Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 53
Stories
Not on the Gallows
by Harry Turtledove
The Fairy Godfather
by Tim McDaniel
Carry On, Torus
by Gregor Hartmann
Turncrowe
by Michael Meyerhofer
It Becomes You
by Laura-Marie Steele
Why Death is Silent
by William Fischer
IGMS Audio
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
Vintage Fiction
The Toll
by Chuck Wendig

It Becomes You
    by Laura-Marie Steele

It Becomes You
Artwork by Andres Mossa

I hadn't seen Thomas in almost a year. As I sat propped up by pillows, struggling against the muscle tremors that would soon rob me of the ability to speak and swallow, memories vanished like scenery outside a speeding car window. I needed to remember, to tell the truth.

Mum was sitting beside me. She'd been talking about her next door neighbour's grandchildren and other things that didn't interest me, so I'd stopped listening. Then she started crying. I realised Thomas had infiltrated my thoughts and that she must have been talking about him.

"Please, Archie, before it's too late. Tell me where he is." Mum's hand touched mine.

I didn't answer. Despite speech therapy twice a week, speaking was a chore, and we had discussed this the last time I saw her. How long ago had that been? A year, two?

"You know what I mean by 'too late' don't you?" she said, as if I didn't know I was dying.

I changed the subject. "Are you staying in town?"

"A bed and breakfast right on the seafront."

"It's cheap around here." Margate used to be famous for its invigorating air, but the days were long gone since Londoners arrived in droves, swarming over the beach to take their turns in the sea. Now it was a shabby town, with beautiful buildings buried beneath flaking paint. The care home wasn't the best. It was a Victorian town house with high ceilings and everything a dusty grey that wouldn't wash off.

She tilted her head, trying to catch the meaning of my loosely formed words. "I was surprised to find you in a place like this. Dad provided money for your healthcare needs, separate to what he left you in trust. If you need money. . . "

"It's fine."

"But there are better places. I thought maybe you would consider coming home with me."

"No."

"I spoke to Carly the other day. She was concerned about you. She told me where you were." She smoothed out the bed sheet with both hands, avoiding my eye.

"We're not together anymore. Don't bring her."

"I would never do something like that without asking you first."

I stared at her and then laughed. I hadn't laughed in a while. It sounded more like an engine puttering to a stop and hurt my chest. Mum turned to the window, which overlooked the back garden.

"It's early for daffodils." She got up, walked to the window and opened it. "Don't they have air conditioning? It's so stuffy in here. You should at least have a room with electric windows, so you can open them from bed."

"It's fine."

"Carly told me about the argument the night you and Thomas disappeared. She explained everything, poor girl. I should have realised how much strain he would put on your marriage. If you had let me take care of him. . . "

A tremor wriggled through my face, shaking my head on the pillow. Maybe she saw that as indecision, because she took a deep breath and said, "Don't be ashamed to change your mind now. After all, your dad worked hard to--"

"Don't."

Maybe she realised she went too far in mentioning Dad, because she started rattling off information about her neighbours again. I didn't know why I'd agreed to see her, maybe a mixture of guilt and hope that she might be different, maybe because she was a last link to a past I feared forgetting. I couldn't let that happen. Not yet.

Cleo, my new nurse, came in and started to tidy the room, opening the wardrobe to stack towels and packs of hand sanitiser. She did it with an air of someone who belonged in my room, even though she must have heard of the complaint I made to the manager.

"Morning, Archie. It's a beautiful day. If you feel like it, we can get you outside." She crossed to the window and pulled up the blind. Sunlight poured in, illuminating the stark angles of her face, making her look as if she was made from brown plastic. It was just a trick of the light. The suit she wore was made up of human cells, not plastic, but it had that effect. She looked too new, too flawless.

I didn't answer. Agata, my old nurse who left to go back to Poland, assumed I found it too difficult to speak and hadn't pushed me, but Cleo was different. She asked questions and expected answers.

