In spite of my optimistic tone with Rann and Haley I knew I had a long row to hoe ahead of me. Nerve fibers do indeed grow back, and even with a totally severed spinal cord one can eventually recover full use of the entire body. But it's not just a matter of waiting for everything to switch back on.
Imagine accidentally cutting through a six-inch diameter phone cable buried in your back yard. You're looking at several thousand mangled ends of wires on each side. Now imagine that all those wires are exactly the same color. You might, with a lot of patience, be able to splice each wire to a wire on the other end. But the result is that there are going to be a lot of people getting wrong numbers.
Nerve fibers work the same way. Each axon grows to and connects with the first broken end it encounters, without regard for whether a fiber controlling a leg muscle is connecting to a fiber coming down from the brain centers for toe movements. Once the connections begin reestablishing themselves, their owner finds that they can indeed move parts they couldn't move before--it's just that when they try to wiggle a toe they bend their ankle instead. Even more disorienting is the bizarre sensation of touching yourself on the shin and feeling the sensation on your thigh.
Fortunately the brain can eventually sort things out. But it requires a lot of hard work on the part of the recuperee to regain the kind of control we all take for granted. And in the meantime the unused muscles will have atrophied considerably, which means regaining a tremendous amount of lost ground. I suspected it would be quite a while before I'd be clashing blades with Rann or Kiri again.
Of all the weeks I spent in the hospital recovering, the first few after I emerged from the coma were by far the worst. It wasn't that I was in pain; I'd already done a considerable amount of mending, and almost as soon as I could follow instructions I was immersed in the rigorous process of retraining my poor abused and disused body. No, it wasn't that at all.
There were days when I woke up with my brain submerged in an impenetrable haze, and the only emotion I could feel was an overwhelming depression. At times like that even thinking was a torture; I was like a little child who'd stayed up past her naptime. I found myself wanting to cry when presented with the tiniest obstacle, and must have been a real trial to my ever-loyal friends. I just can't live like this, I'd tell myself in despair, but the doctors would reassure me that it was a temporary result of the long coma, and that it would pass in time, and gradually it did.
It was about two weeks after Haley's and Rann's visit, when the blurry spells were finally becoming less frequent, that Will and Kiri arrived accompanied by several officers in Deshtiran security uniforms, and asked me if I was in any shape to tell them what had happened back on Rouaas. At first the question threw me; then I realized what a baffling scene they must have found when they landed. "I'll do my best," I agreed, and began recounting the events as well as I could.
When I reached the part where I was lying on the ground waiting for Rokun to descend the wall, something stuck in my mind, something about two hemispherical objects lying on the ground.
"Hemispherical objects?" Kiri said, puzzled. Then her face brightened. "Are you talking about the two halves of your helmet?"
It rang a bell. "Yeah. It must have broken from the impact."
"Hell of an impact," Will commented dryly. "That helmet undoubtedly saved your life."
I nodded, and resumed my tale, up through the part where I'd mind-wiped Rokun. The rest was my own business, I decided. "So somehow what remained of Rokun's mind recognized you, and was able to restrain the Virrin mind just long enough to keep him from frying you," Kiri observed. "Sen, you might not think so, but you really do lead a charmed life."
That's when it hit me, and I found myself starting to giggle, much to their alarm. Then I was laughing until the tears were running down my face, laughing at the absurdity of it, and how simple it all could have been. "Sen?" said Will rather hesitantly. He and Kiri glanced at each other, and I suspected they were on the verge of pressing the emergency call button.
"It's okay," I gasped, only partially regaining control. "But don't you get it? All that time, running for my life, almost getting electrocuted, finally doing a pretty good Humpty-Dumpty impersonation, and all I had to do was take off my helmet." And then I was off again. I'm not sure why, but for the rest of the afternoon I found myself getting unexpected attacks of the giggles. Well, a good knock on the head can do strange things, okay?
(I realized later that I also owed my life to Rokun's second blast. Had I simply rolled over the edge, I would almost certainly have bounced off the steeply sloped wall and far out into space, and then nothing would have saved me from hurtling into the seemingly bottomless abyss. My shattered body would probably lie there today.)
After the investigators left, Kiri asked Will if she could speak to me alone. I had a feeling that something uncomfortable was impending, and I wasn't too far off.
"Sen," she said softly, "there's something you need to know. You're not going to like this, and I want you to know that both Will and I opposed it. But what's done is done, and it can't be reversed now." I stared at her, wondering what had happened.
