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The Time-Lapsed Man

Thorn was not immediately aware of the silence.

As he lay in the tank and watched the crystal cover lift above him, he was still trying to regain some measure of the unification he had attained during the three months in flux. For that long – though it had seemed a timeless period to Thorn – he had mind-pushed his boat between the stars: for that long he had been one with the vastness of the nada-continuum.

As always when emerging from flux, Thorn sensed the elusive residuum of the union somewhere within him. As always, he tried to regain it and failed; it diminished like a haunting echo in his mind. Only in three months, on his next shift, would he be able to renew his courtship with the infinite. Until then his conscious life would comprise a series of unfulfilled events; a succession of set-pieces featuring an actor whose thoughts were forever elsewhere. Occasionally he would be allowed intimations of rapture in his dreams, only to have them snatched away upon awakening.

Some Enginemen he knew, in fact the majority of those from the East, subscribed to the belief that in flux they were granted a foretaste of Nirvana. Thorn’s Western pragmatism denied him this explanation. He favoured a more psychological rationalethough in the immediate period following flux he found it difficult to define exactly a materialistic basis for the ecstasy he had experienced.

He eased himself up and crossed the chamber. It was then that he noticed the absence of sound. He should have been able to hear the dull drone of the auxiliary burners; likewise his footsteps, and his laboured breathing after so long without exercise. He rapped on the bulkhead. He stepped into the shower and turned on the water-jet. He made a sound of pleasure as the hot water needled his tired skin. Yet he heard nothing. The silence was more absolute than any he had experienced before.

He told himself that it was no doubt some side-effect of the flux. After more than fifty shifts, a lifetime among the stars, this was his first rehabilitation problem, and he was not unduly worried. He would go for a medical if his hearing did not return.

He stepped under the blo-drier, donned his uniform and left the chamber. Through the lounge viewscreen he could see the lights of the spaceport. He felt a jarring shudder as the stasis-grid grabbed the ship and brought it down. He missed the familiar diminuendo of the afterburn, the squeal of a hundred tyres on tarmac. The terminal ziggurat hove into sight. The ship eased to a halt. Above the viewscreen a strip-light pulsed red, sanctioning disembarkation. It should have been accompanied by a voice welcoming ship personnel back to Earth, but Thorn heard nothing.

As always he was the first to leave the ship. He passed through check-out, offering his card to a succession of bored ’port officials. Normally he might have waited for the others and gone for a drink; he preferred to spend his free time with other Enginemen, and pilots and mechanics, as if the company of his colleagues might bring him closer to that which he missed most. This time, though, he left the ’port and caught a flyer to the city. He would seek the medical aid he needed in his own time, not at the behest of solicitous colleagues.

He told the driver his destination; unable to hear his own voice, he moved his lips again. The driver nodded, accelerated. The flyer banked between towerpiles, lights flickering by in a mesmerising rush.

They came down in the forecourt of his stack. Thorn climbed out and took the upchute to his penthouse suite. This was the first time he had arrived home sober in years. Alcohol helped to ease the pain of loss; sober, he was horribly aware of his material possessions, mocking his mortality and his dependence upon them. His suite might have been described as luxurious, but the blatant utility of the furnishings filled him with nausea.

He poured himself a scotch and paused by the piano. He fingered the opening notes of Beethoven’s Pathetique, then sat down in his recliner by the wall-window and stared out. In the comforting darkness of the room, with the lights of the city arrayed below him, he could make-believe he was back aboard his ship, coming in for landing.

Of course, if his hearing never returned...

He realised he was sweating at the thought of never being able to flux again. He wondered if he would be able to bluff his way through the next shift.


He was on his second drink, twenty minutes later, when a sound startled him. He smiled to himself, raised his glass in a toast to his reflection in the window. He spoke... but he could not hear his words.

He heard another sound and his stomach lurched with sickening confusion. He called out... in silence. Yet he could hear something.

