Science Fiction

4 Views of a Perfect Landing
The Lunatic at Lunatech
The Zen Room at Southside


© 2000 Melissa K. Michael
7100 words

by Melissa Katherine Michael

I first met Rinda D. in 2045 while doing my post-doc work on Irritable Body Syndrome. UCLA admitted me into their Neurological Space Disease program and in that year, they had funding to send those of us with appropriate theses up to Lunar One to do research. Luckily, there was a worker there with a diagnosis of Irritable Body Syndrome: Rinda D.
She greeted me at the spacelock, where shuttles docked and unloaded people and cargo, wearing a loose-fitting gray worksuit. She was my main interest yet I couldn’t help ogling the huge hangar, never having been out of the US before, much less off-planet. The rocket journey had been thrilling, but the changes in motion and gravity had led to acute nausea at times, despite the medicine I’d taken, so while it was fascinating, it hadn’t been very enjoyable. Now, with Earth-normal gravity under my feet, I couldn’t control my roving eyes. I wasn’t alone, none of the other passengers could either, the lot of us gazing around wide-eyed at the cathedral-like entrance like so many third-world refugees in LA.
She had the typical spacer crewcut although I was pleased to find that all the living and working sections of Lunar One’s main complex were maintained at Earth-normal gravity. She shook hands with a firm, self-assured grip and a pleasant smile. Sculpted light artwork glowed overhead making me think of Lunar One’s slogan: Space Age Heaven. It felt surreal, everyone smiling pleasantly past souvenir kiosks, coffee and snack shops, an information center, and even a small First Aid Booth; all decorated in that tacky silver ‘space’ cloth. I could almost hear Eno’s “Music For Spaceports”, while only a few feet away the eternal vacuum of black space/time waited to swallow us all.
When we passed through the concourse and into a plain white-walled hallway, I was able to study Rinda’s face. It’s youthfulness was marred by telltale lines at her eyes caused by intense chronic pain. They were sunk back as though from deep exhaustion and darkened as well by lack of hope. She had a strong chin for a woman. It was femininely curved, but I got the first impression from her chin that this woman would never let something as trivial as chronic deep pain interfere with her work, her life. How did I know so surely that that was the focus of her life? Hers was the keenly intelligent countenance of a undaunted revolutionary explorer.
And also I saw in the firm clean lines of her face the will to never let the violent rages of IBS gain control of her actions, not even for a moment.
Already, I was fascinated by how someone with IBS must experience the world, what she must feel, how she must perceive things as differently from me, from everyone around her; for IBS is characterized by an intensity of emotional depth unimaginable to the normal person, a kind of reverse autism (where a person experiences so much intense sensory input while emotional input/output is severely curtailed.) With IBS, an acquired disease currently thought to be caused solely by stress, emotional input/output is so great and of such intensity that the person sees a whole realm of motivations and feelings and judgments in the least motion or nuance of another’s bodily or verbal communication and their response is overblown to try and convey the rich intensity of their own feelings. This on top of the stresses of life and work in a space station, constant pain throughout the whole body, frequent bowel problems, skin rashes and allergies, insomnia, and a host of other symptoms, made Rinda D. an absorbing subject of study.
She seemed a bit wistful, as she settled me in my private cubicle, saying with a sardonic smile, “I wouldn’t have an irritable body if I had a room like this.”
“What don’t you like about your room?” I asked.
“The five other people I share it and the bathroom with. Can you imagine, six women together and they lock me out of the bathroom that has two stalls and two showers sometimes, because they’re shy?” She met my eyes with the kind of glare that would be deemed a challenge coming from a normal person. For someone with IBS, I knew it to be merely an overblown expression of irritation,a way to insure she didn’t miscommunicate, afraid that I would misunderstand her angst.
“Definitely irritating,” I sympathized.
She frowned at her dilemma then led me on a short tour of the space station and lunch in the service cafeteria where I would take all my meals. Permanent workers ate in another section. I noticed she stared at everyone intensely as if drinking in their souls through her eyes.
