When I began my novel A Fond Farewell to Dying, I wanted to explore seriously and thoroughly some of the old chestnuts about cloning which had been mishandled over the years. The first third of FFTD, slightly modified, made a novella which John J. Pierce of Galaxy magazine bought. He didn’t like the name and suggested To Go Not Gently. I presented it in Serial form. The only changes from the Galaxy version, other than the correction of typos, are a name update – Mumbai was called Bombay in 1978 – and dropping a gratuitous sentence that was added to the last paragraph.
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chap1Davy moved the coffeepot closer to the coals with his toe. The wind was cold where it found its way through a crack between two logs. Have to chink that tomorrow. Davy had had all of the cracks chinked but some were always falling out. The storm outside was still building, though the winds were already blowing a gale. Rain thundered down on the corrugated metal roof. He looked again, but there were no leaks; he had pitched the last one a week earlier.
Patrick Singer moaned in his sleep. Davy’s eyes sought him out in the dimness. The fireplace shed the only light in the one-room cabin. Again Davy‘s father muttered but it was unintelligible.
“I should get Michael or Sarah to sit with him tomorrow night,” Davy thought. He had hardly slept for three nights now, since Pa had taken the fever. The doctor could do nothing, or said he could not. You could never be sure with a Gentile.
The thought almost made Davy smile. He had been a professing agnostic for six months now but his prejudices still made him side with his own people, misguided as he now believed them to be.
No, he would not get Michael‘s help yet. There was no reason he could not catnap; after all, the doctor had said there was nothing anyone could do. It was only a matter of time. And he had no intention of placing himself in Michael’s obligation, no matter how hard it became to take care of Pa. Michael already blamed him for Pa‘s condition, saying that his defection had taken the heart out of the old man.
But it was seventy years of dredging a bare living out of the unyielding Ozark soil that had killed him – was killing him. Not anything Davy had done. He knew that and someday he might thank Michael for turning what might have become guilt into less harmful anger. Someday, but not now.
The coffeepot gurgled and Davy poured himself a cup of the steaming liquid. Chicory. He had developed a taste for real coffee at school but there was no affording it now.
He ought to wash Pa’s face again but somehow he couldn’t bring himself to disturb the old man. While he slept, he was in less pain. Davy let the bitter brew slip down his throat.
It was never easy, being a youngest son. When his brother Michael had been his age, there had been an older brother (Patrick, Jr., now dead) and Davy to help, and Pa had been younger and stronger. And Ma had been alive to give all their labor some meaning. But Pat was dead, Ma was dead, Pa was dying and Michael had married and moved away. Therein lay the only consolation left to Davy – that he did not have to put up with Michael’s sneering superiority.
The work that fell on Davy was too much and the farm was falling into disrepair. He no longer planted the highest hectares, and weeds grew around the place, but there were only so many hours in the day and once it had taken all of them just to do what he did now. And now he had to tend to Pa too.
There was a momentary lull in the storm before the rain struck the roof with redoubled fury, accompanied by the bell-like thrumming of hail. Patrick Singer cried out, “Anne!”
But there was no Anne Singer to comfort him any more. Davy felt the first stirring of tears. Pa would not last out the night.
And the last six months of his life had been a torment . . . and it was all Davy’s fault.
The chicory was forgotten, grew cold in the cup, as Davy’s mind skittered back down the days.
chap2Davy and his father could hear the singing begin as they crossed the meadow. Slanting against the verdant hillside, rays of the setting sun fell over the Gulf of Texas, and below, the seaport of Little Rock sent up a foulness that seldom reached these heights.
It was somehow symbolic of the Millennium that men should work on as though nothing untoward had happened, blissfully unaware that the Reign had already begun; oblivious to the fact that the outpourings of their pointless labor could not reach or unsettle the Elect. Once the thought had given Davy a feeling of superiority – but of late he had been drawn increasingly toward those very same fleshpots.
The church was of stone and logs, built with more care than most of the members’ own houses. In winter an oil-drum stove made it a pleasant refuge against the damp and fog of the Ozark Islands, and often in summertime the elders would built an arbor of poles, roofed with chicken wire and rushes. There the services would proceed by the afterglow of the setting sun, occasionally enlivened as bats chased junebugs among the crowded aisles.
Now it was late fall. The leaves clung forlornly to the jackoaks, dead and sere. The oil-drum stove had brought the temperature up and Davy shed his jacket gratefully.
The Singer cabin and farm was five kilometers west of the meetinghouse. The Singers could neither fertilize nor irrigate, the latter because of inclement geography, the former for reasons of doctrine that had never been clear to Davy. Life had been easier before his brothers left to make lives of their own. Of course he and his father could have taken jobs in Little Rock – but the Elect did not mingle with the Gentiles.
That is, they did not except when compelled by law. Four mornings a week Davy walked down to the town for compulsory schooling. His was the first generation since the Tribulation to do so. Despite legal battles waged by the church hierarchy, the resurgent Federal government had stood fast on the subject of compulsory education.
There was some singing, some prayer, and then the Reverend Powell stepped up to the podium, slapping down his Bible and darting his eyes from face to face. He opened the book, announcing the seventh chapter of Revelation; a text that Davy did not need a Bible to remember.
After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palm leaves in their hands.
Only the Gentiles still doubted that the Cataclysm had been Armageddon, or that the years following had been the Great Tribulation. Davy could not appreciate the fear that the Revelation of St. John had struck into Fundamentalist congregations like this one before the Cataclysm. Even the saintly John‘s description of blood running to the “depths of a bridle bit” could not rival the reality of nuclear war, nor were the “beasts” loosed in the last days anything but pale reflections of the mutations that had plagued the earth these last two centuries.
And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?
And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of the Great Tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Vaguely Davy wondered what it would have been like to have heard those same verses with Armageddon before him and without the certainty that he was among the white-robed Elect.
Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.
For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
Davy had recently come across an ancient book in the archives of the school library that described the pre-Tribulation Fundamentalist sects and included transcripts of sermons preached before the last days. There he found these same scriptures quoted in descriptions of the Millennium to come. But people had taken them literally, and Davy could today attest that even in the Millennium a man still hungered and thirsted, and the Lamb fed men as he always had – by providing seed and soil, rain and sun. The rest, as always, was up to man.
chap3Reverend Powell shut his Bible and Davy’s attention wandered, although he was careful to look attentive, as always. His mind slipped naturally into well-worn paths of perplexity. There were vast contradictions between the teachings of the church and the teaching he received at the federal school, contradictions he could not resolve; but what was worse, those contradictions had heightened his sensitivity to other contradictions within his religion. The difference between Revelation’s description of the Millennium and the reality he perceived was one, but there were other, more pressing, problems. How, for instance, could a God who was both all powerful and entirely loving have allowed Armageddon to take place?
Davy did not know that he was posing the age-old mystery of omnipotence and omni-benevolence coexisting in an imperfect world. Nor would he recognize the question thus posed; his education had been rudimentary at best. He only knew that there was something seriously wrong with the beliefs of his elders.
Davy had always been close to his father and was free to ask his advice on any question but this. Instinctively he shied away from verbalizing his uncertainty, knowing that it was one subject with which Pat Singer could not cope. Two decades later, when time and death had utterly sundered them, Davy would recognize this inability as his father‘s immovable defense against disbelief.
“Just the other day a man from Little Rock stopped me on the street.” Some change in the rhythm of Reverend Powell’s delivery caught Davy’s ear. “He said to me, ‘Powell. Powell, how can you call this the Millennium. when you Millennialists spend your whole lives dragging a bare living out of the soil?’ Then he quoted to me these same scriptures you just heard.
“Brothers and sisters, I tell you no Christian ever quoted scripture half so well as the Devil.
“I said to him, ‘Mr. Jones, there are times to be clever but questioning God’s word is never clever. I don’t know why God chose to speak to us using physical terms in the scriptures but I know that I never hunger after righteousness, nor thirst after truth. He dwells with me every day, here in the temple of my heart, and He has cleansed me in living fountains of grace. He feeds me on His word and, Sir, He has wiped every tear from my eye; and I rejoice in His daily presence!’
“What care I if my belly is empty, if my heart is full? And what care I if God’s enemies twist His words, taking symbolic statements as literal truth? What care I if they hurl lies in my face, as long as I have truth in my heart?”
A chorus of “Amens” followed as Powell broke off on a high note. He paused artfully, leaning across the podium, letting silence fill the room; then he went on more softly.
“The Devil is wily and tireless. Even now, chained in the bottomless pit, he still influences the unwary. This poor man, whom I have called Mr. Jones, was not satisfied. Brothers and sisters, the Devil is never satisfied.
“He said to me, ‘Powell, if God is all loving and all powerful, why did He allow the Cataclysm and the pestilence of mutations that followed?’
“Brothers and sisters, the Devil is clever. He asks telling questions; be sure, he is no fool.
“I said, ‘Mr. Jones, I don’t‘ know.’“
His voice had fallen to a whisper, but no ear missed a word. “‘I don’t know. But God knows, Mr. Jones,’ I said. ‘I’m only a man. I don’t know why God does what He does, but I know that it is to my ultimate good. And how do I know? Because God loves me. He said in His Book that He loves me and I believe Him.‘
“That’s faith, brothers and sisters. Faith. It‘s faith that raises man above the animals and faith that raises Christians above the Gentiles. But if I could understand everything, how could I have faith? If I understood, why would I need God?
“I rejoice in my frailty, my ignorance, for only through it do I know the glorious feeling of utter, childlike faith in my Father.”
He raised his hands and. the congregation rose to sing. Davy rose with them, his heart pounding.
He could not believe. All his life he had accepted, passively, but he could not believe, actively. To do so was to deny self, to deny his own value and importance, and this he could not do. Rather, he would not.
And in the very moment that he refused belief, all the paradoxes and perplexities in his mind stood revealed, solved. What had seemed monolithic and absolute when viewed from within was shot through with idiocy and honeycombed with rot when viewed from without. The superstructure of doctrine crashed down around him in one warm moment of knowing.
It was all lies.
There was no Millennium; there had been no Armageddon – there were only madmen in conflict. There was no God. There was only man and his frailty reaching out for eternal life in the face of irrevocable death.
With assurance so utter that it thrilled him to the core even as it stripped him of all defense, Davy Singer knew -knew! – that there was only himself and death, black death, waiting at the end of the corridor of his life.
The months following his negative conversion had been difficult. He had told his father something of his new feelings, trusting him to understand partially at least, but in that he had underestimated his father‘s needs. There had been no understanding, just bitter recriminations.
Shaking sleep from his mind, he rose and went to check on his father. Patrick Singer was dead.
It took several seconds for the enormity of the event to sink in and then Davy hesitantly pressed his ear against the old man’s chest. There was no heartbeat; no sound of breath.
Davy backed away from the bed, torn between the need to run for a doctor and his unwillingness to leave his father. But as he regarded the open eyes and slack mouth, he realized that it did not matter. He could go or stay – but the dead stay dead.
He reached out to close his father’s eyes. The flesh was still warm and he drew his hand back quickly. Uncertain, he tapped the aged cheek lightly. The head rolled sideways on lax muscles and Davy drew back again, spasmodic shivers overtaking him.
He reached out once more; found that he could not touch that dead, warm skin again, and pulled the blanket over his father’s head instead.
Firmly believing in the Millennium, the old man had worked his life away, knowing scant rewards for all his labor. Believing in an afterlife, he had died secure. But he was just as dead as any atheist would have been . . . just as dead as Davy himself would someday be.
Somehow Davy had vaguely expected a great revelation at this inevitable moment, some sign that his agnosticism was merely the foolishness of youth. He had secretly hoped for just such an omen; but there was nothing – just an empty dried–up husk and the lonely sound of wind moaning about in the eaves.