He heard footsteps, and breathing, and then a resounding clang. Then he heard the high-pressure hiss of the hot water and an exclamation of pleasure. His own exclamation... He heard the roar of the blo-drier, then the rasp of material against his skin; the quick whirr of the sliding door and the diminishing note of the afterburners, cutting out.

Thorn forced himself to say something; to comment and somehow bring an end to this madness. But his voice made no sound. He threw his glass against the wall and it shattered in silence.

Then he was listening to footsteps again; his own footsteps. They passed down the connecting tube from the ship to the terminal building; he heard tired acknowledgements from the ’port officials, then the hubbub of the crowded foyer.

He sat rigid with fright, listening to that which by rights he should have heard one hour ago.

He heard the driver’s question, then his own voice; he stated his destination in a drunken slur, then repeated himself. He heard the whine of turbos, and later the hatch opening, then more footsteps, the grind of the upchute...

There was a silence then. He thought back one hour and realised he had paused for a time on the threshold, looking into the room he called home and feeling sickened. He could just make out the sound of his own breathing, the distant hum of the city.

Then the gentle notes of Beethoven’s Pathetique.

The rattle of glass on glass.

He remained in the recliner, unable to move, listening to the sound of his time-lapsed breathing, his drinking when he wasn’t drinking.

Later he heard his delayed exclamation, the explosion of his glass against the wall.

He pushed himself from the recliner and staggered over to the vidscreen. He hesitated, his hand poised above the keyboard. He intended to contact the company medic, but, almost against his will, he found himself tapping out the code he had used so often in the past.

She was a long time answering. He looked at his watch. It was still early, not yet seven. He was about to give up when the screen flared into life. Then he was looking at Caroline Da Silva, older by five years but just as attractive as he remembered. She stared at him in disbelief, pulling a gown to her throat.

Then her lips moved in obvious anger, but Thorn heard nothing – or, rather, he heard the sound of himself chugging scotch one hour ago.

He feared she might cut the connection. He leaned forward and mouthed what he hoped were the words: I need you, Carrie. I’m ill. I can’t hear. That is

He broke off, unsure how to continue.

Her expression of hostility altered; she still looked guarded, but there was an air of concern about her now as well. Her lips moved, then she remembered herself and used the deaf facility. She typed: Is your hearing delayed, Max?

He nodded.

She typed: Be at my surgery in one hour.

They stared at each other for a long moment, as if to see who might prove the stronger and switch off first.

Thorn shouted: What the hell’s wrong with me, Carrie? Is it something serious?

She replied, forgetting to type. Her lips moved, answering his question with silent words.

In panic Thorn yelled: What the hell do you mean–?

But Caroline had cut the connection.

Thorn returned to his recliner. He reflected that there was a certain justice in the way she had cut him off. Five years ago, their final communication had been by vidscreen. Then it had been Thorn who had severed the connection, effectively cutting her out of his life, inferring without exactly saying so that she was no match for what he had found in flux.

Caroline’s question about the time-lapse suggested that she knew something about his condition. He wondered – presuming his illness was a side-effect of the flux – if she was aware of the irony of his appeal for help.


One hour later Thorn boarded a flyer. Drunk and unable to hear his own words, he had taken the precaution of writing the address of the hospital on a card. He passed this to the driver, and as the flyer took off Thorn sank back in his seat.

He closed his eyes.

Aurally, he was in the past now, experiencing the sounds of his life that were already one hour old. He heard himself leave the recliner, cross the room and type the code on the keyboard. After a while he heard the crackle of the screen and Caroline’s, “Doctor Da Silva...” followed by an indrawn breath of surprise.

“I need you, Carrie. I’m ill. I can’t hear. That is –” Thorn felt ashamed at how pathetic he had sounded.

Then he heard Caroline’s spoken reply, more to herself, before she bethought herself to use the keyboard and ask him if his hearing was delayed. “Black’s Syndrome,” she had said.