I was hoping to begin my career by pinpointing some organic cause for IBS the way neurotic diseases in the last half of the last century had been considered mass hysteria for a decade then found to have an organic cause. Hypoglycemia in the 1970s was thought by many otherwise competent professionals to be a fashionable disease; to be the modern woman’s way of fainting dramatically, until the pancreatic overload was verified
Then there was Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the 80s, again thought by medical doctors to be a form of hysterical neurosis until it was traced to the Epstein-Barr Type II-A virus. And likewise in the 90s Fibromyalgia or Chronic Pain Syndrome was found to be caused by a Rheumatic virus. In the 01s it was premature aging that was finally linked to hushed-up toxic chemical spills. In the 10s . . . I guess it never stopped. IBS happened to be the latest in a long line of diseases the medical profession was afraid to confront.
After lunch we went right to the office I was to be allowed to use for the six weeks I would be observing her in specific, and life in a lunar work environment in general. I had seen the file Lunar One’s physician, Dr. Medrow, had on her before my flight, but wanted to cover the basics with her on the off chance he’d missed anything significant.
“I do fine when I’m left alone,” she began without any prompt from me. “But I’m never left alone to my work, and this frustrates me no end. I can’t sleep at night from the tension and the sense of failure--”
“Failure?” I interrupted her. “But you’re the top in your field.” We faced each other across a large desk taking up half the space in my office. At that point in my career I was impressed at the generosity.
“But I could be accomplishing so much more,” Rinda said, scrubbing at her short brown hair with one hand, a sort of nervous affectation, “if I was simply allowed to utilize my time to its fullest.”
“Explain it to me. Tell me all about your work.” I was looking for causes, and intended to leave no stone unturned, including the most obvious.
“Do you know about VR simulations?” she asked, her eyes, not quite predatory as a hawk’s, but missing not a detail either. “We use it in our research. It’s the main tool in what I do.”
“I’ve used it some for study but I do my research with live patients.” I paused and tried to smile reassuringly. “Like you.”
She gave a sharp crooked nod then said, “We’re developing an instantaneous transmutation device.”
I choked on my breath.
She looked alarmed. “It’s not classified!” she cried in utter dismay. But she recovered her composure when I recovered my breath. It was then I noticed that her leg jiggles constantly because it had stopped during that moment of panic. It started up again, vibrating furiously as though some demon had hold of her ankle and was shaking it like a jackhammer.
“We’re so close!” she said with emotion. “I can feel it. But it’s like something is working against us. It’s so frustrating. We should have had it two years ago! But Clinch says I’m imagining things when I bring it up at the quarterly evaluations. I’d say I feel like I’m on the moon except that I already am.” She laughed weakly.
“What do you mean?” I asked, sure that this was the crux of her problem, and afraid she was merely exhibiting paranoid neurosis--a complete waste of my time and my university’s money.
“It’s like I’m the only one who sees anything wrong. Like everyone else is insanely accepting setback after setback as successful progress.” Her face conveyed distress. She was quite an animated speaker.
“We have the physics, the mathematical theory, and a lot of design parameters. My job, along with three other developmental materials engineers is to find the materials that will make it work without transmuting the device itself in the process.” She leaned forward resting her elbows on the desk and gestured with her hands. “We have to create those elements. That’s where the VR comes in. To create isotopes of real elements and compounds in a lab would take tremendous expense and time. Then each would have to be manufactured into a working model of the transmutor; another huge outlay of money, time, and effort. So, instead, what my department does is run simulations of the finished transmutor in VR and learn from our mistakes.”
She raised brown eyebrows to ask if I was following. I nodded.
“I may run anywhere from five to twenty-five experiments at a time, mostly simple permutations of a basic idea, whether it’s a variation in the material or the structure of the finished transmutor.” She paused and leaned back in the padded seat and looked to the ceiling. A hollow ache of longing rolled slowly across her face before she spoke again.
“When I’m hooked up there is so much sensory input from the programs that I lose all sense of my body and its pains.”
I nodded. This was the whole point of VR, yet I found myself affected by the serenity of her expression. The excitement of facing these rigorous challenges took years of strain and worry off her face.
“It’s all just raw, scientific, unemotional data soaring past me. It almost feels like it’s soaring through me.” She bounced excitedly in her seat like a child recounting a day at the fair. “Six hours go by for me like six minutes. It’s intensely disappointing when it’s time to shut down. I get this rush of depression. It seems all these pains that I didn’t feel for the last six hours are determined to make up for lost time by bashing me.”
“What kind of pain?”
“You name it. My feet ache and burn, like I’m walking on hot spikes. It’s all worse when I lay down at night and try to relax.”
