Full Spectrum 3 Part 64

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The Napalm Man swigged some whiskey and offered the bottle to the old woman sitting next to him. But she was staring at something and apparently didn't see his outstretched hand. He licked his lips, gathered in the folds of his trenchcoat and took another gulp. He said, "Not too many people know what happened to G.o.d, do they? People are robots; how can robots know about G.o.d?"

Sarge looked at him and asked, "Who wants to believe in a G.o.dd.a.m.n G.o.d anymore? Nah, there's no G.o.d, but if there was, he'd give me simplicity, ya mean? Just simplicity and I'd be happy."

"No one's happy until he's dead," the Napalm Man said. Then he coughed, looked at One-Eyed Nick, and forced out, "Dr. Stone wasn't a robot, though, was he?"

One-Eyed Nick stared through the mist steaming up off the alley like clumps of damp, gray gauze. For a long time he tried to remember what Dr. Stone was like. Finally, he said, "No, Dr. Stone was not a robot. He was a secret rebel; you know, an outsider. He'd waited all his life for a good enough reason to spit in the eye of authority and break the rules. In one way, Rose was his salvation. In another, of course... well, he fell in love with her, but it's more than that, he dared to fall in love with her, do you see the difference? He knew what he was doing, or thought he did. He came up with a plan to save her. True, it was a desperate plan, but he was desperately in love, and desperate men do desperate things. He had to get her out of the hospital. He couldn't just lose her file or falsify her records, not in the remedial education ward. No, she would have to be properly discharged. But the thing was, she'd have to be treated first; if she wasn't treated, she'd be there forever. No, that's not quite true. Dr. Stone could have certified her sane, and avoided the treatment. But she'd done crimes-I'll tell you about this in a minute-and sane criminals were bused to the incinerators at the edge of the Diesal Flats, and they never came back.

"So Dr. Stone began visiting Rose in her ugly little room. Every day, sometimes twice per day, occasionally even at night. He'd had about fifty patients so far on the re-me ward, and they'd all been criminally insane. But he used the same techniques with Rose; there were no machines and very few drugs. A pen, a notebook and a tape recorder-these were all the instruments he needed, at least at first. He had to record her memories, you know. His method was largely psychoa.n.a.lytic and a.s.sociational: What were her parents names? What did she think it meant that her favorite color was green? Did she remember the day her father's plane was shot down and her mother took her to live in the housing project at Cabrini Green? And so on; there was no end to Dr. Stone's questions. He was trying to make a map of her mind. Of her memories. Herself, her very self, do you see?

"Of course, Rose didn't want to talk much, not about the really personal things. She had a strong will-why should she help the doctors do something evil? She'd spent her life trying to fight what she thought was evil, so why should she strip her soul bare just for him to see? No, she wouldn't answer his questions, but she did ask him questions: Had he lost anyone he'd loved in the war? How could such a kind-looking man condone holding people in a hospital against their will? And one day, she rubbed her long hands together nervously and asked him, "What happened to your other patients, Doctor? Did you just erase their memories like dumping information from a computer? What were they like... afterwards?" And he took her hands in his and said, "You don't understand, they were sociopaths, really nuts-after the deconstruction, we had to create memories, certain events and emotions they'd never experienced. To heal them, Rose." And she jerked her hands away from his and began rubbing her temples. "Am I nuts, too?" she asked. "Is that what you think you're going to do, to heal me?" He tried to smile, and he wanted to tell her that he loved her, but how could she ever believe that? So he said, "Please trust me, everything will be preserved, I promise." She touched his fingers, then, touched his ring finger where there should have been a gold band but wasn't because he'd always been too busy to think about getting married. She said, "You've got such gentle eyes, I'd like to trust... but, oh, G.o.d, how can I?" She stroked his hand, flirting with him a little, even though she despised women who did that sort of thing. The thing was, she was fighting for her life. She was fighting to hide the light, you know, the secret light everyone holds deep inside. She was afraid that Dr. Stone, if he ever saw it, would snuff it out like a candle in a rainstorm.

"But he had to get at her memories, so he considered using the drugs. Rose must have known that he would eventually have to use drugs; she'd probably heard horror stories from the nurses about drugs that wreck your memory. There was one drug, a cross between one of the benzodiazepine derivatives and several psychotomimetics-it was called DZ-1128. It would have cracked her skull open and made her babble like a child. But Dr. Stone couldn't bring himself to have her injected, so he tried other, milder drugs, mainly caffeine and sugar. And conversation-she was addicted to conversation. One evening during the news, just after the Zone Science Marshal had reported new outbreaks of anthrax down in the Diesal Flats, he brought a box of jelly doughnuts into her room-Rose had a terrible sweet tooth, you know. He asked her if she hated the Reds for bombing Fifth Ward, for killing her husband and her infant son. And there she sat, eating her doughnut, licking grape jelly and powder off her lips, and drinking cup after cup of rich Purple Zone coffee. He didn't expect an answer. But she surprised him, saying, "It's funny, Dr. Stone, but I can remember when Johnny was born, everything about it in great detail. I'd always wanted a natural birth, and so did Bill; he hated the idea of me being drugged up and restrained, with monitors attached everywhere, but he always said it wasn't him being split open like a butchered hog, so if the pain got too bad and I wanted to ask for a spinal or something, that was fine with him. And it hurt like h.e.l.l, all the panting and the midwife having me push when I wasn't ready, but the pain really was manageable. And afterwards they put little Johnny on my stomach, I can still see him lying there all b.l.o.o.d.y, looking up at me with his unfocused, blue eyes. I can remember the snip of Bill cutting the cord, and here's what's funny, I was in the bedroom cutting out a pattern for Bill's new uniform when our block was bombed. Bill was giving Johnny a piggyback ride in the living room, and I was snipping out a piece of cardboard, and to this day, Doctor, I can't think about Johnny being born without thinking about... It's just very funny the way one memory is a.s.sociated with another, everything woven together like a s.h.i.+mmering tapestry -that's an image I've always liked-everything holding meaning next to meaning. My G.o.d, I can't let myself hate the Reds, or anyone else; if I did, I'd spoil it all, don't you see?"

"After that he and Rose talked long into the night. She talked about love and war and how lonely she'd been all those years before they brought her to the hospital; she told him almost everything. In the end, just before dawn, she told him about her secret poem, the one that had changed her life."

One-Eyed Nick fell silent as he looked at the old woman leaning up against the Napalm Man. She held her hands out to warm them in the light of the fire, then she ma.s.saged the long bones on the back of her hand. She smiled at One-Eyed Nick; it was the first time that night he remembered seeing her smile.

