Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The elevator descended to the hospital basement, and she followed the orderly through the open doors and down a pale green hallway. He was speaking, but she listened instead to the hum of the overhead fluorescent lights, and her heels striking a staccato rhythm against the linoleum floor with exquisite clarity. Distracted, she missed most of what he said.

“…not uncommon for the initial emotional response to be overwhelming. You’ll find the dampeners will help balance it out if it gets too much. You’ll find a comfortable level once you learn to control it…”

A set of double doors swung open as they approached, and closed behind them once they’d passed.

He stopped near the end of the hall at a single solid door, and turned to face her.

“Are you ready? I’ll be right here if you need me.”

“Yes,” she spoke, the sound of her voice unfamiliar in her ears, “I’m ready.”

He opened the door and stepped into the room beyond, then held it for her until she’d followed him inside.

In the middle of the room was a gurney, lit by a single overhead fixture that bathed its length in cool white light. On the gurney itself was the body of a man, draped in a clean blue sheet, turned down at the shoulders. The rest of the room was obscured in shadow, but this is why she was here. To see him.

She moved around the body, studying his face from all angles. His skin now grey and lifeless, his hair, once deep auburn now streaked with grey and white at the edges. His eyes were closed, but she could picture in her mind the crystal blue that they were when he was alive.

“Can I…”, she hesitated, reaching without realizing towards him.

“Touch him?” the orderly replied, “of course, yes, he won’t mind.”

She smiled despite herself at the awkward remark, this must be new to him as well.

She cradled the man’s face in her hands, then ran her fingers through his hair, as she’d done a thousand times before. The sensation was so much different now, the texture of each strand against her skin captured with such fidelity.

A sudden flush of heat started in her chest and rose through her neck into her cheeks. She could feel her heart racing, and a sudden feeling of panic crashed over her like a tidal wave.

“It’s alright,” the orderly was speaking again, “It’s alright, give it a moment and the dampeners will kick in.”

She gripped the side of the gurney with both hands until the feeling passed, and a calmness crept in. A soothing cool pushing the overwhelming emotions aside.

“It will take some time with the new suit while it adjusts to your personal emotional stimuli.” He was facing her across the body now, watching her. “There are safeties, obviously, that will catch things before they can get out of control. Once the initial calibration period is behind you, you’ll be able to access and control specific tolerances to sensation, light and sound, and establish your own comfortable emotional boundaries.”

She looked back at the lifeless body on the gurney before her.

“I imagine it’s quite a shock,” the orderly continued, “to see yourself like this.” From his tone she could tell he was original equipment himself.

“Not really,” she replied, “he hadn’t been me for years.”