“Pain relievers?”
“Nothing nonaddictive does a thing. I’ve tried everything: acetaminophen, aspirin, naproxen sodium, ginfa silicate; everything over the counter. Medrow won’t give me the good stuff.”
By that I knew she meant the endorphinomones prescribed only for terminal patients.
“My legs feel like they have shin-splints all the time. My knees ache. I thought I had arthritis for three years before I went to Medrow the first time. He said it wasn’t. No swelling, no redness, nothing on the blood test he did do. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with a charley horse in one thigh or the other. My glutes and hams feel cramped right now. I guess it’s from so much sitting. Even though I do an hour everyday on the no-impact bike. My lower back kills me all the time. Sometimes I feel like a sharp shooting pain down through the hip. I thought I had sciatica. Still do,” she grumbled sourly as if distrusting all doctors.
“Okay. Elbows,” she said stretching her arms out. Her right elbow gave a huge crunchy sounding pop. “I think the muscle tension puts unnatural stress on the joints even when I’m trying to relax,” she said by way of explanation.
“Did that hurt?”
“The pop? No. That was relief. It aches all the time. My whole body aches all the time.”
She rolled her head around eliciting strange and loud pops and cracks from her neck, then she pulled her shoulders back and arched her upper back, thrusting her largish breasts forward to the accompaniment of crinkle crunches from her upper back. “Sometimes I get a sharp stab in my upper back, but mostly it’s just my neck aching. I used to think I was holding my head wrong in the VR unit, until Medrow said Irritable Body Syndrome.”
“Not much. No more than normal.”
“What is normal?” I asked, my eyebrow rising of its own accord. Like a headache, the excessive constant pain she felt throughout her body was real, but not measurable in any scientific, quantifiable way. Thus IBS was lumped in with a broad spectrum of neuroses.
She smiled. “A few a month, I suppose. They’re never bad, so I don’t pay attention to them. It’s the other stuff that bothers me. And it all seems to gang up on me in the middle of the night. I guess it’s because my focus isn’t captured by external work, so that magnifies my perception of the body’s pains. Either that, or as the body relaxes, the pain really is increased.” She looked at me hoping for a definitive explanation. But I was studying her because I didn’t have one. Because the world didn’t have one.
“Oh yeah, and my breasts are sore and tender all the time,” she added as if in afterthought.
“The outside,” she said, touching herself under the armpit.
Tender, swollen lymph region could indicate infection or a stressed immune system. Maybe we’d find a virus yet.
“Describe a typical workday to me,” I requested.
She scrubbed at her head with both hands for a moment with her eyes closed. Then as her eyes focused on mine I felt a psychic penetration as though she could easily discern my inner motivations and opinions of her, perhaps better than I could. Had I been studying IBS so long that I was imagining things?
“We’re developing a totally new computer architecture and the building materials to construct it. Very intricate, and mentally demanding work. To be manufactured and used in a gravity-free vacuum. It takes fifteen minutes just to get into the system, another 15 to figure out what I did in the previous session, and another 15 to decide what to accomplish this session, then I need to work uninterrupted for 4-6 hours, sometimes 10 or 12 if I can swing it. But my coworkers and supervisor are constantly disturbing me. I get more done than anyone else. Just imagine what I could do if left alone. I’d never dream of interrupting anyone else as they do me so casually.
“I’ll show you how ludicrous it is.” She gripped my hand painfully and dragged me out the door and down the hall to see a notice posted on the outside of the research section door. Do Not Disturb, it read in bright red. Underneath, she jabbed a finger at the line that said, Under no circumstances is the Materials Engineer to be disturbed while in Working Mode. I have to play by that rule for them but nobody does for me.” Her glance begged understanding.
“Have you spoken to your superiors?”
“Yes. Numerous times. It’s like they don’t hear what I’m saying. I’ve said it in plain English. I’ve even put it in writing. They thought I wanted more pay. I don’t! I just want to do my job!”
Whereupon she burst into tears.
“I’m sorry.” She wiped at her tears impatiently. “They’re like water faucets that get stuck on. I know it sounds like a paranoid schizo, but they’re sabotaging my work. Sometimes I can see their glaring malice, especially Jennifer. With the others, I see only the depth of their unfeeling, uncaring moronic stupidity.”