Now, in the flyer, Thorn’s stomach lurched. He had no idea what Black’s Syndrome was, but the sound of it scared him.

Then he heard his one-hour-past-self say, “What the hell’s wrong with me, Carrie? Is it something serious?” The words came out slurred, but Caroline had understood.

She had answered: “I’m afraid it is serious, Max. Get yourself here in one hour, okay?”

And she had cut the connection.


Caroline Da Silva’s surgery was part of a large hospital complex overlooking the bay. Thorn left the flyer in the landing lot and made his way unsteadily to the west wing. The sound of the city, as heard from his apartment, played in his ears.

He moved carefully down interminable corridors. Had he been less apprehensive about what might be wrong with him, and about meeting Caroline again after so long, he might have enjoyed the strange sensation of seeing one thing and hearing another. It was like watching a film with the wrong sound-track.

He found the door marked ‘Dr Da Silva’, knocked and stepped inside. Caroline was the first person he saw in the room. For a second he wondered how the flux had managed to lure him away from her, but only for a second. She was very attractive, with the calm elliptical face of a ballerina, the same graceful poise. She was caring and intelligent, too – but the very fact of her physicality bespoke to Thorn of the manifest impermanence of all things physical. The flux promised, and delivered, periods of blissful disembodiment.

Only then did Thorn notice the other occupants of the room. He recognised the two men behind the desk. One was his medic at the Line, and the other his commanding officer. Their very presence here suggested that all was not well. The way they regarded him, with direct stares devoid of emotion, confirmed this.

A combination of drink, shock and fear eased Thorn into unconsciousness.


He awoke in bed in a white room. To his right a glass door gave on to a balcony, and all he could see beyond was the bright blue sky. On the opposite wall was a rectangular screen, opaque to him but transparent to observers in the next room.

Electrodes covered his head and chest.

He could hear the drone of the flyer’s turbos as it carried him towards the hospital. He sat up and called out what he hoped was: Caroline!...Carrie!

He sank back, frustrated. He watched an hour tick by on the wall-clock, listening to the flyer descend and his own footsteps as the Thorn-of-one-hour-ago approached the hospital. He wondered if he was being watched through the one-way window. He felt caged.

He looked through the door into the sky. In the distance he could see a big starship climb on a steep gradient. He heard himself open the surgery door, and Caroline’s voice. “Ah...Max.”

Then – unexpectedly, though he should have been aware of its coming – silence. This was the period during which he was unconscious. He glanced back at the sky, but the starship had phased out and was no longer visible.

Thorn tried not to think about his future.


Caroline arrived thirty minutes later. She carried a sketch pad and a stylus. She sat on a plastic chair beside the bed, the pad on her lap. She tried to cover her concern with smiles, but Thorn was aware of tears recently shed, the evidence of smudged make-up. He had seen it many times before.

How long will I be in here? he asked.

Caroline chewed her lower lip, avoiding his eyes. She began to speak, then stopped herself. Instead, she wrote on the sketch pad and held up the finished product:

A week or two, Max. We want to run a few tests.

Thorn smiled to himself. What exactly is this Black’s Syndrome? he asked, with what he hoped was the right degree of malicious sarcasm.

He was pleased with Caroline’s shocked expression.

How do you know that? she scribbled.

You mentioned it over the vidscreen, Thorn told her. I didn’t hear it until I was coming here... What is it, Carrie?

She paused, then began writing. Thorn read the words upside down: Black – an Engineman on the Taurus Line out of Varanasi. After fifty shifts he developed acute sensory time-lapse. It’s a one-in-a-thousand malady, Max. We don’t know exactly what causes it, but we suspect it’s a malfunction in the tank leads that retards interneuron activity.

She paused, then held up the message.

Thorn nodded. I’ve read it. So...?

She turned to a blank page, stylus poised.

How long did he last? Thorn asked, bitterly. When did the poor bastard die?

Quickly she wrote: He’s still alive, Max.

