The locking mechanism on the inside of the door disengages and the door opens gravely. A white hazmat steps inside the slim opening, checks a screen on its wrist. Shuts the door and re-engages the lock. Turns to face me. Anterior LEDs on the suit’s hood throw Alice blue cones of light across the tech’s face. Gordon Bailey looks at me with the same concerned mask he always wears.
“Mr. Tessler,” he says with a nod.
“Gordon. We’ve been over this,” I say, craning my neck from side to side. Another wave of nausea hits and I have to swallow hard to keep from gagging. “It’s Mason. Just Mason. Not ‘Mr. Tessler.’ I’m filing an audit on your personnel file.”
“Go ahead.” He steps over to the left side of the chair and fiddles with the strap on my wrist. “You’ll be wasting your time. My record is impeccable. Been here six years, never missed a day of work. I’ve never even been late.”
My lungs spasm. A raspy cough produces dark strings of sputum that hang like wet hair from my chin. “Jesus.”
“Don’t worry,” he says. “Just a little residual phlegm from the transfer. The vibrations break up a lot of the mucus in the lobar bronchi.”
“No,” I manage to wheeze. “It’s not that. You just really need to get laid.”
“You’re a sick man, Mr. Tessler.”
A feeble laugh quickly turns into a coughing fit. “That’s it, I’m recommending a department transfer. How does ‘Assistant to the Senior Maintenance Technician‘ sound?”
Gordon laughs. It’s a good laugh. Kind. Nothing forced about it. When he smiles I think of Harold Ramis in Ghostbusters. I can see the anti-glare lenses of his glasses fogging inside the suit hood when he breathes. He’s the kind of kid I would’ve bullied in high school.
Because I would’ve felt stupid by comparison.
He frees my second wrist and puts a hand under my arm. “Come up slow. Easy. That’s good. How do you feel?”
“That seems appropriate, considering.”
“I’ve got new tags.” He unzips a hip pocket and pulls out a plastic freezer bag. Hands it over. Inside is my debrief journal and a No. 2 pencil. I toss the freezer bag on the chair and flip to the page marked with a thin red ribbon. My handwriting scrawled across the header:
I’ve included the most common waking symptoms in shorthand at the top:
N (nausea) H (headache) S (seizure) P (paralysis) D (delusions)
DYS (dysrhythmia) SD (sensory dampening)
I put a circle around nausea and leave it at that. There’s a dull pain at the base of my spine, but that should wear off in a few minutes. Not worth mentioning here. Just more for the techs to worry about when they review the journal entry later.
On the left, I’ve written the test number (163) and prepared two possible outcomes:
I circle fail.
“Any big changes this time?” Gordon’s voice dies in the anechoic room, but in my head the sound bounces like a pinball.
“Nothing at all?”
“I said no.”
“Alright, alright. Just double checking. We had a few spikes on the tape.”
Tape: (n.) slang
1. The physical printout from an EEG showing real-time neural activity.
2. Any similar trial readings printed during or after the test.
Flash on a reel of images. Elevator. Baby. Letters. Door. Parking lot. Condom. Candles. Security gate. Screaming.
A thunderflash erupts behind my eyes.
The film lasts two, maybe three seconds. Gordon’s got his back to me. Good thing, since I’m doubled over pushing the heels of my hands into my ears. My face feels wet. Waves of cold washing over my skin. The room turns. Gordon’s voice is distant, warped. Like hearing it through the blades of a very large fan.
“I thhhhhiiink doooctoooor Soooolimmmmman wants wants wants wants toooo giiiiive y o u