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Everything Philip did was monitored. Everything.

Biosensors stuck to his skull, his chest, his wrist, his armpits, his nostrils, the insides of his mouth, even his cock. They swarmed in his blood. None of them were intrusive, none interfered with anything he wanted to do, but he was nonetheless constantly aware of them. Sending signals, revealing his bodily functions to researchers at the Institute, tying him to his body. Three times a day he reported to a lab where his fluids were collected, his reflexes tested, his mind grilled to see if, and how, it was functioning. It was all the price of the deep-brain implants.

Which he could barely use.

Once or twice, meditating in a room with a two-way mirror, he thought he might have reached the fourth level of brain activity, the meditative state, which he used to be able to reach regularly. The fifth level, where he touched that Great Unknown, wasn’t even a glimmer.

After each session, he met with Julie, who shook her head. “Your brain waves are those of full, wakeful alertness.”

“I don’t feel alert.”

“You don’t look it, either.”

“I know what I look like. Shit. How do you expect me to sleep knowing that every snore and fart is being reported to you?”

She smiled. “Actually, I don’t hear about the farts.”

Philip gazed at her, and a second later was horrified to feel his cock rise. That would show up on the biosensors. But the desire that he always felt in her presence—to touch her hand, kiss her mouth—was so strong that it had to manifest itself somehow. Damn, it had been too long since he’d felt a woman’s skin next to his own. And he had a dim memory of saying something to her just before he went into the OR, something he shouldn’t have said according to the rules Julie had laid down. She kept strictly to those rules.

She rose. “Go back to your room and rest, Philip. Lab tests in an hour.”


“Rest.” But there was a shine in her brown eyes, a swing to her walk as she left the room. Philip, for good or ill, had known a lot of women. His looks had made that easy. Julie wanted him as much as he wanted her, but she was a professional.

He went back to his room and lay on the bed. The images that crowded his brain had nothing to do with meditation.

Fuck this. Two weeks had passed since his operation, and after that first brief stirring in the dark recovery room, he might as well have been trying to build old Rome with his mind.

Quietly he rose from his bed and opened the door. No one in the corridor. He went down the hall to a bathroom, but not the one attached to his room that measured his feces and urine and saliva. In a stall, he removed every external sensor from his body, then sprinted down a stairwell and out an emergency door. Which would, of course, alert Security. He ran toward a little wood separating the Institute for Brain Research from the university campus, barreled through the wood, and entered the first building he saw. The entrance had stairs leading to a basement corridor. Doors, most of them locked. However, an unsecured door led to an underground room with a table, chairs, sofa, fridge, InstaBake—some sort of break room for employees. A duty roster glowed on the wallscreen. Three names were listed, all with duties in, he hoped, other buildings.

Philip turned off the lights and lay on the sofa. It smelled of old sweat. Sensors still swarmed in his blood, but sensors were not spaceship commlink devices. Surely their range was limited, and surely he was now beyond it.

He slowed his breathing, concentrated his mind, and began to meditate. He couldn’t get there. The tension of leaving the Institute prickled at him like ants. Contracts were pretty much the sole regulators of life on Galt, and he was breaking his.

Five minutes later, the door flung open and Julie entered with a serious security bot, the kind programmed to restrain and carry off mental patients or criminals. “Philip!”

He sat up, allowing himself the relief of anger. In the dim light from the corridor, she was a curvy silhouette, and anger somehow morphed into that other agitated state, desire.

“I can’t do it, Julie,” he said furiously, desirously. “With all of you watching me and controlling me and denying me—I’m not a bot, damn it! You had a tracker in my clothes, didn’t you? I’m not a criminal, a child, or a machine! And a mystic state isn’t something you just order up like a chicken dinner!”

“Deny you!” she said, just as angry as he was. “What have you been denied? You got the brain implants you swore you wanted, got them for free, and in return all you have to do is—what are you doing?”

Adrenalin propelled him off the sofa. He put both hands on her waist. “What have I been denied? You know what. Go ahead, order the bot to knock me out and carry me back. Do it.”

She didn’t. He felt her body shudder, then melt against his. Her hair smelled of some spice he couldn’t name. She said in a husky voice, “Code 17. Bot off.”

He forced himself to say, “Julie, I don’t want you to if you don’t—”

“I do.” She kissed him, so hard it bruised his mouth.

“But if your job—”

“Shut up,” she said, and he did.

* * *

Afterward, Julie fell asleep. Philip, surprised and pleased by the intensity of her, lay awake on the cramped, musty sofa. She was going to be remorseful when she woke, he knew that. He also knew that he was not.

All the tension had left him. One arm and one foot dangled over the edge of the tattered sofa, his entire body in a relaxation so deep that he felt boneless. Head, limbs, torso—all so heavy that he could not have lifted them if he wanted to, and he did not want to. Julie’s body, unseen in the total darkness, lay against him, her breathing deep and regular. Her breathing filled the world, was the world.

Philip rode on her breath to somewhere else.

A moment of surprise, and then he let it happen. He was in the dark room, where his body stayed. But his mind—his consciousness—lifted and soared. He saw nothing, his eyes left behind with the rest of his matter, but matter was not the only element of the universe. Matter was secondary, a temporarily congealed form of energy, the result of collapsing waves. Energy was primary, the original force, entangled since the Big Bang. Energy was primal.

Philip rode the entangled energy of the universe.

He brushed something. Afterward, he could not say what it was—or what they were. Many, millions, of something. Impossible to put a name to. But there was matter here, too, or rather the possibility of matter, the probability—and the moment he tried to put a name to the matter, it shifted under his touch and he was back on the sofa in the dark.

Tears ran down his cheeks. It had happened. Not like it had five years ago; that had been only a shadow of this. Now he’d gone past that elusive, so-long-sought consciousness to an unsuspected, even more basic state. The substrate underlying the structure of the universe and unifying its forces. And now he knew for sure. There was something out there, something more. And he had touched it, even if he could not sustain that touch.

“Lights!” Julie’s voice said, and the room flooded with unwelcome glare. She bolted upright, her naked shoulder wet with his tears, her face creased with worry.

“Philip, what is it? I’m not angry, the sex was my choice, too. It shouldn’t have happened but it doesn’t have to abort the experiment.…Philip?”

He said, “Energy doesn’t collapse into matter unless there is an observer.”

The worry creases on her forehead deepened to fissures. “What? Are you all right?”

“Yes,” Philip said. And then: “They’re out there. I have to find them.”

* * *

He could not. He tried and tried, and all he found was frustration.

* * *

He tried again.

And again.

And again.

Julie had gently refused more sex. She deeply regretted what she regarded as her “exploitation of researcher-subject trust.” Philip, who didn’t regret it at all and did not feel exploited, had then tried masturbation to bring him to the same relaxed, uninhibited state that had led him to whatever deep reality he’d touched while on the basement sofa with Julie. Masturbation had failed. Endorphins from frantic exercise had failed. Meditation had failed. Psychotropic drugs of various types had failed, leaving him groggily confused about any level of reality whatsoever.

Frustration. Nothing but failure and frustration.

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