Thorn was surprised, relieved. If the present condition was the extent of Black’s Syndrome, then what was to prevent him fluxing again?

He wondered at Caroline’s tears. If his disease was only this minor, then why all the emotion?

Then he thought he understood.

When can I leave, Carrie? When can I get back to the flux?

He was watching the pad, waiting for a reply. When he looked up he saw that she was crying, openly this time.

He laughed. You thought you had me, didn’t you? Discharged from the Line, your own little invalid to look after and pamper. You can’t stand the thought that I’ll recover and flux again, can you?

Despite her tears she was scribbling, covering page after page with rapid, oversized scrawl.

When she came to the end she stabbed a vicious period, ripped the pages out and flung them at him. She ran from the room, skittling a chair on the way. Thorn watched her, a sudden sense of guilt excavating a hollow in his chest.

His gaze dropped to the crumpled pages. He picked them up and read:

Acute sensory time-lapse. Not just hearing. Everything. In a few days your taste and smell will go the same way. Then your vision. You’ll be left only with the sensation of touch in the ‘present’. Everything else will be lapsed...

It went like this for a few more pages, the handwriting becoming more and more erratic. Most of it reiterated the few known facts and Caroline’s observations of Black’s decline. On the last page she had simply written: I loved you, Max.

Thorn smoothed the pages across his lap. He called for Caroline again and again, but if she heard she ignored him. He wanted to apologise, ask what might happen to him. He tried to envisage the sensation of having all his senses time-lapsed save for that of touch, but the task was beyond his powers of perception.

He lay back and closed his eyes. Later he was startled by the sound of his voice, his cruel questions. He heard Caroline’s breathless sobs, the squeak of the stylus, a murmured, “I loved you...” to accompany the written assurance. He heard her run crying from the room, the chair tumble, the door slam shut.

Then all he could hear was the sound of his breathing, the muffled, routine noises of the hospital. For the first time in hours the sounds he heard were synchronised with what he could see.

He slept.


On the morning of his third day in hospital, Thorn’s senses of taste and smell went the way of his hearing. This further time-lapse dashed any hope he might have had that Caroline’s diagnosis had been mistaken.

He had not seen Caroline since her hurried departure on the first day. He had been examined and tested by medical staff who went about their business in silence, as if they were aware of his outburst at Caroline and were censoring him for it. On the third morning in hospital, a black nurse brought him his breakfast.

He began eating, and soon realised that he could neither taste nor smell the bacon and eggs, or the coffee, black and no doubt strong.

He finished his meal. He watched the nurse return and remove the tray, sank back and waited.

Two hours later he heard the sound of the trolley being rolled in, the rattle of knife and fork. Seconds later the taste of bacon, then egg yolk, filled his mouth. He inhaled the aroma of the coffee, tasted it on his tongue. He closed his eyes and savoured the sensation. It was the only pleasurable effect of this strange malaise so far.

Then he sat up as something struck him. Two hours...! The delay between eating the food and tasting it had been two hours! Likewise the sound of the nurse’s arrival.

If his hearing, taste and smell became delayed at the rate of two hours every three days – then what would it be like in a week, say, or a month or a year?

And what of his eyesight? How would he cope with seeing something that had occurred hours, days, even weeks ago? He resolved to find out what had happened to Black, how he was coping. He sat up and called for Caroline.


She did not show herself for another three days.

Thorn was attended by an efficient platoon of medics. They seemed to rush through their duties around him with a casual indifference as if he ceased to exist, or as if they assumed that his senses had retarded to such an extent that he existed alone in a bubble of isolation. On more than one occasion he had asked whether he could be cured, how much worse it might become, what had happened to Black? But they used the fact that he could not immediately hear them as an excuse to ignore him, avoiding not only his words but his eyes.

On the morning of his sixth day in hospital, he awoke to silence and ate his tasteless breakfast. The sound of his waking, of the hospital coming to life around him, the taste of his breakfast – all these things would come to him later. He wondered if he could time it so that he tasted his breakfast at the same time as he ate his lunch?