"How could a dumb poem change anyone's life?" Sarge wanted to know.

"It was a short poem," One-Eyed Nick said, staring off into mist. "A couple of stanzas, a poem of Sh.e.l.ley's. Let me see if I remember it." He placed the flat of his hand over his eye patch and recited: Music, when soft voices die, Vibrates in the memory; Odours, when sweet violets sicken, Live within the sense they quicken.

Rose leaves, when the rose is dead, Are heaped for the beloved's bed; And so thy thoughts when thou art gone, Love itself shall slumber on.

The old woman's eyes were suddenly s.h.i.+ny with tears. The Napalm Man patted her on the back. He looked like he wanted to cry himself. "A sentimental poem, isn't it?" he said at last.

One-Eyed Nick nodded his head slowly. "You have to remember that Rose was a girl when she first read the poem. Probably eleven or twelve years old-that's a sentimental age. She still looked at the world as if she were its center, just like any kid. So the poem instantly caught her attention, not just because of the sentiment, but because it was about a dying rose. The thing is, that particular name coupled with death made her think deeply. And Dr. Stone asked Rose if that was the first time she'd thought about dying, and she just looked at him with her tired, beautiful eyes and said, "Oh, no, of course not-I suppose I was a morbid little girl, especially when things were going well, and I thought about death all the time. But never myself, you know, I never saw myself, what I might become. But the poem, the flowers-it's still so vivid. I'd checked out a book of Sh.e.l.ley's poems from the sector library and taken it down to Memorial Park. It was a perfect fall day. The trees were afire with light and color, and the air itself burned with the smell of dying flowers. I sat in the rose garden all afternoon with my book, reading. Dusk came, and all around me, the violet sky dying into night, the stillness, the gra.s.s drenched with rose petals, myself-everything was suddenly very real. There was a terrible beauty, a sense of joy mingled with overwhelming poignancy. And I never wanted to lose it, never, never. How can I make you see it, Doctor? It's all so delicate, isn't it? So urgent and quick."

"For Rose, it was really the beginning of everything, this vision, you know, this ever-near appreciation of death and life. Of course, she'd seen the napalmed bodies being pulled from the buildings-who hasn't? And several of her schoolmates had died of anthrax and pneumonic AIDS, but when you're a kid, you never quite believe it can happen to you. And so the poem: Rose recited it until she knew it by heart. Although she was very young, she began to think with the mind of an adult. If death was inevitable, she wondered, how can life have meaning? If life is nothing but struggle and war, how can there be help for pain? When the rose is dead, what's left of beauty? There in the park, you know, looking at the pretty flowers all around her, she began to formulate her philosophy of life: It's true, there's no help for pain, but man made war, and man could abolish it. Or I should say, woman could get rid of war, she really didn't have much faith in men. And, yes, death came to everyone, but she thought that everyone-everything-could have a kind of immortality. Nothing has to be lost; this became her faith. She would try to remember everything she saw in life. And someday she'd recapture it with words, the soul of the world. The whole, G.o.dd.a.m.ned world.

"After that night, the rest was easy. Every morning Dr. Stone came to her room, sat in the green, vinyl visitor's chair, and Rose told him about her life. She'd just sit on the edge of her bed, eating the stale hospital croissants and drinking her sweet coffee, and talking-she loved to talk, have I mentioned that? And Dr. Stone scribbled his notes and pointed the tape recorder's microphone at her, and he listened. "Even if there isn't a G.o.d," Rose asked him one day, "don't you think it's necessary to believe in something beyond yourself?"

"But no, in fact, ever since his intern year in the electro-convulsive ward, he hadn't looked for meaning beyond the wall of his own suffering. "How should I believe in G.o.d," he asked her, "when every day I have the power to destroy his creations?" And Rose looked at him with her sad eyes and said, "You don't like yourself very much, do you?" And of course, that was the truth, Rose really knew how to find his weak spots and drive the nails right in. Early in his career he'd often thought of making himself the equal of G.o.d by injecting himself with a solution of sodium cyanide. Or driving his car off a cliff. Or risking death by AIDS with the prost.i.tutes down on D-Street. You know, he had a gentle-looking face, everyone said that about him, but the thing is, he was secretly a wild man, a man who walked the brink, and every day he got to know Rose better, the closer the fall.

"After a while, it became clear that there was a kind of thing between them. Oh, I don't mean that Rose actually loved him like he loved her, but I think she liked his mind. She liked to joke around with him. Once, she even asked if he would have wanted to marry her, if they'd met somewhere else, like down in the Gardens in Tenth Sector. And he didn't hesitate for a second, he said, "Yes, I think I would have." And she said, "Then it's too bad I've been cla.s.sified a schizophrenic. I'm still not sure how that happened." And Dr. Stone violated his oath right then and there, he quoted the secret manual to her: ' "If someone a.s.serts that he can see 'G.o.d' in another person or object, he is schizophrenic, since such a.s.sertations are by common a.s.sent untrue and anyone making then must be misapprehending the nature of reality."'

"He confided that in his student days he had injected himself with brain drugs-and many times since. A few micrograms of a specifically designed drug and you could tune the serotonin concentration in the brain, experience a minute or hour of bliss. Or wild euphoria, or s.e.xual exaltation. "Or G.o.d," he told her, "G.o.d in a pill-what's the point in calling it that? Yes, I've seen it, but if that's G.o.d, well, it can't be G.o.d, if you know what I mean." And she provided a quotation of her own, or rather a misquotation: 'The Tao you see while high on drugs is not the true Tao.' "Then there is no true Tao," Dr. Stone said. "The brain drugs activate the same natural neuroactive chemicals you'd find in the cortex of a meditating saint, or in a young girl staring at the roses in the park. Why do you think meditation and biofeedback are illegal? Drugs are drugs-there's no difference."

"When he said this, Rose shook her head back and forth so hard her hair snapped like a whip. "Are we nothing more than chemical machines, Doctor?" And he said, "We're nothing but an interlocking set of subroutines; we're programmed by the molecules in our brain. There's nothing more." 'But,' she said, 'if we choose what molecules to put in our brains, by injection or meditation or faith, we're still choosing, aren't we? Isn't there a spark of soul and free will in everyone?' And Dr. Stone said, 'No, certain neurotransmitters fire according to the laws of chemistry, and you call this "choice." So if you believe in G.o.d, I suppose you can't help it.' And Rose, she smiled and laughed when he said this, and then she said, 'Oh, no, Doctor, you're so wrong!'"

