Энглин Илья: другие произведения.

Underground 18

Сервер "Заграница": [Регистрация] [Найти] [Рейтинги] [Обсуждения] [Новинки] [Помощь]
  • Оставить комментарий
  • © Copyright Энглин Илья (englinsolutions@xtra.co.nz_remove_after_underscore)
  • Обновлено: 17/02/2009. 21k. Статистика.
  • Рассказ: Австралия
  •  Ваша оценка:

       Underground 18.
       Any resemblance to persons living or dying is inevitable.
       Pain of awakening had spread through the dormant mind. As fingers groped for the alarm in the dark, the last remnants of shattered sleep receded deep into the unconscious. Eyes focused on the satanic red of the clock face.
       Shivering from the sudden cold, he put on the white overalls, nylon shimmering in the dim light. Awkward fingers wrestled with reluctant zips as he walked towards the door, hand seeking the button on the wall and sheltering the eyes from the xenon daylight of the hospital corridor.
       A young man with long blond hair and bloodshot eyes, he stepped onto the lighted tile. The lift raced up, obedient and merciless, decelerating with a high-pitched whistle. Doors slid open and swallowed the long figure, still staggering with fatigue.
       Corridors flashed behind the glass door in a painfully familiar progression.
       Floor 10: Maternity.
       Floor 4: darkness of the teaching quarters.
       Floor 1: Casualty's bustle, red lights of arriving ambulances slicing the night outside.
       Underground 4: hand gripped the override button to avoid the rush of the service floor.
       Underground 9: a glimpse of the three-pronged radioactivity sign at the Diagnostics entrance.
       Underground 15: armed guards in the corridor of the supply section.
       Underground 18: Termination Unit. Air brakes hissed as the cabin slid to a halt.
       Only the hum of the substation transformer disturbed the dense silence of the corridor, an orange cleaner gliding along the floor with ghostly ease. As Paul came near, it withdrew into a niche with a muffled whirr.
       Room 11: fingers typed the code, and heavy doors slid part.
       "Paul! Early again?" Lowe's eyes narrowed with attention. "Can't settle into it, can you?"
       "I thought I'd make an early start."
       "That's all right. I didn't get used to this in thirty years." Lowe reclined and swung his chair away from the controls. He rubbed his eyes and let his long hands slide down the bony face. "It's always like this."
       The terminal on his desk beeped and went blank. A row of numbers splashed across the left margin, flashing as they counted down.
       A stream of zeroes appeared and lingered for a short while, then the screen cleared again, the printer screeching across the page.
       PATIENT: 18741156
       TERMINATION TIME: 04:30:42
       CEREBRAL INDEX: 0.00
       AUTONOMIC INDEX: 0.00
       MYOGRAM INDEX: 0.00
       Low bent to the terminal and started typing the acknowledgment. Paul sat down beside him, his gaze fixed on the unceasing motion of the dials. He thought of the winding road parting two rows of timber houses, the fields, waiving in the summer breeze a tall forest behind them.
       Lowe got up.
       "I'm done, doc," he slapped Paul's shoulder. "Say, how long do you have?"
       "Four months," replied Paul with a cursory glance upward.
       "You've made then. Think about that."
       Lowe leaned to the terminal and typed an exit command. His finger slipped, an error message springing onto the screen. Lowe swore softly and retyped the message.
       The doors slid shut behind him, leaving Paul alone with the gnaw of uneasy boredom. Aimlessly, he lowered the hand on the keyboard and proceeded to erase the tricoloured chaos on the screen.
       Nothing used to penetrate his silent confidence, but after a shift at the Termination Unit all he wanted to do was run down the infinite corridor till the lights dimmed, the noise faded, the beeper went dead. Till he could slide down onto the floor and feel nothing.
       He was roused by the flashing message on the screen.
       "Why the hell won't Harry read his mail?" thought Paul as he typed an affirmation.
       "STAND BY, 18-11."
       The message filled the screen, printer rushing to keep up, its head racing back and forth across the paper and leaving worn lettering in its wake.
       The roller spat the sheet into Paul's waiting hand. Scanning the message, he felt a rush of blood to his face.
       He got up looking at the paper in his hand and re-read every word. Hesitation overcome by disbelief, he stepped to the convex door of the capsule and inserted the plastic key to spring open the observation port.
       Looking at the grey body embedded in clear antiseptic jelly, Paul didn't know what disturbed him more: the stone expressionless face or the rush of opaque white fluid in a plastic tube curving into a vein in the neck- a faded substitute for living blood. Chilled, he hurried back to the terminal and typed the sequence of commands from the letter. After a minute pause, the finger landed on the Enter key.
       The cursor blinked in reproach and shot through the screen: Paul struggled to follow the rush of unfamiliar messages. Suddenly, the screen went blank, leaving him mesmerized.
       After a long delay the cursor reappeared, slowly typing letter after letter.
