and he began to cry.
"I can't," he sobbed, "I can't."
She took the word at face value. Her face saddened. She hugged him closer, and her shoulder blades were warm under his hands. "That is terrible. What is her name, and how did it come about?"
It no more occurred to him to question the ethics of telling her than it had occurred to him to wonder by what sorcery she had identified his brand of pain in the first place, or to wonder why she chose to involve herself in it. Head tucked in the hollow between her neck and shoulder, legs wrapped in hers, he told her everything in his heart. She spoke only to prompt him, keeping her self from his attention, and yet somehow what he told her held more honesty and truth than what he had been telling himself.
"He's been in the hospital for three days," he concluded, "and she's been to visit him twice a dayand she's begged off our Orientation Walks every damn day. She leaves word with the charge nurse."
"You've tried to see her anyway? After work?"
"No. I can read print."
"Can't you read the print on your own heart? You don't seem like a quitter to me, Bill."
"Dammit," he raged, "I don't want to love her, I've tried not to love her, and I can't get her out of my head."
She made the softest of snorting sounds. "You will be given a billion dollars if in the next ten seconds you do not think of a green horse." Pause. "You know better than that."
"Well, how do you get someone out of your head, then?"
"Why do you want to?"
"Why? Because . . . " he stumbled. "Well, this sounds silly in words, but . . . I haven't got the right to her. I mean, Tom has put literally his whole life into her for ten years now. He's not just my bosshe's my friend, and if he wants her that bad he ought to have her."
"She's an object, then? A prize? He shot more tin ducks, he wins her?"
"Of course not. I mean he ought to have his chance with her, a fair chance, without tripping over the image of himself as a young stud. He's earned it. Dammit, I . . . this sounds like ego, but I'm unfair competition. What man can compete with his younger self?"
"Any man who has grown as he aged," she said with certainty.
He pulled backjust far enough to be able to see her face. "What do you mean?" He sounded almost petulant.
She brushed hair from her face, freed some that was trapped between their bodies. "Why did Dr. Higgins rope you into this in the first place?"
He opened his mouth and nothing came out.
"He may not know," she said, "but his subconscious does. Yours does too, or you wouldn't be so damfool guilty."
"What are you talking about?"
"If you are unfair competition, he does not deserve her, and I don't care how many years he's dedicated to her sacred memory. Make up your mind: are you crying because you can't have her or because you could?" Her voice softened suddenlytook on a tone which only his subconscious associated with that of a father confessor from his Catholic youth. "Do you honestly believe in your heart of hearts that you could take her away from him if you tried?"
Those words could certainly have held sting, but they did not somehow. The silence stretched, and her face and gaze held a boundless compassion that told him that he must give her an answer, and that it must be the truth.
"I don't know," he cried, and began to scramble from the bed. But her soft hands had a grip like ironand there was nowhere for him to go. He sat on the side of the bed, and she moved to sit beside him. With the same phenomenal strength, she took his chin and turned his face to see hers. At the sight of it he was thunderstruck. Her face seemed to glow with a light of its own, to be somehow larger than it was, and with softer edges than flesh can have. Her neck muscles were bars of tension and her face and lips were utterly slack; her eyes were twin tractor beams of incredible strength locked on his soul, on his attention.
"Then you have to find out, don't you?" she said in the most natural voice in the world.
And she sat and watched his face go through several distinct changes, and after a time she said "Don't you?" again very softly.
"Tom is my friend," he whispered bleakly.
She released his eyes, got up and started getting dressed. He felt vaguely that he should stop her, but he could not assemble the volition. As she dressed, she spoke for the first time of herself. "All my life people have brought problems to me," she said distantly. "I don't know why. Sometimes I think I attract pain. They tell me their story as though I had some wisdom to give them, and along about the time they're restating the problem for the third time they tell me what they want to hear; and I always wait a few more paragraphs and then repeat it back to them. And they light right up and go away praising my name. I've gotten used to it."
What do I want to hear? he asked himself, and honestly did not know.
"One man, though . . . once a man came to me who had been engaged to a woman for six years, all through school. They had gotten as far as selecting the wallpaper for the house. And one day she told him she felt a Vocation. God had called her to be a nun." Debbie pulled red hair out from under her collar and swept it back with both hands, glancing at the mirror over a nearby bureau. "He was a devout Catholic himself. By his own rules, he couldn't even be sad. He was supposed to rejoice." She rubbed at a lipstick smear near the base of her throat. "There's a word for that, and I'm amazed at how few people know it, because it's the word for the sharpest tragedy a human can feel. `Antinomy.' It means, `contradiction between two propositions which seem equally urgent and necessary.' " She retrieved her purse, took out a pack of Reefer and selected one. "I didn't know what in hell's name to tell that man," she said reflectively, and put the joint back in the pack.
Suddenly she turned and confronted him. "I still don't, Bill. I don't know which one of you Virginia would pick in a fair contest, and I don't know what it would do to Dr. Higgins if he were to lose her to you. A torch that burns for ten years must be awfully hot." She shuddered. "It might just have burned him to a crisp already.
"But you, on the other hand: I would say that you could get over her, more or less completely, in six months. Eight at the outside. If that's what you decide, I'll come back for you in . . . oh, a few weeks. You'll be ready for me then." She smiled gently, and reached out to touch his check. "Of course . . . if you do that . . . you'll never know, will you?" And she was gone.
Five minutes later he jumped up and said, "Hey wait!" and then felt very foolish indeed.
Virginia Harding took off her headphones, switched off the stereo, and sighed irritably. Ponty's bow had just been starting to really smoke, but the flood of visual imagery it evoked had been so intolerably rich that involuntarily she had opened her eyesand seen the clock on the far wall. The relaxation period she had allowed herself was over.
Here I sit, she thought, a major medical miracle, not a week out of the icebox and I'm buried in work. God, I hate money.
She could, of course, have done almost literally anything she chose; had she requested it, the president of the hospital's board of directors would happily have dropped whatever he was doing and come to stand by her bedside and turn pages for her. But such freedom was too crushing for her to be anything but responsible with it.
Only the poor can afford to goof off. I can't even spare the time for a walk with Bill. Dammit, I still owe him an apology too. She would have enjoyed nothing more than to spend a pleasant hour with the handsome young Orientator, learning how to get along in polite society. But business traditionally came before pleasure, and she had more pressing duties. A fortune such as hers represented the life energy of many many people; as long as it persisted in being hers, she meant to take personal responsibility for it. It had been out of her direct control for over a decade, and the very world of finance in which its power inhered had changed markedly in the interim. She was trying to absorb a decade at onceand determined to waste no time. A powered desk with computer-bank inputs had been installed in her hospital room, and the table to the left of it held literally hundreds of microfloppy discs, arranged by general heading in eight cartons and chronologically within them. The table on the right held the half-carton she had managed to review over the last five days. She had required three one-hour lectures by an earnest, aged specialist-synthesist to understand even that much. She had expected to encounter startling degrees and kinds of change, but this was incredible.
Another hour and a half on the Delanier-Garcia Act, she decided, half an hour of exercise, lunch and those damnable pills, snatch ten minutes to visit Tom and then let the damned medicos poke and prod and test me for the rest of the afternoon. Supper if I've the stomach for any, see Tom again, then back to work. With any luck I'll have 1987 down by the time I fall asleep. God's teeth.
She was already on her feet, her robe belted and slippers on. She activated the intercom and ordered coffee, crossed the room and sat down at the desk, which began to hum slightly. She lit its monitor screen, put the Silent Steno on standby and was rummaging in the nearest carton for her next disc when a happy thought struck her. Perhaps the last disc in the box would turn out to be a summary. She pulled it out and fed it to the desk, and by God it wasit appeared to be an excellent and thorough summary at that. Do you suppose, she asked herself, that the last disc in the last box would be a complete overview? Would Charlesworthy & Cavanaugh be that thoughtful? Worth a try. God, I need some shortcuts. She selected that disc and popped the other, setting it aside for later.
The door chimed and opened, admitting one of her nursesthe one whose taste in eyeshadow was abominable. He held a glass that appeared to contain milk and lemon juice half and half with rust flakes stirred in. From across the room it smelled bad.
"I'm sorry," she said gravely. "Even in a hospital you can't tell me that's a cup of coffee."
"Corpuscle paint, Ms. Harding," he said cheerfully. "Doctor's orders."
"Kindly tell the doctor that I would be obliged if he would insert his thumb, rectally, to the extent of the first joint, pick himself up and hold himself at arm's length until I drink that stuff. Advise him to put on an overcoat first, because hell's going to freeze over in the meantime. And speaking of hell, where in it is my coffee?"
"I'm sorry, Ms. Harding. No coffee. Stains the paintyou don't want tacky corpuscles."
"Dammit . . ."
"Come on, drink it. It doesn't taste as bad as it smells. Quite."
"Couldn't I take it intravenously or something? Oh Christ, give it to me." She drained it in a single gulp and shivered, beating her fists on her desk in revulsion. "God. God. God. Damn. Can't I just have my leukemia back?"
His face sobered. "Ms. Hardinglook, it's none of my business, but if I was you, I'd be a little more grateful. You give those lab boys a hard time. You've come back literally from death's door. Why don't you be patient while we make sure it's locked behind you?"
She sat perfectly still for five seconds, and then saw from his face that he thought he had just booted his job out the window. "Oh Manuel, I'm sorry. I'm not angry. I'm . . . astounded. You're right, I haven't been very gracious about it all. It's just that, from my point of view, as far as I remember, I never had leukemia. I guess I resent the doctors for trying to tell me that I ever was that close to dying. I'll try and be a better patient." She made a face. "But God, that stuff tastes ghastly."
He smiled and turned to go, but she called him back. "Would you leave word for Bill McLaughlin that I won't be able to see him until tomorrow after all?"
"He didn't come in today," the nurse said. "But I'll leave word." He left, holding the glass between thumb and forefinger.
She turned back to her desk and inserted the new disc, but did not start it. Instead she chewed her lip and fretted. I wonder if I was as blasé last time. When they told me I had it. Are those memories gone because I want them to be?
She knew perfectly well that they were not. But anything that reminded her of those missing six months upset her. She could not reasonably regret the bargain she had made, but almost she did. Theft of her memories struck her as the most damnable invasion of privacy, made her very flesh crawl, and it did not help to reflect that it had been done with her knowledge and consent. From her point of view it had not; it had been authorized by another person who had once occupied this body, now deceased, by suicide. A life shackled to great wealth had taught her that her memories were the only things uniquely hers, and she mourned them, good, bad, or indifferent. Mourned them more than she missed the ten years spent in freeze: she had not experienced those.
She had tried repeatedly to pin down exactly what was the last thing she could remember before waking up in the plastic coffin, and had found the task maddeningly difficult. There were half a dozen candidates for last-remembered-day in her memory, none of them conveniently cross-referenced with time and date, and at least one or two of those appeared to be false memories, cryonic dreams. She had the feeling that if she had tried immediately upon awakening, she would have remembered, as you can sometimes remember last night's dream if you try at once. But she had been her usual efficient self, throwing all her energies into adapting to the new situation.
Dammit, I want those memories back! I know I swapped six months for a lifetime, but at that rate it'll be five months and twenty-five days before I'm even breaking even. I think I'd even settle for a record of some kindif only I'd had the sense to start a diary!
She grimaced in disgust at the lack of foresight of the dead Virginia Harding, and activated the data-disc with an angry gesture. And then she dropped her jaw and said, "Jesus Christ in a floater bucket!"
The first frame read, "PERSONAL DIARY OF VIRGINIA HARDING."
If you have never experienced major surgery, you are probably unfamiliar with the effects of three days of morphine followed by a day of Demerol. Rather similar results might be obtained by taking a massive dose of LSD-25 while hopelessly drunk. Part of the consciousness is fragmented . . . and part expanded. Time-sense and durational perception go all to hell, as do coordination, motor skills, and concentrationand yet often the patient, turning inward, makes a quantum leap toward a new plateau of self-understanding and insight. Everything seems suddenly clear: structures of lies crumble, hypocrisies are stripped naked, and years' worth of comfortable rationalizations collapse like cardboard kettles, splashing boiling water everywhere. Perhaps the mind reacts to major shock by reassessing, with ruthless honesty, everything that has brought it there. Even Saint Paul must have been close to something when he found himself on the ground beside his horse, and Higgins had the advantage of being colossally stoned.
While someone ran an absurd stop-start, variable-speed movie in front of his eyes, comprised of doctors and nurses and IV bottles and bedpans and blessed pricks on the arm, his mind's eye looked upon himself and pronounced him a fool. His stupidity seemed so massive, so transparent in retrospect that he was filled with neither dismay nor despair, but only wonder.
My God, it's so obvious! How could I have had my eyes so tightly shut? Choking up like that when they started to Goof, for Christ's sakedo I need a neon sign? I used to have a sense of humorif there was anything Ginny and I had in common it was a gift for reparteeand after ten years of "selfless dedication" to Ginny and leukemia and keeping the money coming that's exactly what I haven't got anymore and I damned well know it. I've shriveled up like a raisin, an ingrown man.
I've been a zombie for ten mortal years, telling myself that neurotic monomania was a Great And Tragic Love, trying to cry loud enough to get what I wanted. The only friend I made in those whole ten years was Bill, and I didn't hesitate to use him when I found out our PPs matched. I knew bloody well that I'd grown smaller instead of bigger since she loved me, and he was the perfect excuse for my ego. Play games with his head to avoid overhauling my own. I was going to lose, I knew I was going to lose, and then I was going to accidentally "let slip" the truth to her, and spend the next ten years bathing in someone else's pity than my own. What an incredible, impossible, histrionic fool I've been, like a neurotic child saying, "Well, if you won't give me the candy I'll just smash my hand with a hammer."
If only I hadn't needed her so much when I met her. Oh. I must find some way to set this right, as quickly as possible!
His eyes clicked into focus, and Virginia Harding was sitting by his bedside in a soft brown robe, smiling warmly. He felt his eyes widen.
"Dilated to see you," he blurted and giggled.
Her smile disappeared. "Eh?"
"Pardon me. Demerol was first synthesized to wean Hitler off morphine; consequently, I'm Germanic-depressive these days." See? The ability is still there. Dormant, atrophied, but still there.
The smile returned. "I see you're feeling better."
"How would you know?"
It vanished again. "What are you talking about?"
"I know you're probably quite busy, but I expected a visit before this." Light, jovialkeep it up, boy.
"Tom Higgins, I have been here twice a day ever since you got out of OR."
"You have conversed with me, lucidly and at length, told me funny stories and discussed contemporary politics with great insight, as far as I can tell. You don't remember."
"Not a bit of it." He shook his head groggily. What did I say? What did I tell her? "That's incredible. That's just incredible. You've been here . . ."
"Six times. This is the seventh."
"My God. I wonder where I was. This is appalling."
"Tom, you may not understand me, but I know precisely how you feel."
"Eh?" That made you jump. "Oh yes, your missing six months." Suppose sometime in my lost three days we had agreed to love each other foreverwould that still be binding now? "God, what an odd sensation."
"Yes, it is," she agreed, and something in her voice made him glance sharply at her. She flushed and got up from her bedside chair, began to pace around the room. "It might not be so bad if the memories just stayed completely gone . . ."
"What do you mean?"
She appeared not to hear the urgency in his voice. "Well, it's nothing I can pin down. I . . . I just started wondering. Wondering why I kept visiting you so regularly. I mean, I like youbut I've been so damned busy I haven't had time to scratch, I've been missing sleep and missing meals, and every time visiting hours opened up I stole ten minutes to come and see you. At first I chalked it off to a not unreasonable feeling that I was in your debtnot just because you defrosted me without spoiling anything, but because you got shot trying to protect me too. There was a rock outcropping right next to you that would have made peachy cover."
"I . . . I . . ." he sputtered.
"That felt right," she went on doggedly, "but not entirely. I felt . . . I feel something else for you, something I don't understand. Sometimes when I look at you, there's . . . there's a feeling something like déjà vu, a vague feeling that there's something between us that I don't know. I know it's crazyyou'd surely have told me by nowbut did I ever know you? Before?"
There it is, tied up in a pink ribbon on a silver salver. You're a damned fool if you don't reach out and take it. In a few days she'll be out of this mausoleum and back with her friends and acquaintances. Some meddling bastard will tell her sooner or laterdo it now, while there's still a chance. You can pull it off: you've seen your errornow that you've got her down off the damn pedestal you can give her a mature love, you can grow tall enough to be a good man for her, you can do it right this time.
All you've got to do is grow ten years' worth overnight.
"Ms. Harding, to the best of my knowledge I never saw you before this week." And that's the damn truth.
She stopped pacing, and her shoulders squared. "I told you it was crazy. I guess I didn't want to admit that all those memories were completely gone. I'll just have to get used to it I suppose."
"I imagine so." We both will. "Ms. Harding?"
"Whatever the reasons, I do appreciate your coming to see me, and I'm sorry I don't recall the other visits, but right at the moment my wound is giving me merry hell. Could you come back again, another time? And ask them to send in someone with another shot?"
He failed to notice the eagerness with which she agreed. When she had gone and the door had closed behind her, he lowered his face into his hands and wept.
Her desk possessed a destruct unit for the incineration of confidential reports, and she found that it accepted unerasable discs. She was just closing the lid when the door chimed and McLaughlin came in, looking a bit haggard. "I hope I'm not intruding," he said.
"Not at all, come in," she said automatically. She pushed the burn button, felt the brief burst of heat, and took her hand away. "Come on in, Bill, I'm glad you came."
"They gave me your message, but I . . ." He appeared to be searching for words.
"No, really, I changed my plans. Are you on call tonight, Bill? Or otherwise occupied?"
He looked startled. "No."
"I intended to spend the night reading these damned reports, but all of a sudden I feel an overwhelming urge to get stinking drunk with someoneno." She caught herself and looked closely at him, seemed to see him as though for the first time. "No, by God, to get stinking drunk with you. Are you willing?"
He hesitated for a long time.
"I'll go out and get a bottle," he said at last.
"There's one in the closet. Bourbon okay?"
Higgins was about cried out when his own door chimed. Even so, he nearly decided to feign sleep, but at the last moment he sighed, wiped his face with his sleeves, and called out, "Come in."
The door opened to admit a young nurse with high cheeks, soft lips, vivid red hair, and improbably grey eyes.
"Hello, nurse," he said. He did not know her either. "I'm afraid I need something for pain."
"I know," she said softly, and moved closer.
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