There were tears then, hot and stinging, but there was something more too – the beginning of a slow burgeoning terror that would pursue him throughout his life.
“Someone to see you in your office, Professor.”
“Send him in here.“
“I think you had better go to him,” she replied, eyeing the disorder with mock distaste. Dave shrugged, slipped into sandals and followed her.
The reason for Tasmeen‘s unusual solicitude was soon apparent: Dave‘s visitor was in a wheelchair. He was a small–featured and handsome man, with a sober air, and the lap robe did nothing to disguise his legless condition.
“Professor Singh, this is Sri Nirghaz Husain. Sri Husain, Professor Ram David Singh.“
Dave did namaste, touching his hands together before his chest and bobbing his head in a greeting, which Husain returned.
“What can I do for you, Sri Husain?”
Husain looked faintly embarrassed. “I was told that you are the Director of the Institute.”
Dave nodded. “Yes, although that may not entail all that you think.”
He pulled up a chair and sat down facing Husain. Tasmeen returned with a tray of tea and biscuits.
“Now, Sri Husain, you have to understand what it is to be the director of this Institute. We are all researchers here and need no one to tell us what to do; the director simply shuffles paperwork and sees to it that the rest have money to work with. That’s it. Each one of us takes his turn as director on a bi-yearly rotation and my term of servitude is up within a few days. After that Professor Mukerjee will be director, poor man. “
Husain smiled despite himself. “You are not an Indian?“
“NorAm by extraction, Indian by citizenship and inclination.”
“But still NorAm in your informality.”
Dave smiled. “Perhaps. What can the Institute do for you, Sri Husain?”
Husain’s brows came together and he hesitated. Then, “I understand that you are on the forefront of regeneration research?”
Suddenly Dave understood the man’s reticence. “Your legs?”
”I’m sorry, Sri Husain, but I doubt that there is anything we can do for you. If we were able to regenerate human parts, you can be sure that it would be on all the news channels. We are working toward that end, and one of our members feels that she may be fairly close to it, but the techniques have not yet been proven.”
“I am willing to take a chance, Doctor Singh, if the odds are at all favorable. To be so confined is intolerable.”
Dave leaned back, drumming his fingers. Then he called out to Tasmeen. She put her head in the doorway and he said, “Ask Doctor Mathur to step in if she can break away.“
When she had gone, he turned back to Husain. “As I said, my role as director is a small one. Doctor Mathur is the expert on regeneration. You must understand, however, that our purpose here is to find techniques with which to overcome sterility. Regeneration research is directed primarily toward that end.”
Shashi Mathur stepped in moments later with a smile for Dave – which she quickly hid. Proper British formality lives on in India long after Britain is but a memory.
Dave introduced them and she said, “Sri Husain. Sri Nirghaz Husain?“
He nodded. Dave looked blank.
“Sri Husain is a famous polo player,” Shashi prompted. Dave noticed her momentary hesitation over tense. “He is also the grandson of Sri Karji.“
Suddenly a light dawned. The Premier, Jogendranath Kantikar. Sri Jogendranath Kantikarji when the honorifics were added. Out of affection and practicality, his followers had shortened it to Sri Karji. His grandson, Nirghaz Husain – now confined to a wheelchair – had been the chief negotiator for India in its disputes with Medina over the land recovered by the Panch-ab project.
Dave’s embarrassment was written across his face and Husain chuckled. “I thought that sequestered men of science were purely fictional.”
“No, I’m afraid that we are very real,” Dave admitted. He studiously avoided newscasts, but the more spectacular stories always managed to trickle through his defenses.
chap6Nirghaz Husain was the son of Sri Karji’s youngest daughter and a Muslim father, Parivar Husain. The daughter had left home at an early age, creating a scandal that Sri Karji’s Parliamentary opponents would not let die. She had returned to India with her son after the Medinan Muslims had made life intolerable for her. Her son had gone back to Medina upon his father’s death to inherit his fortune and to act as an unofficial emissary between Sri Karji and the Muslims. He had been there when the fighting broke out six months ago and had lost his legs to a bomb dropped by an Indian plane.
“Professor Mathur,” he said now, “Professor Singh informs me that you are the expert on regeneration. My grandfather has said many fine things about your Institute; he suggested that I come here seeking aid.”
Dave and Shashi exchanged glances. There had been nothing casual about dropping Sri Karji’s name. If they succeeded in restoring Husain’s legs, the sky would be the limit in financing for future research; but should they fail . . .
“I’m sorry, Sri Husain, but there is nothing we can do for you,” Shashi told him gently. “Our efforts here are aimed primarily at overcoming the worldwide drop in birthrate following the Cataclysm. Only a few of us, such as Doctor Singh and myself, are pursuing lines of research in other areas of biology, and primary regeneration is not one of them.”
“But Doctor Singh said that you were working on regeneration.”
“Yes and no. Let me explain. We have had some success with primary regeneration where the matrix of tissue was not entirely destroyed. Consider the amputation of an arm, say between the elbow and the wrist. We could cause all of the muscles of the forearm to regenerate and we could then replace the bone with metal. But the hand? The fingers? There would be no matrix for their regeneration. In certain cases of limited avulsion we use this technique, but it would have no value to you.
“Furthermore, we have isolated hormones that cause ‘stunted growth’ so that today we are able to give treatment to a child whose limbs do not fully develop; but full, primary regeneration in living humans is impossible, at least within the foreseeable future. It has to take place in the embryonic stage.”
Husain’s expression hardened as though he were unwilling to believe her words.
“What I am doing is experimenting with the growth of replacement parts from clones,” Shashi explained.
[Editorial note: When this was written in 1977, cloning was not widely known and required explanation.]
She smiled. “Except for sperm and ova, every cell contains the genetic pattern of the entire organism. Certain lower orders, sponges for example, reproduce by budding off of ordinary cells. The new organisms produced are genetically identical to the parent organism. We can artificially stimulate ordinary muscle cells to replicate new organisms in a similar way among the higher orders.
“For example, we take cells from a donor rat, clone them, and grow a new rat identical in every sense to the original. Whole limbs from the clone can then be transplanted surgically to the original.”
“Can you do that with humans?“
“No, not yet, nor any time in the reasonably near future. The problems involved are staggering.”
“Nor are all the problems scientific,” Dave pointed out. “Consider the rats. They are in every way identical; if they were human, what right would a man have to steal a part from his clone?”
“Also,” Shashi went on, “if that were not a problem, consider the fact that in order to produce a clone with a body of your present age, it would require about twenty years of growth, by which time you would be forty. To be practical, cloning for replacement purposes would have to begin its growth at the time of the subject’s birth.“
“Have human clones been raised?” Husain asked.
Shashi nodded. “In China – before the Cataclysm – there were reported to have been human clones raised by implantation in uteri. It is even told that a clone of Chairman Mao was raised, but that story is probably apocryphal. Since the Cataclysm, experiments with clones have been common. There are at present at least one hundred clone conceived persons in India alone, some of whom are nearly thirty years old.”
Husain was shocked. “I had no idea! ”
“It isn‘t exactly top secret but it is not yet publicized. We think that such cloning may be a stop–gap measure over the next several generations – until we solve the birthrate problem.“
“Then you could actually make a clone from my cells?“
“Yes, but if we did, it would merely provide you with a son, not a new set of legs. And that son would look and be no different from any other child, except that he would be your genetic twin. He might not even resemble you closely as he grew; environment has its effect too.”
Dave turned to Shashi after Husain had left. “You lied to him pretty badly.”
“You mean Chaudry’s forced growth enzyme? Why should I get his hopes up over an untried technique? Anyway, forced growth doesn‘t overcome the moral problems.”
Dave stared at the door through which Husain had exited. “Perhaps.”
Shashi studied him, disturbed by the implications of his speculative tone.
There was no sound, no light, no change of temperature and no gravity. It had hung thus since its birth, so that it knew nothing other than its self. Physically it existed; mentally it had never left the womb.
An umbilical cord brought it air and sustenance and the enzymes that forced its growth. And that growth was phenomenal – three weeks from birth to physical maturity.
Dave turned away from the meters on the sensory-deprivation tank and checked the readings on the computer. Nearby, in another tank, a bottle-nosed dolphin named Baba lay half–in and half-out of the water, narcotized and attached to an umbilical cord similar to that attached to the sensory–deprivation tank.
Dave made final checks all around and then fed a narcotic to the already mindless dolphin; it was needless now – but it would help his transition to sentient life. He closed a switch. There was a hum as other banks of machinery went into play, but the moment was largely unremarkable. The machinery utterly stripped the dolphin Baba of memory.
In the process, he died.
Dave, confirmed that fact – and then opened the sensory-deprivation tank. For the very first time, light impinged upon the dolphin named Baba II.
Dave was playing games with Baba II when Shashi came in later that afternoon. The dolphin frolicked about the large tank, entirely unaware that he had, in one sense, been living for only a few hours.
Dave greeted Shashi as she touched his hand and leaned down to stroke the dolphin’s head. Then she froze in mid–gesture, staring at it; the tattoo that had identified the creature no longer adorned its forehead. Drawing back, she looked at Dave with a mixture of wariness and shocked admiration.
“You did it!”
“And Baba is . . . dead?”
He shook his head. “Transmigrated. Baba’s memories reside now in the brain of Baba II. Baba II is Baba, brain and bone.”
Shashi watched in wonder as the creature shot about the tank. She herself had cultured the clone that now swam before her, and she had assisted Dave in the surgery that had implanted the foetus in a dolphin host mother. Raised from birth in a sensory–deprivation tank, it had had no memories and no personality of its own until now.
“Baba – the original Baba – is dead?”
Dave nodded, unconcerned, and then said, “Watch.”–
For twenty minutes he put Baba II through his paces and the dolphin responded beautifully, threading the intricate maze of wires and mirrors with their innumerable turnings and false leads. Dave had spent months in training Baba in that maze and it was one that no creature, however intelligent, could have traversed without error except through prior experience.
But Baba’s memories now resided in Baba II, and since Baba II’s body was a clone from Baba, it was identical in every genetic particular. By heredity and environment, Baba II was Baba, outwardly differing only in the slight pallor of II’s skin and his lack of Baba’s identifying tattoo.
After his run through the maze, Baba II came for his reward of fish and remained to be fondled. As Shashi scratched him in all his favorite places, she realized that the situation would have been uncanny except that the illusion that this was the original Baba was so convincing that she could not react emotionally to the situation.
She and Dave left the laboratory at sunset, walked past the open stalls of Poona, buying chappatis and tea in an insulated container, and went on up to the park. There they sat quietly until the sky faded and those few stars that could compete with the city lights emerged. The air was chill and Shashi drew close to Dave; yet she seemed somehow restrained.
“What‘s wrong?” he asked her.
“Baba. I am deeply troubled by the implications of your experiment with him.”
The faint attempt at humor failed.
“I didn‘t mean that. I know I made a pet of him, but if he had to die, I wouldn’t cry. I said that I am troubled by the implications, not the actuality, of what you have done.”
“Meaning what happened to Baba’s atman?”
“You don‘t really believe in that crap?”
“Yes, I do.“
There was little he could say in the face of such calm assertion and he swallowed his irritation. “That which made Baba Baba was transferred from one body to the next. His atman, if you want to use that term, is what was transferred.”
“No, Dave. You know better than that. His soul, perhaps; you are the expert on Christian theology, not I. But not his atman. I know that I have led many previous lives, but do I remember them? No. The atman which is my essence, which goes with me from life to life, is not memory.”