"Shall we go out right now?"

"No."

"Ok. Let me know if you change your mind."

"You're being nice to me," I said. Cleo didn't miss a beat or pause to decipher as Agata used to.

"Of course. Why wouldn't I be nice?" She looked at me and smiled. "Before I suited up, I had Huntington's Disease, just like you. I was pretty far along before I transferred, so I know what it's like to lose the ability to speak. It's like being trapped in quicksand. Slowly sinking."

"I complained about you," I said.

"I know, and I heard about your legal case against MediSuits. It must seem like a big joke to assign me as your nurse, but I'm the only available member of staff with Rita on maternity leave. Think you can put up with me until she gets back?"

I made a noise that could have been either negative or positive. I wasn't sure.

"I want you to know I admire you for sticking to your morals," Cleo said. "Even though I admit I don't understand, I'd like to."

"Don't want to think about suits."

"Well I can think of one way you won't have to think about them. If I'm pushing you round the garden, you won't have to look at me, will you?"

Cleo got me ready and then pushed me round the garden and was good to her word. She hardly spoke. It was almost like being alone, like I was on a fairground ride, and that reminded me of one birthday, maybe my tenth, when we went to Dreamland right here in Margate.

Thomas and I didn't go out together much. Mum didn't like taking Thomas out because he looked like an adult but was closer in mental age to me. People treated him as if he were stupid. I guess she was embarrassed.

"Thomas will be happier at home," Mum said.

"No, he wants to come to Dreamland with us, don't you?" I turned to Thomas, who was lingering half in the doorway, the way he always did when Mum was around. He made a weak gesture with one hand as if he didn't care, even though he'd been excited all week.

"But he won't fit on the rides with you and me, will he?"

"We can't leave him by himself. He'll be lonely." I crossed my arms and no amount of cajoling got me to move, so in the end Thomas came with us. Mum made me sit on my hands so I couldn't sign to Thomas, which was how we communicated, seeing as Thomas never spoke.

Waiting in one queue, Thomas hung back as though about to change his mind.

"Afraid?" I laughed.

"No," Thomas signed.

The carriages hurtled past above us, gaining momentum in a blue blur that whizzed upside down around a looped track under a reflective silver sign.

"What if we fall out?" Thomas signed.

"It doesn't matter. We can get our new bodies, remember?" We had both been at the doctor when Dr Patel spoke about it to Mum, but Thomas didn't always remember things.

"New bodies?" He frowned.

"You know, the one you get when this one dies."

"No."

"Mum." I tugged on her sleeve. "Thomas says it isn't true that you get spare bodies, but it is, isn't it?"

"Thomas says." Mum laughed. Her eyes shifted to the man next to us and she pulled me closer. "You know Thomas can't talk. Have you been doing those hand signals again? Dr Patel told us he only imitates. It's not a proper conversation."

"But we do have second bodies."

"You do, darling, because you're special, but not everyone does."

"But Thomas does too," I insisted.

"No, only you, Archie, because you have that same illness Daddy had."

"But what if Thomas gets sick? If I've got one, Thomas has to have one."

"Keep it down, Archie, or everyone will want one." Mum glanced again at the man behind us.

Thomas had moved apart as we went forward, the way he always did when Mum and I talked, but he stared intently at Mum.

"If he doesn't have one, I don't want mine!"

"You don't know what you're talking about. Dad worked hard to get you your chance. Now I don't want to hear any more about this."

Mum never explained anything to Thomas. She never spoke directly to him, so I knew it was up to me to admit I was wrong about the second bodies, but when I turned around Thomas had gone.

"And then what happened?" Cleo asked.

I hadn't realised I'd been speaking clearly enough to be understood. I'd grown accustomed to mumbling to myself. Talking was a way to hold on to the memories. Which parts of that memory had I spoken out loud?

"We searched. Found him at the car. Mum didn't speak to him. Just drove home."

"Did your brother have a learning disability?" Cleo asked.

