The shower felt good, the hot water like stinging needles against her bare skin. She relaxed, breathed the steam, and closed her eyes. She had always liked showers, even though she knew it was the masculine pattern. Men took showers, women took baths. Dr. Ramos had mentioned that once. She thought it was bullshit. Patterns were made to be broken. She was an individual.
Then she'd discovered that showers were used to treat schizophrenics. They were sometimes calmed by alternating hot and cold spray.
"So now you think you're schizophrenic?" Dr. Ramos had said, and laughed heartily. He didn't often laugh. Sometimes she tried to make him laugh, usually without success.
She turned off the shower and climbed out, pulling a towel around her. She wiped the steam off the bathroom mirror and stared at her reflection. "You look like hell," she said, and nodded. Her reflection nodded back. The shower had washed away her eye make-up, the only make-up she wore. Her eyes seemed small now, and weak with fatigue. What time was her hour with Dr. Ramos today? Was it today?
What day was it, anyway? It took her a moment to remember that it was Friday. She hadn't slept for at least twenty-four hours, and she was having all the sleepless symptoms she'd remembered as an intern. An acid gnawing in her stomach. A dull ache in her body. A kind of slow confusion of the mind. It was a terrible way to feel.
She knew how it would progress. In another four or five hours, she would begin to daydream about sleeping. She would imagine a bed, and the softness of the mattress as she lay on it. She would begin to dwell on the wonderful sensations that would accompany falling asleep.
She hoped they found Benson before long. The mirror had steamed over again. She opened the bathroom door to let cool air in, and wiped a clean space with her hand again. She was starting to apply fresh make-up when she heard the doorbell.
That would be Anders. She had left the front door unlocked. "It's open," she shouted, and then returned to her make-up. She did one eye, then paused before the second. "If you want coffee, just boil water in the kitchen," she said.
She did her other eye, pulled the towel tighter around her, and leaned out toward the hallway. "Find everything you need?" she called.
Harry Benson was standing in the hallway. "Good morning, Dr. Ross," he said. His voice was pleasant. "I hope I haven't come at an inconvenient time."
It was odd how frightened she felt. He held out his hand and she shook it, hardly conscious of the action. She was preoccupied with her own fear. Why was she afraid? She knew this man well; she had been alone with him many times before, and had never been afraid.
The surprise was part of it, the shock of finding him here. And the unprofessional setting: she was acutely aware of the towel, her still-damp bare legs.
"Excuse me a minute," she said, "and I'll get some clothes on."
He nodded politely and went back to the living room. She closed the bedroom door and sat down on the bed. She was breathing hard, as if she had run a great distance. Anxiety, she thought, but the label didn't really help. She remembered a patient who had finally shouted at her in frustration,
"Don't tell me I'm depressed. I feel terrible!"
She went to the closet and pulled on a dress, hardly noticing which one it was. Then she went back into the bathroom to check her appearance. Stalling, she thought. This is not the time to stall.
She took a deep breath and went outside to talk with him.
He was standing in the middle of the living room, looking uncomfortable and confused. She saw the room freshly, through his eyes: a modern, sterile, hostile apartment. Modern furniture, black leather and chrome, hard lines; modern paintings on the walls; modern, glistening, machinelike, efficient, a totally hostile environment.
"I never would have thought this of you," he said.
"We're not threatened by the same things, Harry." She kept her voice light. "Do you want some coffee?"
He was neatly dressed, in a jacket and tie, but his wig, the black wig, threw her off. Also his eyes: they were tired, distant - the eyes of a man near the breaking point of fatigue. She remembered how the rats had collapsed from excessive pleasurable stimulation. Eventually they lay spread-eagled on the floor of the cage, panting, too weak to crawl forward and press the shock lever one more time.
"Are you alone here?" he said.
"Yes, I am."
There was a small bruise on his left cheek, just below the eye. She looked at his bandages. They just barely showed, a bit of white between the bottom of his wig and the top of his collar.
"Is something wrong?" he asked.
"You seem tense." His voice sounded genuinely concerned. Probably he'd just had a stimulation. She remembered how he had become sexually interested in her after the test stimulations, just before he was interfaced.
"No… I'm not tense." She smiled.
"You have a very nice smile," he said.
She glanced at his clothes, looking for blood. The girl had been soaked; Benson must have been covered with blood, yet there was none on his clothes. Perhaps he'd dressed after taking a second shower. After killing her.
"Well," she said, "I'm going to have some coffee." She went into the kitchen with a kind of relief. It was somehow easier to breathe in the kitchen, away from him. She put the kettle on the burner, turned on the gas, and stayed there a moment. She had to get control of herself. She had to get control of the situation.
The odd thing was that while she had been shocked to see him suddenly in her apartment, she was not really surprised that he had come. Some psychomotor epileptics feared their own violence.
But why hadn't he returned to the hospital?
She went out to the living room. Benson was standing by the large windows, looking out over the city, which stretched away for miles in every direction.
"Are you angry with me?" he said.
"Because I ran away."
"Why did you run away, Harry?" As she spoke, she felt her strength coming back, her control. She could handle this man. It was her job. She'd been alone with men more dangerous than this. She remembered a six-month period at Cameron State Hospital, where she had worked with psychopaths and multiple murderers - charming, engaging, chilling men.
"Why? Because." He smiled, and sat down in a chair. He wriggled around in it, then stood up, sitting down again on the sofa. "All your furniture is so uncomfortable. How can you live in such an uncomfortable place?"
"I like it."
"But it's uncomfortable." He stared at her, a faint challenge in the look. She wished again that they were not meeting here. This environment was too threatening, and Benson reacted to threats with attack.
"How did you find me, Harry?"
"You're surprised I knew where you lived?"
"Yes, a little."
"I was careful," he said. "Before I went into the hospital, I found out where you lived, where Ellis lived, where McPherson lived. I found out where everybody lived."
"Just in case."
"What were you expecting?"
He didn't reply. Instead, he got up and walked to the windows, looked out over the city. "They're searching for me out there," he said. "Aren't they?"
"But they'll never find me. The city is too big."
From the kitchen, her kettle began to whistle. She excused herself and went in to make coffee. Her eyes scanned the counter, searching for something heavy. Perhaps she could hit him over the head. Ellis would never forgive her, but-
"You have a picture on your wall," Benson called. "A lot of numbers. Who did that?"
"A man named Johns."
"Why would a man draw numbers? Numbers are for machines." She stirred the instant coffee, poured in milk, went back out and sat down.
"No, I mean it. And look at this. What is this supposed to mean?" He tapped another picture with his knuckles.
"Harry, come and sit down."
He stared at her for a moment, then came over and sat on the couch opposite her. He seemed tense, but a moment later smiled in a relaxed way. For an instant, his pupils dilated. Another stimulation, she thought.
What the hell was she going to do?
"Harry," she said, "what happened?"
"I don't know," he said, still relaxed.
"You left the hospital…"
"Yes, I left the hospital wearing one of those white suits. I figured it all out. Angela picked me up."
"And then we went to my house. I was quite tense."
"Why were you tense?"
"Well, you see, I know how this is all going to end."
She wasn't sure what he was referring to. "How is it going to end?"
"And after we left my house, we went to her apartment, and we had some drinks, and we made love, and then I told her how it was going to end. That was when she got scared. She wanted to call the hospital, to tell them where I was…" He stared off into space, momentarily confused. She didn't want to press the point. He had had a seizure and he would not remember killing the girl. His amnesia would be total and genuine.
But she wanted to keep him talking. "Why did you leave the hospital, Harry?"
"It was in the afternoon," he said, turning to look at her. "I was lying in bed in the afternoon, and I suddenly realized that everybody was taking care of me, taking care, servicing me, like a machine. I was afraid of that all along."
In some distant, detached, and academic corner of her mind, she felt that a suspicion was confirmed. Benson's paranoia about machines was, at bottom, a fear of dependency, of losing self-reliance. He was quite literally telling the truth when he said he was afraid of being taken care of. And people usually hated what they feared.
But then Benson was dependent on her. And how would he react to that?
"You people lied to me," he said suddenly.
"Nobody lied to you, Harry."
He began to get angry. "Yes, you did, you- " He broke off and smiled again. The pupils were briefly larger: another stimulation. They were very close now. He'd tip over again soon.
"You know something? That's the most wonderful feeling in the world," he said.
"Is that how it feels?"
"As soon as things start to get black - buzz! - and I'm happy again," Benson said. "Beautifully warm and happy."
"The stimulations," she said.
She resisted the impulse to look at her watch. What did it matter? Anders had said he would be coming in twenty minutes, but anything could delay him. And even if he came, she wondered if he could handle Benson. A psychomotor epileptic out of control was an awesome thing. Anders would probably end up shooting Benson, or trying to. And she didn't want that.
"But you know what else?" Benson said. "The buzz is only nice occasionally. When it gets too heavy, it's… suffocating."
"Is it getting heavy now?"
"Yes," he said. And he smiled.
In that moment when he smiled, she was stunned into the full realization of her own helplessness. Everything she had been taught about controlling patients, everything about directing the flow of thought, about watching the speech patterns, was useless here. Verbal maneuvers would not work, would not help her - any more than they would help control a rabies victim, or a person with a brain tumor. Benson had a physical problem. He was in the grip of a machine that was inexorably, flawlessly pushing him toward a seizure. Talk couldn't turn off the implanted computer.
There was only one thing she could do, and that was get him to the hospital. How? She tried an appeal to his intellectual functions. "Do you understand what's happening, Harry? The stimulations are overloading you, pushing you into seizures."
"The feeling is nice."
"But you said yourself it's not always nice."
"No, not always."
"Well, don't you want to have that corrected?"
He paused a moment. "Corrected?"
"Fixed. Changed so that you don't have seizures any more." She had to choose her words carefully.
"You think I need to be fixed?" His words reminded her of
Ellis: the surgeon's pet phrase.
"Harry, we can make you feel better."
"I feel fine, Dr. Ross."
"But, Harry, when you went to Angela's- "
"I don't remember anything about that."
"You went there after you left the hospital."
"I don't remember anything. Memory tapes are all erased. Nothing but static. You can put it on audio if you want, and listen to it yourself." He opened his mouth, and made a hissing sound. "See? Just static."
"You're not a machine, Harry," she said softly.
Her stomach churned. She was physically sick with tension. Again that detached part of her mind noted the interesting physical manifestation of an emotional state. She was grateful for the detachment, even for a few instants of it.
But she was also angry at the thought of Ellis and McPherson, and all those conferences when she had argued that implanting machinery into Benson would exaggerate his pre-existing delusional state. They hadn't paid any attention.
She wished they were here now.
"You're trying to make me into a machine," he said. "You all are. I'm fighting you."
"Let me finish." His face was taut; abruptly, it loosened into a smile.
Another stimulation. They were coming only minutes apart now. Where was Anders? Where was anybody? Should she run out into the hall screaming? Should she try to call the hospital? The police?
"It feels so good," Benson said, still smiling. "That feeling, it feels so good. Nothing feels as good as that. I could just swim in that feeling forever and ever."
"Harry. I want you to try and relax."
"I'm relaxed. But that's not what you really want, is it?"
"What do I want?"
"You want me to be a good machine. You want me to obey my masters, to follow instructions. Isn't that what you want?"
"You're not a machine, Harry."
"And I never will be." His smile faded. "Never. Ever."
She took a deep breath. "Harry," she said, "I want you to come back to the hospital."
"We can make you feel better."
"We care about you, Harry."
"You care about me." He laughed, a nasty hard sound. "You don't care about me. You care about your experimental preparation. You care about your scientific protocol. You care about your follow-up. You don't care about me."
He was becoming excited and angry. "It won't look so good in the medical journals if you have to report so many patients observed for so many years, and one died because he went nuts and the cops killed him. That will reflect badly."
