Therese was bent over a desk, quickly scanning through a document and chewing on a pen cap when Dr. Ott came in.
“Hello, Miss Evans,” he said.
She jumped slightly, surprised at the intrusion, and quickly removed the pen from her mouth. “Oh, hello, Dr. Ott,” she said, before glancing at her watch. “Don’t you usually come on-”
“Yes, yes, but I just wanted to check up on you,” he said.
“Well, it’s getting better you know. My brain has almost got the filing system down for three sets of memories now. It’s usually only when I dream when they get all skiwampus,” she said. She ran her fingers through her hair. It was getting longer, almost two inches now.
“That is very good. And, how is your position suiting you?” he asked, gesturing to the desk.
“Oh, it’s fine. I think it’s actually really helping with the whole three minds in one head thing. I guess my brain is getting pretty good at taking large amounts of information and separating out what I want and what I don’t. Although, I must admit, some of these reports are pretty dry and needlessly loquacious,” she said.
“Now you know what you put those poor aids through when you wrote up the life stories of Brad and Abdul,” Dr. Ott said, with a rare smile.
Therese faked outrage, “Are you accusing my writing of being boring? I am affronted!”
“There was another reason I came here, Miss Evans,” he said, just as Therese was beginning to turn back to the report she was reading.
“Oh?” she said.
“Yes. They are allowing you to go outside the facility for a vacation, if you will. There will-” he started.
“Really?” she asked, sitting up straighter and turning her completely around to face him.
He grinned at her enthusiasm. “Yes. There will be a small security detail, of course, but you’re not a danger to anyone anymore. There has also been a leak to the investors that your grandfather had created an elaborate hoax and there was not E-VET, so there should be very few people still interested in you.”
“Thank you so much, Dr. Ott!” she exclaimed. “So, where are we going?”
“Anywhere you want, within reason and subject to examination by an external committee,” said Dr. Ott.
“Las Vegas,” Therese said instantly.
“Las Vegas?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “I did not peg you as that type.”
“No, no, no. It’s not like that. There’s somewhere there I need to repay, who if it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I would be here. He doesn’t know my name or anything about me. He just lended me some money for a bus ticket,” Therese explained quickly. As she saw the pensive look on Dr. Ott’s face, she added, “I’m guessing this will need to be subject to examination by an external committee?”
Dr. Ott nodded. “Do you know this man’s name and where he lives?” he asked.
“Jason MacArthur, I think. He works at this store. I forget what it is called. If you show me a map of Las Vegas, I can probably point it out. He was just a high-school-aged kid, but I think I should give him back his money, since, well, I, influenced it out of him,” she said nervously.
“I’ll see what I can do, Miss Evans,” Dr. Ott said, turning.
“Thanks again, Dr. Ott,” she said.
“It’s my pleasure, Miss Evans,” he said.
It was strange to see the rush of humanity but not feel them. It was strange to hear their breath but not their thoughts. It was strange to smell their sweat but not their hopes. It was strange to see an open sky again.
“This way, Ruth,” Dr. Ott said, gesturing her through the crowd. She could pick out a few of the undercover men scanning the crowds as Dr. Ott, or her Uncle Jim, usher her through. She tried to take in every face, every building, and every tree in one sweep of her eyes, but there was too much detail. Las Vegas expounded in intricacies, even if her view was darkened by sunglasses.
Time ceased to exist as she relished in the explosion of sights, sounds, and smells. However, the closer they walked to Jason’s shop, the more nervous she realized she was.
She clutched at the money in her pocket at random intervals to make sure it was still there. They had paid her a small salary from her work as an aid besides room and board, and this was her first time actually putting it to use. It was also her first time talking to a normal person who wasn’t a criminal or a government agent in months.
As she reached the shop, she turned to Dr. Ott. “Do you mind if I go in alone?” she asked.
“I’ll give you a few minutes,” he said. “Be safe.”
She nodded and walked in the door as it gave a jaunty jingle.
She took in the shop. It had changed very little since she had been here last. What changed much more was her perception. It was no longer the background of a chase, but a simple, little shop selling groceries and hiring high school students as clerks, like the one sweeping behind a banana stand.
She walked up to him slowly and waved. “Hi, Jason.”
“Um, hello,” he said, barely glancing up. When she did not move, he looked up more completely. He looked exactly the same as he did those months ago. “Uh, do I know you?”
“Well, I was here some months ago. You lent me some money?” There said nervously, ending the last sentence as a question when it was clearly declarative.