"He was slow, but knew more than people guessed." He wasn't good at verbalising and Mum refused to believe he could communicate in other ways. She never acknowledged his drawings or tried to help him learn.

"It must have been hard for her. Not everyone knows how to deal with situations like that, especially with your dad not around."

"She ignored him," I said. "It was cruel."

"Perhaps she wants to make amends now." Cleo wheeled me around the flowerbeds and turned back towards the house.

"You spoke to her?"

"She left a request to be informed if you mention Thomas's whereabouts."

"She thinks I killed him."

Cleo pushed the wheelchair up the ramp onto the terrace. "Why would she think that?"

I couldn't remember why. It was just a feeling I had. Maybe that's what I told her when I came back after the argument with Carly. I remembered a look of despair and a lot of crying, but it was displaced, floating untethered through my mind and joining with another memory where she was crying.

Mum, one hand clamped over her mouth, speaking through her fingers: "He looks like Harry. I can't believe it. They could be the same person."

Photo frames, all silver, lined up on the cupboard like guests waiting to be introduced, all of them with Dad's face. Thomas sitting next to them, his face very still as if trying to imitate, to fit in with the crowd. Same blonde tufty hair, hazel eyes, high cheekbones.

"It's better if he stays dead to her," I said to Cleo.

The black tie and floral shirt gave my lawyer, Ms Freeman, a funereal aspect. She took a stack of papers out of her briefcase and settled them on her lap. "Preliminary research is now complete, but I wanted to come and talk to you in person. Frankly, I can't see that you have much of a case unless you can produce Thomas as a witness."

"I already told you that isn't possible."

"Then I'll be honest, I don't see much chance of success. Without him, we only have your word. Unless there is someone else who can verify matters?" She peered at me over her glasses.

"No. There is no one."

She shuffled the papers slightly and then cleared her throat. "Are you in contact with your mother?"

"No."

"Your mother is a key witness. Is there any possibility, however slim, that she would support you?"

"No."

"Have you discussed the matter? If you want, I could contact her for you--"

"I said no."

"I see." She put the papers back in her briefcase, even though she hadn't looked at them. "I will continue with the case if that is what you wish, but I am duty bound to inform you there is little chance of success."

"Just do what you can."

"I've seen many terminally ill people fight one cause or another. Often the process takes so long they don't live to see the outcome. I hope you don't mind me being blunt, but all it does is waste what little time they have left."

"It's not a waste." I needed people to know the truth.

"Then I suggest you find a friend, relative, anyone who can bring some evidence. If you do think of someone, give me a call." She walked to the door, but paused with her fingers on the handle. "You say your mother won't support you, but what is the likelihood she would testify against you?"

It was something I'd been thinking about most nights since hiring Ms Freeman. In fact, I could picture Mum's face, her lips bloodless and squeezed thin, the way they looked whenever she claimed to be doing what was in my best interests.

"High," I said.

"I see. Well, thank you for your time. I'll be in touch."

After she left, my thoughts turned to Mum. She would fight me all the way on this and believe she was doing the right thing. She would deny everything I said about consciousness, just on the chance that one day I would change my mind and transfer. She'd made her position clear at my wedding.

"I haven't seen Thomas in a long time," Mum had said, "I thought he'd be here. You were always very close, inseparable. I should have done more to keep you apart. It's so easy for children to get attached, but I assumed you would grow out of it."

"When Carly told me she invited you, I thought it would be better if Thomas stayed at home," I said. We'd argued about the invite, but Carly had been determined to meet Mum at least once.

"Archie, there's someone I want you to meet." Mum patted the arm of the woman standing next to her. I hadn't been paying attention, but as she stepped forward, I recognised her face.

"Hello, Archie, it's been a long time. Congratulations on your wedding. I hope you will be happy together."

"Dr Patel, what are you doing here?"

"Your mother was concerned about you and asked me to have a word to explain certain options." Dr Patel took my arm as if to lead me away, but I pulled back.

