13 May 2011


By Curtis C. Chen

"The doctor must have stepped out," the smiling receptionist said as she walked Alex into an empty office. "Would you wait here, please?"

"Do I have a choice?" Alex said.

"Oh, don't be nervous—"

"Do I seem nervous to you?"

The receptionist continued smiling. "Your consultation is entirely confidential. Doctor Gottlieb's very good. I should know; I'm a former patient."

"Let me guess," Alex said. "Agnosia implant?"

The receptionist turned to look down the hallway. "Oh, here he comes now."

Doctor Gottlieb exchanged hellos with the receptionist, then entered the office and closed the door behind him. He pulled a reader tablet out of his white coat and sat down at his desk.

"How can I help you, Miss... Burstyn?"

"It's Officer Burstyn." Alex held up her badge.

Gottlieb put down the tablet. "I'm sorry, Officer. Do you have a warrant?"

"I'm not here on official business," Alex said. "But it's funny that would be the first thing out of your mouth."

Gottlieb folded his arms. "My patients value their privacy. I perform a lot of sensitive procedures, often involving personal issues—"

"Yeah, I know. That's why I'm here. I want an MGR-5 enhancile."

The doctor blinked. "Excuse me?"

"MGR-5. Metabotropic glutamate receptor five?"

Gottlieb frowned. "You've done your homework. Most people just call it 'the backbone implant.'"

"That could be any number of treatments," Alex said. "I want the gene therapy."

"You'll still need an implant to regulate stress hormone production—"

"And a wire down my spine, yeah, I know."

Gottlieb leaned forward. "There are side effects. Impaired judgment, for example, which could be an issue in your line of work."

"Which is why you'll prescribe drugs to treat those side effects."

"All this will be very expensive."

"I can pay."

"And if you ever want to have children—"

"I don't."

They stared at each other.

"Anything else you want to say to try and talk me out of it?" Alex asked.

"Just this," Gottlieb said. "Medical science has achieved some miraculous things. But everything we do to the human body is still just a hack. The backbone alters a fundamental biochemical response. We evolved to feel fear for very good reasons. I urge you to think very hard before deciding on this."

"Do you know what happened to me last year?"

Gottlieb shook his head.

"My best friend died," Alex said. "He died five minutes after I asked him to marry me. He died because some mincer wanted his wristwatch, and I was afraid I'd get a hand cut off if we fought.

"I would have traded my arm if I knew it would save Ethan's life.

"I didn't want to make a rash, grief-fueled decision, so I waited. Thirteen months. I did the department-mandated therapy, I passed the psych eval. I know what I want. I want to move on, but I don't want to forget.

"I don't ever again want to see somebody die because I was too scared for my own well-being to do something to save them. Now are you going to help me, Doctor?"


Photo: DSC08090 by Phillip LeConte, February, 2011