Dave shrugged, unwilling to argue theology. His knowledge of Hinduism was considerable but he could never hope to debate it with a native. Or a believer. It irritated him to think that Shashi could cling to what seemed to him to be superstition. More important, those beliefs might hamper his work – and his work was a matter of life and death.
“What will you do next?” she asked.
“With Baba, nothing. Since we are not yet at a clinical stage, it would prove nothing to repeat the transference to still another body. What I have to do next is to chose a short-lived but fairly intelligent creature and make a transference from an aged individual to a young clone.”
“In search of immortality?”
“Yes,” he replied tightly. “I also have to follow up some leads on sensory–deprived clones as donors for organ transplants.”
A troubled look crossed her face in the dim moonlight. He turned to her. “You are thinking of Husain?” She nodded. “Forget it,” he said. “By the time we get our techniques ironed out, Husain will be an old man.”
He moved closer to her. She had changed from lab coveralls to a flowing sari which did little to hamper his motions in the sweet darkness.
Shashi Mathur had been married at twelve, consummated at fourteen. She had lived with her husband, a man of thirty-five, until she was sixteen. At that point she had turned her sexual attentions elsewhere, trying to let no fertile night pass without a bedmate, preferably a new one each month. In so doing, she was merely following the customs of the time. When births are rare, they are precious, and who can say what lucky coupling might prove fertile?
When Shashi was seventeen, her husband died. By that time she was convinced that she was barren. In that she was merely ordinary. Faced with the prospect of an empty future, she took her meagre inheritance, left for Poona and enrolled in one of the dozen prep schools that surround Deccan University. Now she was twenty-eight, certain of her barrenness, and working religiously to overcome that bane for her fellows.
As a professor, a widow and a kshatriya, she enjoyed high status and a rare freedom from constricting gossip. Her quarters were furnished with an utmost simplicity. She had a small brazier where she kindled a charcoal fire on those nights when the monsoon drove chill and dampness through the walls and windows. She often brewed tea there for herself or her guests, but never cooked. There were stalls of sweet-wallas within a five-minute‘ walk, and she had her main meals at the Institute cafeteria.
Her single room was unfurnished save for cushions and a foam sleeping-pad. By day this was propped against a bare inner wall. Blockprinted Madrasi hangings adorned the walls and thick rush mats covered the floor. A carved chest held her clothing. There was a row of books against one wall: the Gita, Vivekananda’s works, Tagore’s poetry. She kept her professional books strictly segregated in her office at the Institute.
By the light of candles, with incense sticks burning, she lit the brazier and made oblations to Agni. Then she settled into the lotus position.
Later, after her meditations, and after she had extinguished the lights, her mind strayed back to Ram Singh, a name she preferred to the ridiculous ‘Dave’, and his unnatural playing with the structure of reality.
The summons came at noon the following day. “Sri Singhji?” The messenger bowed from the waist and Dave felt an irrational irritation at the obeisance. Messages proffered with the double honorific, prefix and suffix, usually meant trouble. It read:
Sri Kantikar of Mumbai would appreciate your presence at his bungalow on Tagore Street at eight p. m., on the night of the twenty-fifth, to discuss a matter of mutual interest. J. K.
For a moment Dave was too stunned to take in the implications. So the Premier wanted to see him personally. And unofficially too – to judge from the fact that he signed the message without reference to his office. Dave had never met nor had any dealings with Sri Karji; he had never seen him except for newscasts. It could only concern his grandson.
Dave had known that Husain had not dropped his grandfather‘s name casually. Cold sweat formed on his face as he studied the note.
chap9Mumbai was the world’s most modern city in both the best and the worst senses of the word. The capital of India since New Dehli’s inundation, it housed an impressive neo-Ashokan capitol complex surrounded by a buffer-and–expansion zone of parks. Beyond that the city was aggressively utilitarian.
Even as early as the Cataclysm, India had been short of construction timber, although it supplied much of the world’s decorative hardwoods. Adobe, rammed earth and stone were her building materials for centuries and still were but with a difference. Now adobe bricks were made in huge factories, chemically stabilized and force dried. Rammed-earth walls were also chemically stabilized and made by special hydraulic rams and molds. Human labor was no longer a cheap commodity and with declining population, it would become more scarce as time passed, but electricity was plentiful from fusion reactors.
Stone had long been a major building material, but it too required massive inputs of human labor to quarry and lay. Now stone was quarried mechanically as gravel and fused into monolithic blocks in situ at a tremendous cost of power. All public buildings were of this magmastone, as were dams, the houses of the rich, public monuments and, of course, the great dykes of the Ganga and Panch-ab projects.
Dave debarked at Tagore station, skirted the power plant and strode toward Kulin Hill. His route took him through the Avenue of Abominations, where beggars from the whole of Maharashtra gathered. Some were normal enough, a few were amputees and accident or disease victims, but by far the majority were mutants. Unable to compete with their normal fellows and of execrable status (Sri Karji called them the “new untouchables” and begged Congress to pass laws protecting them, all to no avail), they were reduced to living on public pity. One was eyeless, an unbroken expanse of skin rising from his rudimentary nose to his hairline; another had a shriveled third arm projecting like a grotesque lingam from between her breasts; another . . .. They cried out to him as he passed, their arms waving upward from their lotus positions like anemones.
Kulin Hill rose like a tower of sanity. From its heights the city took on a certain geometric beauty as distance hid her less graceful aspects. The summit was surrounded by a ten-meter-high magmastone wall, pierced infrequently by small gates, and only the onion–domed turret that served its residents as an observation post was visible from the ground outside.
Out in the harbor, ships’ lights were being switched on while deep beneath their keels, lost in the cold, wet darkness of the sea bottom, Old Mumbai lay. One could take an excursion submarine to visit the ruins but Dave had always found the idea depressing.
The house within the wall was a disappointment. It was a faithful rendition of Indian architecture, but in magmastone and bitudobe it simply did not have the grace of Arjuna or Chitradurga. Of all the cities in India, Mumbai was the least Indian; everything was a modern copy of past glories and thus lacked the charm of the old and the boldness of the new. Even Poona, the Mecca of the modern Indian, still retained its old quarter.
He was led through the cavernous mansion and up the winding, open stairway to the observation tower. Here, beneath the dome in a glass–walled room whose clear panels had been thrown open to admit the night air, sat Sri Karji. He was lounging in a rattan peacock chair, surrounded by a scattering of manila-bound reports.
A tea service sat on a cart nearby and he responded to Dave‘s namastee by waving him to a chair. A servant materialized to serve the tea and chutneys and Sri Karji withheld conversation until they were alone. Somewhere within the house a sitarist was playing Raga Rageshri, an evening raga.
“It was good of you to come, Sri Singhji.”
“It was good of you to ask me.“
“How have you liked India?”
Dave put on a smile he did not feel. “Really, one does not ask that question of a native. I am a citizen, you know.”
“Yes. Since last October, was it not?”
Dave nodded, having no doubt that Kantikar knew the exact date and anything‘ else he felt would be useful. It was some relief to be a citizen of the Indian Commonwealth; at least he could not be deported.
Shot, but not deported.
chap10“We have a number of scientists from other countries working in our universities. They bring a welcome change of orientation that often bears well on our problems. One should always try to maintain a fresh viewpoint. Many of our visiting scientists eventually ask for asylum, especially those from Africa and the Andean Republic, and we never turn them away. However, we do not normally grant them citizenship, for political reasons.“
“Of course,” Dave murmured.
“You present a new situation. We have not found training in NorAm to be adequate, so I was surprised to find that one of our top scientists at the Institute was a North American.”
“I took my graduate training at Deccan.”
“So I discovered. You have risen high.”
Condescension disguised as praise. The civilized man speaking to the barbarian. What you really mean, old man, is that I am vulnerable.
Dave shrugged modestly.
“I understand that you have met my grandson?”
“Yes. A sad case; perhaps in twenty years medicine can help him.”
Kantikar changed the subject abruptly. “I understand that you are an agnostic – at least so it said on your application for citizenship. Yet were you not raised as a Pentecostal-Baptist?”
Despite himself, Dave gave grudging respect for the man’s unabashed highhandedness. As Premier, his power was virtually unlimited and he apparently saw no advantage in hiding the fact, save behind a thin facade of courtesy.
“A Millennialist,” Dave replied. “There are minor doctrinal differences between the two.”
“But you cast all that aside?”
“Yes, when I was fifteen.”
“So I surmised after reading your article in the Deccan Monitor.”
“I hope you don’t rely on that article as an index of my sophistication. I wrote it for the school paper in my first year at Deccan and my command of NaiHind was anything but complete.”
Kantikar waved the protest aside.
“The sense of your arguments came through despite any inadequacies of language. You believe that both the Christian concept of soul and the Hindu concept of atman are in error?”
“And that the only thing that exists is biological drive tied to experience – ‘tied by cords of memory’ was your felicitous phrase, I believe.”
“An old idea – not that you claimed it was not. But you carried it further by saying that if a man’s biology could be replicated by parthenogenesis – cloning – and his memory transcribed, he could attain virtual immortality.”
Tired of playing parrot, Dave said nothing.
“Once again, not a new idea. Yet you go on to say that man‘s religions have cheated him out of immortality by making him accept the idea of death; that these techniques of ‘physiological resurrection’ would have been perfected centuries ago had men really believed in their mortality.”
Kantikar paused with an air of expectation but Dave simply shrugged once more. “You seem well versed in what I wrote. I see no reason to enlarge upon it,” he said.
“Such a philosophy must make a man quite desperate. To think that immortality is at hand but to fear that he might not be able to perfect its techniques before he dies – I do not envy you.”
chap11It was some hours later that the conversation turned serious again. Throughout dinner Kantikar had refused to be drawn into any but the most trivial discussions and later he had been intent on the musicians and the Kathak dancers. Finally, as they sat back in rattan lounges on the terrace watching the moon on Mumbai harbor and listening to the distant sound of Kantikar’s resident sitarist playing in the courtyard below, each with a small waterpipe of gunga spreading its mild narcotic through their systems, Kantikar returned to the discussion.
“Doctor Mathur told my grandson that one reason she could not provide him with replacement limbs was that it would take twenty years to grow them. Yet my aides have discovered an article by Professor Choudry of your Institute that indicates that clone growth can be forced to many times its normal rate.”
Dave was cautious in his reply. “We have had some success along those lines with laboratory animals.”
“And human clones?”
“We have not attempted it with human clones.“
“Yet if you did try it and failed, what harm would come? The human from whom the clone cells were taken would be entirely unaffected.“
“True. But we are not sure that a limb, its growth forced, would not adversely affect the donor after a transplant. Also, there is the moral aspect.“
“That should prove no problem for you.”
Kantikar paused, gazing up at the moon, and then went on: “It is your philosophy, avowed in the article we discussed earlier, that memory is the only ‘soul’ a man has. A clone grown to maturity in a sensory-deprivation tank would have no memory and could therefore be used as a donor with as much immunity from moral censure as a cadaver. That is your philosophy, is it not?”
Dave felt the trap closing and yet he did not regret it. It was a step that had to be taken eventually and if Kantikar ordered it, the blame would be his should public opinion rise in protest.
“By the way, how is Baba II doing?”
Dave actually grinned. “Well,” he said and then added, “There is no guarantee that Baba II will not die tomorrow from some unforeseen complication, and that risk would run even higher for Husain.”
“At this preliminary stage, we need not worry about that. When the time comes to take risks, we will all review the situation together and decide what is best.“
“Will you send him by tomorrow?” Having come this far, Dave saw no point in further verbal sparring.