"It was kind of you, but I have my own doctor." One who knew enough about me to be able to help, but not enough to endanger me or Thomas.

"When we supply a suit, there are certain conditions that have to be fulfilled. If these aren't met, we have the right to reclaim our property." Dr Patel folded her hands together as if praying.

"How dare you bring her here, to my wedding, to threaten me." I turned to Mum.

"I will do anything I can to save your life. It's my duty as your parent. I will never regret that," Mum said.

"Even if it means sacrificing Thomas?"

"Thomas is not my son." Mum's lips compressed on the word son as if squeezing all the meaning out of it.

"I want you both to leave." I walked away, spotted Carly standing on the edge of the dance floor amidst garlands of yellow chrysanthemums and made a beeline for her, hoping Mum wouldn't follow.

"You look grumpy," Carly said with a smile, reaching to push away my frown lines.

"I've been talking to Mum and her plus one."

"Yes, she said she was bringing a doctor."

"And I told you not to invite her. She's already started, just like I knew she would. Which reminds me, do you have to tell everyone I've got HD? I just had a long conversation with your uncle about why I should buy a suit."

"But he's family." Carly dusted the back of her knuckles across my chin.

"If you have to discuss my health with your family, you need to tell them the whole truth--that I've considered suits and it's an option I won't be taking."

"And that's the whole truth, is it?" She lowered her hand, but I caught it.

"I will never commission a suit. That's the important thing."

"Last week you shattered a pitcher." When she looked up at me, her eyes were shimmering, though her smile hadn't dropped. To the casual observer, she could be blissfully happy.

"I apologised for that--"

"And yesterday you fell down the front steps."

"Not badly."

"But it's the beginning, isn't it, the onset symptoms?"

"Probably."

"But we've only just got married."

"We discussed this, Carly. We agreed," I said.

"Oh, I know." She gave a little laugh and wiped the corner of her eye with her fingertips. "It's just hard. I'm going to have to watch you slip away, and there's nothing I can do."

"Don't think about it now. Let's enjoy ourselves, dance, be in love." I pulled her after me onto the dance floor and we moved in time together. For a small while, I shut my eyes and pretended we weren't both thinking about the end.

When I got too ill to take care of myself, I moved into a care home. I chose the Sunshine View Home because it didn't have suit facilities like all the modern ones, but that changed after a year. The technology improved and became more widely available, so the basement was converted into a suit storage facility.

Cleo sat beside me, opening and reading my morning post. She was already starting to look more human, the initial plastic appearance fading. The salt air from our walks across the beach had weathered her skin slightly. Even after a few weeks she looked more lived in, as if the body was slowly becoming hers.

"There's one here from a journalist who wants to meet you for an interview about your court case against MediSuits." Cleo shook the piece of paper. "They say they're interested in learning more about your motives."

When I didn't reply she moved on to the next letter.

"Another from your mother. She's asking about Thomas again."

"Bin it." I didn't want to hear any more of her threats or pleas. I could tell Cleo disapproved in the way she carefully folded the page before dropping it into the wastepaper basket, as though she hoped I would change my mind.

"You think I should see her," I said.

"I think she deserves to know what happened to him," Cleo said, even though she had promised to respect my wishes and not promote Mum's cause. "What's the harm in telling her?"

A memory surfaced of another time, another promise broken.

Carly had been sitting on the bed in our house. "Archie, I know we promised never to talk about this, but I can't. I can't do it, please. . . "

"I'm too ill to get a suit now, even if I wanted one. They take too long to mature. It won't be ready in time."

"But you still have an option." Carly grabbed my arm, but I shook her off.

"Are you saying what I think you're saying?" I got up and closed the door to the hall.

"It's ok, he's asleep."

"Oh, that's alright then! Think carefully before you say anything else. That is my brother asleep through there, or are you forgetting you promised to protect him as much as I would?"

"That was before. Things have changed." She rubbed a hand across her stomach, eyes downturned.

All the anger fell away and I came to sit on the bed. "You can't be. We're careful. No children, we agreed." I didn't want to leave Carly a single parent.

"I know, but it's happened. Life finds a way. This is our reality now and you have to choose." She scrubbed a hand across her face.

"Oh Carly, I'm so sorry."

"You mean this doesn't change anything?" She looked at me with disbelief and also hope. That was the hardest thing, the hope.

"How can it?"

That was the moment she turned away from me. Maybe I should've said something or tried to reason with her, but what else could I say? She saw a choice that to me didn't exist.

Cleo stared at me. "Are you telling me that Thomas was a suit? But that's not possible. They don't make them with consciousness."

"They develop it," I said.

"This suit. This body I'm in now didn't have consciousness. It took two years to grow. How long are you saying it takes for consciousness to develop?" Cleo leant over me, as if seeing her closer would change the facts.

It took longer than two years. A lot longer.

"Drawer," I said, motioning to the drawer containing my court papers.

Cleo opened the drawer and took out the file. She flicked through a few pages. "Are you sure you want me to read this?"

"Back page." I'd written down the statement back when I could still hold a pen.

Cleo read, "Dad was a researcher for the government. He knew he had Huntington's Disease. The suit he was making for himself was a prototype, but it didn't mature in time. He died before it was ready. Friends at his lab smuggled it out and sent it to Mum so she could keep it, allowing it to mature in time for transfer later on. Dad couldn't save his own life, but he had hoped to save his son's."

Mum's voice floated to me from the past. "He looks like Harry. I can't believe it. They could be the same person."

Even though I'd intended to write a statement, I hadn't been able to include our names. It still wasn't the whole truth. I felt exhausted, as though a weight was crushing me. My face was wet from crying. Cleo closed the file and didn't press me for more information. She rested her hand on mine, scattering post across the bed.

"Tell them I'll do an interview," I said.

The journalist, a slim man with neatly gelled hair, thought it would be more sensational to get pictures of me taken next to unoccupied suits, so I agreed to let Cleo take me down to the basement. I guess I was intrigued to see the facility, despite my opinions on body transfer.

The basement was large enough to store ten of the metal growth pods standing upright. Cleo wheeled me out of the lift and arranged the chair next to the first. Wires and tubes extended from the back to a display panel running the length of one wall. There was a clear window in the front of the pod. The suit lay with eyes closed. The skin was white and reminded me of an uncooked scallop.

"This one needs another year before the recipient can be transferred," Cleo said.

"Surely you admit the technology is exciting," the journalist, Eddie, said.

My arm spasmed and the photographer threw me an uncertain glance. He set the camera on a tripod, never taking his eyes off me. Not everyone realises they're staring, but that doesn't make it easier to deal with.

"I'm worried about what we aren't being told about suits," I said.

Eddie cocked his head on one side. Cleo quickly translated.

"According to your case, they can develop consciousness," he said with a twist to his mouth.

"Yes."

"There are tests run before transferring takes place that proves otherwise." He took out a book from his bag and flicked through the pages, looking for something. He started to read out a passage from the book, something about the methods used to map and transfer consciousness from one vessel to another.

"I know the science," I said.

"Your nurse underwent the procedure. Are you saying you'd rather your nurse died?" Eddie asked.

The photographer started taking photos and Eddie stepped out of shot.

"No, but. . . "

"Because that's what would happen if you win. Transfer into suits might be suspended. Thousands would die." Eddie made a note in the margin of the book.

"Thousands have died already," I said, "if you count suits as people."

"Do I count that as a person?" Eddie tapped the pod. "I've got to say no. I don't think there're many who would agree with you. In fact, there has been an angry response to your case."

"Angry?" I hadn't heard about that. I didn't read newspapers.

"Aren't you scared of dying, Mr Elton?" Eddie asked.

"That is completely inappropriate!" Cleo said.