He waited, and it was four hours later when he tasted toast and marmalade, heard the sounds of his breathing as he awoke.

Later, a nurse removed the electrodes from his head and chest. She opened the door to the balcony and held up a card which read:

Would you like to go out for some air?

Thorn waited until the nurse had left, shrugged into a dressing gown and stepped on to the balcony. He sat down on a chair in the sunlight and stared across the bay, then up into the sky. There was no sign of starship activity today.

He realised that, despite the seriousness of his condition, he still hoped to flux again. Surely the state of his senses would have no detrimental effect on his ability to mind-push? He had already decided that when his condition deteriorated to such an extent that he could no longer function without help, which must surely happen when his sight became effected, he would volunteer for a long-shift. He could push a boat to one of the Rim Worlds, spend a year of ecstasy in flux. It would probably kill him, but the prospect of such rapture and a painless end was preferable to the life he could expect here on Earth.

Caroline appeared on the edge of his vision. She placed a chair next to his and sat down beside him, the sketch pad on her lap. She seemed fresh and composed, the episode of the other day forgotten.

I’ve been wanting to apologise for what I said, Carrie. I had hoped you’d visit me before now. And he cursed himself for making even his apology sound like an accusation.

Caroline wrote: I’ve been with Black.

Thorn was suddenly aware of his own heartbeat. How is he?

She wrote: Only his sense of touch is now in the ‘present’. All his other senses are time-lapsed by nearly a day.

How’s he coping?

She paused, then wrote: Not very well. He was never very stable. He’s showing signs of psychosis. But you’re much stronger, Max –

He interrupted: What happens when his sense of touch retards?

Caroline shrugged. Thorn read: It hasn’t happened yet. It’s difficult to say. In a way, if it does occur, it will be easier for him as all his senses will be synchronised in the ‘past’. But he’ll be unable to mix with people, socialize. How could he? Their presence would be delayed subjectively by hours, days. There would be no way for him to relate...

He could still flux, Thorn said.

Caroline looked away. Tears appeared in her eyes. Then she scribbled something on the pad:

Is the flux all you think about?

It’s my life, Carrie. The only reason I exist.

She shook her head, frustrated by this clumsy means of communication. She wrote out two pages of neat script and passed them to him.

I could understand your infatuation with the flux if you thought the experience had religious significance; that you were in touch with the Afterlife. But you don’t even believe that! To you it’s just a drug, a mental fix. You’re a flux-junky, Max. When you left me you were running away from something you couldn’t handle emotionally because you’d never had to in the past. For most of your life, Max, the flux has provided you with a substitute for human emotion, both the giving of it and the taking. And look where it’s got you!

Thorn sat without speaking. Some part of him – some distant buried, human part – was stunned by the accuracy and truth of her insight.

You just feel sorry for yourself because you didn’t get me, he said weakly, trying to defend himself.

Caroline just stared at him. She shook her head. With deliberation she wrote one line. She stood up and tore off the top sheet, handed it to him and left the balcony.

I’m not sorry for myself, Max. I’m sorry for you.


Thorn pushed the meeting with Caroline to the back of his mind. In the days that followed he dwelled on the hope that he might one day be able to flux again. If his sense of touch did retard, then, as Caroline had suggested, all his senses would he synchronised and his condition made considerably easier. He might not be able to socialize, but that would be no great loss. His only desire was to rejoin the Line.

On his ninth morning in hospital, Thorn opened his eyes and saw nothing but darkness. He called for the lights to be switched on, but instead someone spoon-fed him breakfast. He was unable to tell if it was Caroline who fed him; he could neither see, hear, or even smell the person. He asked who it was, but the only response – the only one possible in the circumstances – was a gentle hand on his arm. After his first breakfast in absolute darkness he lay back and waited.

