Bart Neely was fighting the hypo. They’d slipped that over on him. Now he had to struggle to keep his brain ready for plan B. The alternate plan. He nodded feebly at his reflection in the mirror over the white enamel dresser. This throat-trouble wasn’t going to lick him. He lay back on the cool white pillow. Medical men always thought theirs was the final answer; well, psychologists like himself knew there was a broader view of man than the anatomical. There was a vast region of energy at man’s disposal; the switch to turn it on, located in the brain.
Rubber-soled shoes squished across the bare floor as Dr. Jonas Morton came into Bart’s room. His hair was hidden by a sterile cap, his arms bare to well above the elbows.
Looks like a damned butcher, thought Bart.
“Bart, I want you to reconsider the anesthetic. I think you ought to be out for this one, completely out.” The doctor’s voice became a shade less professional. “I don’t tell you how to run your perception experiments, I think you ought to let me judge what’s best in the surgical area.”
“No,” Bart whispered hoarsely. It was hell squeezing the words out. Lifting his voice these days was harder than lifting a half-ton truck. “Must be conscious, able to decide.” Jonas had to lean down to catch all the words. “Not going to let you take my voice while I’m unconscious ... helpless...”
Dr. Morton shook his head. “You’re the boss.”
“Twenty minutes.” The professional tone became pronounced again. “Your wife’s outside waiting to see you. Don’t get emotional, I don’t want your endocrine system in an uproar.” The doctor stepped out into the corridor.
Emotional. He mustn’t think about it. He might weaken, consent to linger on, an invalid, just to be with Vivian a few extra years. Extra years of indignities calculated to twist the man-woman relationship into an ugly distortion. How romantic it would be, he and Vivian locked in an embrace, the silky softness of her hair falling across his arm, the pressure of her fingers on his back. And then, instead of placing his mouth against her ear and whispering the familiar intimacies, he would switch on the light, disengage himself so that he could whip out a pad and pencil and...
His heart skipped at the sound pattern of high heels on the corridor. Vivian, Vivian. Her perfume pricked his senses and it took effort to shut out the emotional response. “Remember the need for an alternate plan,” he reminded himself fiercely and then looked up into his wife’s clear green eyes. Without a word she bent down and lay her face next to his. He was struck with the warmth of her. He gently pushed her head away. “Vi.” (My Lord, his eyes were wet ... what a schoolboy performance!) “Vi, you know I don’t want to go on here ... if radical surgery is necessary. I want you to remember me as a whole man, not a ... dummy.”
“Bart, oh Bart.” There was a frown of apprehension on her forehead. She sighed heavily and whispered, “Can it make so much difference when I love you Bart?”
“But don’t you see, Vi? It may not be Bart Neely they wheel back here after the operation.” He motioned for her to bend closer for the sound of his voice was becoming weaker. “In my field I’ve seen a lot of crazy reactions to loss of basic ability. Personality reversals brought about by loss of hearing, impotency, or even the inability to bear a child.” He stroked the back of her hand with his finger. “Bart Neely without a voice-box might be a stranger. I’m not sure you’d like him. I don’t think I’d even like him.”
An intern backed into the room followed by a gurney. Bart shot a look at Vi. “This is plan A.”
Vi’s eyebrows arched in a question.
“Exploration and...” he paused; the nurse tucked a dark gray blanket all around him. He raised his thin white hand and crossed two fingers... “and we hope, a negative biopsy.”
There was no pain. Whatever the anesthetist had worked out was doing nicely. The overhead light, however, was giving him a headache and the operating room was damned cold. Jonas and Holsclaw weren’t talking much, and what they did say wasn’t loud enough for Bart to get. He studied their faces. “I’ll know by their faces,” he assured himself, “and if it’s widespread malignancy I’ll proceed with plan B.”
The sweat was heavy on Jonas’ forehead. The sterile mask hid his nose and mouth, but his eyes, behind the lenses of his glasses, looked moist and tired. The surgeon’s gloved fingers manipulated, probed, cut. Finally, he turned to a waiting nurse.
“Get this analyzed right away.” That was it, the tissue ... was it cancerous or not? The atmosphere grew heavy. Bart watched the second hand on the large wall-clock swing slowly around its perimeter, and then around again and again. The nurse reentered and spoke softly to the doctor. The two doctors whispered, explaining to each other with hand motions what they were going to do.
This is it. Bart was certain. Well, he’d fool the hell out of the know-it-all doctors. He closed his eyes and thought. The years he had spent sharpening his perception, his ability to transfer his thoughts, were just the groundwork for this greatest experiment of all. He had transferred thought waves in all forms to all corners of this world with the highest percentage of accuracy. Now Plan B, the alternate plan, was to transfer himself! He was willing himself out of his own body. He could feel the perspiration trickle down his arms with the effort. It had to work. He had to cheat them out of their mutilation. No, he couldn’t fail. He strained against the confines of his body, burdening his brain with thought, and suddenly he was free. Bart wanted to shriek with laughter. He’d outwitted them. There stood gray-faced Jonas working over that shell, not even realizing that it was an empty body. It was like a television play or something; everyone clustered around a poor stiff on the operating table, repeating the litany of the saw-bones. “Scalpel ... sponge ... clamps...”
Bart mentally chuckled and fluttered himself upwards; above the square-shaped hospital with its rows of tiny windows. Beyond the polluted air of the city. Up and up, until there was nothing to look back on. Nothing.