20 May 2011


By Curtis C. Chen

Gottlieb didn't even see his office door open and close. He blinked, and then there was a man standing next to the bookshelf.

"Can I help you?" Gottlieb asked. It was his standard greeting when he had no idea what was going on. Which seemed to be happening more and more these days.

The man's face seemed familiar. Gottlieb squinted. The man appeared blurry, almost as if he were... vibrating?

"I want my money back," the man said. His voice quavered, like an audio sample being alternately sped up and slowed down.

"I'm sorry," Gottlieb said. "Are you a patient here?"

The man disappeared, then reappeared on Gottlieb's side of the desk. He grabbed Gottlieb's coat and lifted him out of his chair.

"I'm one of your patients!" the man shouted. "Don't you recognize the monster you created, Doctor?"

Gottlieb raised both his hands in a gesture of surrender. "I'm sorry. Your face—it's—"

"Oscillating?" the man said. "Yeah. My whole body, actually. Forty-five hertz, give or take, depending on my mood." This close, Gottlieb noticed an undertone beneath the man's quavering speech—a low buzzing, like an ungrounded electric appliance. "Don't you remember doing this to me? Or am I just another experiment to you?"

The face snapped into focus for a split second, and Gottlieb recognized the man. "Mr. Kendall? Herman Kendall?"

Kendall's grip relaxed. Gottlieb lowered his hands slowly.

"What did you do to me, Doc?" Kendall asked, his voice winding down.

Gottlieb slipped both hands into his coat pockets, finding his panic button in case he needed to summon help. "Please, sit. Tell me what happened. As I recall, you wanted a synaptic enhancile."

Kendall zipped around the desk and sat down. Now that Gottlieb knew what he was looking at, he could almost visually track Kendall's accelerated motion.

"It didn't work," Kendall said. "Or maybe it worked too well. I don't know. At first, it did what you said: helped me think faster, sped up my reflexes. I was unbeatable on the court. But then I started losing control."

"I warned you," Gottlieb said softly. "It was a highly experimental implant."

"I know!" Kendall stood up. "I know you said there would be side effects, and I was ready for that, but this—" He pounded his temples with his fists. "Nobody's going to let me compete now! You gotta take it out, Doc!"

"We discussed this," Gottlieb said. "The enhancile is a permanent change to your physiology. I can try to tune it, but there's no way to remove it without killing you."

Kendall sat down again. "Jesus, you might as well. My life is over anyway."

Gottlieb picked up a reader tablet from his desk and thumbed it to the personal files he'd been looking at earlier.

"Maybe not," Gottlieb said, holding out the tablet. "There are some people I'd like you to meet."

On the tablet screen were photos of a heavily muscled man, a scowling woman in full body armor, and a teenage girl floating several feet above a sidewalk.


Photo: "The fastest animal on earth..." by Keven Law, February, 2008