Mindscan, p.1Robert J. Sawyer
Table of Contents
BOOKS BY ROBERT J. SAWYER
PRAISE FOR MINDSCAN
About the Author
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
with thanks for
a quarter-century of
There wasn’t anything special about this fight. Honest to God, there wasn’t. Dad and I had argued a million times before, but nothing awful had happened. Oh, he’d thrown me out of the house a couple of times, and when I was younger he used to send me to my room or cut off my allowance. But nothing like this had ever occurred. I keep reliving the moment in my mind, haunted by it. It’s no consolation that he isn’t haunted by it, that he probably doesn’t even remember it. No consolation at all.
My father’s grandparents had made a fortune in the brewing industry—if you know Canada at all, you know Sullivan’s Select and Old Sully’s Premium Dark. We’d always had a shitload of money.
“Shitload.” That’s the way I talked back then; I guess remembering it is bringing back my old vocabulary. When I’d been a teenager, I didn’t care about money. In fact, I agreed with most Canadians that the profits made by big corporations were obscene. Even in supposedly egalitarian Canada, the rich were getting richer and the poor poorer, and I’d hated it. Back then, I’d hated a lot of things.
“Where the hell did you get this?” my dad had shouted, holding the fake ID I’d used to buy pot at the local Mac’s. He was standing up; he always did that when we fought. Dad was scrawny, but I guess he felt his two meters of height were intimidating.
We were in his den at the house in Port Credit. Port Credit was what you came to if you continued west along Lake Ontario from Toronto; it was a classy neighborhood, and even then—this would have been, what?, 2018, I guess—it was still mostly white. Rich and white. The window looked out over the lake, which that day had been gray and choppy.
“Friend of mine made it,” I said, without even looking at the ID card.
“Well, you’re not seeing that friend anymore. Christ’s sake, Jake, you’re only seventeen.” The legal age for buying alcohol and marijuana in Ontario, then and now, was nineteen; the legal age for buying tobacco is eighteen. Go figure.
“You can’t tell me who I can see,” I said, looking out the window. Seagulls were pirouetting above the waves. If they could get high, I didn’t see why I couldn’t.
“Hell I can’t,” snapped my father. He had a long face and a full head of dark hair, graying at the temples. If this was 2018, that would have made him thirty-nine. “So long as you live under my roof, you’ll do as I say. Jesus, Jacob, what were you thinking? Presenting a false ID card is a major offense.”
“It’s a major offense if you’re a terrorist or an identity thief,” I said, looking across the wide teak desk at him. “Kids get caught buying pot all the time; no one gives a damn.”
“I give a damn. Your mother gives a damn.” Mom was out playing tennis. It was a Sunday—the only day Dad wasn’t normally at work—and he’d gotten the call from the police station. “You keep screwing up like this, boy, and—”
“And what? And I’ll never end up like you? I pray for that.” I knew I’d hit home. A vertical vein in the middle of his forehead swelled up whenever he was really pissed. I used to love it when I got the vein.
His voice was trembling. “You ungrateful little bastard.”
“I don’t need this shit,” I said, turning toward the door, preparing to stalk out.
“Damn you, boy! You’re going to hear this! If you—”
“Fuck off,” I said.
“—don’t stop acting—”
“I hate this place anyway.”
“—like an idiot, you’ll—”
“And I hate you!”
No reply. I turned around, and saw him slumping backward into his black leather chair. When he hit it, the chair rotated half a turn.
“Dad!” I hurried behind the desk and shook him. “Dad!” Nothing. “Oh, Christ Oh, no. Oh, God …” I lifted him out of the chair; there was so much adrenaline coursing through my veins from the fight that I didn’t even feel his weight. Stretching out his gangly limbs on the hardwood floor, I shouted, “Dad! Come on, Dad!”
I kicked aside a waste basket with a shredder attached; paper diamonds scattered everywhere. Crouching next to him, I felt for a pulse; he still had one—and he seemed to be breathing. But he didn’t respond to anything I said.
“Dad!” Totally out of ideas, I tried slapping him lightly on each cheek. A string of drool was hanging out of the corner of his mouth.
I quickly rose, turned to face his desk, hit the speakerphone button, and pounded out 9-1-1. Then I crouched down beside him again.
The phone rang three excruciating times, then: “Fire, police, or ambulance?” said a female operator, sounding small and far away.
“Your address is—” said the operator, and she read it off. “Correct?”
I lifted his right eyelid. His eye tracked to look at mine, thank God.
“Yes, yes, that’s right. Hurry! My father’s collapsed!”
“Is he breathing?”
“Yes, he has one, but he’s collapsed, and he’s not responding to anything I say.”
“An ambulance is on its way,” said the woman. “Is anyone else with you?”
My hands were shaking. “No. I’m alone.”
“Don’t leave him.”
“I won’t. Oh, Christ, what’s wrong with him?”
The operator ignored the question. “Help is on its way.”