“Oh,” he said, in wave of recognition. “You cut your hair.”
She felt up at the short strands on her head. She wasn’t sure if she would normally qualify as having your head shaved for neurosurgery cutting your hair, but it worked. “Yeah. Anyway, here’s your money back. I wasn’t sure how much interest to factor in, but here’s a hundred dollars.”
She handed him the single $100 bill in her pocket. “Uh, thanks,” he said, looking down at it. “Those people, and what you were running from, did you ever, I dunno, find a way out of it?”
“Yes,” she said. “I’m better now. Sorry about your nose too, but I don’t really know how I can pay you back for that.”
“No, no, it’s fine. I got a wicked story out of all of this,” he said with shrug.
“Did you tell anyone?” Therese said, suddenly anxious.
“No, no one would’ve believed me,” he said.
“Oh, thanks again then, for everything,” she said, breathing.
“Don’t mention it,” he said.
“Is there anything else I can do for you? You kinda saved my life,” Therese said.
“You could give me your number,” he said in a way that Therese didn’t know if he was serious or not.
“I don’t really have a phone. It’s complicated,” she said slowly.
“No, no. It’s okay. I was just goofing off,” he said quickly, reddening. “Not serious, you know?”
They were both silent for a long moment. By now, Therese was blushing as well, although she didn’t know why.
“How about a kiss?” Jason said quietly, looking up.
“A kiss?” Therese asked.
“I mean, you don’t-” he started quickly.
Therese stepped forward and kissed him.
An explosion of feeling shook through her lips and into her body. She could taste his hopes, his dreams, his longings in that tender osculation. He had thought about her a lot since she left, and she could see her image flit across the pages of his mind. She saw the violet tank top she wore when she limped into the store.
They broke apart.
Therese was the first to speak. “I have to go,” she said simply.
Jason nodded, attempting to hide a silly grin. “Okay, of course. That’s fine.”
Therese left quickly, still blushing.
“I felt it,” Therese said flatly as soon as she stepped outside and met Dr. Ott. “I felt him.”
“Well, I’m not sure if you’ve done much kissing, but generally one feels the other person,” said Dr. Ott, poorly disguising a smirk.
Therese shook her head. “Not like that. I felt his mind. I felt his thoughts. I felt him. And I saw purple again. I’m not supposed to be able to do this.”
“I’ll call for the car,” he said, retrieving his cell phone.
The black SUV appeared moments later. Dr. Ott was careful to avoid touching her as she stepped into the dark interior. As she pressed her forehead to the window, she kept seeing purple flashes. A sign in front of store, a button on someone’s shirt. It was coming back.
“It’s never going to be over, is it?” she said.
“It was noted that your brain had remarkable neuroregeneration potential. It was probably why you rebounded so quickly even after extensive excision of your brain. It was always a possibility it might come back,” Dr. Ott said. “Dr. Henderson is waiting for you to arrive so she can do an MRI.”
“Is this what’s my life going to be like? Surgery once every couple of months, trying to catch it before my brain goes haywire and kills someone or crushes itself to death? That every time I reach out to people, that part of my brain grows a little bigger, grows a little faster, grows a little deadlier?” she asked.
“It is what you want to make it. If you would prefer, there was some talk at trying chemotherapy to try to kill the rapidly dividing cells, but no one knows what the result would be of that. Like everything with you, it’d be an experiment,” Dr. Ott said.
Therese took off her sunglasses and rubbed her temples, trying to think. There were many, many memories of pain and death to highlight her life with that part of her brain. However, there were also good memories. There was Greg Owens and there was Mittens the kitten. There was the bomb threat and there was nuclear power plant scheme.
“I guess I was born as experiment. It only makes sense that I’ll live as one,” she said quietly. “Maybe this time we can figure out how to regulate its growth better.”
“I am sure it will be a top priority,” Dr. Ott said.
“Do you know why that boy liked me?” Therese asked, still pressing her forehead to the window.
“Why?” Dr. Ott asked, surprised by the turn in conversation.
“Because I represented his one brief brush with adventure and danger. It made him feel unique when he never felt like anything special before. I was his link to something more than just a prosaic life. He worries that that will be all he has,” she whispered. She turned to face Dr. Ott. “I don’t have to worry about that.”
“No, you don’t have to worry at all,” he said.
The car slowed as it reached the airport, crawling through security checks to reach the private plane. Therese could see blips of color sparkling in the peripherals of her vision. It was all coming back.
“Let’s go meet that next adventure,” she said.