“To begin cloning? Very well, but he can stay only an hour. He is leaving for Medina on a mission of utmost delicacy.”
Dave was suddenly aware of greater depths of machination than he had suspected. “You aren‘t just the doting grandfather, are you? You want to show the Muslims that they can be outdone. Nirghaz’s crippling by Indian bombs was a major diplomatic blunder, wasn‘t it?”
Kantikar’s eyes were cold. “That, Singhji, is none of your business.”
chap12Husain donated a cell sample which Shashi cultured for cloning. Developing a human clone was not greatly different than developing an animal clone and the apparatus of a mechanical womb could be set up quickly. The sensory-deprivation tank was another matter, however. It had to be larger and more sophisticated, but such tanks had been built before. It was a job requiring no new technology.
During the first five weeks of gestation no growth stimulants were used, but by that time a completion date for the sensory deprivation tank was reasonably certain and the Choudry enzymes were released into the fluid in which the embryo floated. A month later and the foetus had reached four kilos in weight and Dave, with Shashi’s aid, transferred the infant to the tank that had held Baba II, carefully severing the fleshy umbilical and replacing it with a mechanical one that fit the orifices of the head.
“Quite well,” Dave replied to Husain’s query. “Couldn’t be better, in fact. The clone is in the sensory-deprivation tank that housed one of our test animals and it will remain there until the larger tank is completed. We aren’t pushing its growth as much as we might because we don’t want it to outgrow its present home before a new one is ready.“
Nirghaz Husain bobbed his head in tense delight. It was obvious that he was only now allowing himself to hope. He had returned from Medina the day before after long and fruitless negotiations with the Muslims.
Dave wheeled him into an examination room and said, “Nirghaz, this is Doctor Choudry. In addition to being the man who developed the growth stimulant, he is also an accomplished surgeon, which neither Doctor Mathur nor I are.”
Dave and Choudry lifted Husain onto the examining table, where Shashi unbuttoned his gown with asexual efficiency.
Dave drew a deep breath and held himself still. He had no bedside manner with which to cover this situation. Shashi turned away, but Choudry went on with admirable calm. “You did not inform us that your genitalia had also been lost.”
“Amputated. Like the legs, they were too crushed to save.” Husain glanced away but the expression in his eyes was hard and bitter. “So they said.”
Without looking up, Husain asked, “Is there any chance of transplanting that, too?”
“Dammit, man, don’t spring a question like that on me out of thin air. I don’t know,” Choudry replied.
Husain’s belly and buttocks were a webwork of scar tissue and his body terminated in a blank and lumpy mass. Choudry probed and measured and then sent Husain away for x-rays.
In the dimly lit office Choudry had taped a dozen x-rays, taken from all angles, on a battery of viewing boxes. He sat hunched over one, overlay paper and ruler in his hand, measuring, checking angles and occasionally pausing to calculate. He had been at it for better than an hour and Dave and Shashi had finally given up following the complexities of his work. They perched hip to hip on a desktop across the room, sharing coffee. It looked bad.
At last Choudry laid his paraphernalia aside and stretched, shaking his head. “No way.”
“I can’t believe it,” Dave said. “Here we were prepared to use the latest techniques and even an entirely new donor source and we can’t proceed simply because our surgery isn’t up to it!”
“Let me put it this way, Ram. If he were lying on the table now as a fresh amputee and we had the parts available, I would try it. We would have nothing to lose because he would have only a slim chance of living either way. Frankly, I don’t know how he managed to live. You can be sure that the abdominal cavity was wide open; they certainly had to push his viscera back as they sutured.”
Shashi shook her head. “Why did they go to such lengths for an Indian?”
“Politics,” Dave fairly snarled. “The fact that Nirghaz was injured by Indian bombs was a diplomatic coup for the Medinans. Had he died, it would have soon been forgotten but now he is a walking – I mean a living – monument to Indian aggression.“
“All of which doesn’t help him or us one bit,” Choudry went on. “Look at this. The left articular fossa is completely gone and the ilium has. been trimmed. The head of the right femur is still in place and fused into the fossa. Any transplant would have to begin above that point and include the entire pelvic girdle. Surgery just isn’t up to it.”
“So who’s going to tell him?”
chap13Dave did not go directly to speak with Nirghaz; instead he went to his lab, where Baba II greeted him with insistent snortings that stopped only when Dave scratched his head and tossed him a chunk of fish.
Science, Dave knew, proceeds by fits and starts, not so much because research is quixotic (although it is), but because a man can invent or discover only what mankind is ready for. Leonardo da Vinci’s model helicopters were proof of that.
Had the time come? It was a delicate question concerning not so much the state of the art as the spirit of the times. He had Sri Karji’s support. There was money and power there; and in this state of near war, the label of “military secret” would amply cloak his work from the public.
But not from his colleagues. He still had not convinced Shashi of the un-humanness of a sensory-deprived clone, and Choudry had been hesitant. Would they have balked – in the final analysis – at cutting up a seemingly live and healthy human being for transplant purposes despite the fact that that human being was “merely” a clone? He was not sure. However, it loomed as a large possibility that they would have intervened in the transplant procedure even if medical reasons had not precluded it.
Or had they? Had Choudry deliberately misread the x-rays? No matter; either way, this new course of action was better for Husain. And humanity.
He went down to the waiting room. Nirghaz had given up the pretense of reading while he waited and now he looked up intently at Dave’s entrance.
“Can it be done?”
Dave stared at Husain for a long time before answering, “No, not by surgery. But . . .”
Baba II shot across the tank, ducked under a bar and through a ring, described a complex spiral around a horizontal rod, doubled back – and faltered. Confused, he floated free for a moment, then rushed across the tank for a piece of proffered fish and a scratch on the snout.
Sri Karji straightened up and shook his head. “An impressive display, I suppose, if I knew what it meant.” Dave slapped the dolphin on the side and said to Kantikar, “That is just the problem. You impressed me so much in our first interview that I assumed your spies had been thorough. They were not or you would know that what you just witnessed is the reason we have to have the Deliac computer. Your spies told you, correctly, that Baba II could thread a complex maze, using the original Baba‘s memories. What they did not tell you was that we trained Baba in five separate mazes. Baba II can do three of them perfectly, one not at all and the other one only part way before faltering. ”
“So your experiment was not a perfect success, as you said it was.”
chap14“You told me that my experiment had succeeded, not vice versa. And I assumed that your information was complete. In fact, the experiment succeeded admirably, and we know why it failed and the exact dimensions of its failure. We took every memory that Baba could give us in one burst of energy before he died. Had we taken the memories in increments and stored them in a computer bank, we could have had them all.
“But we did not have such a computer because of budgetary limitations. When you gave me the commission of rejuvenating Nirghaz, I assumed that you knew that the computer was necessary.“
Kantikar stared, unseeing, at the frolicking dolphin. It was always galling to be outdone by a competitor; and to be caught up by one‘s own failings was doubly humiliating. Worse, it made all of his efforts to date useless unless he could came through on this latest demand. Of course it could be done. Anything, legal or illegal, could be done. But every such action left him open to attack and there were always those who were ready to pull down Sri Karji.
Nor should he divert even a fraction of his country‘s energies from the upcoming struggle for survival. The Deliac computer was an auxiliary set-up in the Deliac Air Force complex south of Poona. It was presently not being used but it might be needed on short notice.
Yet there was a debt to pay; and there was his affection, and there was his guilt. For it was Sri Karji who had ordered the airstrikes against Mahmet, knowing full well that his grandson was there but confident in the odds that the young man would emerge unhurt. It had meant surprise and it had given him a reputation for putting the good of the state above his personal interests. But the price . . . it was one thing to calculate chances beforehand and quite another to find oneself the loser afterward.
Nor had the airstrikes ended the Medinan menace; if anything, they had stiffened resistance.
It was bad enough that Nirghaz must regain his legs in a way so unorthodox that it smacked of heresy. Transplants were one thing; the transference of memory was another. Still, if Nirghaz were willing, how could he, Kantikar, hold back?
“I will give the orders,” he told Dave curtly.
After Kantikar and his entourage had left, Shashi found Dave leaning on the edge of the dolphin tank, his face lined and worried. As always, she was both drawn to and troubled by his iron control, so different from other men she had known. Even other NorAm men had not been like this. She had a brief vision of a creature trapped inside a drum of steel, crying out for attention, for understanding. What was that creature like? After two years of liaison with Ram David, she still could not truly say.
“Did you pull it off?”
Dave nodded and then shook his head. He staggered slightly as he moved across the room to drop into his favorite chair. She realized that he was emotionally exhausted.
“Shashi, if he ever finds out how I lied to him, I just don’t know what he would do.”
She patted his arm. “It wasn‘t your fault.”
“The hell is wasn‘t. I should have put Baba II through his paces immediately but I was too exultant over my apparent success. Then came Kantikar‘s summons and the work with his grandson. I let basic caution slip.”
“He doesn’t know that.”
“No, not now, but I’ll always wonder when he might find out. If I pull this off, it will get me off the hook, but otherwise . . .”
“I? I thought this was to be a team effort.”
“You know what I meant.”
“Yes. I know that you meant exactly what you said. This is your holy grail. You are working your way to heaven. First transfer Nirghaz into a new body, then clone a standby for yourself. And when you feel old age and death whispering at your neck, you’ll run and hide in your fine, new, young body.”
“Well, what’s wrong with that?”
For answer she shook her head and said, “Maya.”
“You say . . . but you have no proof that it is so.”
“Nor have you.“
“True,” she said, unperturbed. “One does not look to illusion for proof of illusion’s nonexistence.”
They stared at one another, each firmly caught in his own neat, circular pattern of argument. Then she slid past the issue by settling in against his knee and taking his hand.
He smiled and let some of the tension drain away. “Yes, love.”
“About my barrenness.”
He started, for barrenness was a subject of deep taboo that no barren woman would willingly discuss. “My ova are infertile but I am anatomically normal.”
She paused then. He did not know what she was driving at; he already knew that she could carry an embryo to term were it artificially implanted, but there were tens of thousands of women who would willingly do that if fertile ova were available.
“Ram Singh, my lover, will you give me your child? Your clone child.”
He was stunned. “Wouldn’t you rather the child be of your own heritage?”
She shook her head. “Yours, love. Yours.”
He looked down at her sober, earnest face and was deeply moved. He nodded and she came into his lap, kissing him and crying.
His fingers touched the bandage on his forearm where the tissue had been taken and he reflected on the reverse symbolism of that wound. Across the room Shashi worked deftly, lovingly, culturing the cells for cloning. It took her three hours. Sunlight slanted in from the west across the lab (so orderly in contrast to his) as she finished, still humming the tune with which she had begun the afternoon.
Casually he took her hand when she had finished but she pulled his face down for a kiss that was far from casual. He held her close, thinking that he had never seen her more beautiful.
“Tomorrow, ” she said, “I’ll have Doctor Choudry to do the implant.”
“Are you sure this is what you want?”
She nodded and smiled still more deeply. “Tonight we celebrate.”
“How do you celebrate the initiation of a pregnancy?” he asked, deadpan, and she giggled outright.
That night he moved into Shashi’s quarters. They were crowded but it did not matter. Neither of them gave much time to sleeping.
Whether it was his near brush with Sri Karji’s wrath or Shashi’s commitment to him he could not have said, but the urgency of his quest for immortality returned to him renewed.
