Helena arrives to see Dave free of feeds and sensors, propped up with pillows against the raised back of the gurney, carefully sipping from a plastic drinks bottle held by the attentive scientist. All of the equipment has been pushed back from the bed, nothing to distract from the view of the miracle. Silent and serious he stares at her, then Struan and back to her. He appears to be to be working something out. She sees the thin face as if for the first time – a strong brow, high cheekbones, long narrow nose, eyes open so wide she can see the whites around the iris. With the odd shadows in the room how can she see his eyes so clearly? He is bald. All the subjects were routinely shaved, but she paid special attention to that task after hearing that a powerful business man was looking to invest in the program for the benefit of mankind – or maybe just to correct a receding hair line. She knows it will only be a matter of time before the shadow visible below the scalp grows through to a rich chestnut brown to match the eyes.
The head seems out of proportion to the attenuated body below it. Oh, that poor weak body. Sitting him up has done nothing to improve the unworldly appearance of his torso. She had always been so careful to make certain he was covered up but now the rumpled sheet pools around his hips and there is no denying his difference. The stark prominence of the xiphoid process casts a protective shadow from his sternum and she imagines she can see the slow beat of his heart carried through tight, translucent skin. Relieved now about the music played to him to keep him from overhearing others in the room, she hopes no one ever repeats the cruel nickname some of the technicians had given him – Jack the Bodiless. He had always seemed so vulnerable, so frail. From her first day in the warehouse she had been drawn to him, there had been no way she could resist his particular need for care.
“Hello. You must be Helena. Dr. McDonald has been explaining how you have been caring for me. He thinks he has been thorough, but he did not prepare me for how nice it is to look at you. I can genuinely say I am very pleased to see you. I would like to thank you for all your attentions … and I believe I must apologise for what this body has done. I am sorry if it has upset you or caused offence. I will try to ensure it does not happen again.” Appearing suitably abashed he drops his gaze for a long moment, only to look up again with a lop-sided grin, “well, unless you want it to happen again?”
“Men!” Laughter can be the only response. Untold billions spent to develop the Shabti program and she was looking at an emaciated chancer who couldn’t even hold a drink unassisted. Struan might look for all the world like he wanted the ground to swallow him up, but she found the hopeful glance impossibly endearing. She had no idea what they had ended up with but his smile … oh his smile and the life in his eyes were worth everything to her then. Trying to not get distracted by those large doll-like eyes, she realises that they are the only conscious people in the room. “I don’t see any of the primary team around. Have you told the director?”
“No need to disturb him yet. I want some time to be sure what we have to show him, didn’t want to drag him back from his precious golfing weekend. If it’s just you and me for now this doesn’t need to happen officially until next week. Now he is awake, I don’t want to leave him here with people he doesn’t know. Don’t want to risk strangers seeing him. I was hoping you would be able to help get him to my place …?” and, she realises as he says it, with anything else that would follow.
“Right, let’s be about it then. I know I am only a lowly nurse but have you considered what has to happen at some point soon?” Two pairs of blank looks, one she could excuse but why was it the most intelligent of people could lose the ability to do joined-up thinking at the worst time? “Think about it. It looks like someone has nearly finished his water … someone who has never actually had anything to eat or drink before. It might be an idea to explain the practicalities of human plumbing while you dress him.” Throwing the bag of loose gym clothes at McDonald, and turning on her heel before they see the amusement on her face, she leaves the two men looking at each other. “I’ll rustle up some supplies and a wheelchair, good job I left my car at the loading bay. Don’t go anywhere without me, back soon as.”