"Sorry." Eddie didn't look sorry. He motioned to the photographer, who took more pictures. "Ok, I think we've got what we need. Is there anything else you want readers to know?"

I needed to tell them. I owed it to all suits and especially to Thomas. Fear shivered up my throat. Dying subsumes you and, in that way, it is terrifying, but no more frightening than guilt. Guilt works the same way, invading your life until it becomes you. An inseparable part. Worse than a disease.

"The truth. . . " I couldn't think what it was for a moment. I struggled to grasp the end of my thought. It was important and it was about Thomas.

Thoughts drifted away if I didn't concentrate. Soon I wouldn't remember my life. Every night I went to sleep and wondered what I would have forgotten by morning.

I'd forgotten my keys and phoned Carly to ask her to leave the back door open. When I came home from work, I went in through the gate at the bottom of the garden and up across the grass. On reaching the rockery, I stopped as if caught in the traction beam of the light shining out through the French windows. The curtains were open and Carly and Thomas were sitting close together on the sofa.

Carly said something, leaning to the side so that her hair fell across Thomas's cheek. He half-turned and their lips brushed. His fingers drummed on his knees, the same way they did when he ate chocolate. Carly twisted her head so her lips found his.

The brick crashed through the window before I could stop to think. The window shattered.

Carly and Thomas sprang apart to opposite ends of the sofa. I walked up to the window and slid it open, glass fell from the frame and crunched under my shoes. Thomas made frantic hand movements, but I wasn't looking at him.

"You knew I was going to see you," I said to Carly.

She looked at me quickly, her face flushing for the first time. "I can explain," she said, but didn't add an explanation. I didn't need one.

"You knew what time I was coming back and that I'd forgotten my keys so I'd come in this way. You wanted me to see you like this with him." I pointed at Thomas and my hand spasmed.

"Of course I didn't. Why would I want that?" Carly buried her face in a cushion.

"You really think if you make me hate him enough, I'll do it? That I'll kill my own brother. That's it, isn't it?" I grabbed Thomas, pulled him out of his seat, picked up Carly's keys from the hall, and headed to her car.

The spasms in my hand and arm got worse, but I managed to start the car. At the sound of the engine, Carly ran outside.

Cleo touched my shoulder. "Are you ok?"

Eddie had asked another question, but I hadn't heard. He looked at Cleo. "I'm sorry, but someone needs to tell Mr Elton. He is putting lives at risk."

"We thought you were coming to hear his side of the story," Cleo said.

"If he's got evidence, let's see it."

I had evidence. What was I waiting for? Cleo called me brave, but I wasn't really. I'd even lied to Carly, because I was frightened that when she saw me for what I really was, she would know she'd made a mistake in loving me.

"This interview is over," Cleo said. She wheeled me away back towards the lift.

"Where are you going with him?" Eddie said, or was it Carly?

"Wait, Archie, you can't drive!" Carly ran down the driveway after us, but I didn't stop.

Thomas signed, "Sorry, sorry, sorry." But it wasn't his fault. It was mine, for thinking I could have something normal, for thinking I could protect him, for stealing a life that by rights should have been his all along.

"What do you mean by that?" Cleo asked as the lift climbed back to my floor.

"I want you to drive me somewhere," I said.

Cleo drove out of Margate along winding roads, heading south through countryside displaying tentative signs of spring. We travelled along a motorway for a while and then turned down an A road. A house appeared on a bank to the right, and I remembered a taxi ride there, Thomas sitting beside me.

"I don't want to," he signed to me.

"It won't be for long." I lied.

"Won't kiss Carly. Not ever. Promise."

I turned away to stare out at the veil of rain. The night of the argument I'd taken him to a hotel and then we'd moved from one place to the next, but my symptoms were getting worse. I wanted to tell him this wasn't a punishment, that I couldn't physically look after him anymore, but silence ate away the minutes. The moment passed.