The Napalm Man took a long, thoughtful pull from his bottle, then mumbled into the damp, foggy air, "Free will, Nick? In a way, I think Rose was right; occasionally people have their moments of free will. But it's a delicate thing, isn't it? Any moment they might harden up and turn into robots, haven't I seen it happen? Why do you think I drink this stuff? I'll tell you why: It's to keep everyone from turning into machines, it's the only way. If you're not careful, the robots will kill real people like Rose or Doctor Stone."

Story telling on damp, cold nights always made Sarge hungry, so he got up and picked his way across the trash and broken gla.s.s littering the alley. In back of the nearby Tenderloin Grill's kitchen, noisy with shouting cooks and clanging pans, there was a big, blue dumpster spray-painted with the word SARGE. He stood on a couple of piled-up orange crates, rummaging through the dumpster. He must have found something edible, because he stuffed his hands exuberantly down into the pockets of his greatcoat. "Steaks, G.o.ddammit!" he announced. "Meat makes the soldier, ya mean?" He was fond of saying that one dumpster could feed at least two people, and one dumpster like this, outside a rich restaurant in the G.o.dd.a.m.ned rich 101st Sector of the Blue Zone, could feed at least ten people in style, which is why he'd put his mark on it, to warn away any b.u.ms who stumbled into his alley. According to Sarge, the dumpster was their ration card for the rest of their G.o.dd.a.m.ned lives, and he'd kick the living s.h.i.+t out of anyone who f.u.c.ked with it. "Chow's on-look what these a.s.sholes have thrown away!"

But no one else seemed to be in the mood that night for cold, half-eaten steaks. While Sarge gobbled his food like a starved dog, the Napalm Man poured more whiskey down his throat. One-Eyed Nick had never seen the old woman eat meat, and as for him, he had to finish his story. "Free will is a delicate thing," he said, agreeing with what the Napalm Man had said earlier.

Sarge finished his meal, got up, and spat into the fire. The spit hissed, and he ran his finger across his stubbly lip. "Free will bulls.h.i.+t!" he said. He grimaced and spat again. He began picking his teeth. His teeth were in ruins, broken black spikes stinking of decay. "Look at my G.o.dd.a.m.ned teeth!" he said. "Sure, I could get 'em fixed, dentistry's free in this zone, isn't it? But listen up, the G.o.dd.a.m.ned dentists require major bribes to provide anesthesia. You tell me who's strong enough anymore to have his roots drilled without a little gas or novocaine to numb his f.u.c.kin' nerves and then you can talk to me about free will."

"The point I'm trying to make," One-Eyed Nick said, "is that Rose didn't feel sorry for herself, because she believed she'd freely chosen her life's work."

"You mean writing all those dirty poems?" Sarge asked.

The Napalm Man removed his pint of whiskey from his paper bag and held it up to the streetlight. A few dark, rolling ounces remained; he took a careful sip, as if he were nursing it until the story was over. He said, "With her dangerous thinking, I'm surprised Rose could have gotten any of her poems published."

"You know, that was the problem," One-Eyed Nick said. "Once-it was during her tenth week on the ward-Dr. Stone asked Rose about this. And she told him, 'Just after I had graduated from college, the Information Department pushed through a law requiring what was jokingly called "peer review" of all published literature. Do you know what that meant, Doctor? It meant I'd never be published-oh, I could have slipped a few silly, romantic poems into the sector literary magazine, but the dangerous poems, the wild, visionary things I really wanted to write, they wouldn't touch if I bribed them.'

"Yeah," One-Eyed Nick continued, "the literary magazines were a joke. But the underground journals-that was different. In the Black Zone, a few dozen sheets of mimeographed paper circulated in secret- that was the real stuff, the lifeblood of the mind. When one of Rose's boyfriends slipped her a collection containing 'Howl' and 'Darkmother-scream' and other great, subversive poems, a new world opened for her. She--she had an arrogant side to her, have I told you?-she began to write for the underground journals. As her reputation grew, she became more daring. Not naively daring, though; Rose was never naive. She knew what she was doing.

"One morning, in her room, Dr. Stone was drinking tea instead of coffee because the Purple Zone had been ga.s.sed and the s.h.i.+pments hadn't arrived. He asked her why she had to publish 'Plutonium Spring.' That was her infamous poem that had gotten her into trouble in the first place. And she held his hand with her long, warm fingers and told him, 'Oh, of course I knew it was dangerous, and the truth is, I held off publication for years after I wrote it. But when Bill and Johnny died in the bombing, I didn't have to be afraid for them any longer, do you understand? And I was crazy with grief-I just didn't care anymore, didn't want to care about myself, about what might happen.'

"And so her poem appeared in the Free Zone Journal. It was an epic poem, and it created an epic sensation. It was all about love and war, reverence and pain. Light and dark, you know-the censors counted twenty-two times she used the word 'black' in the first canto alone. But it wasn't the dark, ironic imagery, that got her into real trouble. Or even her intense affirmation of G.o.d. No, it was her pacifism, and her blatant revelation of cla.s.sified information. And more, her vision.

"Cla.s.sified information.-I think Rose really knew too much and saw things too deeply. You have to remember that her father had been a major in the Air Force. He hated war even more than Rose. Before he was shot down, he told her all about the nuclear war between the Yellow Zone and the Green Zone; he was stupid enough to tell her that during the present phase, Military Intelligence knew of at least a hundred and eight nuclear wars in various locations throughout the City. I think he hoped that she could run away to a Safe Zone, where they had banned hydrogen bombs if not the war. But even as a kid, Rose understood things that her father didn't. She knew that it would be better to abolish the war altogether than to try to find one of a few hundred Safe Zones among the millions of zones. To abolish the war-this was her dream; she wanted to show that the war wasn't inevitable. And that's why she wrote 'Plutonium Spring.' The poem made use of a brilliant device: Imagine, if you can, that our Endless City wasn't built across an infinite plain stretching to the ends of the universe. No, like Rose, imagine this: Imagine that our world was finite. Finite. A finite City built on top of a sphere floating in the black void. A simple sphere, like a baseball."

At the end of the alley, where the hill dropped off over the City, One-Eyed Nick could see the straight lines of lights of the Twentieth Sector, from P-Street running all the way out, probably as far as the upper million avenues. Somewhere farther out, lost in the brilliant, striated haze, were the Silver Zone and Purple Zone, and beyond them, all the other zones, maybe even the mythical Gold Zone and Dead Zone. Long ago, the geographers had proved that the City went on forever, as anyone could see. Perhaps, somewhere, there were other universes, other cities stacked one atop the other in s.p.a.ce like gleaming dinner plates in a dark cupboard, but to imagine the City as being anything other than an endless disc was almost impossible.