His sensory delay had expanded to six hours now, and it was that long before the darkness lifted and he was able to see the sunlight slanting into the room. He had the disconcerting experience of lying flat on his back while his gaze of six hours ago lifted as the Thorn-of-this-morning sat up and prepared for breakfast. In his vision the black nurse positioned his tray and fed him bacon and eggs. Thorn felt that he could reach out and touch the woman. He tried, and of course his hand encountered nothing.

He had no control over the direction of his gaze; his unseeing eyes of that morning had wandered, and he found himself trying to bring his errant vision back to the nurse, when all he saw was the far wall. His vision was interrupted by frequent, fraction-of-a-second blanks, when he had blinked, and longer stretches of total blackness when he had closed his eyes. The only benefit of this visual delay was that now his sight and hearing, taste and smell were synchronised. He saw the nurse lift a forkful of egg to his mouth, heard the sound of his chewing and tasted the food. The only thing missing was the egg itself; his mouth was empty.

“There we are,” the nurse said, proffering Thorn a last corner of toast. He wanted to tell her to stop treating him like a child, but that was the big disadvantage of his present condition: what he experienced now had happened six hours ago. The Jamaican nurse would be elsewhere in the hospital, the bacon and egg digested, the sounds and aromas dissolved into the ether.

Over the next few days he remained awake into the early hours, watching the happenings of the previous day. At four in the morning, then six, darkness would descend, and Thorn would settle down to sleep. Around noon he would wake, spend several hours in darkness, then watch the sun rise eight hours late. If the delay between occurrence and perception continued to increase by two hours every three days, as it was doing, then Thorn foresaw a time when he would be spending more time in darkness than in light.

He would be able to cope. There had been many a long period in the past, between shifts, when he had locked himself in his darkened apartment, with drink and fleeting memories of flux.


After almost two weeks in hospital Thorn began to weaken. He passed through periods of physical nausea and mental confusion. He hallucinated once that he was fluxing again, this time without the usual euphoria of the union.

The day following this hallucination he awoke early and felt the warmth of sunlight on his skin. Eight hours later he was aware of the sun coming up over the sea. He would have liked to watch it, but his eyes of eight hours ago were fixed on the foot of his bed. The frequency of his ‘waking’ blinks gave the scene the aspect of an ancient, flickering movie. At least it wasn’t silent: he could hear the hospital waking around him, the distant crescendo of a starship’s burners.

Later, after someone spoon-fed him a tasteless lunch, he felt a soft hand on his arm. He moved his head, as if by doing so he might see who it was. But all he saw was the same old far wall of eight hours ago; all he heard was his own breathing. He recalled the touch of the black nurse, but that had been light, platonic, reassuring him like a child that everything was alright. There was nothing platonic about this touch. As he lay there, helpless, whoever it was pulled back the sheets and divested him of hospital garb. He shouted out in silence, tried to fend her off – ‘her’ because his flailing arm caught the softness of a breast. But he could not see the woman and he was unable to prevent the ludicrous rape. He felt a warm, soft weight straddle him, her breasts loose against his chest, and the sensation was what he imagined it might be like to be taken by a succubus.

Caroline? he said. He moved his arms in the clumsy description of an embrace, touched her familiar warm and slender body. He was aroused now despite himself. She found him and he moaned without a sound, ran his fingers through her black invisible hair. He recognised Caroline’s brand of love-making from the past, went along with it as though they had never parted, and when climax came it was as he remembered it from many years ago – a brief ecstasy soon gone, like a second in flux but not as satisfying. Even the unusual circumstances of the union, the fact that he could not see Caroline, that the source of his pleasure was as it were disembodied, could only intimate a greater rapture and not fulfil in itself.

The invisible weight of her lay against him now, heavy and sated after orgasm, which Thorn had experienced through the silent contractions of her body. She kissed him, and he felt salt tears fall on his face.


Her lips moved against his cheek, her breath hot as she formed words. It was like being kissed by a ghost, bestowed silent prophecy.