When I turned to help Thomas undo his seatbelt, he was staring out of his window. His hands were in his lap, the forefinger and thumb on each creating two interlocking circles, our symbol for 'brother'.

Cleo pulled into the carpark and followed signs round the side of the building, an Edwardian period manor house made from ragged grey stone. She went inside to speak to the receptionist and then came back to help me into my wheelchair. We went round the building to a gate. After a few seconds, an intercom buzzed to let us through.

A trimmed lawn sloped down to a fence bordering a copse. The French windows of the house stood open and some people were sitting on the patio playing games. I spotted Thomas over by an oak tree, sitting on an exposed root. He was staring at the pattern the leaves' shadows made on the grass. A ray of light pierced the canopy and illuminated his hair, making it glow like a halo.

"You want me to take you closer?" Cleo asked.

"No, this is close enough."

"They said he is doing fine. Got his own room, has made some friends. They said he made a lot of hand movements when he first got here, but he does it less now."

"It's a language we invented. Can't do it now." I said, looking at my shaking hands. I should have explained it to someone when I still could.

"It doesn't matter too much. He's getting on fine." Cleo stared at him, shaking her head. "How many years did it take him to develop consciousness?"

She still didn't understand.

Mum, one hand clamped over her mouth. Photo frames, all silver, lined up on the cupboard like guests waiting to be introduced, all of them with Dad's face. Thomas sitting next to them, his face very still as if trying to imitate, to fit in with the crowd. To me he looks the same. He is his father's son: same blonde tufty hair, hazel eyes, high cheekbones, but Mum isn't looking at him. She's looking at me.

"He looks like Harry. I can't believe it. They could be the same person."

"He's not the suit," I said. "I am."

I remembered Mum, me and Thomas sitting in Dr Patel's living room. Everything was very white and I was holding Thomas's hand, because he was afraid of the doctor.

"But how can he have HD?" Mum demanded. She half got out of her chair and then sank back. "Harry said he was perfect."

"Archie is only a prototype, remember," Dr Patel said. "Something has obviously gone wrong. And we don't know the effects of taking him out of the growth pods. It slashed the speed of his physical growth. If he had been kept in a pod, he would have matured physically before now."

Thomas looked at me and signed. "Archie is ill?"

I made a reassuring sign and tried to make a joke, but Thomas didn't laugh.

"They've been doing that together," Mum said. "It's just nonsense. I've been trying to separate them, but Archie insists they play together."

Dr Patel nodded. "This must be disappointing. I know Harry hoped Thomas's mental condition would improve if he was transferred into a suit, but obviously we can't test that now."

"Thomas has always been so slow, but Archie on the other hand, he's smart. He can hold a conversation." Mum smiled at me.

"Theoretically, consciousness could be transferred from a suit into a human body, along with the healthy brain. Thomas and Archie are genetically similar. There may be a way to preserve Archie, if that's what you want."

They both looked at Thomas, and I knew they didn't see a person. They didn't see him.

Cleo put a hand on my shoulder. "I never realised. You must believe that. If I'd known. . . "

What would she have done--turned down a suit, given her life to enable one to reach consciousness? That's a sacrifice most people would never make. Including me. I could have sacrificed myself for Thomas. Instead, I continued living, allowing Mum to view him as inferior.

"It looks like they're going in for dinner. We could go down, if you want," Cleo said.

We watched as Thomas crossed the lawn, escorted by an attendant who was speaking to him about something. Thomas laughed, throwing his head back.

"Ok," I said.

I wanted to speak to him one last time, more than anything, to say goodbye and sorry, and to tell him he was the best friend I ever had or would have. It's something I should have done sooner instead of pretending I was keeping him safe from Mum by staying away.

I hoped he would forgive me. For not being the new start his parents wanted for him, for never explaining to him that he wasn't the damaged one. Neither of us were. We didn't need second chances at life; we just needed to be together for what time we had left. I didn't have to sign to know he would understand.

After all, he was my brother.


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