The next morning he sent a letter to an old friend and professor in NorAm, James Brigham, whose accomplishments he had long since outstripped but whose wisdom he highly respected. That letter contained an outline of what he had done and the promise of detailed explanations to be forthcoming. He also instructed Brigham to prepare to publish his notes in the event of his death, feeling that once enough people knew of the resurrection process, nothing could prevent mankind from rising up to demand its universal implementation.
chap16Nirghaz lay back, immersed in the temperature- and gravity-neutralizing fluid, his head encased in a helmet that barred all sound, sight and smell. The salt water surrounding him was exactly 98.6 degrees; the air that moved into his lungs held progressively less oxygen and a carefully balanced percentage of carbon dioxide.
Respiration, metabolism and cognition slowly abated. There was no light, no taste, no touching and, of sound, only the gentle susurration of incoming air.
Gradually the murmur of airflow changed to a pulsing whisper that lulled him still deeper into the trance; and the soft voice, Shashi’s voice, that had always been there just below the level of his notice, spoke to him of sleep and of childhood; and his mind, cut free, remembered.
Light! As the sleep had been beyond sleep, so the awakening was violent beyond any awakening he had previously experienced. His disorientation changed to despair as the laughing, running child he had been in his dreams became a legless horror once more. For a cold moment he was drowning in some gigantic, malign womb; then strong hands had a hold of him and he was lifted into the chilly air of reality. He pawed at the all-enveloping hood but it was cleverly latched and he had to wait, helpless, fighting claustrophobia, while the lab assistants removed it.
He lay still for a while beneath the light blanket they had put over his naked body, watching with small interest as the aides swabbed the saline fluid from the floor and then departed. Shashi came over with a smile to sit beside him and he reached out to take her hand, needing the touch of humanity to return him to the present.
Ram David was hunched over a typeset, engaged in a dialogue with the computer. His profile was frozen in a mask of utter concentration and there was no sound in the room but human breathing, the humming respiration of machines and the drip of salt water from the table where Nirghaz lay.
Nirghaz blinked back tears and Shashi gently wiped his face. The memories dredged up were as fresh in his mind as though he had just lived them, not like those of a dream that vanish with awakening: the desert outside Kabul; his mother‘s delicate beauty; his stern father returning home after another attempt to settle the dispute his Hindu wife and half-caste son had raised; the bougainvillea vine outside his window down which he had climbed; the shouting, rock-throwing band of boys crying, “Hindu, Hindu, Hindu!”
Finally Dave switched off the console and came to stand beside Shashi. Nirghaz felt an unexpected rush of black resentment for the legs he walked on and for his manhood. Dave and Shashi made no secret of their liaison. Jealousy burned bright inside Nirghaz and he fought it unsuccessfully, for it was not Shashi that he wanted, but his own lost manhood.
Dave smiled wearily. “We got it.“
Nirghaz nodded, too spent to feel elation.
“You were under a trance much deeper than is ever used in therapy, so anything we may have missed is unlikely to be crucial.”
“You didn’t get it all?”
“What did you do on the afternoon of the fourteenth of May the year you were four years old?”
Nirghaz hesitated, then shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“You went out with your father to pick up some chutneys for your mother and the taxi broke down on the way home. You were impressed by the way the driver repaired the trouble with a mere piece of wire and you learned a new obscenity listening to him.”
Nirghaz still looked blank. “I don‘t remember.”
Dave shook his head. “I didn’t expect you to. It is unlikely that you will ever remember the incident although you will, of course, remember our discussing it now. Yet you brought it up under trance. In short, once the transference is. complete, you could undergo standard hypno-analysis and never reveal any gaps in your memory. Anything we did not get, you have forgotten completely.”
Nirghaz looked relieved. Dave continued, “We are up to age five now but future sessions will not progress as rapidly. Your recall of incidents will increase according to some as yet unknown exponent, so we will probably require thirty or forty sessions to place every memory on tape. The mind has an amazing capacity.“
While Shashi went out for tea, Dave helped Nirghaz dress and then lifted him into his wheelchair. When Shashi returned, the young man had regained most of his composure and he accepted the mild, warm stimulant gratefully.
“Ramadav, one thing troubles me. “
“What is that?“
“When you first acquainted me with the memory transference concept, it was a one–shot method. One‘s memory was transferred intact from an old or broken body into a new, healthy one. I could accept that; after all, it was not that different from our concept of transmigration. But this use of multiple taping sessions and a computer . . . well, look at it this way. When I was five years old, my father took me out horseback riding for the first time. You have that on tape?” Dave nodded. “But I still remember it.”
After a long pause, Dave prompted, “So?”
“So when you have all of my memories on tape, I will still have them in my head. When you transcribe them into my clone, they will still be here in my head. Which one will be me?”
“The question won’t arise,” Dave assured him. “When we make the last tape – and the transference – we will terminate life support to your previous body.”
Nirghaz could only stare in shock. “You mean that there will really be two of me and that you will kill one of them for the sake of a neat closure to the experiment?”
Dave fought back the desire to merely shrug. He had thought deeply along these lines and all of the legal and moral questions were resolved to his own satisfaction. Still, he knew the problematical nature of the question and was not sure that he could win anyone over by the same arguments he had used in order to still his own doubts.
“It will be like going to sleep and waking up to find your own body regenerated,” he answered quietly.
“No. That is no answer. If you did not kill me off, it would be like going to sleep and waking to find someone with my memories and my rejuvenated body going on to live a separate life while I remain tied to this body.”
To Go Not Gently, novella, serial post 18/30
Nirghaz shook his head. “It isn’t good enough. Look, I am no orthodox Hindu. If I were, I would be looking for release from rebirth, not a continuance of my life on earth. Yet I cannot simply follow your way. I do believe in an atman, an essence, and that essence cannot inhabit two places at once.”
Dave ground his teeth. Shashi was sitting tensely, watching them both. He knew that she agreed with Nirghaz. “Look, when you go to sleep and then awaken, you don’t consider yourself a different person simply because there is an eight hour gap in your existence. It will be the same with the resurrection process.”
Shashi broke in, “Nirghaz, you are strictly a volunteer. If you don’t want to go through with this, simply say so.”
Dave gave her an angry stare which she chose to ignore.
“What other chance do I have?”
“There is the possibility of a brain transplant but the prognosis on that would be very poor. Otherwise you can simply go on as you are. You seem to have adapted well to your difficulties and your condition is no worse than that of many other cripples. “
Nirghaz almost snarled. Looking at Shashi’s soft womanhood, he did not – could not – desire her, but he remembered what desire was, and desire’s consummation. Burning with shame and loss, he said, “For the time being let us continue, but I have to consider this very deeply before we conclude the experiments. ”
X-ray and ultraviolet sensors probed it continuously where visible light could never go and where infrared sensors would have been blinded by the uniformity of temperature. Electrical discharges shocked its muscles into motion from time to time so that they would grow.
It had the appearance of a ten year-old child, still floating foetal in the saline womb of the sensory-deprivation chamber. Resemblance to Nirghaz at age ten was superficial at best, for this body had never run, twisted, played or felt the darkening sun on its skin. Thin, flaccid, dead white, it floated blind in the eternal night and slept mindlessly on:
Within Shashi‘s womb, unhurried by growth stimulants, a natural foetus grew. It floated secure and ignorant of the unease that caused her to toss sleeplessly on her pallet.
Shashi shifted her weight again and Dave sought her hand. “Can’t you sleep either?” she asked.
“No. I’ve been thinking; after we tape and reconstruct Nirghaz, I think we may be able to persuade Kantikar to continue our funding and perhaps let us continue using the computer.”
“Probably. I’m sure he will be very grateful.”
“I intend to tape myself.”
He listened for censure in her voice but the tone of her reply was neutral. “I knew.“
“I want to tape you too.”
There was a brief delay. “I knew that also. I won’t let you.“
“I have no desire for rebirth that way.”
“Are you so content with a reincarnation that may not be more than an illusion – and which will not leave you your memories even if it were true?”
After a long time of silent breathing, he said, “Damn!”
She raised herself on her elbow and looked down at him in the dimness. “Ram, my lover and my love. You think only of the future; what of the past? Everything I am today – and everything you are, if you would just admit it – is the product of a hundred thousand previous incarnations. Every decent thing I do, every kindness and every attention to my fellow man, is the good within me that remains after the purging effect of a thousand other lives. If I could live on forever, just twenty-eight, just as happy in your love, it would be a kind of death. Never to change, never to be a child again, never to face truly new challenges, never to be reborn fresh and clean – what an awful fate. Death-in-life. That is what you offer.”
“If you feel that way, why are you helping me with Nirghaz?”
“Nirghaz is a special case. We aren’t giving him immortality, just a new set of legs and genitalia. “
“It could lead to immortality.”
“Yes. But I will have no part in that. “
“Then you won’t let me tape you?”
“And if I tape myself?”
She didn’t answer at once, so he prompted, “Shashi. Answer me.”
“I think I may leave you.”
“I love you, Ramadav, but one lifetime is enough.”
He turned away from her in anger and she did not try to call him back.
The political situation here continues to worsen, as you are no doubt aware. I fear that it may interfere with my work, but even more I fear that Nirghaz Husain may back out at the last minute.
I had hoped that by working in India, where the people have a conception of transmigration on which to hang the resurrection project, I would not have to contend with the same innate conservatism that I would have faced in NorAm. Damn all religions! They provide the contentment of illusion and prevent mankind from turning their vague promises of heaven into reality.
I find that atman is as insidious as soul ever was. Not that I really blame Husain for his reticence. I myself find it harder to accept the possibility of multiple, coequal individuals than to simply accept transference. But the alternative is death, and death is no alternative.
However, if you don’t really believe in death . . . you see my problem.
James, my oId friend, I have given much thought to the ultimate implications of the resurrection process and it occurs to me that I am simply incapable, by temperament and training, of visualizing the incredible changes it will eventually bring about. My aims are so simple, so basic – plainly stated, immortality for myself. Dare I confess it?
There has never been any other motivation for my work than pure, selfish fear of death. Yet now I realize that I may not live to complete the work. You must have guessed that; you always were sensitive to others. Wisdom was never one of my attributes but I know myself well enough to know that intelligence is no substitute for wisdom. That is why I write you these letters, that and the fear – growing daily – that you will have to publish my notes eventually in order to see that the work is not lost. Be careful! Do not let the notes fall into hands other than yours.
I am rambling. It is past midnight now and I am very tired. Husain had another taping session today and left in a foul and depressed mood. If he turns away from the experiments now, we will lose years! At best, Kantikar will cut us back to our previous level of support, and I fear that he might become angry and cut us off altogether. The man’s power is frightening and it grows in direct proportion to the imminence of war. And, of course, we may all die in a nuclear fireball before you even see this letter. I shall try to send you updates twice weekly from now on, in case that occurs.
If it seems strange that one who has admitted selfishness as his only motivation should be so deeply concerned with the welfare of the world at large, and that he should also be so highly concerned to see that his work outlives him . . . well, frankly, I find it strange myself. No amount of self-analysis seems to account for it, so I merely commend it to you for study. You often understood me better than I understood myself anyway.
Shashi is well and her pregnancy proceeds without complication. Birth is due in seven months. I wish that you could meet her. And, no, we will not marry. That is her decision, but you should understand that as a Hindu widow, her status would only be diminished by remarriage.
It is unlikely that we will be able to leave here until the Husain matter is decided one way or another, and I cannot advise you to come to India while war is threatening,
Until we meet again, know that you have been a true friend,
Dave sealed the letter and laid it aside. He stretched and walked across the lab to the coffee pot, drew a cup and grimaced in distaste. The brew was thick, black and awful, but he watered it down and drank it anyway, It was past midnight and his head felt enlarged, his eyes stinging and hot. Shashi would be long since asleep. Outside, he had heard no sound for hours but the passing of the sentry. There were always guards present ever since they had moved to the Deliac complex.
