by Roger Ley
Other stories by Roger Ley
My patient, John Smith, sat in my office at the hospital looking alert and healthy. He’d come a long way from the unwashed, raving, homeless lunatic that the police had brought in two months ago. We called him John Smith as we still hadn’t identified him.
‘Things are much better now, I don’t hear the voices or see the rolling colours while I’m awake, but it’s the dreams, they seem so real, so meaningful,’ he said.
I wasn’t too concerned about the dreams, one has to expect side-effects from any drug treatment, and John’s quality of life was so much improved.
‘It’s a matter of striking a balance, John, we’re trying to pick a path between Heaven and Hell, between the devils and the angels.’
‘I still remember nothing from before I came here, Dr Oakwood, just odd flashes of people and places, but it’s all so disconnected. It’s all to do with my brain tumour, I expect.’
He didn’t have a brain tumour. He had something else inside his skull, something denser than a tumour but less dense than bone. I’d seen nothing like it before, and neither had anybody else as far as I could tell from the medical databases. It sat on the surface of the brain, at the back of his head, close to the visual cortex. It was circular, about ten centimetres in diameter, thicker in the middle than at the edges. A series of filaments radiated from it, branching and re-branching into John’s brain until they disappeared beyond the display resolution of our equipment. One of the main filaments was broken, and mysterious as it was, I felt that was where the trouble lay.
‘Tell me about your dreams again,’ I said.
‘It’s always the same, first the music, then the rolling colours, then I’m in an office, sitting across the desk from this woman.’
‘What does she look like?’
‘It’s difficult to guess her age, between thirty and forty, I’d say. She has blond, bobbed hair and blue eyes, and tells me that her name’s ‘Farina.’ She’s attractive, conservatively dressed and looks like a professional.’
‘And what does she say to you?’
‘She says my implant isn’t functioning properly, that she can’t contact me while I’m awake. She says I’ve been sent here from the future, that I have a very important job to do.’
‘Does she say what it is?’
‘She explains in great detail but when I wake up, I can’t remember.’
‘John, the growth is putting pressure on the sensory parts of your brain. It’s not surprising you’re having lucid dreams and hallucinations. Try not to worry, if all goes well tomorrow, we’ll remove the problem and everything will return to normal.’
‘And will my memory come back, Doctor?’
‘I have every reason to hope so, John.’ It was one of my stock phrases.
The procedure was textbook. We’d shaved his head, I looked for scars from a previous operation, there were none. The object must have grown in place. I’d been wondering if it was part of some secret military project gone wrong. I incised the scalp, peeled back the skin and, being careful not to penetrate the dura, used the circular saw to cut loose a square section of skull. As I was preparing to remove it, the power failed. There was a pause of a few seconds as we stood frozen, in total darkness, before the lights came on again. That wasn’t supposed to happen, we have uninterruptible power supplies that can carry us for the few seconds it takes for the emergency generators to kick in.
‘He’s flat-lined,’ muttered Abrahams, the anaesthetist. We waited while he did his frantic best to bring John back, but it was no good, he was gone. I lifted out the section of skull, and all I found underneath was a circular indentation where the ‘implant’ had been sited.
It’s always distressing when you lose a patient, I’ve never got used to it. I changed out of my greens and went back to the office to write up my notes. There was no sign of John’s computer records, no copies of x-rays or scans, nothing. Probably something to do with the power cut. I’d had enough, it could wait until tomorrow. I made my way home to a large whisky and an empty bed.
Next morning, there was an email from one of the forensic databases. They’d finally identified John from his fingerprints. They matched with a government scientist called Martin Riley, who’d been killed in a road traffic accident, two years before. His car had fallen from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge into the Potomac River, his body had never been recovered. I decided to take another look at my patient and made my way down to the morgue. The gum chewing attendant checked his screen and announced that the body had gone for cremation the previous night. Unusual but not unheard of with an unclaimed corpse. So, nothing left, no evidence of our time traveler or his implant.
After I left the morgue, I stood outside the entrance for a moment thinking about John and his dreams, but I had another patient to see in ten minutes so I hurried back to my office to read the case notes.