       "WHO ARE YOU?" typed Paul with trembling hands.
       "A MAN LIKE YOU."
       "WHAT DO YOU..." Paul erased the line, feeling the icy air across his neck.
       "WHAT DO YOU WANT?" he typed again.
       "Hell..." Paul rushed out of the room and banged on the door at the end of the corridor. There was no reply. He punched the override code and burst in.
       "Harry! Emergency."
       "There are no emergencies here." Harry, the unit head sluggishly manoeuvred his hulk towards Paul, revealing a glassy shine in his pupils.
       "What is it?" he asked with distaste.
       "Patient 18905154. Cerebral index nearly zero, autonomics all stable."
       "He is talking to me."
       Harry laughed and got up with unexpected agility. He put one hand on Paul's shoulder, and the other opened in front with a handful of green pills.
       "One of these every hour, boy," he said expansively. "That's the trick. One every hour, and Underground 18 will never bother you again. Don't do what that old fool Lowe does. You are not meant to work in this place sober."
       "Hell!" Paul grabbed Harry's sleeve and dragged him out into the corridor. "Look for yourself!"
       Harry lowered his body next to the terminal and studied the sequence on the screen, visibly affected by dizziness. He then read the letter and chuckled, slowly turning towards Paul.
       "No problem," he said finally. "You think he's awake, do you? We have a probe right next to his motor cortex. Ask him to move his arm."
       Paul typed the request and both men peered at the row of indicators. The diode bars imperceptibly oscillated near the bottom. Suddenly one blinked unsure, halted and shot up. As it cleared the scale, there was a sharp click and a red light flashed in the panel, indicating a broken fuse.
       Harry's hand flew up from his lap, depositing the pills in the wet, quivering mouth.
       Lowe, Harry and a tight-faced man from Administration crowded the terminal, with Paul watching over Lowe's shoulder. Printouts lay crumpled on the floor; no one looked at them in the uneasy silence. Lowe was the first to speak.
       "At it again," an imperceptible smile cast a shadow across his grey temples and creased the olive forehead. "Great effort, this. Very smart."
       "How does it work?" asked Paul.
       "About forty years ago a certain synthetic opiate hit the streets," said Lowe. "Worked really well - bound the receptors permanently. It produced an epidemic of young kids with locked-in syndrome. They all ended up like this," he nodded towards the capsule. "Took a whole new industry to look after them. Someone invented a way for them to communicate, pretty simple stuff - their hearing and sight were unaffected. You imagine a big black letter on a white screen, and the computer does the rest from the EEG."
       "Some even wrote novels," said Harry.
       "So the software remained in the machine?"
       "Sure," said the man from Administration. "The last only died recently."
       "What about him?" asked Paul.
       Lowe pointed to the medical summary on the screen, a testament to a rapidly evolving catastrophe.
       "Leukaemia. Very bad, treatment a total failure. I suppose, he learned the EEG alphabet in his last few weeks."
       "Don't ask," said the man from Administration.
       "Not to worry," said Harry. "Only fifteen hours to go."
       Paul raised his head, and Lowe's eyes shot a wary glance in the intern's direction.
       "Just a minute, "began Paul. "You can't touch him!"
       "Cerebrals approaching cut-off," replied Harry. "All nice and legal."
       "But the hell with the cut-offs!" shouted Paul. "He is conscious, you saw it!"
       "Conscious?" asked Lowe quickly. "What you see is the last agonising outburst of a dying cortex, a few live islands amid decay - the term just doesn't apply. If not for all this, he couldn't last five seconds."
       He pointed to the moulded curve of the control panel.
       "Precisely," said the man from Administration. "Proceed to protocol. I'll look after this." His foot hitched the printout and tossed it into the rubbish bin.
       "But how can..." began Paul. Lowe got up in a graceful motion, sweeping Paul outside and holding him against the wall until the door closed.
       "Listen," the long finger dug into Paul's chest. "You've made all the noise you're allowed to make. Now go get some rest." He pushed Paul into the elevator and waited until they were in motion. "This is serious business. Politics. You can get squashed without slowing the system down for a second. Nor will you be first or last."
       As they walked down the corridor, Paul maintained silence.
       "Four more months, pal," said Lowe with a contemplative smile. "Four months after ten years. "He opened Paul's door. "Christ. You need some sleep."
       The door hid Paul from his careful stare. On the bed, Paul took off the uniform and reached for a cylinder of red plastic.
       He pushed the button on the side and rotated the lid, a small pill falling into his palm. He swallowed it and brushed the light switch.
       Parched mouth tasted of lead as he woke up in the dark, chained by the forgotten sensation of natural awakening. Body still stiff, his thoughts drifted to the past day. A lightning flashed through his mind.
       The door slid open in response to Paul's bell, revealing Lowe with his feet on a littered desk. The long figure in unfastened overalls shifted slightly; Lowe removed his finger from the button with an exaggerated gesture, making Paul aware of a sweet smell. He walked in and saw its source - an unstoppered vial of transparent fluid.