Nirghaz Husain had had the use of a sensory–deprivation tank and a battery of overseeing technicians. Dave had only himself. Settling the cap atop his head, he made sure that the electrodes pierced the appropriate points on his scalp. He felt light-headed as he settled back. After drawing a syringe of amber fluid, he sought and found a vein.
Then he began to recite, “Om mani padme um . . . ”
Terminating its run, the computer sent a preemptory jolt of electricity through the scalp electrodes, shocking Dave instantly awake. He tore off the cap, tears streaming down his face as the memory of his long–dead mother faded. For five hours he had been a child again . . . and now there was no one to ease his transition back into reality.
He staggered as he crossed the room. The computer chuckled, gurgled and hummed its mechanical contentment. If only the throbbing in his head would stop.
It took another hour to recover the first of his life tapes and to instruct the computer to forget the night’s work. Then he walked slowly out to greet the sunrise.
chap20Colonel Mohan Bhatt, commandant of Deliac Air Force base, waited until a servant had answered the door in response to his ring. Then he followed him into an inner room. The master of the house did not greet the Colonel or even admit his presence. If questioned, he would say that he had not had the pleasure of meeting Colonel Bhatt.
Gopal Bhargava, leader of the Loyal Opposition, met him in the inner room. The drapes were drawn. Bhargava waived Bhatt to a chair and offered him a drink, then raised his eyebrows.
This was the moment Bhatt had dreaded but there was little he could do to make it easier.
“I haven‘t much to give you. Kantikar has thrown such a net of security around that project that even a rat couldn’t get through. I’ve tried to transfer some of my men into the place – no luck – and to bribe the men he put in. Nothing. I’ve thrown everything I dare against him and it all just bounced. If I try any harder, the whole world is going to know it.”
Bhargava nodded, unperturbed. “Don’t worry about it, Mohan. Kantikar has more trouble in Mumbai than he can handle. What do you think of Ullah‘s actions?”
Ullah was an Indian Air Force general who had recently, through a deliberate but plausible. misinterpretation of his orders, brought off a new series of bombings, this time deep into Medinan territory.
“Outstanding, and about time. Will the Medinans fight?”
“I don‘t know. I doubt it, not yet anyway. Ullah did well. I can’t understand why Kantikar left him in command; his opinions were never very well hidden.“
“It’s just another proof to me that the old man is slipping. “
“Perhaps. Anyway, I intend to press Kantikar very closely now. Either he will carry on in a manner more suitable to the leader of India, or he will censure Ullah. In the case of the latter, we‘ll have him out on a vote of no confidence.”
“Why not something more direct?“
“Assassination? Bhatt; you must learn to say what you mean.”
“All right, assassination.”
Bhargava swirled the pale liquid in his glass and considered. “Not now, Mohan. Our last attempt was a dismal failure. The only thing that saved us was the overeagerness of the Premier’s guard. If that bastard had lived to talk, we’d both be facing a firing squad.” He smiled at his nephew. “You don’t really want that, do you?”
His name was Ahmed but those who knew him called him Ram Lal. He had worked on the Ganga Project; he had tried to build a bomb into the speaker’s podium where Sri Karji was to speak; he had failed. Then he had watched with satisfaction as one of Bhargava’s agents had shot at Kantikar and had been disgusted that he had done such a poor job of it.
Of course the Indian government had blamed the assassination attempt on Medina, but Ahmed knew better. A Medinan agent would not have missed; Ahmed knew this for he was a Medinan agent.
Now he waited along the route that his contacts had assured him Kantikar‘s motorcade would take the following morning, caressing a Traktonic Mark X. Ten rounds, rocket-powered, heat–seeking, and explosive. Medinan agents were thorough.
chap21Ramadav had warned him of what to expect. The taping would be no different than any other session – with the exception that he would be running down the memories of the last few months, reliving (without being aware that he dwelled in memory, not in reality) his decision to transmigrate; rearguing with himself, hearing again the inner debate and finally concluding once more that he would go through with the process.
In fact, he realized, at this very moment he might actually be in the sensory-deprivation tank, remembering these things, rather than sitting in his room thinking these thoughts for the first time. It was a disconcerting consideration.
But all that was familiar now. He had gained a great respect for the powers of memory over these last few months; although each session overrode the previous one, and he could no longer so clearly recall his childhood or his adolescence, he could remember how he had felt after the taping sessions and he remembered the feeling of remembering.
Memory of a memory . . . such confusion. He felt depressed and old then, and drew his cloak tighter about him.
What would be different (or was different if this were memory replaying itself rather than the original actuality) about this taping session was that he would awaken within his new body. Against that, Ramadav had been most stringent in his warnings, for it would not be a pretty sight. His present body was merely truncated; the body of the clone was a wasted, white wreck. It had never seen the sun, never felt the pull of gravity. He would be bedfast for weeks, even months, as he gradually, painfully, nurtured it into health. Furthermore, it would be a younger body, that of a fifteen-year-old – old enough to contain his experiences, having the proper hormonal balance, but still young enough and resilient enough to withstand the necessary recovery regimen. Even after he had fully recovered, he would be living with the experiences of a man housed in the body of a boy.
To run again! To lie with a woman again! To be free from the attendance of nurses; to be free of pity. To once more meet men and women as an equal. The need burned hot within him, overpowering any hesitation or doubt, so that he yearned for the coming day and forgot his fear.
Dave stepped outside just as the nurse was helping Husain transfer to the wheelchair. The young man looked up at him and grinned.
“This will be the last time I have to do this.”
Dave could see worry and anticipation warring in his expression. He took the handles of the chair and wheeled him inside.
“Have you had any trouble with Bhatt?” Nirghaz asked.
“No, not really. He’s tearing his hair out because there is a secret on his base that he doesn’t know about.”
“Don’t be too sure. I saw him this morning when I came aboard and he said, ‘How much do you think you’ll eventually pay for recovery?’ He seems to know pretty much what we are up to.”
Dave thought about it for a minute. “I suppose the type of equipment we’ve imported tells him something, and my research papers to date are freely available to anyone who is curious. Still, there is nothing he can do as long as your grandfather is Premier.”
Husain nodded. “Indian politics are funny. They often work out along family lines. Bhatt is a nephew to the opposition leader in Congress.”
“Really. That’s some coincidence.”
“Ramadav! Come up for air; get your head out of that computer and take a look at the real world. There is no coincidence involved when a half–competent light colonel gets boosted in rank and given a major post to command within a month of his uncle‘s becoming opposition leader.”
Dave shrugged again, totally uninterested.
Nirghaz turned aside, asking, “Ramadav, are you sure that I can’t have a look at the body I am about to inhabit? It might make my transition easier.”
Dave shook his head. “Sorry.”
“Where is Sri Karji?” Shashi asked.
Dave had said nothing on the matter but he also was surprised that Kantikar was not on hand for the culmination of Nirghaz‘s restoration.
“He wanted to be present but he has to give a speech in Udaipur at the headquarters of the Panch-ab project. It’s an essential appearance,” Nirghaz explained.
The lab assistants helped Nirghaz out of his clothing. The shame he felt was more than mere reaction to nakedness, but it was a small thing to endure in recompense for what would be his.
Dave carried over the helmet. It was made from a life cast, its pliable interior molded to every line and plane of his head. He shivered each time it was slipped over his face, cutting off all contact with the world beyond. Shashi always gave him a moment to regain his composure before donning it, but today Dave was handling it, and he was all business.
Darkness; a fumbling and tugging as the helmet was tightened. Tiny nipples spread his nostrils and the air had a faint metallic tang. It changed to a subtle perfume as the hoses were hooked up to the airflow monitor. Then there was a slap on his shoulder (Ramadav, no doubt) and hard hands caught him under the armpits.
Warm fluid; a feeling of drowning. The saline was of the same exact temperature as his skin and it buoyed him up. Within moments the sensation of wetness had passed and he was floating free, insulated from heat, light and the pull of gravity. He heard a crash; then there was only the roar of fast moving water and the susurration of air.
The outer tank had been filled and sealed, barring all sound save any he himself chose to make. The umbilical cord was long enough to suspend him in the center of the tank, five meters’ distance from each wall. He moved his hands but felt no sensation in them. Only proprioception and cognition remained – and hearing, for the pounding of his heart had become loud in his ears. And scent, for some chemical had been introduced into his air stream and consciousness began to fail.
Then there was the same sure voice – Shashi’s voice – that always banished his claustrophobia and guided him back to the appropriate moment so that he began to remember . . .
Dave sat before the computer, his hands flashing agilely over the complex controls. Shashi stood before the monitors of the clone, continually testing and gradually bringing it up to the threshold of consciousness so that it could receive the memories that were to humanize it.
The motorcade wound into view and Ahmed flipped off the safety, bringing the nylon stock up to his cheek. The crosshairs fell on the lead vehicle and held as it slipped past, as a second slipped past, and as the bubble-topped tram bearing Kantikar rolled into view. He pressed the firing stud. The projectile said fisssss, fading, and the dome of the tram was lost in a burst of flame.
Ahmed fired again and again, knowing that one projectile alone would not burst that dome. The ground around him exploded from the guards’ return fire. He lost his sight picture, rolled aside and waited for three interminable heartbeats. The smoke began to clear (he had carefully chosen a hill overlooking the ocean for the sake of its breeze) and he fired again. In the brief moment allotted, he had seen that the dome was cracked.
Then the world was torn apart about him . . . and he knew no more.
chap23The computer was able to transfer taped memories to the clone at the same time it recorded fresh memories from Nirghaz, but Dave waited for an hour until there was no risk that the taping would abort. Then he activated the computer transfer and the first tape, taken months earlier, began to print itself onto the soft flesh of the clone’s empty mind. It began to experience Nirghaz’s childhood.
It would take as many hours to transcribe the tapes as it had required to make them, and although the process was vastly shorter than the original accumulation of those memories, it would still take better than one hundred and fifty hours.
Five hours passed before Dave began to relax. The final taping was through. Nirghaz lay quiescent in the sensory-deprivation tank; he would remain thus until all the memories were transcribed to his clone. Then Dave would cut his oxygen.
This Shashi knew; yet as the moment approached, she began to fear. That final moment would not arrive until the transcription was completed some six days hence. Still . . .
She had pondered long and deeply over the implications of the coming transference and its meaning for Nirghaz’s atman. Would the essence of what was Nirghaz pass from one body to the next when the first was extinguished? She thought that it would, but who could be certain? .
There was a sudden disturbance in the tank that Shashi tended. The clone had begun to writhe as it experienced life vicariously, but it was well restrained. Carefully Shashi checked all the dials, then realized that she was holding her breath.
Dave left his console, stretching hugely, and walked around the room, checking monitors. Nirghaz‘s broken body lay secure in its death womb. His memories were quiescent in a sleep beyond sleep while transcriptions of those same memories were being fed to his clone. There was an electric tension in the air. Shashi sought Dave’s attention with her eyes, but he was totally absorbed.
The clone jerked, trying to cry out through a mouth that had never known speech, and was restrained by the helmet. Dave leaned over Shashi‘s shoulder, further checking monitors, his face as expressionless as the smooth wall of the tank.
Shashi walked away, leaving him alone to watch the progress. She should sleep now. Nirghaz had agreed to the project. He was her friend and he had walked (she shivered at that unintended thought) wide-eyed into this; it was her duty to him to carry her end of the process. She should sleep, for either she or Dave must remain on duty constantly through the coming days, and neither of them would dare leave the room unattended until the transference was completed.
There was a tray of sandwiches on the table. She was not hungry but she ate, thinking of Nirghaz and of her unborn child.