She was right. It did sound more and more like simple paranoia. But what about the pain?
“I can’t sleep and when I do, I wake up with stabbing pains that feel bone deep, But Dr. Medrow could find nothing physical. Of course, he didn’t do any real tests. He just fobbed me off on a shrink.”
“And what did the shrink say?”
“I didn’t go.” The emotion, the barely-checked virulence of her gaze, caused me to shiver and step back involuntarily.
In all my days of research and practice I’d never been around such an active and strong-willed IBS patient. Usually they were washed-out husks, simply images of their former vital selves, debilitated by the chronic pain and lack of sleep; the intensity of their war with their emotions wearing them down to battered nubs.
She looked down quickly and took a deep strangled breath. Then another. “I know you’re here to help me,” she whispered. “I just hope that you can.”
“I’d like to observe you at work and see if I can catch an interruption that sets you off into a spell,” I said trying to assure her of support. “Is there some way I can sit and watch without being seen?”
“I want you to come in with me,” she answered and handed me a VR helmet. “So that you’ll get the full sensation of an INTERRUPT.”
She helped me into the boots and gloves before asking if I had heart problems. “It’s not braggadocio to state that I am the fastest operator on Lunar One. You’ll piggyback on my signal, kinda like being a passenger in a car, okay?”
I nodded.
“Just speak normally and I’ll hear it like we’re in the same car together.”
I put my helmet on and waited briefly. Then we began moving and I could see. It felt like waking in the morning, the usual sensation of a program booting up. Soon we moved along Lunar One’s sundry security checks. Rinda chatted amiably with the watchdogs and security personnel, her rainbow-hued Court Jester-in-mid-leap icon a stark contrast against their navy/gold Badges and black S’s. I looked down to see my own icon but I was invisible. No wonder Security passed me without a glance.
“It’s not just to keep out the competition,” I heard Rinda’s voice and assumed she was addressing me, “but there’s a whole sub-culture up here”--by that I knew she meant: in space--“made up of hackers and spacers who just want time on a real computer. Without paying, of course.” The Jester turned and winked at me.
“Our concepts are public, but the nitty-gritty details are top secret. I’m showing you because I’m sure you won’t understand what you see, much less remember it, beside the fact you’re not an industrial spy.
“Here we are,” she said and we passed under the blue neon LunaTech arches and began picking up speed.
I’d been admiring the data bits to either side of the main stream, walls of little sparkling on off off on on on off off diamonds, when I realized they extended far into the distance not only before and aft, but also to either side, over and under; three dimensionally. I had an image of the immensity of bleak, open, eternal space; chock-full, just crammed with information.
I heard Rinda’s chuckle in my mind’s ear.
“Yes, that’s the existing technology; holographic memory. We’re looking for something a bit more drastic. N-dimensional storage, you see?”
The enormity of Rinda’s project hit me like a rocket blast as we whizzed away and the diamond bits became a dim blur. I was conscious of traveling far faster than I ever had in a car. We cornered an intersection, a program level branch node, and I swear I felt g forces and some nausea.
“Sorry,” Rinda said. “I’ve told them again and again to take that out.”
“What’s it for?” I asked weakly, trying not to clutch my stomach and failing to not stomp a nonexistent brake.
“If you overload, you get bumped out and have to reboot. I say, ‘What’s the big deal?’ Put a blinking light or a netcop on a dragon, or something useful. I know the limits and I’ve never been bumped off yet. Not once.”
After a few more hair-raising turns and one stop at a security check where Rinda supplied a password we came up to a cartoon laboratory.
“Here’s my desk,” Rinda answered.
There was a blinking icon of a black Juggernaut with huge round white eyes and a big red smile resting on the bright green desk.
“Jagannatha,” Rinda said. “Juggernaut is the British mispronunciation. His parents are Hare Krishnas.”
I saw a rainbow-gloved hand reach out and swat the little deity.
“What did you screw up this time?” Rinda asked in a voice soured as if for a stage production.
A man’s face appeared on the cartoon screen on her ‘desk’. “Nothing,” it said with a warm smile. “Got a good-looking iteration,” he paused dramatically, “if you want to see it.”
What I had suspected was bleed-through of Rinda’s sensations and even emotions was confirmed by the quickening sensation of my left leg jiggling. I’d never had that habit and so knew that my perception of Rinda’s slight increase in anxiety was true, too.