"When we retrieved you from Rouaas, we also retrieved Rokun's body. It was still alive, of course, even though the mind had been wiped, and it was sent back to Deshtiris." She looked down at the floor as she continued. "The genetic alterations have been reversed or removed, so that it's more or less in the state it was before Rokun did that terrible experiment." Get to the point, I wanted to scream, but I knew Kiri well enough to realize that whatever had happened, this wasn't easy for her.
"In the process of gathering experimental data, Rokun had done several uploads of his own mind to the Virrin neural engram machine." Oh, no, I thought dully. No. "Once his body was restored to its original condition," she went on, her voice now wooden, "his most recent file was downloaded into the body. Except for some physical anomalies left over from the alterations, he's pretty much back to his former self." I started to speak, but she cut me off.
"Sen, I know. It shouldn't ever have been done. Will and I were both opposed to it, but there was tremendous pressure from the civilian authorities. They're terrified that the full story will get out and cause a major uproar. In addition, the top leaders of the scientific community insisted that it would be a tragedy to lose a mind like his. Our position just wasn't strong enough to justify overruling them." For the first time since I'd known her she seemed indecisive, unsure of herself. I suddenly felt very sorry for her.
"There's really no harm done," she said, but her voice gave the lie to her words. "As far as he knows, he's still Rokun. We had to tell him what had happened, of course." She hesitated. "He wants to see you. Naturally he feels terrible about it, and blames himself. As he should, I suppose."
No harm done, I thought. Not yet. What was it someone once said about a slippery slope? The rest eluded me.
"Will you see him, Sen?" she was saying.
"Sure," I said softly. "It's not his fault. He didn't do it." She looked at me sharply and considered saying something, then thought better of it. "Thank you, Sen," she said instead. "I really appreciate it."
"Kiri," I said as she got up to leave. She turned back to me apprehensively. "I know you did the best you could," I said. She gave me a little nod of acknowledgement.
"But I wouldn't want your job for anything," I added. She said nothing, only shaking her head slightly as she left, her shoulders slumped. For just a moment, I thought, she looked much older than her years.
It was a few days later that I was told Rokun was here to see me. I took a deep breath. "Send him in," I said.
He looked little the worse for wear; the only remaining signs of the genetic alterations were some slightly discolored patches on his face and an odd lumpiness to his ears. Seeing his real face, I remembered him vaguely from my days at the palace as a serious, excessively shy individual that I'd briefly worked with and occasionally saw staring at me from across a courtyard.
"Hi. It's all right; I don't bite," I said as genially as I could. Perhaps I should have said it years ago, I thought. For a minute he just stood there, absently twisting his fingers.
"Why don't you sit down?" I suggested, waving at a chair, and he reluctantly did so.
"How are you doing?" he finally stammered uncomfortably.
"I'm doing really well," I said. "I'm supposed to be out of here in another month. Looks like all my parts are starting to work again. So no harm done, right?"
"Senaria," he began awkwardly, "I can't tell you how sorry I am about what happened." Knowing what Haley had told me, I couldn't begin to imagine how hard this must be for him. They say you always hurt the one you love; how bitterly true it had become for Rokun.
"What I did was incredibly reckless, and now you're paying for my mistake," he was saying, stumbling through the words. "I'm just grateful that you made it through. I hope you can see fit to forgive me someday."
"It wasn't your fault," I said, the words trailing off. No, it wasn't your fault. That person is dead. He died when the Virrin mind replaced his own. You're just an innocent copy.
"Is something wrong?" he asked hesitantly. I shook my head.
"Sorry," I apologized. "My mind still wanders sometimes. Probably something to do with being out for so long. Don't mind me." It's not his fault, Senaria, I told myself angrily. He couldn't know. He has all of Rokun's memories; for him it's like waking up in the morning and remembering what he had for supper yesterday evening. It's all perfectly real for him. I did my very best after that to put on a cheerful and upbeat face for him, and he did seem somewhat less downcast by the time he departed, although as shy as he was it wasn't easy to know for sure.
After he left, I found myself wondering why they'd done it. Even Tenako's reloaded mind had known. "The original Tenako's consciousness died at Tar Deshta, just as Teyn's did when he was assassinated. The intention was that my work would go on, of course," he'd said to me. Yet they'd gone ahead and reloaded Rokun's stored mind. Did they just want to return everything to the way it had been before and pretend that everything was fine again? Press the ultimate reset button?
Just study the Virrin technology to improve treatment of psychologically disturbed patients. But save a great mind so that it won't be lost. Now reload someone you loved into another body so you won't lose him. Step right up. Replace your old tired body with a new, young, beautiful one. Never mind where it came from. That long, slippery slope.
By now my head hurt, and I decided I really needed to sleep. Senaria, don't ever become a philosopher, I mused. You'd tie yourself into mental knots before you knew it...
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|