The assistants had left after helping place Nirghaz in the tank. No eyes but Dave’s and her own had ever seen this room in action. She let her eyes sweep the interior of the huge abandoned hangar; pain and loneliness reflected back.
Dave now paced like a panther before the monitors, completely unaware of her. His feet scuffed the floor; the computer hummed; the clone writhed.
Otherwise there was silence.
“Open up!” It was Bhatt’s voice. Shashi turned to Dave hesitantly. He shrugged.
“We can‘t open up now, Colonel,” she said in a raised voice. “We are at a crucial point in our experiments. Anyway, you are not authorized to come in here.”
“I am now. Open up or I’ll have the door knocked down.“
Dave cursed and crossed the room. He drew the bolt and faced Bhatt as the man shoved in, flanked by armed guards. They scattered around the hangar, searching for other occupants and finding none.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing? This is a top–secret project, authorized by the Premier himself. “
Bhatt ignored him. “Where is Husain?”
“I ask again, by what authority do you break into a top-secret project?”
Bhatt rounded on him with a look of hatred. “And I ask again, where is Husain? Don’t think you can hide behind Kantikar any more. He was assassinated at dawn this morning by a Medinan agent. Bhargava is in power for the duration of the emergency, or until new elections are held. You are no longer in a protected position so for your own sake, you had better cooperate.”
Dave and Shashi exchanged looks of desperation. Why now, of all times?
“Husain is in one of the sensory–deprivation tanks,” Dave improvised, “undergoing deep hypnotic analysis. This project is designed to bring up everything, however miniscule, he has learned in Medina for computer analysis.”
Bhatt looked like a man who has walked full face into a wall. Clearly he had had some idea of what was going on but Dave‘s instant story was too plausible to ignore. If it were true, he had better tread lightly. His sources had given him a different tale but they could have been misinformed.
Dave saw his advantage and took it. “I don‘t know whose orders you are following, but if you don‘t keep your troops in control and let Doctor Mathur and me get back to our work, Husain will die, and then you will be in more trouble than you can handle.“
Dave turned his back on Bhatt and walked to the computer console. He halted the transcription to the clone. His face was as bleak as Shashi had ever seen it.
“What now?” she whispered.
“Nothing. We cancel everything; we tell nothing; but most of all, we have to get Nirghaz out of that tank!”
He twisted the dial, increasing the oxygen flow to Nirghaz’s broken body, and cut in the program of music and recorded voices that would lure him back from the sleep that lies on the edge of death.
chap25Music came softly into his ears, followed by voices that seemed to make sense but did not, quite. By the time he recognized that he was hearing an ordinary conversation with the key words omitted, he was well on his way back to consciousness.
There was sound, a crashing sound followed by the rush of water. None of this made a great deal of sense. What Husain could not know was that Dave had introduced a sedative into his bloodstream before awakening him.
There was a shifting perception of motion and harsh hands dragging him upward. There was a hard pressure under his spine and then light, blinding light. Dave’s face swam oddly above him. Then there was a pinprick in his arm. Somehow Nirghaz knew that all of this was not as it had been planned, but then darkness took him.
He was still dissociated and confused when he awoke. Slowly he unwound his memories up to the taping and smiled. He had done it! That his subsequent memories were not as he had been coached was of no consequence.
To live again as a man, a whole man!
He opened his eyes. The ceiling was white and he could see little else. He could not feel his new legs, a fact that displeased him. Ramadav had said that he would be too weak to sit up but he felt like trying. He heaved . . . and nothing happened.
It was as though he were still legless.
He jerked his head up. It was only a momentary glance but he could see the hollow in the sheet where his legs should have been.
“No!” His soul-deep cry of betrayal echoed through the building.
Dave rushed into the room, a soldier at his back. Nirghaz’s eyes pleaded with him to say that it was not true but Dave could only shake his head. He took Nirghaz’s hand, but Nirghaz turned his face away in despair.
Bhatt came running in and eyed Dave suspiciously, commanding, “Do what is necessary, but say nothing!”
Dave ignored him. “Nirghaz, I’m sorry. Bhatt terminated our experiment. Your grandfather was assassinated this morning. The government has resigned.”
“If you say one more word, I’ll have you thrown out,” Bhatt hissed.
Dave responded with an obscenity, in English, but it was one that had found its way into many languages and Bhatt recognized it. He gestured and the soldier prodded Dave with his weapon. Dave shrugged and turned away but not before Nirghaz saw the tears that edged his eyes.
Nor betrayed, then, for Ramadav shares my pain. But to fall from such hopes! It is more than I can bear.
Nirghaz looked up at the man who had brought him back to this hated body and cursed him with a fluency and fervor that made all previous criticisms seem like commendations. And Bhatt stood silent through it. There was no certainty that Husain might not be in power again soon – his importance to the Medinan negotiations was well known.
Gulls wheeled overhead, exulting in their freedom and the brisk sea wind. Nirghaz watched them cut patterns against the blue sky. Great clouds were gathering westward out at sea, and soon it would be the season of the monsoon.
He slipped the lock on his wheelchair and wheeled it forward to the edge of the cliff. He had sent his nurse away; he would never have been permitted to take such a chance otherwise. Far below, the beach was deserted. That was good, for his purpose.
There were two packages wedged beneath his seat. He took out the top one, a recorder, and turned it on.
Bhatt was still holding Ramadav and Shashi, although he had not dared to detain Husain. Nirghaz had already made arrangements for their release.
A gull landed near him and he spoke harshly to frighten it away.
“I am making this record,” he said into the microphone, “for the sake of my friends and for my own sake, should circumstances make it possible for Ramadav and Shashi to complete the work we set out to do together.
“That which I am about to do is in part an affirmation of faith in you, my friends. In the months that we have been together, I have come to have a great affection for you both.
“You have been loyal in trying times and I wish you the best in the coming confusion. I have made arrangements with some of those in power to make certain of your safety since I will be in no position to do so myself. “
He turned off the machine and stared out to sea again. The salt smell was sharp in his nose and the sun felt good. All life was good. For a moment he hesitated, but his hopes had been raised too high for him to return to the old accommodations.
He dictated a brief summary of events following the moment he woke up from the aborted transmigration; then he paused once more.
“I know that if it is humanly possible to do so, Ramadav and Shashi will continue the project and rescue me from my own folly. But even if they cannot, my decision remains unchanged. There are some horrors too great to face. And some disappointments too deep to endure.”
This time he paused for a very long time, staring at the gulls that circled overhead. Then he said softly, “Shashi, I love you. And you, Ramadav. Be happier in one another’s company than you have been of late.”
He stared down at the beach, a cold emptiness growing inside him, before making a final entry: “Life, I love you. Too much to see you broken.”
He motioned for his nurse and then sent him to carry the recorder back to the tram at the base of the hill. When he was well along the way, Nirghaz took out the second package and unwrapped it. He had made it up himself and knew its capabilities. There was a simple switch built into one end of the casing.
He looked up again at the gulls soaring free . . . and flipped the switch.
The explosion tore him apart and hurled his broken body to the beach below.
Shashi sat with her face turned toward the wall, her hands folded protectively across her belly. Three days had passed without word of the world beyond their cubicle. Three times daily they were fed; otherwise they were ignored .
It was afternoon when they finally came for Dave, offering no explanation. Two soldiers entered, ordered him out and slammed the door in Shashi’s face, leaving her alone with her fear.
Bhatt waited for him in his office. The impassivity with which the man had masked himself was no longer present. Without preamble or pretense, he said, “Kantikar is dead. Now that you have no one to speak for you, don’t you think it’s about time that you explained the experiments you have been doing?”
“I have already told you more than you are authorized to know.”
“You lied,” Bhatt said, not angry but no longer patient. “There is little enough to be learned from your lab notes but enough to tell that your project was for the transference of the memories of Husain into a new body.“
Bhatt had seemed so much the bumbling fool. Now Dave mentally castigated himself for his blindness. Fat, yes, and slow of speech and action, but the mind that hid behind those mild brown eyes was sharp and ruthless.
“What your notes don’t tell,” Bhatt went on, “are the codes, which are the key to the programs in the computer. Short of washing out whole banks of memory, we cannot make it serviceable again for its original purposes. You will give me the codes.”
The skin beside Bhatt’s eyes tightened. “Sri Singh, your project is ended. The government has need of the computer you have been misappropriating. The codes, if you please.”
“Bhatt, you had me fooled for a while but I no longer consider you an idiot.” Bhatt did not turn a hair. At one time he would have flown into a tantrum at that remark. There was no longer any doubt that the masquerade was through. “You have no intention of erasing the programs in that computer. You want to protect them for the sake of yourself and your superiors.”
“All right, so we do. What objections do you have to that? It is your project. Don’t you want to see it carried to completion?”
Suddenly wary, Davie said nothing.
“What of Husain? Don’t you want to give him back his legs and his genitalia?”
“Of course. But I don’t trust you, not one little bit. I will insist on safeguards – starting with Shashi’s and my immediate release from confinement – if we are to deal with one another.”
Bhatt did not argue. Instead he drew a newstat from his desk drawer and tossed it to Dave. Puzzled, Dave opened it and read the headlines that gave the story of Kantikar’s death.
“Bottom left,” Bhatt said, and then Dave saw the headline that read HUSAIN COMMITS SUICIDE. He read the article through and dropped the stat on Bhatt‘s desk.
“How do I know that isn’t a forgery?“
Bhatt removed a recorder from the same drawer and switched it on, Nirghaz’s voice emerged, the mewling of gulls in the background. When the tape had played through, Dave found that moisture had sprung to his eyes and he fought the display of emotion.
“You heard him. He said that he had made arrangements for our safety.”
Bhatt nodded, “Srinivas has been on my tail for two days, trying to get me to release the two of you. However, there have been these rumors circulating, rumors that you got the layout of Kantikar‘s motorcade route from Husain under the guise of taping him and passed it on to the assassin who finally got Kantikar.”
Dave sighed. “What do you want?”
“That’s better. Do you want to reconstruct Husain?”
“Can you do it?”
Dave hesitated, but there was no way out. “Yes.”
“Good, You will go ahead as planned and we will monitor your actions, but first you will give us the information which your notes lacked.”
When Dave returned, safe, Shashi’s first reaction was relief, but that passed as quickly as it had come when she saw the expression on his face. “What is it?”
“It‘s Nirghaz. He committed suicide.”
Dave collapsed into a chair and Shashi knelt beside him. “Karji died and after that he couldn’t face the prospect of going on as a cripple. He left a recording, stating his reasons and saying that he was counting on us to reconstruct him.”
Shashi’s body quivered as though struck. “There’s no way we can do that now.”
“Yes, there is. I made an agreement with Bhatt to show him how the process works in exchange for the opportunity to resurrect Nirghaz.”
“Why not? I had no reason to keep the process secret.”
“But Nirghaz is dead.”
“We have his tapes, Shashi, and his clone. Nothing has changed.“
“Oh, but it has. His atman is gone now.“
“If you resurrect him now, you’ll only have a zombie. A walking corpse.”
Dave leaped to his feet and began to pace the room, muttering curses under his breath. Shashi stiffened and drew back. He rounded on her, anger flushing his face.
“Dammit, Shashi, it isn’t for you to say. If you prefer, it isn’t for me to say either; but Nirghaz has the last word. He gave the order for his resurrection and I intend to perform it, with or without your help.”
“Well, you won’t have it.“
Their eyes locked for a space of seconds before she turned away from him.
