Friday, May 07, 2004
It was Khalil Jones's idea, but Carter and I thought it was a good one. The FBI wasn't getting very far with the people at Alexei Gubanov's long-term care facility, since the staff there is naturally protective of their patients, and the agents have instructions not to mention "the process" to civilians. Khalil, though, figured that the staff had seen Samantha Haskins around before, if she'd come with Dmitri. And if it became necessary, he pointed out, we're not (and can't be) under any instructions not to lay the whole body-switching thing out to people.
I was, quite frankly, shocked at how quickly Carter agreed to it. I thought the idea of pretending to be Sam would be anathema to him; he hated it when her parents were in town, and even though he's never quite sure about whether to call me Marta or Michelle or something else when there's no-one else around, he's adamant that Mags and I call him Carter unless there's someone else within earshot. But he really wants out of that body, and he's also a guy who's served his country in the Air Force. It's not just personal to him; he sees the propogation of this stuff as a threat to the country, too.
We had to take the commuter rail and a cab to get there. The lady we met there mentioned almost didn't recognize "Sam", although she did say that it was nice to see Sam no longer dying her hair black and doing the whole goth thing. We asked if Alexei had any visitors other than his son, either recently or in the past. She didn't think so, but she'd only been there a little more than a year, and even over the past year, Dmitri had been visiting his father less and less, and not staying as long when he did. Carter pointed out that with Dmitri in jail, someone else would likely have to take over Alexei's care. That elicited a lot of "I can't believe that happened, he seems like such a nice boy." Fortunately, she hadn't remembered "our" names from the coverage. She did think it was odd that Dmitri's lawyer hadn't called in the past few weeks to arrange something. I almost couldn't help saying something about how he probably doesn't care any more. She did say she would check with the other staff members, who had been there longer, and get back to "Sam". He gave her our number, and we had almost left when she asked if we were going to see Alexei.
We should have said no. It was freaky. As soon as the attendant left, Carter walked to the bed, leaned over so that his face was about a foot from his, and just stared. "She's in there, isn't she?"
I nodded. "Yeah, probably."
"Do you think she knows we're here? Knows I'm here? I mean, here I am, walking around in her body, while she's stuck in there. What's it like for her?"
"I don't know." I shook my head back and forth. "When I talked to Shelley in December, she just described it as 'missing time'. I don't think she's suffering; at least not actively."
"'Not actively'. I'd trade with her, you know. She should be in here, and I'd at least be a man, even if I'd be old and not like to ever wake up..."
"Don't say that. Don't ever say that. Don't ever feel guilty for having a life to live. We'll find a way to get her out of there, but we'll do it without sacrificing you. There's only one person who should be in there, and he's..."
That's when it really hit me - I was standing next to the body of the man who had taken my old one. He's in his early sixties. Jowly, like he used to be Dmitri's size but a few years of eating through a catheter had caused him to waste away, but his skin hadn't caught up. I don't necessarily want to be Martin Hartle again to the point of not being who I am now anymore, but that someone took it, and left someone else trapped inside there... It made me angry. I'm angry now, a day later, just writing about it. It's a violation, and though I know it couldn't have been Alexei's idea, it doesn't look like he said "this is wrong" when he wound up in this body. No, he chose to steal another body, and the closest he came to not being totally self-serving was not to lock my mind inside a comatose brain.
I kicked the wall and sat down in a folding chair. I wiped away some tears, saw Carter was starting to cry too, and mentioned we only had an hour until the next train back into the city. A corner of his mouth twitched up. "Yeah, hate to miss it."
And we got the hell out of there.
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