Sarge always seemed to know what One-Eyed Nick was thinking, and he said, "That's crazy. If we lived on a G.o.dd.a.m.ned baseball, what would keep us from flying off like pieces of spit?"

One-Eyed Nick nodded his head slowly. "Sure, the idea was crazy. But Rose was a little crazy, and she was sly and satirical, too. She wanted to demonstrate that war is as dependent on geometry and topology as it is on 'human nature.' Think about it. If we lived on a sphere, the City would be one, whole, complete thing. One edge would flow around the curve and grow into the other. The thing is, there wouldn't even be any 'edges' to the City; there wouldn't be any Safe Zones. Nuclear war would be impossible, because any army that exploded nuclear bombs in a neighboring zone would destroy themselves after the dust clouds circled the sphere, and everyone died from the radiation. And if you couldn't have a nuclear war, then the war itself would become impossible, because what general would be insane enough to wage war, if he knew that at any time it might become nuclear? And if the generals stopped the war, what sense would it make to divide the City into separate zones? And all this in Rose's poem, you know, there was a lot cold logic beneath the terrible beauty of her rhymes: If there were no zones, if the City were one whole thing, couldn't we do away with martial law? Imagine the City without martial law-we'd be free, at peace, finally happy."

"No one's happy until he's dead," the Napalm Man broke in with uncharacteristic vehemence. "And haven't I told you before? If I quit drinking this," and here he snapped his fingernail against the whiskey bottle, "no one would be free."

One-Eyed Nick tore up a damp, cardboard box and fed the pieces to the fire. Smoke instantly billowed up. Waving another piece of cardboard back and forth like a madman, he tried to keep the greasy cloud from blowing over the old woman and the others. "The thing is, you've never read Rose's poem, and look, it's made you think and feel a little. That's all Rose wanted, you know. She wanted to wake people up; she thought that everyone was dazed and paralyzed by the bombs. By the war, the stupid war."

Sarge dug a piece of rye bread out of his pocket, then handed it to the old woman. She held it between her open hands as if it were a prayer book. She smiled and said, "Thank you," the first words she had spoken since One-Eyed Nick had begun his story.

"War is h.e.l.l, ya mean?" Sarge said this to One-Eyed Nick. "But where the h.e.l.l would I be without the G.o.dd.a.m.n war?" He put his hands over his ears and dug his dirty fingernails into the scars cutting his head. "Aw, Jesus, here it comes! What the h.e.l.l would I have been like before the war? I'll tell you what: I was probably too dumb to wonder about my own dumbness. Christ, what a thought!-where'd that G.o.dd.a.m.ned thought come from?"

The Napalm Man took a huge swallow; he must have finished half of his remaining whiskey. He gasped and coughed for a while. "Rose must have known the consequences of writing the poem," he said. "She wasn't a robot, like the others, Nick."

"No, that's right, she wasn't a robot."

"Then you can't blame Dr. Stone for what happened to her, can you?"

One-Eyed Nick sucked in a lungful of wet air. It had begun to drizzle, and he was cold. Off in the distance, somewhere in the night, a jet thundered closer. It drowned out half of his words: "Who am I to blame anyone? But Dr. Stone wasn't a robot either, you know, so you have to blame him, don't you?"

Sarge shook his head back and forth, then spat at a chewing gum wrapper stuck to the fender of the abandoned car where they slept sometimes. "Nah," he said, "Where the h.e.l.l would I be without Dr. Stone? When they repatriated me from prison camp, I was a mess, ya mean? I never told anyone, but right before I was captured, a mine blew up in my crotch. And then the Reds knocked out my teeth and tried to kick my f.u.c.kin' brains out. Wham, wham, wham-I can still feel their boots slamming into my face. By the time they were done, I was spitting teeth, slurring and drooling like a moron. Bad brain damage, ya mean? But after they s.h.i.+pped me back to the Black Zone, Dr. Stone took care of me. Half of him went into me-why do you think an old son of a b.i.t.c.h like me would take care of a bunch of b.u.ms, huh? Dr. Stone programmed the biochips and helped me with the memories after they implanted the- what do ya call them?-the fetal brain cells. Jesus, ya ever wonder where they get fetal brain cells to cram into the skull of an old fart like me?"

One-Eyed Nick shrugged his shoulders as he broke up an orange crate and shoved the wood slats into the fire. The damp pine hissed and cracked. After a while, the wind s.h.i.+fted. Clumps of smoke wafted over them, but he saw that the old woman didn't move to cover her eyes; she just stared at him as if she were waiting for something.

"The thing is," he said, "I knew Dr. Stone, and I blame him."

The Napalm Man clinked his whiskey bottle against a wet brick and said, "No, you shouldn't do that, Nick. Dr. Stone was a good man. He put me back together when I fell apart. I remember when I worked for Orange Chemicals, we made things like napalm and a gas whose aerial dispers.e.m.e.nt by one part per million caused the skin to sicken and slough off like bubbling sheets of pink rubber. Nice, eh? One day, when I was riding home on the bullet train, I was horrified to see that one of our gases had gotten loose and everyone was turning to metal. The businessmen with their padlocked hearts and attache cases, the salesmen, secretaries, and other scientists-all metal. They made hard clanking sounds with their metal tongues and sounded like news machines: 'Have a nice day; gold's up, silver's down; the Blues murdered the Greens 27 to 3'-that kind of thing. I hurried home in a panic only to find that my Lisa had; new metal eyes and metal lips that burned when she kissed me. And when she asked me, 'Have a nice day? Have a nice day?...' I had to get out of there, so I ran through the walls of my house, out into the streets, where metal dogs chased the pa.s.sing cars. Then I turned around and everything was gone. I couldn't remember who I was. All I knew was that my hands were turning to metal, too, gray and hard and smelling like lead. There was a sound like giant rats with metal jaws crunching apart buildings of steel and gla.s.s, and there I was, sitting in the park with a paper bag in my hand, moving it to my mouth, over and over, moving it to my metal mouth. And then I fell apart-there were pieces of me scattered all over the gra.s.s. Dr. Stone found me and put me back together."

He finished his story with a thoughtful pull of whiskey and nodded at One-Eyed Nick, who said, "The thing is, Dr. Stone was a proud man. He reached too far, I think. Because of stupid pride, you know. There was no way out for him, for Rose."

Sarge put his forefinger up to his temple and c.o.c.ked his thumb. He said, "When there's no way out and a soldier's about to be captured, he's supposed to blow his own brains out, ya mean?"