“Dad!” I said. He made a gurgling sound, but I don’t think it was in response to me. I wiped away the drool and tipped his head back a bit to make sure he was getting plenty of air. “Please, Dad!”
“Don’t panic,” said the woman. “Remain calm.”
“Christ, oh Christ, good Christ …”
The ambulance took me and my dad to the Trillium Health Centre, the nearest hospital. As soon as we got there, they transferred him to a gurney, his long legs hanging over the end. A white male doctor appeared quickly, shining a light into his eyes and tapping his knee with a small hammer—to which there was the usual reflexive response. He tried speaking to my father a few times, then called out, “Get this man a cerebral MRI, stat!” An orde
By the time Mom arrived, Dad had been moved into a bed. Standard government health care gets you a space in a ward. Dad had supplemental insurance, and so had a private room. Of course.
“Oh, God,” my mother kept saying, over and over again, holding her hands to her face. “Oh, my poor Cliff. My darling, my baby …”
My mother was the same age as my dad, with a round head and artificially blonde hair. She was still wearing her tennis clothes—white top, short white skirt. She played a lot of tennis, and was in good shape; to my embarrassment, some of my friends thought she was hot.
Shortly, a doctor came to see us. She was a Vietnamese woman of about fifty. Her name tag identified her as Dr. Thanh. Before she could open her mouth, my mother said, “What is it? What’s wrong with him?”
The doctor was infinitely kind—I’ll always remember her. She took my mother’s hand and got her to sit down. And then the woman crouched down, so she’d be at my mother’s eye level. “Mrs. Sullivan,” she said. “I’m so sorry. The news is not good.”
I stood behind my seated mother, with a hand on her shoulder.
“What is it?” Mom asked. “A stroke? For God’s sake, Cliff is only thirty-nine. He’s too young for a stroke.”
“A stroke can happen at any age,” said Dr. Thanh. “But, although technically this was a form of stroke, it’s not what you’re thinking of.”
“Your husband has a kind of congenital lesion we call an AVM: an arteriovenous malformation. It’s a tangle of arteries and veins with no interposing capillaries—normally, capillaries provide resistance, slowing down the blood-flow rate. In cases like this, the vessels have very thin walls, and so are prone to bursting. And when they do, blood pours through the brain in a torrent. In the form of AVM your husband has—called Katerinsky’s syndrome—the vessels can rupture in a cascade sequence, going off like fire hoses.”
“But Cliff never mentioned …”
“No, no. He probably didn’t know. An MRI would have shown it, but most people don’t have routine MRIs until they turn forty.”
“Damn it,” said my mother—who almost never swore. “We would have paid for the test! We—”
Dr. Thanh glanced up at me, then looked into my mother’s eyes. “Mrs. Sullivan, believe me, it wouldn’t have made any difference. Your husband’s condition is inoperable. AVMs in general affect only one in a thousand people, and Katerinsky’s affects only one in a thousand of those with AVMs. The sad truth is that the principal form of diagnosis for Katerinsky’s is autopsy. Your husband is actually one of the lucky ones.”
I looked over at my father, in the bed, a tube up his nose, another in his arm, his hair matted, his mouth hanging open.
“So, he’s going to be okay, then?” said my mother. “He’s going to get better?”
Dr. Thanh sounded truly sad. “No, he’s not. When the blood vessels ruptured, the adjacent parts of his brain were destroyed by the jet of blood pounding into the tissue. He’s …”
“He’s what?” demanded my mother, her voice full of panic. “He’s not going to be a vegetable, is he? Oh, God—my poor Cliff. Oh, Jesus God …”
I looked at my father, and I did something I hadn’t done for five years. I started to cry. My vision began to blur, and so did my mind. As the doctor continued to talk to my mother, I heard the words “severe retardation,” “total aphasia,” and “institutionalize.”
He wasn’t coming back. He wasn’t leaving, but he wasn’t coming back. And the last words of mine that ever would have registered on his consciousness were—
“Jake.” Dr. Thanh was calling my name. I wiped my eyes. She had risen and was looking at me. “Jake, how old are you?”
I’m old enough, I thought. I’m old enough to be the man of the house. I’ll take care of this, take care of my mother. “Seventeen.”
She nodded. “You should have an MRI, too, Jake.”
“What?” I said, my heart suddenly pounding. “Why?”
Dr. Thanh lifted her delicate eyebrows, and spoke very, very softly. “Katerinsky’s is hereditary.”
I felt myself starting to panic again. “You—you mean I might end up like Dad?”
“Just get the scan done,” she said. “You don’t necessarily have Katerinsky’s, but you might.”
I couldn’t take it, I thought. I couldn’t take living as a vegetable. Or maybe I did more than think it; the woman smiled kindly, wisely, as if she’d heard me say those words aloud.
“Don’t worry,” Dr. Thanh said.
“Don’t worry?” My mouth was bone dry. “You said this—this disease is incurable.”
