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Shoving his hands deeper into his pockets, Arturo Delgado stumbled through the darkening streets as freezing rain fell like liquefied diamonds spilt from a black velvet sky. Various shades of neon light bled into quivering puddles, their garish vibrancy reflected starkly until scattered by some errant foot.
Hurriedly Arturo passed by a bar where music pulsed loudly through a briefly opened door. Absently he noticed two women tumble out, looking worse for wear and tottering drunkenly on their heels. The crass stares they threw in his direction were intended to be provocative but Arturo’s current state meant that he missed their purpose entirely. Deaf to their indignant shouts he crossed the street, doing his best to follow the signs for the subway.
Arturo did not feel well at all. But he was determined to make his way back to his bedsit. He swayed unsteadily outside his front door, as sweat rolled in copious rivulets down his back. Suddenly he felt the need to lean heavily against the door jamb and he stood there for some time trying to ignore the tremors racking his body.
What had he done? No one had told him it would be like this. Shaking his head he began to fumble through his pockets thinking he’d lost his key. Presently he discovered it and staggered through the open door before collapsing onto his creaking bed. Vainly he tried to blink away his double vision. Perhaps he should call someone, he thought. But he didn’t want to be ejected from the program and he had been told that he should expect some discomfort. After all the artificial synapses, whatever they were, had been inserted directly into his brain. So there were bound to be some after effects. That’s why they’d given him the pills.
He took them from his pocket and tried to remember what he’d been told. Two of the blue ones every six hours and one of the small triangular yellow ones every four hours. Or was it the other way round? He scrunched up his eyes and tried hard to think. This would be much easier if his head didn’t hurt so much, he thought – and easier still if he could just read what it said on the label. But Arturo had been raised on a remote plantain farm in the lush hills of Puerto Rico and had never been taught how to read anything beyond the clouds.
He washed down three of the pills with a drink of water and laid his head gingerly back on the pillow. Suddenly the phone rang, making him jump.
“Hello?” he said thickly.
“Arturo? Is that you?”
“Yes…” he answered.
Nausea churned in his stomach. If only he had been able to lie still a bit longer.
“Arturo, this is Dr Morgan. I just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing.”
“Oh..,” he said, closing his eyes and swallowing hard. “I’m doing fine.”
He tried to remember Dr Morgan’s face. But it wasn’t easy as he’d seen so many doctors over the course of the last few days.
“That’s good,” she said. sounding relieved. “No problems then?”
“Well I am a little tired,” he said, hoping he sounded convincing. “But it’s probably nothing an early night won’t fix.”
“Yes. Make sure you get adequate rest,” said Dr Morgan. “I’m sorry. Could you just hold the line for one moment please?”
“Sure,” replied Arturo lying back on the bed again with the phone pressed up against his ear. As he lay there he could hear her talking to someone in the background, about things that he didn’t really understand. Science stuff.
A strange feeling came over him as he waited. One that he couldn’t readily quantify. A feeling of supreme lightness began to grow inside of him, as though time was stretching out and reality was starting to unwind. Whether the feeling originated in his mind or his body he couldn’t quite tell. All he knew was that everything felt as though it was receding like a spring tide pulling back from the shore. Then, something snapped him back again, just like that, to the conversation between Dr Morgan and the unidentified person in the back ground.
“So the other two are probably just isolated cases,” he heard her say faintly.
“Yes,” said the man in the background. “There’s no need to tell Mr Delgado. They probably just suffered a system wide reaction to the drugs. The autopsy will probably confirm that. For the most part I think we could say that things are going well. Just make sure he knows which medication to take and we’ll run some more tests in the morning.”
“Ok,” she said.
“Arturo?” called Dr Morgan. “Are you still there?”
“Yes I’m here.”
“Good. We’re going to need to see you back here tomorrow in order to do a few tests. Can you be here for nine thirty?” she said.
“Yes, I can do that,” answered Arturo.
“Excellent. Don’t be late. The timing is important for these tests. And make sure you don’t eat anything. In the meantime take your tablets as directed; two of the Difessin every six hours. Those are the blue ones. And one Phytocyclamide, those are the small yellow ones, every four hours. And whatever you do, don’t mix them up!”
Arturo’s heart almost stopped. Holy mother of God! He’d taken them the other way round! He desperately wanted to ask her what would happen if he had taken the wrong dosage, but he couldn’t risk losing that last payment. Without it his father was finished.
The money he expected to earn from helping Dr Morgan and her team would pay for his father’s flight to America as well as the operation he needed. There was no way he could jeopardize that. He’d just have to hope and pray that he would be ok.
Once he had concluded his conversation with Dr Morgan he set the phone back down beside the bed. He ran his hand lightly over his scalp feeling the papery roughness of the surgical gauze. There weren’t supposed to be any large open wounds under there, just minute puncture points where incredibly thin hollow needles had been used to insert the artificial synapses.
The synapses had been designed to initiate heightened activity in parts of the brain that human beings in their current evolutionary state are unable to access, in the hope that it would lead to markedly improved intelligence, heightened creativity and superior memory function. There had even been quiet speculation by some within Dr Morgan’s team that paranormal abilities could be awakened, such as telepathy, extrasensory perception and even telekinesis.