One-Eyed Nick rubbed his sore arm and said, "You know, Dr. Stone considered suicide. Even though he was puffed up with pride, he was miserable because Rose had to go through with the deconstruction. Bad things were scheduled to happen to her. Could he really save her and put her together afterwards? Sometimes he thought he could, and then he was wild with antic.i.p.ation and a sense of immortality. Just as often, though, he had doubts. He had a bad case of the jitters from drinking too much coffee. He'd spent too much time a.n.a.lyzing and touching the pieces of Rose's soul. He was sick of all the sleepless nights on call, wandering the ward's bright corridors. In any hospital, you know, there's always an air of unreality, an underlying layer of false hopes and fears. The orderlies rus.h.i.+ng by with their blood samples and specimens, the nurses and their needles, the surgeons' tight, grim smiles-who really wants to believe the things they do to mind and flesh? And, you know, the chemical smells and the noises. There's nothing that's natural or normal. In the hours before dawn, when time drags on forever, you can hear each and every little sound. And everywhere, of course, the TV cameras mounted high in the corners of rooms, watching. Lots of times, Dr. Stone felt oppressed and doomed, like everything he'd ever done wrong in his life was about to catch up with him. I think he'd have loved to have shot up a lethal dose of ALH-25 and watched the atom bombs go off inside his head. But what would have happened to Rose then? Should he let another doctor do the deconstruction, let him touch her mind? No, he decided he had to treat her. He'd take her into the HDI room, and he'd do it as carefully as it could be done, he'd do it right. He had a plan to save the best part of her, the secret light, you know, her very soul.

"When it came time for her deconstruction, he went to see her. There were no croissants or doughnuts that morning; no warm aroma of coffee overlaying the smells of lysol and fear. Somehow, Rose had fastened the velcro and nylon restraints around her ankles and wrists. She lay spread-eagled on her broad hospital bed-the thing is, she always had a sense for the melodramatic. "I've saved the orderlies the trouble," she said. "Isn't it true that the patients must be restrained before they're taken in for deconstruction?" The truth is, though, she really didn't know all that much about it because Dr. Stone had never explained the details of the procedure. And she had never wanted to know. Gently, he could be gentle, you know, he gently ripped open the velcro snaps and began rubbing the dents from her wrists. "After we go into the HDI room, the nurse will give you something-we can't use mechanical restraints during deconstruction."

"He tried to explain that during the deconstruction, certain of her memories would be activated. Then the nerve signals to her muscles would have to be cut off, like when you dream, or else her body would try to reenact the remembered motions; her arms would flail and her legs kick out as she tried to run away. "I'll be paralyzed, won't I?" she asked. "Listen, Rose, don't be afraid, I'll help you." But she was afraid; she was so afraid she was dripping sweat. And she was very angry because the hospital mattresses were covered with plastic and held her nervous sweat close against her skin. She asked for a clean gown, and after she'd changed and come back from the bathroom, she said, "You've tried to be so kind to me, but what can you do? Oh, I knew this day would come, knew it but didn't care. And now that it's come, it's strange, I find I do care, very much." As he stroked her hands, trying to calm her, she said, "The first time we met, I asked you if you believed in G.o.d, do you remember? Oh, G.o.d, what a thing to throw at someone, but I think I wanted to make you a little nervous because I was very nervous, having to tell you things about myself, the private things I didn't think anyone would understand, especially a doctor; doctors always made me nervous, but you understand me, a little at least, the important things-don't you?"

"He was worried at the shrillness of her voice, the barely controlled panic. He would have ordered a sedative but that would have interfered, with her deconstruction in unpredictable ways. So he poured her a gla.s.s of water and said, "I understand, Rose; it will be okay." But the thing is, he wasn't too sure it would be okay, and as for understanding, he didn't even understand himself, so how he could he hope to understand her?

"Then she sat on the edge of the bed and began kicking her feet in her nervous way, and all the while she stared at him with a look that gradually changed from fear to a sort of ironic contempt, and then to pity. Pity for him! That was the way she was; it was her finest quality. She had this ability to see her own sufferings reflected and magnified in others. With pity came that unreal calmness of hers, and then a look that Dr. Stone would never forget. She was staring at the gray, empty TV screen on the wall, or maybe she was staring at the wall itself-he couldn't tell which. Her eyes-she had dark, intelligent eyes, you know-her whole face was full of light, full of rapture. It lasted only a moment, this look, and then it was replaced by her familiar mask of sadness and irony. "This must be so hard for you," she said. And Dr. Stone put on his best bedside voice, you know, trying to rea.s.sure her. But he was really trying to make everything okay in his own mind, and he said, "Don't worry, I can save you."

"For a long time, she just sat there kicking her legs, she didn't say a word. The only sounds in the room were the rising and falling of their breaths and the jerky squeaking of the bed's steel frame as she kicked and kicked. Suddenly, out of nowhere, she smiled and quoted a favorite line from one of Sh.e.l.ley's poems: ' "I am the eye with which the universe beholds itself and knows itself divine.' " And then, she told him, "Oh, I don't think you can."

"He thought she must be a little crazy, after that. If you can look at everyday things, at a turned-off TV set, or the paint on a blank wall, or even in a dead flower, if you can see evidence of purpose or divinity- that's a little crazy, isn't it? Crazy, sure, but the thing is, he loved her for being crazy. He was shaking from the coffee he'd been drinking all night, and he fumbled for words. He said, "During the deconstruction, your memories can be saved on the computer. And then, during the reconstruction, it's illegal as h.e.l.l and they can get me for malpractice, maybe even send me to the incinerators, but when we make up the biochip, everything can preserved. Almost everything; sometimes there are memories that don't a.s.sociate well, and we can't get the mapping right. If there's a choice, Rose, your life has been so hard-aren't there some gainful memories you'd rather not have?"

"Rose's face flushed with anger when he said that; she grabbed the sleeve of his jacket, and her fingers dug in like claws. "How could I have expected you to understand?" she asked him. Then her face went calm and soft, and she sighed. "All my life I've been searching for the words to the one true, unutterable thing words can't express. Or maybe it's just that I will never find the words. But I have to, before I die, say it; it's something like... like a woman giving birth, out of the pain, something wonderful, life, it doesn't stop. Sometimes I think G.o.d is terrible beauty, relentless love. Intellectually, and intuitively, I have to believe it's sufficient to have lived even for a minute. When Johnny died... it will never stop hurting, but I'll never lose him, he's not lost. Don't take away the painful memories, Doctor, they're all I have."