       "Yes, alcohol," Lowe intercepted his stare. "Sure, there are better things. Except you can't overdo with alcohol, like you can with the rest." He wiped his forehead. "And I've seen it overdone too often."
       "What happened down there?" asked Paul.
       "The countdown was restarted," replied Lowe reluctantly. "Your games reset the counters, so..." He looked up with sudden realization. "I know what you're thinking. Don't."
       "What the hell should I do then?"
       "I told you: it's not for us. The reporters tried to stampede Harry; it's like a hornet's nest now."
       "How did they know?"
       "It was all planned," said Lowe with contempt. "Protectors of sacred life. Damned fanatics. Go to bed. Take another pill, sleep forty more hours- it'll all be over when you wake up."
       Paul drew in a breath to speak.
       "Stay up, keep scraping raw nerves, and you'll end up in the Termination Unit," said Lowe. "For life, like me."
       Paul stared into his eyes. Lowe held the stare with frank steadiness, then reached for the vial as Paul left.
       Paul walked past the doctors' lounge on the way to the lift, his gaze sliding across the detritus of tense hours on call. Unfinished coffee cups crowded the coffee table, rumpled magazines scattered about the floor. The television was blaring to an empty room from the corner.
       "...The termination procedure is carefully designed and computer-controlled," said an amiable man in a chalk-striped suit. Paul saw the man from Administration at his side, smiling deferentially.
       "But the criteria for termination aren't based on fact," weighed in one of the reporters. The camera swung slightly, revealing the hospital building in the background.
       "Very true," replied the amiable man. "But given our ability to provide life support indefinitely, we must have such a protocol. It is not pleasant, but our dedicated professionals carry it out with grace and decency."
       The camera zoomed out, and the view was replaced by the studio set.
       "A spokeswoman for The Life Foundation claims that a conscious man is now on a countdown for termination," said the anchorwoman gravely. "A patient with terminal leukaemia, whose name has not been released, has reportedly engaged the hospital staff in an EEG-facilitated communication to prove what the Life Foundation claimed all along- the termination criteria result in the death of living people."
       Paul snapped off the set.
       Nobody ever imagined communicating with a mind fading into darkness. Only a crusader had the ingenuity and the cruelty to stumble into this predicament.
       Random twitches of agony or the pain of a conscious mind? Paul had to know.
       "No." Lowe dropped the thick volume he was reading and stepped in the way.
       Paul grasped his hand and thrust the long thin form over his shoulders. Holding the protesting, thrashing body in an iron grip, he pushed the button and stepped into the corridor. He dropped Lowe on the floor and dashed through the doors as they slid shut.
       Hearing Lowe's frantic efforts outside, he reached for a small box near the door. With one hand on the close button, he flung open the lid and clawed at the interior. The ceiling faded to a dim grey hue as fuses bounced out onto the darkened floor and rolled into a corner.
       He sat down behind the keyboard.
       A long pause, then a scramble of characters.
       "WHEN WHAT?" Paul knew the answer.
       "HOW LONG?"
       "NOT SURE."
       "PLEASE HELP ME."
       He lifted his eyes to the panel. All displays were off the scale.
       "DO YOU WANT TO DIE?"
       "YES. THIS IS AWFUL."
       "ALL RIGHT."
       Paul took the hands off the keys and stared at the capsule.
       "GOODBYE," he typed finally.
       There was no answer. He opened the access door.
       There was a sudden rush of voices outside and something heavy dented the door with a shattering thump. Paul broke the seal and flicked the switch in the centre to manual, then leaned on the heavy lever.
       There was another thump on the door. He threw his full weight behind the effort, and the lever suddenly gave.
       The rush of opaque fluid came to a halt. A row of indicators swung wildly, then slowly fell to the left, as an alarm flashed on the ceiling.
       The door fell open. Lowe rushed in, followed by guards, and dashed towards Paul, but saw the alarm light and stopped. While he was checking the panel, the guards overcame Paul and handcuffed him.
       "Why?" asked Lowe with genuine surprise.
       "He felt it," replied Paul. "He couldn't..."
       They stared at each other through a long, searing pause.
       "He's taken you with him, you know." said Lowe gently. He turned away shaking his head.
       As security guards took Paul away, he sat down and saw the last words of Patient 18905154.
       "THANK YOU."
       "Too right," said Lowe towards the darkened capsule and cleared the screen.
       Created on 16/10/1996 09:26:00 Underground 18.doc
  • Оставить комментарий
  • © Copyright Энглин Илья (englinsolutions@xtra.co.nz_remove_after_underscore)
  • Обновлено: 17/02/2009. 21k. Статистика.
  • Рассказ: Австралия
  •  Ваша оценка:

    Связаться с программистом сайта
    Путевые заметки
    Это наша кнопка