The reality was though, that they had no idea what would happen for sure but it was thought that the risks to the subjects were minimal compared to the financial gains they would receive at the conclusion of the trials. In fact they had treated Arturo with such an air of condescension he had actually started to think they were doing him a huge favour – up until now. Now he felt terrible and he didn’t even know whether it was because of the medicine he’d taken or the procedure.
If only he’d been big enough and strong enough the day his father had been shot, to stop the bandits from breaking into their house, then none of this would ever have happened. If only he could turn back time he thought, staring up at the ceiling. But failing that he’d settle for being fast enough to take the bullet in place of his father, so it would be him who suffered for years upon years instead.
Suddenly the pain in his head became excruciating. Then just like that Arturo was blind. Terrified he reached out for the phone and sent it crashing to the floor.
“Hello? Hello?” said a muffled voice.
Arturo could barely move a muscle and groaned like a wounded animal, saliva dripping unchecked from his mouth.
“Arturo? Is that you?” called Dr Morgan.
“Shit! Something’s wrong,” she said loudly on the other end of the phone. “He must have hit redial.
Quick! Get someone over there now!”
Suddenly the line went dead and the next thing Arturo knew he was being wheeled down a gleaming white corridor somewhere within the military base. Gentle hands expertly lifted him into some kind of imaging machine designed to take detailed pictures of his brain.
“Lie very still Arturo,” commanded Dr Morgan. “We’ll just be in here. You won’t be able to hear us but we can hear you. If you need me just call. Ok?”
Arturo nodded mutely as she entered the glass cubicle. As the machine began to take detailed images of his head, he began to wonder about the pain. Where had it gone? They must have given him something for it, he guessed.
“What the hell?” he heard someone say.
“Is that what I think it is?” a voice asked in disbelief.
For a few seconds no one said anything.
“Yes it is,” said Dr Morgan finally.
Arturo lay as still as a mouse wondering how on earth he could still hear them.
“Ok, how the hell did we miss that? Any ideas?” demanded Dr Morgan pointing to the computer screen.
Her question was greeted with more silence.
“No answers huh?” she said, biting her lip.
“No Alyson,” said a male colleague. “Because there aren’t any. That bullet simply wasn’t there before.”
“Look! See. Look at these previous scans. Not a dicky bird,” he said holding up the film.
“Never mind that John, he’s seizing!” shouted Dr Morgan suddenly making a dash for the door.
“Come on! Help me get him into the OR. We can’t afford to lose another one.”
Five days later Ramone Delgado sat next to his son’s hospital bed willing him to open his eyes. He’d travelled for two days and flown over two thousand miles, which at the age of seventy nine was no mean feat, all because his son meant everything to him. In fact, about the time he’d gotten the call about Arturo he seemed to have forgotten all about his own pain. It was as if it had never even existed in the first place.
Over the next few days he learnt bits and pieces about what had happened to Arturo and as he sat waiting for hour after hour he began to formulate his own theories about things.
“Such a good son,” he muttered one day, smoothing down the bed clothes. “Such a good heart, just like his mother.”
A tear rolled down his face but he paid it no heed.
“He took my bullet, you know,” he said, looking up at the nurse who was changing Arturo’s dressings.
“What was that?”she said.
“I said he took my bullet.”
The nurse looked at him incredulously, a little unsure of what he meant. But Ramone remained unphased and proceeded to try and explain the reason for his unlikely belief.
“Back when Arturo was small, thieves tried to break into our house. At that time we lived in an isolated place and I was all that stood between them and my family. So as any father would do, I did my best to defend them. I was shot in the process and the bullet got lodged in my brain making it too difficult for the doctors to remove. Ever since then it’s been slowly killing me. But my son always swore he’d find a way to cure me, and so he moved to America. ‘It’s a land of miracles’ he said. ‘The doctors there can do amazing things. ‘ But I told him, I was old and that he shouldn’t waste his youth on trying to fix a broken down wreck like me. Stubborn as a mule, he always was and as usual he did as he pleased and went to America anyway. Don’t ask me how he did it, I’m not sure even the good lord knows! But somehow he did it. My son cured me!” said the old man with a slow nod. “Now all that matters is that Arturo get’s to see it for himself!”
The nurse stood up and patted him gently on the shoulder.
“Sounds as though he is a good son,” she said. “You’re a lucky man.”
“Yes, he is,” smiled Ramone as she left the room.
The whole exchange had been carefully observed by Dr Morgan, who stood watching through tinted glass. In her hand she held the medical records of a seventy nine year old male and a forty one year old male. Both of whom until recently had a point two five calibre bullet lodged deep within their parietal lobe. Her final report on this whole affair was certainly going to make for interesting reading.
“What did he say to you?” asked Dr Morgan once the nurse had closed the door.
“The silly old fool thinks that his son took his bullet. Turns out he was shot years ago and it’s been slowly killing him ever since. Obviously it’s damaged him big time,” she said.
“Really?” said Dr Morgan quietly. “He seems pretty cogent to me.”
The nurse looked at her in genuine surprise.
“You’re kidding right?”
“What?” said Dr Morgan as she started to walk away. “Do you think science has all the answers? Do you think we’ve discovered everything there is to know about the human body? If you do, then perhaps you’re the deluded one, not old man Delgado!”