"Soon after that, the orderly came for her. He helped her into an ugly wheelchair, you know, one of those monstrosities of dingy, brown vinyl and chrome. He rolled her down the corridors to the HDI room. There she was given an injection. One of the nurses had brutal little fingers, all hard and yellow from the cigarettes she chain-smoked between deconstructions; Dr. Stone could hardly stand to watch Rose gasping as the needle went into her arm. The truth is, he hated the HDI room, everything about it, even though he'd done fifty deconstructions there. The s.h.i.+ny floors smelled of soap and polish, and it was too clean. And the stainless-steel cabinets and tables, the electronic machinery with its black plastic switches, all spotlessly clean. At the end of the room was the imaging device, you know, the computer. It was a huge, metal and gla.s.s doughnut with a dark hole at its center big enough so that a child could have sat in it. "Oh, G.o.d!"-that's what Rose said when she first saw it, "Oh, G.o.d!"

"Overlooking all this stuff was a wall of plexiglas; it was really more like a window to the room next door, the viewing room. There were tables and empty chairs in the viewing room, and Dr. Stone saw her staring at them like she couldn't guess what they were for. "The guests of the hospital use them," he explained. "To witness the deconstructions."

"The nurses put Rose on a flat, brown vinyl table. They placed her elbows down into the armrests and eased her head into a specially molded head holder. The injection was beginning to take effect, and she couldn't move any part of her body below her neck. But, like it was a bad dream or a nightmare, she could still mumble a few words, still cry out in terror and pain. "No, no," she said, over and over, "Oh, G.o.d, please no!"

"She was flat on her back, and after a while she couldn't see anything, so she couldn't have been aware of the men filing into the viewing room. But Dr. Stone saw them through the window, you know, serious men in gray suits. They took their seats silently, without fuss or hesitation. The Director of the Electroshock Research Program, the Chief of Psychosurgery, the Zone-Therapy Chief Lobotomist, the Government Man and the General-Rose was famous, you know, and the authorities wanted to see how the deconstruction would work on someone like her. The last one to enter the viewing room was the Director of Psychiatry. He was a pompous little man with tiny blue eyes and a pink face like a baby's. Microphones on one of the tables picked up his irritating voice as he said, "Okay, let's go."

"That was a very bad moment for Dr. Stone, one of the worst moments of his life. He dropped his chin down into his chest, staring down at his reflection in the polished floor. Rage and pain, pain and rage-he suddenly knew what he was doing was wrong. His whole life, everything he'd ever thought or felt, all wrong. But he had to hide it, he couldn't just find a scalpel in one of the cabinets and start cutting into his neck; no, he had to go through with it, so he swallowed against the hard knot in his throat, stepped over to Rose and checked the IV dripping the tracer into her vein. Into her brain. The tracer would circulate up through her brain arteries, through the capillaries into the amygdala and brain stem, through cerebellum and cortex; it would diffuse across individual neurons and synapses. Ultimately-if everything went right-it would highlight the K-lines, you know, the circuitry of chemical memory. Rose's memories. "No, no, please!" Dr. Stone heard someone say, and it took him a while before he realized it was Rose, lost in a nightmare, and not himself who was shouting.

"He nodded at the nurse; she flipped a switch. The machinery came alive with a hum, and Rose's table began moving along the floor track. Straight toward the imaging device on the far wall. Her head disappeared into the center of the machine. It was surrounded by holographic scanners and computers she couldn't see; her brain vibrated with magnetic resonances and chemicals she couldn't feel. Dr. Stone studied his gauges, adjusted the field, and he turned to address the guests. That was what he had to do, you know, put on a kind of show, make it interesting, especially for the layman in the viewing room who'd never seen a deconstruction before. "One of the oldest philosophical and scientific debates," he said has been the mind-body problem. For a long time, of course, it's been accepted that the mind is just what the brain does, as in any other body function. It's only because of the brain's mystery and complexity that there was ever an argument about mind. After all, we never talk about a "stomach-digestion" problem, unless there's a food shortage and we're forced to eat rotten soup rations at one of the Zone kitchens."

"Dr. Stone hated himself for making jokes while Rose's brain was about to be stripped naked, but the thing is, he couldn't help himself because he was going out of his mind with remorse. He felt wild and fey, like he wanted to kill the men in the viewing room, or to kill himself, kill someone. He suddenly hated the idea of experimenting on human beings, on anyone, even the criminally insane or the brain-damaged soldiers down on the other wards. Originally, you know, like a lot of others, he'd argued that it was immoral to do experimental brain surgery on healthy chimpanzees or other animals. The thing is, if you're trying to get at the material basis of mind, to really show it at the molecular level, you have to have a human being, because who can say if animals really think like we do? And that was the real reason for the deconstructions, you know. To show that we're all robots enslaved by our brain chemistry, that there's no such thing as soul.

"When Dr. Stone finally got a grip on himself, he finished his explanation. "This is the imaging device," he said, tapping the metal ring over Rose's head. "The computer sections up the brain-imagistically, that is. It makes a holographic model of the patient's brain and brain functions. The model will be displayed for you so you can watch the deconstruction as it progresses."

"At the center of the room, in plain view, was a holographic display; it looked like one of the display cases you see in the jewelry stores down in the more dangerous parts of Third Ward, but it was bigger. And it wasn't three-dimensional images of diamonds and emeralds that were on display, no, there were ten billion tiny jewels of light making a picture of Rose's brain. You could see every glowing fold and fissure of the cortex; in the limbic brain, deep inside, that's where the S-shaped hippocampus was, and the amygdala, which looked like a tiny almond. These parts weren't where her actual memories were stored, but they were vital for a.s.sociating one sense, like hearing or sight, with another. You know, they'd done experiments on Red prisoners. After you surgically removed the hippocampus and amygdala, it was just about impossible for the patient to make new memories or retrieve old ones properly. And there was the medulla, and other structures-the computer could highlight any section of the brain in any detail needed. Of her brain, it's Rose I'm talking about, you see.

"When the actual deconstruction began, Dr. Stone was nauseated and shaking; his eyes ached and he had his fist hard up against his forehead. It's sufficient to have lived even for a moment-he remembered Rose saying that, and he despaired. He picked up the manila folder he'd brought with him, opened it, then started to read. He was very aware of the Director and others watching him through the window. 'Rose, do you remember...' he began, but that was as far as he got, because his throat was dry and sore, and he had to ask the nurse to get him a gla.s.s of water. He wished he could ask Rose trivial questions, you know, stupid things that didn't have anything to do with her rebelliousness and her famed empathy for other people. But what could he do? He couldn't have fooled the Director, no, he'd taught Dr. Stone almost everything he knew about deconstructions, there could be no faking it. So he swallowed back his heartburn and panic, and he asked her, "Rose, do you remember the time you told your father you weren't going to eat meat anymore?"

