The man who murdered him.., p.1
THE MAN WHO MURDERED HIMSELF
BY NANCY FULDA
Copyright 2003 Nancy Fulda
This is a work of fiction. The characters and events portrayed in this story are either fictitious or used fictitiously.
“Right in here,” the nurse said. “Dr. Sorenson will be with you soon.” And she left.
Kyle would not usually have examined the small office as he entered it. Twelve doctors, thirty-seven surgeries, and sixty-three consultations had long ago convinced him that one professional’s abode was more or less like another’s.
When Kyle was four years old, doctors had terrified him. He remembered the bushy eyebrows and deep-set eyes of Dr. Rells, his first surgeon. When Dr. Rells delivered the anesthetic before the first operation, Kyle had felt like the victim of a mad scientist about to perform an experimental surgery. He was afraid he would wake up and find that his brain had been removed by accident.
By age nine Kyle had changed surgeons five times. Names and introductions slipped past him unnoticed, and his emotional response to surgery changed from trepidation to disinterest to annoyance. His scars multiplied more quickly than the candles on his birthday cakes.
Kyle’s friends soon lost interest in the story behind each new bandage and suture. His enemies never lost interest in mocking them. The school bully liked to knock him down and poke at the fleshy lumps growing on his back. Kyle’s private vision of hell looked like a middle school locker room.
Once he had been proud of his deformities. Now he despised them. The malformed right hand that the most expensive surgeries could not repair; the ever-so-slight limp when he walked because bone surgery left one leg slightly shorter than the other; the fleshy, purplish bag of flesh on his left side that the doctors had not yet removed — these were the devils that tormented him night after night. Sometimes the tumors on his nerves pinched so tightly that he could not walk, but it was not the pain that kept him from sleeping on hot summer evenings. It was the specter he saw in the mirror.
The night before his twelfth birthday he got out of bed at two a.m. He stood in front of the full-length mirror on his bedroom door for three hours, staring at the discolored landscape that should have been a human chest. Hundreds of spongy, cauliflower-shaped tumors poked from beneath his flesh. Most of the lumps were the size of a marble, but some were as large as golf balls. Scattered on the skin between the tumors were dark brown patches on his flesh. They were called “café au lait” spots: the trademark symptom of neurofibromatosis. That night Kyle did not consider suicide. But he smashed the mirror and went to bed with his fists still bloody.
His condition grew worse with the passing years. The doctors burned off the tumors, but like warts, they grew back in greater numbers. Scoliosis set in, hunching Kyle’s back despite the body brace he wore for three years. The correction of bone deformities in his skull created permanently bald areas on his head; hair regrowth was barred by scar tissue. Surgery decreased the bulbous size of his right hand but left it twisted and only slightly usable.
When he was seventeen, he dug through his mother’s drawers until he found all of his baby pictures. He burned them.
Kyle wore corrective shoes for his limp and a hairpiece to cover the bald spots. Monthly visits to the dermatologist made his face look, if not beautiful, at least nearly normal. He carefully selected clothing to conceal the worst of his tumors, and he kept his hands in his pockets most of the time. He plowed his way through college by sheer willpower and a sizable loan from his parents, landed a job in an accounting firm, and built up some semblance of a normal life. But he often caught clients watching him from the corners of their eyes, as though they were trying to figure out what was odd about his gait or the shape of his face.
Or why he always seemed reluctant to shake hands.
So, on a usual day, for a usual consultation, Kyle would not have stopped to examine Dr. Sorenson’s office. But this was not his annual medical evaluation or even one of his frequent presurgery consultations. For the first time his life, Kyle would meet a doctor who could talk to him not about treatment but about cure.
He studied the tiny room intently.
The desk was small and completely bare. Kyle suspected that its drawers had never been opened. Beside the desk was a small garbage can, empty except for a single gum wrapper. Apparently Dr. Sorenson used the office only for formal meetings.
Right then, a small, balding man trundled through the door.
He carried a briefcase in one hand and a stack of papers in the other. Pens and pencils jabbed from every available pocket of his blue scrubs, and a pair of glasses dangled by a cord from around his neck. He maneuvered his way around the back of the desk, plopped the papers on it, and began shuffling through them.
“You must be Mr. Waterbey,” the man said without looking at Kyle. “I’m Dr. Sorenson. Do sit down.”
Kyle eased into the chair and winced as pain lanced through his right leg. He tried to shift it to a more comfortable position as the doctor arranged his papers.
“Well,” Dr. Sorenson continued, “you are certainly the most dramatic case of neurofibromatosis I have ever seen.”
Kyle frowned. He’d heard that from at least eleven experts. They ought to put it in a medical textbook somewhere: Kyle Ameus Waterbey, the most dramatic case of neurofibromatosis since the Elephant Man.
“Quite frankly, it’s amazing you’re still alive,” the doctor continued. “According to your file, you’ve had three neurofibromas removed from your cranial nerves, and there are two more growing on your spine. Your last tissue sample indicates that they have become malignant—”
“If you’re trying to tell me I’m dying,” Kyle interjected sourly, “I’ve known that since I was ten.”
“No, not at all. As I said in my letter, I think I have developed a method that can cure you. No more tumors, no more scoliosis, no more scars...”
Kyle leaned forward. “How?”
“What do you know about molecular replication?”
“Nothing specific. The scanner dissects an object molecule by molecule, and the replicator reproduces the item from the scanned data.”
“That’s right,” Dr. Sorenson said, nodding. “But did you also know that the scanned data can be altered — modified before the replication takes place? I can take an apple, for example, and remove the seeds. I can take a rat, infect it with cancer, then scan it and remove the cancer before replicating it. I’ve taken rodents with leukemia, heart disease, and broken bones and made healthy replicas from them. I’ve changed the color of their fur and performed optical surgery — all with replication.”
“Are you saying you can scan me and then rebuild me without the disease?”
Dr. Sorenson nodded.
“Why haven’t I heard of this before?”
“Well, it’s extremely risky. My success rate with rats has been only twenty-two percent. Even a minute error causes the replication to be unstable, regardless of the modifications made to the scanned data. And until now, replication had been a one-shot deal: The scanning process completely destroyed the original subject.”
“You said ‘until now.’ What changed?”
“A new technique has been developed; a way to scan the subject nondestructively. Do you see what this means? Now, if there is an error in the first scan, we can simply make a second, or a third — whatever is required.”
Kyle’s face remained expressionless, but his fingers tapped excitedly on his knee. “How much will it cost?”
“Well...” Dr. Sorenson started to reach for his notebook but changed his mind and scratched the bridge of his nose instead. “You should know that what I’m proposing is... w
“If it can cure diseases in rats, why couldn’t it be used on humans, too?”
“Because replication frightens people, and because, well, it can be... messy. The failures were... drastically unpleasant. Missing neurons, chemical imbalances — a single mistake in the scanning process can be incapacitating or even fatal to the subject. The new nondestructive scanning minimizes the risks, but...” Dr. Sorenson spread his hands apologetically.
Kyle folded his arms across his chest and cringed as they jostled a tender tumor. “I’ll risk what’s left of my body if I want to!”
“I assure you, I am quite willing to perform the procedure,” Dr. Sorenson said soothingly. “I have access to a research replicator in Connecticut, but it’s expensive to operate, and there’s no way to apply for a research grant under these circumstances. If you could pay the expenses, I would gladly donate my services in the interest of, ah, scientific research. I would need, well, nearly fifty thousand dollars.”
“I can arrange that,” Kyle said tersely. “When do we start?”
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