“Well. Give me the address already,” she growled, yet I could tell that she was pleased that her colleague was asking her opinion of his work.
“Yes, Your Nastiness,” he said with a smirk and was replaced with a stream of code.
“Ready?” Rinda asked after a moment.
I nodded, wanting to question her about her relationship with the coworker, but I chose to let her proceed with her demonstration.
We dove through the screen on her cartoon desk and into a marvelous workplace full of running experiments. Without bothering to explain, she led me through subatomic worlds where I recognized muons and mesons and bosons and gluons dancing and swirling around us, playing out the incomprehensibly complex experiment she had set up to search for her transmutation elements.
With a grunt of satisfaction, we roared off down a data stream to another part of her work area where a huge flat royal blue plate, big as an airport landing field was surrounded by black and silver machinery.
“Let’s add a little lead,” she said and suddenly a mountain of gray-black metal covered the plate. “And see if we can get a little gold.”
I heard merriment in her voice. With a flash and a bang, the lead disappeared and a smaller mound of sparkling gold rested in its place.
“This is a simulation, you realize.”
I chuckled in answer, delighted by the display and amazed by the concept LunaTech was trying to attain.
“This is one of my best simulations. And it would work in real life, too,” the Jester quirked a smile at me. “If only nickel had a stable isotope at atomic number 528.” I joined in her weak laugh and we were spinning and zooming off to another experiment when I saw a brick wall looming before us.
I cried out involuntarily but there was no way to slow down. No way over, under, or around it.
“Flinking son of a--” Rinda managed to shout as we crashed head-on into the obstruction.
My whole body ached faintly and my neck especially. Perhaps I’d tensed up. I felt dazed as though I’d really been in an accident. I thought I heard voices and pulled my helmet off.
“For the love of God!” Rinda shouted, beside herself with rage. I was glad I no longer had the emotional bleed-through provided by the piggyback link. She vibrated and shook with emotion, her body jerking and bouncing with each syllable. “How many times have I asked you not to do that? Nothing, Jennifer. Nothing you have to ask me could be that important! Why the flink can’t you enter through an icon like any normal person?”
Jennifer faced her nonchalantly, tossing blonde wavy hair over one shoulder. Unperturbed by Rinda’s outburst, she said, “I brought your mail,” and handed Rinda a small package.
“You brought my mail?” Rinda whispered in total disbelief without accepting the package. I saw that she was shaking from her head to her toes with suppressed emotion. “You jerk the suicide switch,” her whisper quickly rose to a yell, “while I’m on the clock, to give me my flinking mail?”
“There’s a packet from Earth. I thought you’d appreciate it.” Jennifer placed it on the console and turned to stalk haughtily away but Rinda grabbed her upper arm.
“No, Jennifer,” she said slowly as if trying to impress upon a child, “I don’t appreciate it. It’s against our company rules. Don’t. Ever. Do. It. Again.”
Jennifer left without comment.
Rinda slammed her helmet into the nearest wall. I ducked as bits of plastic flew about the cubicle. The helmet, now 8000 credits worth of ruined electronics, bounced then rolled on the floor. Rinda slumped against the wall crying bitterly, her chest heaving with great sobs.
“Rinda?” I called, cautious not to touch her. During an IBS spell, there is a sensation of fire along the limbs.
Heck, there was a sensation of fire along my limbs, too. I felt like I’d just been in a high-speed car wreck where the drunk who’d caused it walked away unharmed and scot free.
“It’s all right,” she answered in a strangled whisper. “I don’t beat my head against the wall anymore. Only the helmet.” Then she whirled and ran for the door.
“Where-” I began.
“Sick,” she said and clutched her stomach as she lurched down the hall to the bathroom.
I wanted to confirm the validity of Rinda’s claims, so I spoke with her supervisor, Mr. Clinch. He praised her marvelous skills and admitted that the coworkers usually went to her with problems because she could solve them so efficiently and still get her work done on time, 40% more than any other engineer at LunaTech. And it saved him so much time and botheration.
“Don’t you think that it’s stressful to her, and thereby lowering her productivity?” I asked, amazed at the man’s callousness.
