After going through the office door, there’s a short antechamber, and then another door. There are more hallways after this, only these are a more modest size with rooms that remind me of a retirement home. When I look back at the door, there’s a sign reading “employees only” in serious-looking blocked script.
After the wide expanse of the other hallway, these corridors seem positively claustrophobic. They turn and exit in several different ways. Along one branch I see what looks like sunlight.
“This is the front of the clinic. The only part most people see. Everyone thought I had gone mad when I put so much money into this place. Baxter’s Vegetable Garden, they called it.” Eklund stops at a room. He opens a door. Inside there are bright decorations, stuffed animals, a girl sleeping in a bed connected to machines. “They told her parents she was brain dead.” Eklund shakes his head. “It’s only part of her brain. Just twenty five percent. People have survived with less. But it’s her personality that’s missing, her dreams. Her will. There’s no way to give that back to her, the doctors say. They say it’s better to give up.” Eklund closes the door and faces me. “I will not give up.”
I’m impressed, but the force of Eklund’s convictions scares me a little too. I actually step back away from Eklund into Jazz’s chest. Swallowing, I say, “I still don’t see where I come into the picture. I don’t think I have much willpower. Why are you interested in me?”
Eklund looks down, a small smile coming to his face. “That’s precisely it, Ethan. You have the lowest amount of willpower of any otherwise healthy person we have documented. You are intelligent, you’ve gotten admirable marks in all the classes you’ve taken in college and in high school. The jobs you’ve had have all been brief, but you’ve gotten good reviews when I’ve interviewed your employers. Still, you’ve been in that efficiency apartment next to the university for over a decade now. You’ve changed your major eighteen times. It’s astounding that you’ve been able to keep going the way you have.”
“I’m just trying to figure out what I want to do,” I say, “That’s not that strange.”
Eklund raises a bushy white eyebrow.
I swallow nervously. “Well, I mean, it’s a bit weird I guess. Ten years is kind of crazy. But I’m just interested in a lot of different things.”
“You see?” Eklund raises a finger. “You can’t even stick to your guns on your own opinion of yourself.”
I want to protest, but I can’t think of a workable argument.
Eklund glances at Janis and Jazz behind me and looks down. “I can only imagine how you must feel. To never be sure of anything. I’ve had my doubts before. It is true I need security to protect myself and this clinic, and it is true that I can’t risk this place being discovered by the wrong people. Using Janis and Jazz as I have, giving them their modifications… It was a creative solution to a problem. It protects them, and they have not suffered for it. Still, sometimes I feel like I’ve taken advantage of them.”
“We would not exist without your assistance. Any advantage you take from us is therefore morally acceptable.” Jazz states, his prosthetic cortex whirring a little. Janis’s whirs some as well.
“Thank you, Jazz, but I’m afraid I can’t take your words to heart, especially when you act like a cult member about to drink the kool-aid.” Eklund sighs, looking a little older. “The kool-aid comment was an allusion to the Jonestown cult. I am speaking about a conflict between philosophy and emotion. Do not attempt to understand.”
“Thank you, Baxter. I will not.” As I look back at him, Jazz seems to relax a little.
“That goes for you too, Janis.” Eklund warns. “This subject might make you overheat.”
“She overheated a bit on the way over here,” I said. “She was upset about the agents she killed.”
There is a soft sound of something sliding against skin, and Janis’s cortex begins to whir.
“Janis,” Eklund said, “Please retract your blades. You are angry at me, but you probably don’t want to kill me.”
I whip my head around to see Janis snick-ing her blades back into her wrists.
“Janis, you should visit Dr. Kisugi to make sure you haven’t hurt yourself.”
“Yes, Baxter, I will do that.”
I watch her turn and walk down the hall, through the employee’s only door.