"And that's how it went. His voice was almost dead, but he managed to ask her questions about certain past experiences. This keyed off her memories of those experiences; as the memories became manifest and formed up in her mind, neurons and neuron cl.u.s.ters fired-there are specific neurotransmitters involved in the release of chemical memory. The tracer dripping into her veins reacted with these neurotransmitters. That's what highlighted the K-lines, you know, the memory lines. And for a given experience, let's say the time her fifth grade teacher caught her staring out the window at the cherry trees, there might actually be thousands of simple memories involved. Rose's memories, she was a poet, you know, things like the liquid air and the smell of flowers, and the bees' buzzing, and the brilliant explosion of white blossoms through the trees. And the pain when Ms. Bledsoe smacked her ruler across Rose's knuckles. And her shame, of course, she felt it burning out between her legs when her bladder muscles let go and everyone in her cla.s.s laughed at the yellow puddle gathering beneath her desk. And each memory stored in a really complex way. Memory isn't quite global, but still, there are a.s.sociations throughout different parts of the brain. Her memory of whiteness, the red of blood, would be stored in her visual cortex; sounds and speech and her teacher yelling at her, in the temporal lobes on the side of the head; and so on, the smells, the heat and pain. And all through the hologram display of her brain, the whole experience was modeled as an array of little lights, each light representing a bit of memory, a little of herself. Thousands of lights, like strings of lights on a Christmas tree-Dr. Stone asked her if she remembered being given a puppy when she was almost five years old, on Christmas Eve. Did she remember that New Year's Day, trying to snip off Rufo's ears with her mother's sewing scissors, because she'd decided they'd grown too long and floppy and needed a trim? Sure she remembered, she could hear the puppy yelping in outrage, pain and betrayal. And inside Rose, the yelp was a pinpoint of white light deep in the listening part of her brain. And the pain, her pain, the lights burning in die parietal and temporal lobes, the beautiful, empathic, unforgettable pain.

"But... not unforgettable, you know. Dr. Stone asked his questions, and the lights inside Rose flickered on, the beautiful strings of lights. The computer zeroed in on each light individually. And the HDI machine made thousands of intense, local disruptions in the magnetic field of Rose's brain. All along the K-lines, electrons ripped out of their orbits, atoms ionized, cells and cell cl.u.s.ters died. And all the time she was paralyzed, perfectly conscious, perfectly aware that something was happening to her, something she couldn't quite grasp, because after it was gone, how would she ever know? Once-she told him this the evening before the deconstruction-once, on a hot summer night just after her family had died, she woke up and found herself alone, flat on her back, with her head at the foot of the bed. Her feet were almost touching the headboard. She'd had no sense of sweating through the night or rotating in half a circle across the soaking sheets; there was only darkness and disorientation and a sick feeling of lost time. Each moment of her deconstruction must have been like that night, an endless awakening into neverness, as if she'd never existed and never would. And Rose, of course, tried to fight it, but what could she do? Dr. Stone thought he could see the patterns of her stubbornness, the way the silver lights twinkled and rippled like waves of shooting stars. Nothing is lost-that was always Rose's faith, but what could be left after the HDI machine annihilated half her brain? Was she praying, trying to hold on to a little cert.i.tude and meaning while the other things slipped away? On and on the deconstruction went, all morning and far into the afternoon, almost forever. But, you know, in the hospital, with the overhead lamps burning so hot they're hyperreal, time is nothing.

"Isn't it time you read her the poem?" The Director asked Dr. Stone this in a voice that seemed to come out of nowhere. The grim little man was sitting at the table in the viewing room, waiting with the others. In front of him, he had a list of the questions Rose was supposed to be asked. And Dr. Stone licked the coffee and blood gumming his teeth and said, "The poem. Yes, the poem." He was sweating, and he had his fist clenched so hard the tendons were popping out in his wrist. He looked at her, lost in the pit of the machine, and asked, "Rose, do you remember this poem: "Music, when soft voices die, Vibrates in the memory?" ' And sure she remembered, how she remembered!-how could she forget? And when he got to the line, Rose leaves, when the rose is dead, the secret light inside her was alive and burning with a color as pure as any rose. "Rose, do you remember, do you remember... ?" But she didn't remember, and that was the h.e.l.l of it, didn't remember anything about roses, because he and the HDI machine had done their work, and inside Rose's mind the lights went out like a Christmas tree suddenly unplugged. And Dr. Stone couldn't finish his poem; he had no voice left, you know, he couldn't utter another word, because it, too, had finally gone out, the secret light."

One-Eyed Nick finished speaking, and he heaped more trash on the fire. Flame shadows writhed across the dirty nylon of his parka. The old woman seemed to be staring through the fire at him. Her dark eyes were lucid with reflected light. He wondered if he'd been wrong about her right from the start; maybe she could understand what he was saying.

The Napalm Man drained his bottle of whiskey and rubbed his temples. "That's a sad story, Nick. Why is it impossible just to find a little happiness?"

And Sarge put in, "I'd be happy if I could just get simplicity, ya mean?" He licked his lips, spat and then asked, "That's not the end of the story, is it? You haven't told us what happened to Dr. Stone and Rose."

One-Eyed Nick blinked slowly, thinking that if he and the old woman, all of them, had to exist and be a part of the City's endless life, wouldn't it be great if they were as rigid and unmoving as brick, as hard as stone? He sighed and said, "The end of the story-do you mean before or after the Reds bombed the hospital?"

"Before," Sarge said. "We know about the escape after the G.o.dd.a.m.n bombing. Tell us what happened to Rose and Dr. Stone."

There was a pressure beneath One-Eyed Nick's forehead, and his arm hurt. He said, "Dr. Stone talked to Rose alone in her room after the deconstruction, and he felt like crying. The thing is, she didn't want to be reconstructed. "Oh, no, please, I'm scared!"-that was all she could say. And who could blame her? Doctor Stone knew that the Director had plans to make her into a simple schoolmistress, you know, one of those nice ladies in a white s.h.i.+rt and tie, teaching propaganda to aid the war effort. "It's okay, Rose," he said, "I'll help you remember-I have a plan." And she went over to him and pressed her head down on his shoulder, and she sobbed. And he stroked her hair; he bit his lip so hard it bled. He'd risked everything to save her memories, to be able to make up a biochip, a bit of synthetic brain that would be as much her as what he'd taken out in the HDI room-and all for nothing. But, no, not for nothing, you know. Right then and there he made up his mind that he'd do the reconstruction himself. No matter what this Rose wanted now, he'd remake the Rose he knew and loved.