“That’s true; Katerinsky’s involves defects so deep in the brain that they can’t be repaired surgically—yet. But you’re only seventeen, and medical science is galloping ahead—why, the progress we’ve made since I started practicing! Who knows what they’ll be able to do in another twenty or thirty years?”
Twenty-Seven Years Later: August 2045
There were perhaps a hundred people in the ballroom of Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York Hotel, and at least half of them had only a short time left to live.
Of course, being rich, those who were near death had mostly availed themselves of the best cosmetic treatments: face-lifts, physiognomic rebuilds, even a few facial transplants. I found it unsettling to see twenty-year-old visages attached to stooped bodies, but at least the transplants looked better than the ghastly tautness of one face-lift too many.
Still, I reminded myself, these were indeed cosmetic treatments. The faux-youthful faces were attached to old, decaying bodies—bodies thoroughly worn out. Of the elderly who were present, most were standing, a few were in motorized wheelchairs, some had walkers, and one had his legs encased in powered armatures while another wore a full-body exoskeleton.
Being old isn’t what it used to be, I thought, shaking my head. Not that I was old myself: I was just forty-four. Sadly, though, I’d used up my fifteen minutes of fame right at the beginning, without even being aware of it. I’d been the first baby born in Toronto on I January 2001—the first child of the new millennium. A much bigger fuss had been made over the girl who had popped out just after midnight on 1 January 2000, a year that had no significance save for ending in three zeros. But that was okay: the last thing I wanted to be was a year older, because a year from now, I might very well be dead. The old joke ran through my mind again:
“I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news,” said the doctor. “You don’t have long to live.”
The young man swallowed. “How much time have I got left?”
The doctor shook his head sadly. “Ten.”
“Ten what? Ten years? Ten months? Ten—?”
“Nine … Eight …”
I shook my head to dispel the thought and looked around some more. The Fairmont Royal York was a grand hotel, dating from the first glory days of rail travel, and it was enjoying a revival now that magnetic-levitation trains were flying along the old tracks. The hotel was across the street from Union Station, just north of Toronto’s lakeshore—and a good twenty-five kilometers east of where my parents’ house still stood. Chandeliers hung from the ballroom ceiling, and original oil paintings adorned the flock-papered walls. Tuxedoed servers were milling about offering glasses of wine. I went to the open bar and ordered a tomato juice heavily spiked with Worcestershire; I wanted a clear head this evening.
When I stepped away from the bar with my drink, I found myself standing next to an honest-to-goodness old lady: wrinkled face, white hair. Amid the surrounding denial and fakery, she was quite refreshing.
The woman smiled at me, although it was a lopsided smile—she’d clearly suffered a stroke at some point. “Here alone?” she asked. Her pleasant voice was attenuated into a Southern drawl, and it was also tinged by the quaver often found in the elderly.
“Me, too,” she said. She was wearing a dark jacket over a lighter blouse, and matching dark slacks. “My son refused to bring me.” Most of the other old folks had companions with them: middle-aged children, or lawyers, or paid caregivers. I glanced down, noted that she was wearing a wedding band. She apparently followed my gaze. “I’m a widow,” she said.
“So,” she said, “are you checking out the process for a loved one?”
I felt my face quirk. “You might say that.”
She looked at me with an odd expression; I sensed that she’d seen through my comment, but, although curious, was too polite to press further. After a moment, she said, “My name’s Karen.” She held out her hand.
“Jake,” I said, taking it. The skin on her hand was loose and liver-spotted, and her knuckles were swollen. I squeezed very gently.
“Where are you from, Jake?”
“Here. Toronto. You?”
I nodded. Many of tonight’s potential customers were probably Americans. Immortex had found a much more congenial legal climate for its services in increasingly liberal Canada than in ever-more-conservative America. When I’d been a kid, college students used to come over to Ontario from Michigan and New York because the drinking age was lower here and the strippers could go further. Now, people from those two states crossed the border for legal pot, legal hookers, legal abortions, same-sex marriages, physician-assisted suicide, and other things the religious right frowned upon.
“It’s funny,” said Karen, glancing at the aged crowd. “When I was ten, I once said to my grandmother, ‘Who the heck wants to be ninety?’ And she looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Anyone who is eighty-nine.’” Karen shook her head. “How right she was.”
I smiled wanly.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” called a male voice, just then. “Would you all please take seats?”
Doubtless no one here was hard of hearing; implants easily rectified that sign of aging, too. There were rows of folding chairs at the back of the ballroom, facing a podium. “Shall we?” said Karen. Something about her was charming—the Southern accent, maybe (Detroit certainly wasn’t where she’d grown up)—and there were, of course, the connotations that went with being in a ballroom. I found myself offering my arm, and Karen took it. We walked over slowly—I let her set the pace—and found a pair of seats near the back at one side, an A. Y. Jackson landscape hanging under glass on the wall next to us.
Mindscan by Robert J. Sawyer / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes