Back when Cohen was being wheeled through the hospital, his heart was beating out of his chest. All at once it was fending off the disease, accelerating with his nerves, and drawing on the residual chaos of an endless cast of masked personnel handing him off through a tangle of elevators and corridors. But now, alone in the silence of his ward, the pulsing thumped through his head like the body of a drum, nearly masking the beeping of the machines.
He was stable for now, or so they had told him, with all manner of tubes, IVs, and monitors broadcasting his status to computers elsewhere in the wing. Once the team of doctors got the go-ahead, they left him to his emptiness to await his eventual fate. He gazed out of the window to the explosion of twinkling stars blocked only by the tall towers of the spaceport control tower and the rest of the hospital. I tried to pick out the constellations as a way to distract from the pain as the little button for the morphine drip wouldn’t let him take any more. These ones were different from the ones back home. Some were similar, if a little warped by the distance, but some were unique to this vantage point, depicting more modern heroes and their stories.
After a time, the door swung open, welcoming in a masked but familiar face, “Mr, Cohen,” the doctor said, “We didn’t expect you for another two years at least. I’m looking at the diagnostics here and it’s not looking great. I’d give your body about a fifty-percent chance at surviving another round of treatment.”
“What about the other body?” Cohen said weakly.
“Yes…yes,” she flipped through her notes, “We just called the facility. The vessel is still being grown. A transfer is feasible at this stage but it’s a tad risky.”
“What’s the risk? I’ll probably take anything over another treatment.”
“Well we like to wait until the brain is fully developed to do a transfer which typically happens at around twenty-five to thirty biological years. Yours is closer to twenty. There’s potential for a loss of memory or significant delay in re-learning language and coordination. I can get our transfer specialist in here to tell you more and then give you some time to decide.”
“No need. I’ll take it.”
“Are you sure? It’s not reversible and I want to make sure you have all the information you need to make a well-informed decision.”
“I’ve lived in this body for sixty-seven years. That’s enough lived experience for me.”
She sighed a bit, but her eyes crinkled in a half-smile behind the mask, “Very well, Mr. Cohen. I’ll make the call to have your vessel delivered. It’ll take a day or so to arrive so I’ll schedule your transfer for 12pm on Wednesday. I’ll send in our specialist anyway just to give you a rundown of the procedure. Remember, you can change your mind at any point before we begin the transfer so please let someone know if you want to reconsider.”
True to her word, the specialist arrived under the dim, evening light, just barely suitable to read by, telling in frank detail all of the effects Cohen was about to undergo. At the end, he handed the old man a tiny recording device and told him to just begin talking, recounting his life, free to wander the mental roads of his years no matter what tangents they might take. He would ask for details, leading questions about his childhood and the most formative moments of his life. When old Mr. Cohen could scarcely keep himself awake, the specialist stopped his recording and filed it away in a little canister.
“What are you going to do with it?”
“It’ll be a catalyst. It’ll help you remember the things you might otherwise forget.”
Miles away in a vault beneath an unmarked warehouse was the body of a man who looked strikingly like Cohen, if many decades younger. It lay in a pod hooked up to about as many machines as Cohen did- some similar and some completely alien. Two scrub-clad individuals confirmed the number above its bed and loaded him, pod and all, onto their cart, hooking up many of the wires to similar ones beneath the cart. It, along with a handful of others were loaded into a specialized vehicle, somewhere between an ambulance and a hearse.
The long hours passed in Cohen’s ward and never did he make the call. A different doctor confirmed that his vessel had arrived and, as long as his mind had not changed, the procedure would go ahead as scheduled.
In the hours before, the lifeless body was unplugged from its various machines, machines that had been part of it longer than its heart. Now they inserted new needles, placed new monitors. With all in place, they began the nerve wracking process of starting up the heart. A shock drove through the chests. The line was flat. It shocked again and once again it drew flat. But on the third shock, the heart clenched, quietly completing its first beat. Brain dead, it would need constant support to stay beating. But now, lifeless as the thing was, the skin grew flush and looked just a little more alive.
Cohen, his eyes more sunken now than they had ever been, his skin more pallid than the body, was wheeled with far less commission than before, to a very special surgical theater. They confirmed one less time that he was sure. As he looked over the face, the face from the old wedding photos, the face that hung framed on his mother’s mantle, he nodded.
The Cohens, old and new, were laid head to head with cold metal nodes placed on matching places. Old Cohen’s heartbeat was erratic while the other’s was as rhythmic as a machine.
“Stay calm,” said the specialist, “Let your mind wander wherever it wishes. Acknowledge your thoughts as they pass through your mind. It may help if you close your eyes.
He did close his eyes. The sensation felt almost like nothing, like just the gentle buzzing of the nodes on his cranium. But he soon began to feel numb, lightheaded, and like he was halfway between sleep and lucidity. He couldn’t help but open his eyes to feel centered. But less centered, he had never felt. He swore he could see both sides of the room filled with many more people. But gradually, like sand through an hourglass, his thoughts and vision settled. The pain, the weakness, the fear- all were gone. Only the latent rush of adrenaline remained.
“Great job. Take some rest now, we’ll take you back to your room.”
As they rounded the corner in the gurney, just before he shut his eyes, he saw the last of the life bleed out of that old, disease-addled body as the flatline droned.