"But things never work out like you want. He had to wait at least a month for her to heal before he could do her implant, or else she would really wind up nuts. And that was too d.a.m.n long, because he found out that the hospital was going to be closed down immediately. Moved, you know, because the Red artillery was getting too close. And worse, he was going to be transferred to a mental hospital in First Sector. As a reward. A G.o.dd.a.m.n promotion!-the Director had been so impressed with Rose's deconstruction that he'd promoted Dr. Stone to be Chief of Psychiatry at St. Mark's Hospital. Or maybe he was just jealous of Dr. Stone and didn't want him around; but what did it matter why Dr. Stone was being promoted, the thing is, in the Black Zone, you couldn't refuse promotions. He would never even talk to Rose afterwards, let alone get the time and an operating room to make her whole again.

"The next day, as he told her he would have to leave her, when he saw the confused, hurt look on her face, he didn't want to live. But he had to live, that was the h.e.l.l of it, to live somehow-to help her regain her memories, do you see? That evening, he drank half a bottle of scotch, and he became very drunk, so drunk he went into the bathroom and retched into the toilet until his stomach was dry. Blind drunk-he was so drunk that when he looked into the mirror, he couldn't see himself. So he smashed the mirror, punched it again and again until it shattered, and then he grabbed up a gla.s.s splinter in his bleeding fist and rammed it into his face. Into his eye. The gla.s.s in his eye; it ruined his eye-the surgeons had to remove it.

One-Eyed Nick pressed his hand over his eye patch, feeling the stabs of ghost pain as he began to remember. He couldn't help looking at the old woman. Her eyes were wet with tears, and he knew there was something important he had to remember. "As a part of an experiment that Dr. Stone suggested-you know, a couple of his colleagues owed him favors and couldn't help feeling bad when they heard his story-the surgeons removed other things from his head. Even as the hospital was being evacuated, there were secret sessions with the HDI machine, and then, the implant surgeries. You see, Dr. Stone hoped to be cla.s.sified mentally impaired so he could be moved along with Rose and all the other patients. So he'd always be with her, at least until one of them really died. And he had to remember the pieces of Rose's life so he could put her back together, but for himself, of himself, he wanted no memory. No, he hated himself, he would not remember who he was, except at the very end, when he finished telling his and Rose's sad story."

In the alley of D-Street, the rain had died. Everything was glistening wet, s.h.i.+ny from the streetlights, silent. Almost silent-the old woman had started crying openly. And then One-Eyed Nick suddenly remembered that she really wasn't so old, though she very much a woman, the best woman he'd ever known. Oh, G.o.d, it was Rose! His Rose, how could he have been so blind? Rose was crying, the great, wracking sobs almost lost into her cupped hands. It tore Nick apart, the sight, and burned inside his head, where something terrible and beautiful was happening to him. He was beginning to remember himself, too. Somewhere in his head, the implanted biochips were firing and coming alive, whispering, filling him up with Dr. Stone's memories. His memories. He remembered that he had been a doctor of psychiatry who knew well enough how to ruin a prisoner's short-term memory; he remembered ruining himself. And many other things: he remembered treating Sarge as a patient in the hospital, remembered that when poor, castrated Sarge slurred out his plea for "simplicity," he was really saying, "I just want some p.u.s.s.y." Simplicity-it was really he, himself, who wanted simplicity; how simple it was to fall in love with Rose, over and over and forever. There was a pain in his chest, then. Like a shock of lightning it radiated up the angle of his jaw to his head. He shut his eye against the blinding, white pain. Light-each of us, he thought, carries inside whole universes of memory and light. He opened his eye, looking out over the endless, sleeping City, trying to apprehend the beautiful lights which went on and on, s.h.i.+mmering off to infinity. Rose was right after all, there was always room for more pain, more light, more memory. It would kill him, though, if he had to remember it all the time, who was he to stand that kind of pain? He was no one, and soon he would forget almost everything; very soon, when another piece of his brain fired and the false memories came, he would be One-Eyed Nick once again, a b.u.m in an alley, trying to keep warm.

But now there was only memory, and now Rose was crying into the night, so he went over to her and knelt down; he put his arms around her and kissed her lips. "I love you," he said.

She took his hands and told him, "No, Nick, please, no."

Somewhere behind him, water was gurgling out of a drainpipe; the rus.h.i.+ng sound was as uneven as the beating of his heart. "Do you remember the poem?" he asked her. "Can you remember anything at all?"

"Sure she remembers," Sarge said. "She remembers better all the time. Whenever you tell your G.o.dd.a.m.n story, you think of something else you've forgotten. Why d'ya think we keep asking questions to pump your memory? Why d'ya think I'm not bored out of my f.u.c.kin' skull by now?"

"Besides," the Napalm Man added, "you put us back together again. We don't mind listening."

Nick laced his fingers in Rose's hair. Did she remember? Could it be true that nothing was ever really lost? He bent his head and asked her, "There's something I've never understood. Even if I could have done the implant, given you back your old memories, you didn't want me to. Why, Rose?"

For a long time she sat there looking at him, and gradually her shaking went away. She seemed lost in her thoughts. Then her eyes unclouded and there was pure joy in the way they lingered over him; there was a calmness and clarity, as if she were seeing something in its true light for the first time. "I like the way I am," she said.

He fell apart, then, he couldn't control it any longer; his hand trembled like an old man's as he tried to get the blinding tears out of his eye, and his whole body s.h.i.+vered from the cold. "Oh, G.o.d!" he whispered, "Oh, G.o.d!"

Rose started crying again, crying for him, he thought, crying for everyone in all the alleys of the Endless City, because nothing is lost, and someday, if he were relentless in his purpose, she would again be the Rose he remembered.

After a while the rain returned, and the lights all around him flickered and grew hazy. He couldn't quite remember why he was holding her, unless it was just to give a little comfort to an old woman who was cold and confused. And all he could think to say was: "I just want to make you happy."

A blur of spinning gla.s.s flashed above him; the Napalm Man had flung his whiskey bottle out into the alley. There was a sudden crash, flowers of gla.s.s shattering against wet brick. The Napalm Man removed a fresh pint of whiskey from the pocket of his trenchcoat and dropped it down into his paper bag. "No one's happy until he's dead, Nick."

Sarge rubbed the back of his neck and said, "I'd be happy if I could just find simplicity, ya mean?"

Because he couldn't stop s.h.i.+vering, One-Eyed Nick began looking around the alley for some trash to put into the dying fire. It would be hours before morning came, and he still had a long time to tell his story. Why he had to tell his story, he couldn't quite say.

And so, on an endless winter night, with the drizzling rain making him hoa.r.s.e and cold, he cleared his throat and asked, "Have I told you this story before? This is the saddest story I know."


Full Spectrum 3 Part 64

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Full Spectrum 3 Part 64 summary

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