"I know," Benson said. He held out his hands. "I was sick an hour ago. Then, when I woke up, I saw blood under my fingernails. Blood. I know." He stared at his hands, curling them to look at the nails. Then he touched his bandages. "The operation was supposed to work," he said. "But it isn't working."
And then, quite abruptly, he began to cry. His face was bland, but the tears rolled down his cheeks. "It isn't working," he said. "I don't understand, it isn't working… ."
Equally abruptly, he smiled. Another stimulation. This one had come less than a minute after the one previously. She knew that he'd tip over in the next few seconds.
"I don't want to hurt anyone," he said, smiling cheerfully.
She felt sympathy for him, and sadness for what had happened. "I understand," she said. "Let's go back to the hospital."
"I'll go with you. I'll stay with you all the time. It will be all right."
"Don't argue with me!" He snapped to his feet, fists clenched, and glared down at her. "I will not listen- " He broke off, but did not smile.
Instead, he began to sniff the air.
"What is that smell?" he said. "I hate that smell. What is it? I hate it, do you hear me, I hate it!"
He moved toward her, sniffing. He reached his hands out toward her.
"I hate this feeling," he said.
She got up off the couch, moving away. He followed her clumsily, his hands still outstretched. "I don't want this feeling, I don't want it," he said. He was no longer sniffing. He was fully in a trance state, coming toward her.
His face was blank, an automaton mask. His arms were still extended toward her. He almost seemed to be sleep-walking as he advanced on her. His movements were slow and she was able to back away from him, maintaining distance.
Then, suddenly, he picked up a heavy glass ashtray and flung it at her. She dodged; it struck one of the large windows, shattering the glass.
He leaped for her and threw his arms around her, holding her in a clumsy bear hug. He squeezed her with incredible strength. "Harry," she gasped, "Harry." She looked up at his face and saw it was still blank.
She kneed him in the groin.
He grunted and released her, bending at the waist, coughing. She moved away from him and picked up the phone. She dialed the operator. Benson was still bent over, still coughing.
"Operator, give me the police."
"Do you want the Beverly Hills police, or the Los Angeles police?"
"I don't care!"
"Well, which do you- "
She dropped the phone. Benson was stalking her again. She heard the tiny voice of the operator saying, "Hello, hello. .."
Benson tore the phone away and flung it behind him across the room. He picked up a floor lamp and held it base outward. He began to swing it in large hissing arcs. She ducked it once and felt the gush of air in the wake of the heavy metal base. If it hit her, it would kill her. It would kill her. The realization pushed her to action.
She ran to the kitchen. Benson dropped the lamp and followed her. She tore open drawers, looking for a knife. She found only a small paring knife. Where the hell were her big knives?
Benson was in the kitchen. She threw a pot at him blindly. It clattered against his knees. He moved forward.
The detached and academic part of her mind was still operating, telling her that she was making a big mistake, that there was something in the kitchen she could use. But what?
Benson's hands closed around her neck. The grip was terrifying. She grabbed his wrists and tried to pull them away. She kicked up with her leg, but he twisted his body away from her, then pressed her back against the counter, pinning her down.
She could not move, she could not breathe. She began to see blue spots dancing before her eyes. Her lungs burned for air.
Her fingers scratched along the counter, feeling for something, anything, to strike him with. She touched nothing.
She flung her hands around wildly. She felt the handle of the dishwasher, the handle to the oven, the machines in her kitchen.
Her vision was greenish. The blue spots were larger. They swam sickeningly before her. She was going to die in the kitchen.
The kitchen, the kitchen, dangers of the kitchen. It came to her in a flash, just as she was losing consciousness.
She no longer had any vision; the world was dull gray, but she could still feel. Her fingers touched the metal of the oven, the glass of the oven door, then up… up to the controls… she twisted the dial…
The pressure around her neck was gone. She slumped to the floor. Benson was screaming, horrible agonized sounds. Her vision came back to her slowly and she saw him, standing over her, clutching his head in his hands. Screaming.
He paid no attention to her as she lay on the floor, gasping for breath. He twisted and writhed, holding his head and howling like a wounded animal. Then he rushed from the room, still screaming.
And she slid smoothly and easily into unconsciousness.