In the calm aftermath of the act, Thorn began to feel revulsion. The bizarre nature of their love-making sickened him. He felt a return of the old guilt which he thought he had long since banished. It was as if the union was a symbol of their relationship to date; for years Thorn had played at loving someone whose essence was invisible to him, while Caroline for her part had wasted her life chasing someone who was emotionally forever elsewhere.

He cried out now and pushed her from the bed. He felt her fall and almost heard her cry of pain. Get out, Caroline! Go away! He faced where he thought she might be, but could not be sure. I don’t want you, for Godsake! All I want

She attacked him then. She came at him with painful blows and slaps, and no doubt cries and accusations. Thorn was aware only of the physical violence, the punches that struck from nowhere without warning. And he was aware, too, that he deserved everything he was getting.

He lay on the bed, battered and exhausted. Caroline had ceased her attack. He had no way of knowing whether she was still in the room, but he sensed her continued presence. I don’t know why you came here, he said. I don’t know what you want from me...

He half-expected another hail of blows, and flinched in anticipation. But none came.

When he thought he was alone he dragged the bedsheets around him protectively, lay back and recalled Caroline’s tears on his cheeks.

There could only be one explanation for her visit.


Thorn felt himself weaken further during the hours that followed.

He waited with mounting apprehension, his body covered in chill sweat. Visually it was four o’clock in the afternoon, but the real time was around midnight. It seemed a lot longer than the delayed eight hours before Caroline entered his line of sight.

She moved out of it quickly as she came to the side of his bed. She reached out and touched his arm, and Thorn expected to feel her now, but of course her touch had startled him eight hours ago. Then, Thorn had turned his head abruptly, and now he saw Caroline full on. She wore only a white gown and nothing beneath, and she was crying.

He watched as she undressed him, and the sight of her doing this now brought a hot flush of shame and resentment to his cheeks. The sensation of her touch had passed, but as he watched her slip from her gown and climb on to him he experienced a resurgence of the desire that had overwhelmed him eight hours earlier.

The Thorn-of-now lay still in his bed. He was making love to Caroline, but, with his memories of the physical act already eight-hours old, he felt like a voyeur in the head of his former self. He could see her, frenzied blurs of flesh and hair and tongue; he could smell her, the perfume she used and the sweat of sex that overcame it; and he could hear her small moans of pleasure, her repeated cry of his name as she approached climax.

He heard his slurred question: “Caroline... Why...?”

They had finished their loving-making and she lay in his arms. “Because I loved you, Max,” she had said. “Because I still love you.”

He knew what happened next. Again he experienced that overwhelming sense of revulsion, brought about by guilt. He watched helplessly as he pushed her from the bed. “Get out, Caroline!” he heard himself cry. “Get away!” He saw her expression of pain, the acceptance of rejection in her eyes, and had it been possible he would have stopped himself saying what he said next. “I don’t want you, for Godsake! All I want –”

She came at him and hit him again and again.

The Thorn-of-now flinched, as if the blows he could see coming might indeed inflict pain upon him; he raised his arms as if to protect himself.

Caroline backed off and yelled at him.

He heard himself say: “I don’t know why you came here...I don’t know what you want from me...”

Caroline was crying. “I came because I loved you, Max. I came to say goodbye.”

She lowered her gaze and murmured, more to herself than to Thorn: “Black died two days ago...”

Eight hours later Thorn lay quite still.


He deteriorated rapidly over the next few days.

The knowledge of Black’s death robbed him of any will he might have had to fight. In his final hours he experienced a gradual diminution of his senses. His hearing left him first – then his taste and smell, though he hardly noticed their absence. Later his vision dimmed and went out, and he was aware of himself only as a small, blind intelligence afloat in an infinite ocean.

Soon even the awareness of his physical self diminished, and then the last sense of all, the cerebral intuition of his own identity, left him too. A familiar euphoria flooded him then, and the man who had been Thorn knew, before he died, that he was being absorbed into the vastness of the cosmos he had known until now as the nada-continuum.

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