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641 words by Stanley Lieber


Click, click, click. Twelve cubes of light, each one slipping past the other, rotating into the vacant slot left by the preceding cube. The purpose of this orchestration is to massage the cortex into a smooth program of alpha waveform production. Patients appear to derive the most benefit, Saito has noted, from working through the entire routine, pausing rhythmically at the completion of each sequence to allow the electronics to catch up with the progress of their focus.

But what are the effects, he ponders, once the patient has identified the therapeutic parlor trick and sussed out the mechanism? What happens if the patient's conscious mind tracks the incoming data with greater precision than the machinery? Click, click, click. Saito leans forward. Perhaps this particular arrangement of cubes is novel. He presses a button, storing the arrangement in cold memory. To be studied later.

He is pleased the treatment has proven efficacious –- on the vast majority of patients, anyway. Ironic, then, that Saito should be so powerless to alter the substance of his own compulsive addictions. Contemplating this, he produces a pocket lighter and sears the flesh on the back of his right hand. He stifles a primal vocalization, burying his shame into his handkerchief (not only shame, but evidence -– self-immolation is an offense not only to the state, but to Saito’s ancestors, for historical reasons particular to his family). He then recalibrates the equipment for the next patient. He adjusts his coif and smoothes down the front of his white coat, feeling his sweat cool against the skin of his wrists. If anyone has seen him, it could cost him his position.

Of what use is his life though, at this point? They’ve made it impossible. The work he is carrying out will revolutionize the treatment of conditions such as his, given the eventual push into mass production.

For a handful of moments, Saito shifts out of time, is aloft, floating on the awareness of what he is so very close to achieving. He finds the sensation is fleeting.

It is unlikely that any of his early projections will prove accurate. He has already been forced to accept a number of compromises that will limit the ultimate efficaciousness of his design. He doubts now that the cubes will do much more than narcotize; make the patient docile and open to questioning. Saito ruminates on this for a moment before taking the lighter back out of his pocket and burning several black marks into the flesh on the top of his hand. He tries to ignite his skin completely, but succeeds only in singeing the sleeve of his coat. With the smoke, he imagines his kami making its way up to the ceiling and spreading out across its surface, crawling in several directions at once towards the ductwork and vents.

A knock -– an abrupt punctuation -– and the door swings open, pulling him back down to the floor. Of course. They will have seen. It is all over now. His work is finished.

The patients will suffer, but then patients are always suffering.

With his expulsion, Saito’s founding of the project will soon be obscured. Before long, all record of his participation will be stricken from the logs. His data will suffer the predictable, inevitable revisions of political transition. This, at least, is some small cause for celebration –- this thing he has put into motion will come to its conclusion without being attached to his grandfather’s name. This represents, Saito supposes, some kind of reconciliation. Still, it feels as if his kami has dissipated. There is nothing left for them to kill now. Just as well.

Into the room bounds Plinth Mold, flanked by two of his most trusted attorneys.

"Relax, Saito," he says, "Let's talk patents. I'm interested in what you've been working on."


To be continued...



photo by researchers at the university of washington




1OCT1993 | INDEX