“Her productivity is so much higher than norm, it doesn’t matter. It’s like having a second supervisor for me. Sure, she seems stressed out, but aren’t we all at one time or another? Nothing a trank or a good lay won’t cure.” He nudged me with an elbow and a jocular grin which I pointedly did not return. “She’s the type to be stressed out no matter what her environment is. Whether they interrupt her work or not.”
“I saw the sign that said such interruptions are against company policy,” I stated.
“That’s for visitors, not coworkers,” he answered.
I shook his hand and took my leave, reminded of Sylvester the cat, with Tweety-bird’s feathers hanging from his smile.
Rinda D. definitely had IBS, possibly along with some paranoia disorder. The disturbances in her schedule and the lack of privacy in her living arrangements, the overall stress in her lifestyle and workplace, were causing pain and sleeplessness, and a nearly constantly irritable personality.
Not that these factors are causes in and of themselves. Anyone else, indeed everyone else, in the same situation was thriving on the close living conditions and stress-filled work conditions, but Rinda had, perhaps, a genetic predisposition to be negatively affected by these conditions. Or perhaps, she had some rare virus or nutritive deficiency, or even some kind of blow to the head resulting in some sort of brain damage or alteration. I had to find the cause of IBS and she was my best chance. A gift from heaven. The first step was to get a firm clear picture of her physical and mental brain.
I asked her to take two weeks off for isolated observation. She laughed hysterically for some minutes, slapping her thighs and bouncing around my small office, then agreed heartily, saying her coworkers would now be forced to learn to get along without her.
Her observatory intensity of emotions, and emotional perception of others was far greater than normal. And thus far, she was able to recognize it as abnormal and to control it. I’d studied case histories of a number of people with IBS who were fired because they were simply too unpleasant to have in a normal workplace. They constantly barked and sniped at coworkers and complained about their boss and their physical pains and the various conditions of their disease. If they were especially skilled or talented, their disagreeable behavior was sometimes overlooked until it invariably grew to physically violent proportions, the patient becoming overcome with rage and destroying property or attacking a coworker.
I kept seeing an image of Rinda smashing that helmet into Jennifer’s face rather than against the wall. Was that my own anger at Jennifer’s lack of human compassion? The woman obviously antagonized the situation on purpose. Or was it a premonition?
When I asked Rinda specifically about her rages she said, “Sometimes I get these really destructive urges when someone interrupts my work with a question that he knew the answer to. But I bite back on it and do the no-impact gravity bike for an hour every day.” We sat in her isolated room having our daily meeting. “I get these totally vivid, graphic, gory, detailed images of pushing them through the airlock, locking them in the clothes dryer, or the toilet and reversing the sewage, and at that instant in time, it’s like I really want to do it. I plan out exactly what steps it would take. After the time on the bike I feel much more serene.”
I reminded myself that this woman had never once acted on any of those impulses. “Tell my about your sleep.”
“I don’t sleep more than two hours at a time. Get up to pass water and stretch. Usually it’s the shooting pains that wake me. Shooting down my back and legs.”
Her body displayed the mental anguish as pain, that she refused to release in any other way.
She was enthusiastic when I proposed to run some tests. I ran a simple MRI and CATscan of her brain just to get started. I noted abnormalities and called in a second opinion to be sure, not Medrow. The base psychiatrist had enough neurology to read the scans. There were tiny growths all over her cerebral cortex, or the layer of gray matter over most of the brain. Before revealing this stunning fact to her I wanted to find out more about what they were. So I spent a night skimming my database and found six cases of brain spurs, all detected only in advanced stages, after they’d done irreversible damage. All in extremely violent criminals. The spurs, as the outgrowths of brain tissue were called, were very advanced and had pressured the brain case and damaged several areas of the cerebrum. I dug deeper into the sketchy files and found that to a man they all had classic IBS. In addition, not only were they all violent criminals, but they were also criminal geniuses, like the Japanese serial killer who was supporting himself with donations from his victims’ families by being part of the organization trying to find him.
Could it be this easy? Could I really have found the organic cause of IBS this easily? But what caused the brain spurs in the first place in an otherwise healthy intelligent person? And even more daunting, how to prevent and cure it? This thesis, if I could manifest and write it would insure me a career in neurology research for life.
The six advanced cases were operated on as a last resort, the growths so huge, the brain so impaired, that
I began to speculate on cause and effect. Pressured by performance anxiety, or work-related (crime-related) stress, could it be force of will, when the subject literally forces his brain into new ways of thinking, that the brain responds by growing? Like that funny money case in South America where an illegal drug kingpin knew the police were close to apprehending him, but by creating a credit company he disappeared and continued crimes for five more years before getting apprehended and diagnosed as severely insane.
Natural spontaneous brain tissue generation! If my hypothesis was correct, I could be world-famous, renowned for ages!
I observed Rinda for two weeks. After three days of very disturbed sleep, she seemed to relax and slept for 12 hours, every day. Was this simply catching up on sleep she’d been missing or was it a permanent change she needed to make in her lifestyle? She wrote furiously on a notepad, ate her meals leisurely, and added another hour to her light-to-medium workout on the no-impact bike. One in her “morning” and one in her “evening”.
I theorized that the growth in brain tissue was due to a desperate psychic need to achieve and since this need was ever increasing and never satisfied by success, the spurs would only keep growing, therefore it was imperative that she change to a less demanding and stressful lifestyle. Her psychic situation required peaceful sleep and uninterrupted work.
Surgery was not recommended because the spurs saturated the brain. To remove them would almost certainly cause damage, a risk not at all warranted in this case of someone who was still functional.
Rinda completely refused my recommendations, since, of course, that would require she terminate her present job which she finds immensely fulfilling despite it’s aggravations. I asked her to let me observe her in isolation for two more weeks and was strangely surprised by her lack of reluctance. I thought she would be missing her work but she seemed to enjoy the entertainment console, spending hours each day with the VR helmet the room provided. At the end of the third week of observation I walked in to say hello and have our daily meeting but she was writhing wildly on the bed, the covers twisted about her legs, her shirt ridden up to just below her breasts, her head and hands immersed in the VR equipment. I went out to the floor nurse and asked if she could find out what was going on with that entertainment module, afraid of the disastrous effects of an INTERRUPT when we’d made such progress in only three weeks. She checked it then raised a disturbed face to me. “It’s linked into LunaTech. I don’t know how, but that’s what the status shows. Shall I cut it?”
“No!” I said hastily. I thought Rinda had agreed too easily to her continued confinement. What was she up to? I returned to her room. It didn’t look as though she was performing her usual experiments on materials. Then I noticed the spare outlet to the console. This had been a double room. I ran to the closet and found the spare VR helmet, sitting down before I put it on and plugged in.
Immediately I wished I hadn’t. Colors streamed by me so fast I thought I was falling down through an active psychedelic volcano. To think, some people buy programs like that for fun. Then a huge pair of iron-bound, oak doors slammed shut in front of me and instead of stopping, I rushed headlong and burst through, shattering the wood on its hinges.
“Nothing can stop me, Jennifer. I know this system like the back of my hand.”
Ohmigod! I thought, was Rinda wreaking some kind of horrible vengeance against her hated coworker within the computer?
“Jeepers! Doc, is that you?” I heard Rinda’s Jester voice though I could not see her, so focused was her attention on what came streaming toward us.
“Yes,” I replied, dizzy from the nonstop rollercoaster ride. We rose over instant mountains and fell down valleys, barreling through sudden lakes, roaring through sudden clouds. Bursting through door after sudden door slammed in our faces.
“Go ahead and pull the suicide, Jennifer,” Rinda sneered. “Set off an alarm anyone can trace,” she laughed a high cackle.
With an inhuman burst of speed Rinda launched her Rainbow Court Jester icon at the fleeing Marilyn Monroe and wrenched its head off with a slice of her starwand. Under the mask the wavy blonde framed face of Jennifer looked up in dismay.
“I’ll just take this,” Rinda said and wrestled a data packet from Jennifer’s grasp, “And see you in court.” She laughed and we were on our way, but not back the way we’d come. We cruised the sparkling diamond data stream at a slow pace stopping at security nodes to post a big red neon star which locked each one behind us. The security gates were getting bigger and more intricate and the black S guard icons looking fiercer on this infoway. We journeyed into a new part of the LunaTech system. But no one said a word as the Jester posted the red star and passed through.
“Straight to the top, I always say,” Rinda laughed as we pulled up in front of an ornately-carved marble, sky-high gate marked only CEO.
“Who goes there?” boomed a voice meant to threaten, from somewhere above us.
“It’s just me, Dorothy,” Rinda said with a giggle. “And Toto, too.”