“Shashi!” The word was laid against her back like a lash. “Your commitment to principle may indeed be admirable but what about your commitment to your friends? Nirghaz went to his death depending on us. Do you know what he said in that recording? I can just about quote it since I thought they might be the last words I would ever hear him say. He said, ‘What I am about to do is an affirmation of faith in my friends. I know that if it is humanly possible, Ramadav and Shashi will rescue me from my own folly.’ “
Shashi winced at the words.
“What kind of principles are there that allow you to betray a trust like that?” Dave asked.
Shashi’s shoulders sagged and she turned back to Dave with eyes that showed no more traces of love. “Tomorrow,” she said, “I will help you make your zombie, and then I’m going to walk away from this whole sordid mess and try to forget that I ever met you.”
After the recorder was snapped off, Bhatt inquired, “Did you get all that?”
“Yes,” Bhargava’s reply came over the phone. “I think we can be sure that the woman won’t spread what she knows. She hates the whole idea of the resurrection project. If it is successful – and, frankly, I have my doubts – this Singh will be a security risk. Can I count on you to take steps?”
“It will be my pleasure, believe me. But why take chances with her and Husain?”
“A good point. Husain will be needed as an example of what the process can do – if it works. ” Bhargava chuckled. “Actually the whole thing will probably prove impossible. We can keep an eye on the Mathur woman. If she poses a risk later, we will take steps then. But I want Singh out of the way as soon as he finishes with Husain.“
Shashi came back to see him, her eyes unnaturally wide. Even her feelings toward Dave were set aside for the moment and he felt a touch of fear.
“Is there something wrong with the clone?”
She shook her head and he could see that her hands were trembling. “It has partial memory – we were up to age three when Bhatt interrupted us.” She swallowed and went on, “It’s alive in there, crying in the night and trying to get out.“
Dave shivered at the thought.
Memories flowing in the dark – childhood fleeing before adolescence. The clone aged rapidly, each moment adding days to its store of experience. A clumsy young man alone in the dark with an equally clumsy but eager girl. A state banquet; Sri Karji acknowledging him to the world. His mother‘s harried face when the world refused to forget that she had married a hated Muslim and had borne a half–caste child. The girls who would and the ones who wouldn’t. Especially Renana.
Working secretly for Karji; the interminable negotiations with men who valued war over peace. The feel of a horse between his legs as he flashed across a polo field. The flooding warmth of sunshine and the relaxing coolness of the ocean.
Then Mahmet, the polo field, the secret negotiations and the planes tearing the sky. Pain! Amputation! Despair.
Hours passed as the memories accumulated. Dave sent for a sleeping pad and he and Shashi slept in rotation, one of them always monitoring the clone. A hospital bed was secured in anticipation of the project’s completion.
He remembered Dave’s briskness as he settled the helmet in place. He felt again the sensation of drowning and the gentle onset of sleep as the taping began.
Pain! Like he had never known before. A body so new that it had not yet learned to suppress excess stimuli, and one that had never known the killing pull of gravity. He almost passed out with the sheer intensity of it.
The bed beneath Nirghaz was a torture rack. He could feel his new limbs, but it was not good. Every muscle and joint cried out against the unaccustomed strain of merely living. Finally he felt the relief of the warm, deathlike narcotic spreading outward from the burning in his left forearm.
Six times Nirghaz awakened to such pain that he could not tolerate it and six times either Dave or Shashi sent him back into the haven of sleep. On each occasion he was stronger . . . but even when lying still, his body felt stressed by gravity, and it responded healthily by building new defenses and blocking the pain.
The seventh time he awakened, Shashi was at his bedside and she sat thus for an hour, holding his hand, while he lay, awake but too spent to talk. .
Finally a natural sleep claimed him.
“Your passes, please.”
Srinivas handed the MP his identification and Bannerjee leaned across him to do the same. The corporal glanced briefly at the papers, returned them and passed the pair into the base.
As soon as the monopod was gone from sight, he ran to a phone and carried out his standing orders. Bhatt took the call and left hurriedly, telling his orderly to stall.
So Srinivas had cornered a member of Congress after all. That would certainly speed things up.
Shashi was sleeping and Dave was sitting at Nirghaz’s bedside when Bhatt entered the hangar with a contingent of armed MPs. Bhatt motioned and two soldiers quickly flanked Dave.
“Take him outside.”
Dave pulled back. “Bhatt, quit making an ass of yourself.”
“You can’t do this,” Shashi shouted. “He hasn’t done anything.“
“Restrain the woman. I want a guard set over her, and over this one, too.” He motioned toward Nirghaz.
“Bhatt, you just lost yourself a career,” Nirghaz promised.
Bhatt did not seem concerned. He turned and followed his men out.
Outside, Dave blinked at the brightness of the day. The soldiers who hustled him along were far from gentle and he struggled angrily against them.
Bhatt smiled. “Let him go.” They did so.
“You two come here.” The soldiers backed away from Dave, clearly puzzled.
Bhatt had stopped smiling. “Men, the prisoner is obviously trying to escape. Stop him.”
Dave stood impassive for one heartbeat, shocked into immobility. The soldiers who had held him swung their rifles up. One of them was grinning.
“Bhatt, no! No!”
Flash, sound and impact, simultaneous. He felt the slugs rip into his body.
Shashi screamed and fell forward, clutching her swollen belly. Something had happened there. Something had come into her.
The sky was very blue. There were no clouds. But there was pain, pain, Pain, Pain!
chap29Shashi and Nirghaz produced the passports that identified them as Mr. and Mrs. Jain, traveling with their son Lal. Then they picked up their baggage and sought a taxi. The streets of Casablanca were crowded with the noontime rush. Nirghaz looked back constantly, but if they were being followed; he did not detect it.
They changed taxis twice, rode a bus, took another taxi and finally walked through the open-air bazaar in centertown to a certain cafe.
There they recognized James Brigham from the picture they had been provided. He rose to greet them, then seated Shashi and ordered refreshments. They talked of trivia for an hour, rose and departed in Brigham’s monopod. Only when they were safely inside did they relax the masquerade and say what was on their minds.
“Sorry for the cloak-and-dagger stuff,” Brigham said, “but we can’t be too careful.”
“Never mind,” Shashi reassured him. “Paranoia is in thinking they are out to get you when they aren’t. We both know they are, and we can only guess at how many varieties they come in.“
“Two years of dodging the Indian Secret Police is enough to make anyone cautious,” Nirghaz added.
“What do you know of the Project?” Brigham asked.
Nirghaz and Shashi exchanged glances. “We can guess,” Nirghaz said, “but we actually know little.”
“Nor do we want to know anything,” Shashi added. “We only want you to know where we are and to know how to reach you in case of an emergency.”
“Have it your own way, although I will say that you can’t expect much from us if that is going to be your attitude. You will keep lifetapes on file?”
“No,” Shashi replied firmly.
“But you’ll have to, or you’ll . . .” Brigham broke off lamely, remembering the comments in Dave’s letters about Shashi.
“No tapes,” Shashi repeated, and if Nirghaz looked uncomfortable, Brigham did not know him well enough to notice.
“Then there is really no reason to go further, is there?”
“Only one,” Shashi said and then hesitated before asking, “What about David Singer?”
“We have his tapes and very soon we will be able to resurrect him. A damned shame that we don’t have a tissue sample, but any body is better than none.”
Brigham smiled but the joke fell flat. Shashi bounced her son on her knee, a distant look on her face.
“Sri Brigham, I have one last debt to discharge. Can you get me a scalpel and a sterile tissue-sample container?”
“Yes, of course. Why?”
“My son is David Singer’s clonechild. His genetic twin. What is it your Bible says – an eye for an eye, a clone for a clone?”
Brigham smiled a smile he did not feel, recognizing Shashi’s distress in the pitiful attempt at levity.
. . . then Dave adjusted the computer for an automatic recording run and settled the headpiece into place. He took up the syringe and pierced a vein, letting the relaxing chemical flow into his system, and lay back . . .
He was drowning in warm, wet darkness. Then there was noise and a rushing of waters, and light, and pain.
The bed beneath his back was a torture rack and his disorientation was complete. He was not in the hangar lab . . . where was he? He tried to sit up and found he could not. Desperately he tried to understand it all.
And then he knew – or thought he did – and he raised his arm. Thin; flaccid-white. He let the arm fall.
All the nightmarish questions returned to him then. Am I really me?
Of course he was himself. How could it be otherwise?
Dave remembered nothing of Kantikar‘s assassination, Nirghaz‘s suicide or his own death. All of those events had taken place after his last taping session and were irretrievably lost to him. Jim Brigham stayed with him constantly throughout the trying first weeks, along with Anson and Angellena Piaget. They were strangers to him, recruited by Brigham to man the secret resurrection project in the Atlas Mountains, but they were human and they lent him their humanity in the crucial first days of his recovery.
He had lost two years but he had gained an immeasurably long lifetime. Jim assured him that every conceivable step had been taken to ensure the security of the Project.
He learned that Shashi and Nirghaz were nearby but unconnected with the Project; that they were lovers of two years standing; that they were raising his son, whom Shashi had named Ram Singh . . . and that they would not see him.
None of it made any sense to him.
He had known jealousy in the first few weeks but that had passed. His affection for Nirghaz was too great. And besides, he had lost Shashi some time before his death. He remembered that directly, and what he had learned about the period between his last taping session and his death only confirmed his suspicions that their relationship had worsened toward the end.
Nirghaz had not taken Shashi from him; he, himself, had lost her.
She was as lovely as he remembered her, but something had taken away her smile. There were lines at the corners of her eyes that had not been there before.
“I’ve missed you. You should have come sooner.”
She moistened her lips, looking trapped. He wondered if she were embarrassed by her liaison with Nirghaz and hoped that that was all that stood between them. It was not.
“I only came to discharge one last debt.”
Her tone surprised him. “Shashi, nothing that I remember and nothing that anyone has told me has ever led me to believe that you had come to hate me.“
“I don‘t hate you.“
“You seem to.”
“I just don‘t know who you are.”
“I am David Singer. Or Ram David Singh, if you prefer that name.” .
“No, you are not.”
“Hell, Shashi, are you going to start that again?”
She silenced him by turning away. He bit back any further angry comments and said, “Sorry.“
“Did anyone tell you what happened to me when Ram David died?”
“No. What happened when I died?”
“When Ram David died, his atman entered the child in my womb.”
She turned on him angrily. “Nonsense? How would you know? I was there; I felt it. I know!”
“And I am here. I am myself, fully; I know it.”
She almost smiled then, but her tears ruined it. Softly she said, “Well, at least you sound like him . . . but you are not him. That which was Ram David Singh transmigrated to my child. That’s why I named him Ram Singh, not out of sentiment. That which was the essence of the man I loved now resides in Ram Singh, ready and willing to experience life again, fresh and untainted. No mere rerun of old experiences, old mistakes. That’s why I am staying away from the Project – that and my repugnance at the whole thing. I intend to see that Ram Singh will have a chance at a new life.”
“And me? Who, then am I?”
“I don‘t know.”
“I do. I am David Singer – and you are out of your mind.”
“So you think.”
“So I know!”
She was silent then, without having conceded anything.
“If what you say is true, why have you come to me? What am I to you?” he asked suddenly.
She looked at him long and sadly. “You are a phantom out of my past. You are a walking dead man. You are an abomination. And yet . . . I hunger at the sight of your face.”
“I still love you.”
Tears were flowing freely down her face but she remained adamant.
“Shashi, what did you come here for?”
“To ask you, in memory of the man who once wore that sweet body, in the name of the man you think yourself to be, to leave me and mine utterly alone. To never seek me out. To never contact my son. Not to haunt me like the ghost that you are.”
He examined the lap robe for a time and then raised his eyes to meet hers. “If I do this thing you ask, Shashi, it is only because I still love you.” finis