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6


At 6 p.m., Roger McPherson, head of the Neuropsychiatric

Research Unit, went up to the seventh floor to check on his patient. At least, that was how he thought of Benson - as his patient. A proprietary feeling, but not entirely incorrect. Without McPherson, there would be no NPS, and without an NPS, there would be no surgery, no Benson. That was how he thought of it.

Room 710 was quiet and bathed in reddish light from the setting sun. Benson appeared to be asleep, but his eyes opened when McPherson closed the door.

"How are you feeling?" McPherson asked, moving close to the bed.

Benson smiled. "Everyone wants to know that," he said.

McPherson smiled back. "It's a natural question."

"I'm tired, that's all. Very tired… Sometimes I think I'm a ticking time bomb, and you're wondering when I'll explode."

"Is that what you think?" McPherson asked. Automatically, he adjusted Benson's covers so he could look at the I.V. line. It was flowing nicely.

"Ticktick," Benson said, closing his eyes again.

"Ticktick."

McPherson frowned. He was accustomed to mechanical metaphors from Benson - the man was preoccupied, after all, with the idea of men as machines. But to have them appear so soon after operation…

"Any pain?"

"None. A little ache behind my ears, like I'd fallen. That's all."

That, McPherson knew, was the bone pain from the drilling.

"Fallen?"

"I'm a fallen man," Benson said. "I've succumbed."

"To what?"

"To the process of being turned into a machine." He opened his eyes and smiled again. "Or a time bomb."

"Any smells? Strange sensations?" As he asked, McPherson looked at the EEG scanner above the bed. It was still reading normal alpha patterns, without any suggestion of seizure activity.

"No. Nothing like that."

"But you feel as if you might explode?" He thought: Ross should really be asking these questions.

"Sort of," Benson said. "In the coming war, we may all explode."

"How do you mean?"

"You look annoyed," Benson said.

"I'm not, just puzzled. How do you mean, in the coming war?"

"In the coming war between men and machines. The human brain is obsolete, you see."

That was a new thought. McPherson hadn't heard it from

Benson before. He stared at him, lying in the bed, his head and shoulders heavily bandaged. It made the upper part of his body and his head appear thick, gross, oversized.

"Yes," Benson said. "The human brain has gone as far as it is going to go. It's exhausted, so it spawned the next generation of intelligent forms. They will- Why am I so tired?" He closed his eyes again.

"You're exhausted from the operation."

"A minor procedure," he said, and smiled with his eyes closed. A moment later he was snoring.

McPherson remained by the bed for a moment, then turned to the window and watched the sun set over the Pacific. Benson had a nice room; you could see a bit of the ocean between the high-rise apartments in Santa Monica. He remained there for several minutes. Benson did not wake. Finally, McPherson went out to the nurses' station to write his note in the chart.

"Patient alert, responsive, oriented times three." He paused after writing that. He didn't really know if Benson was oriented to person, place, and time; he hadn't checked specifically. But he was clear and responsive, and McPherson let it go. "Flow of ideas orderly and clear, but patient retains machine imagery of pre-operative state. It is too early to be certain, but it appears that early predictions were correct that the operation would not alter his mentation between seizures."

Signed, "Roger A. McPherson, M.D."

He stared at it for a moment, then closed the chart and replaced it on the shelf. It was a good note, cool, direct, holding out no false anticipations. The chart was a legal document, after all, and it could be called into court. McPherson didn't expect to see Benson's chart in court, but you couldn't be too careful. He believed very strongly in appearances - and he felt it was his job to do so.

The head of any large scientific laboratory performed a political function. You might deny it; you might dislike it. But it was nonetheless true, a necessary part of the job.

You had to keep all the people in the lab happy as they worked together. The more prima donnas you had, the tougher the job was, as pure politics.

You had to get your lab funded from outside sources, and that was also pure politics. Particularly if you were working in a delicate area, as the NPS was. McPherson had long since evolved the horseradish-peroxidase principle of grant applications. It was simple enough: when you applied for money, you announced that the money would be spent to find the enzyme horseradish peroxidase, which could lead to a cure for cancer. You would easily get sixty thousand dollars for that project - although you couldn't get sixty cents for mind control.

He looked at the row of charts on the shelf, a row of unfamiliar names, into which BENSON, H. F. 710 merged indistinguishably. In one sense, he thought, Benson was correct - he was a walking time bomb. A man treated with mind-control technology was subject to all sorts of irrational public prejudice. "Heart control" in the form of cardiac pacemakers was considered a wonderful invention; "kidney control" through drugs was a blessing. But "mind control" was evil, a disaster- even though the NPS control work was directly analogous to control work with other organs. Even the technology was similar: the atomic pacemaker they were using had been developed first for heart work.

But the prejudice remained. And Benson thought of himself as a ticking time bomb. McPherson sighed, took out the chart again, and flipped to the section containing doctors' orders. Both Ellis and Morris had written post-op care orders. McPherson added: "After interfacing tomorrow a.m., begin thorazine."

He looked at the note, then decided the nurses wouldn't understand interfacing. He scratched it out and wrote: "After noon tomorrow, begin thorazine."

As he left the floor, he thought that he would rest more easily once Benson was on thorazine. Perhaps they couldn't defuse the time bomb - but they could certainly drop it into a bucket of cold water.



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