“Hey,” the voice died quickly from a roar to a normal tone and a bright yellow Woodstock stuck its head out a round opening at eye-level that had been a carving in the door. “Rinda, dammit, how did you get my password?”
She only laughed in answer, a gay, carefree sound I’d never thought to hear from her.
“Got something you should see. Found Jennifer Washburn snooping round my files and sabotaging my experiments. Tweaking my programs so they wouldn’t work. She’s locked in her room right now. And you might want to send Security to see what Mr. Clinch and his flunkies have been up to lately.
“Are you serious?” LunaTech’s CEO asked in horror.
“As a heart attack,” Rinda answered.
Rinda immersed herself in work after that and refused me all but a cursory meeting before I had to leave. We didn’t know what was going to happen to her. She adamantly refused my suggestions to change her lifestyle to include fresh air and sun, more sleep, fresh foodstuffs; all of which meant quitting her job and returning to Earth, although a lunar lifestyle is plenty healthy for most people.
She assured me that a lot of her irritability was leaving since she could perform her life’s work uninterrupted and unsupervised for the moment. Of course the physical pain was increasing, but she assured me she could handle it.
She wished me well and asked for a copy of my thesis when I’d finished it. I had a lot more research to gather and after examining 20 more cases of IBS I found a definite correlation with brain spur growth and won the Neurological Fellows Insight of the Year Award and 10,000 credits.
Two years later she called me over the Earth/Lunar One Microwave Relay in a panic.
“I did everything you said, but they’ve gotten worse!”
She’d quit work and married a coworker, then become some kind of successful artist. They’re insurance flew me up there to see her. Her piece of the transmutor gave her a sizable income with which she was able to buy time on LunaTech’s computer system for her artistic endeavors.
“What’s up?” I greeted her, then as an afterthought, What ever happened to Jennifer?”
Rinda smiled. She looked much improved, her eyes were relaxed and bright. Her hair had grown and her wrinkles were much less pronounced from what I remembered, her skin smooth and creamy.
“Oh them,” she said and rolled her eyes. We sat in the living room of the spacious compartment she shared with her husband, Jagannatha, who still worked at LunaTech.
“Jennifer, Clinch, and three others were convicted and sentenced to five years for conspiracy and industrial espionage and their employer, Solar Electronics, has been thrown out of space engineering. They’ll never leave Earth again. Any of them.”
I nodded in satisfaction, then got down to business. “What’s the problem?”
“I’m becoming obsessed with my artwork,” she said. Her brown eyes looked at me heartsick.
I lifted my eyebrows.
“After we got . . . I got, the patents on three working transmutors, I quit and just slept for a month. Then I got these creative urges. It started out as little scenes within the new N-dimensional memory system. Then they began working themselves into stories, full-scale fantasy worlds. Right away there was a market for them. Between that and the transmutor patents and Jagannatha’s income, we’re doing great, financially.
“But it’s too much. Every waking minute I see these images. I can’t stop myself from working them out into a finished design. It’s like I’m compulsive. Every waking moment I have to be working on this. Oh. I sleep twelve hours a day still, and exercise one, and eat plenty of fresh foods. But I’ve never experienced such a force on my mind. It’s like the pressure I used to feel before, only more pronounced. That’s why I think the spurs must be growing.”
“Did the pain go away when you left LunaTech?”
“Yes. And that’s the funny thing: even though I’m feeling all this mental pressure. The pain hasn’t come back.”
I did a thorough physical along with some brain scans.
They came back negative. Not only was there no further growth, but also, the previous spurs were completely gone.
“Be happy,” I said when she looked discouraged by the news. “I think the key is the rest you’ve been allowing yourself to get. Your force of personality and drive would have come out in anything you chose to do. Without the pressures of work, you’ve healed your naturally over-creative brain by resting it.”
“But the result . . .” she began uncertainly.
“Is positive. You do good challenging work without interruption and get plenty of rest for your Irritable Body. The stress you had before triggered an enormous resource of creativity that might have killed you in your previous situation. At present, the creativity is still there but you’ve adapted to it. I’d say that as long as you get 12 hours of rest each night, you could even go back to work.”
She looked at me doubtfully.
“The spurs are gone!” I said triumphantly. “Or if it makes you feel better, just imagine they are virtual brain spurs.”
Now that would make a thesis!


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