This bit is part of a larger first-person piece about a man with trisomy of Chromosome 16.
|I’ve got this thing wrong with me, inside my cells. You’ve heard of Down's Syndrome? I’ve got the same thing, only instead of chromosome 21 that’s tripled, with me, it’s chromosome 16.
Seems to have never happened before, that’s what they told my parents. Nobody’s really sure what the effects will be, they said.
I never could stand having anybody touch any of my stuff and I like doing whatever I want when I want. Whether that’s an effect of the chromosome 16 thing, who knows? My muscle cells are different, more primitive, they tell me, and correspondingly stronger, and it’s true that I’m much stronger than a regular person my same size. You'd be surprised at how strong I am.
I’m good with my hands too. I could always do those little magic tricks, palm coins and such. And there’s a couple of other things I can do that I mostly keep to myself. One of the things is something that’s very handy for getting out of jail cells.
So--I got picked up in Oaxaca by some Federáles looking to earn a favor from the FBI. They put me in a piddly podunk little jungle jail in Oaxaca at 5 pm. I was out by dinner, and I spent the next couple of months getting the fugitive’s tour of central Mexico, but eventually they caught up with me.
Next time was a US-trained Mexican SWAT team—sweat, I call ‘em—all the way from Mexico City come to capture and escort little ol’ me. I went peacefully and I let ‘em keep me in a cell, but every night I unlocked the door—just to show ‘em I could do it. Embarrassing as hell, you know.
A week or two later, I found myself in a steel box in Langley, Virginia, under lock and key and the ever-watchful eye of seven or eight cameras installed eyeball-in behind an inch or two of unbreakable plexiglass. Unbreakable—right. I put a hole about the size of a nickel in the one I could reach without trying too hard. Just to show ‘em I could do it, you know.
I had my day in court, which for guys like me, amounts to ninety seconds over a closed-circuit television channel. I said my lines and the judge said his and then the show was over. Permanently.
I don’t mind the joint, I really don’t, and I was looking forward to the next thirty or forty years of an unending routine of eat, sleep, and wait. I started the routine in the old Supermax in Colorado just down the hall from poor old crazy Tommy Silverstein. They had made a special cell for me—stainless steel all around, ceiling too. The outside was wrapped floor to ceiling, top to bottom, with copper wire mesh. When electrified, the magnetic field produced rendered me unable to, you know, move time and space, and so I was stuck—at least until the electricity failed.
It was a long haul, but after about three thousand cycles of eat, sleep, and wait, the eggheads in Cincinnati stumbled on the Bleed—about time—and those bastards in Washington passed a law that said people like me had to go to a special facility that they built on Europa with it. That’s right: Europa, as in ‘moon of Jupiter.’ Pretty scary place. The moon orbits through Jupiter’s immense, and for me, colorful, magnetic field, and so the whole moon is draped in an industrial-strength sized version of those little copper wires outside my cell that prevent me from stepping right through that stainless steel door they slide my tray through three times a day.
But you can’t use the Bleed on Earth There are environmental whackos everywhere that scream about the radiation the Bleed produces--in this case, they're right for once, and so it’s first to low Earth orbit in a can. Space travel, that never was on my bucket list. I wouldn’t let them do it, and if they’re inside my wire, I can use my powers, so they gassed my cell one evening just before dinner. I woke up handcuffed to a little steel seat inside a copper cage. I felt the magnetism flowing around and against me, and so there I was—helpless.
When you’re alone in a can, then it’s surprisingly similar to solitary, especially for me. If you’re not alone in the can, then it’s like being in a cage on 24-lockdown with an usually cooperative bunkmate—and all of my bunkmates were always unusually cooperative, whether they wanted to be or not. But I was all by myself on this trip, at least until I got through the Bleed.
The Bleed is a method of transportation that relies on the fact that distances between two objects cannot be measured with perfect precision. Thus, there is always some uncertainty with regard to the distance. The Bleed increases that uncertainty until the degree of uncertainty exceeds the distance itself. Then a little something is done, and that something brings tthe two places together. Just at the right time, you step over, and there you are. I could do it too, but I never told anybody.
So the can and the station came to be next to each other and after some thumps and bumps, the hatch opened and two white-suited bozos came in. The one held a sort of flat paddle, and I felt the magnetism coming off the end of it. The other one held a pistol pointed levelly at me, which I thought was ridiculous. How do you fire a gun in a can without killing everybody on it? But then I looked closer, and I saw that it wasn’t a pistol, but instead it was a zapper, and so, knowing that between the paddle and the zapper, I was probably better served going along with them.
They turned off the cage, opened it up, unshackled me from the chair, and we floated through the hatch and down a tube corridor, and after turning this way and that, going down one tube and then another like mice in a habitat, we found ourselves at a dead end, and on the tube end wall, there was a copper wire mesh cage and inside that, a stainless steel box about the size of a coffin, standing upright.
I realized they meant to put me in that coffin. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds—somehow in the absence of gravity, being inside small spaces isn’t nearly as cramped as it might be otherwise. They put me in there, and I went peacefully, then they closed it, and the bozo with the paddle held it on me until they closed the cage and cranked it up. The metal of the coffin channeled the magnetism around me; it was still out there, and I couldn’t work through it, but inside the coffin, I had full use of my powers. Right away, I drew in a bunch of air molecules and made myself some coffee.
After a while I saw a couple of other white-suited stiffs turn the corner at the other end of the tube and come my way. One of them was towing a good deal of equipment. It looked to me like they were going to put the Bleed on me right there at the end of the hallway. They floated down to me and without a word, set up the Bleed machine: black tubes here and there, a power cart beyond, wires and boxes, and then, around the front of the coffin, they put the edges of the Bleed Gate. It took a while, during which time I watched and committed everything I saw to memory—the 16 triplet again, I can do that, and then later watch it back, like watching a video. They got done and floated back down the tube, having never said a word, not even to each other.
Things were quiet for a good long while, more than an hour, and then I felt a couple of things happen in rapid succession. First, the magnetic lines coming off the copper cage around my coffin let go. But before I could respond, the Bleed machine started up and the Gate opened.
The coffin wasn’t even locked; it hadn’t needed to be. I pushed it open and started to float out of it right through the Gate—there was nowhere else to go. Once I got out of the coffin, I could see a little bit through it, through the light and smoke and vibration, and I could see that I was being bled out onto what looked like a dirty, icy parking lot. In another moment, I was through and standing unsteadily in the light gravity on Europa, immediately noticing the heavy load of magnetism, bright blue in its intensity, like a transparent blue wet blanket that weighed heavily on me and covered everything I could see. If the gravity had been any more, I don’t think I could have continued standing. I took a couple of steps, and it was like trying to walk through water.
Oh, this sucks, I remember thinking.
Then the static roar started. I guess the Gate held it off of me for a few seconds. It was like standing next to Niagara Falls, or a jet engine. I put my hands over my ears, but to no effect; the roar was inside my head, not outside of it, noise caused by eddy currents generated as the magnetic lines of force passed through my Chromosome 16 Trisomy brain.
I shook my head to try to clear it, and then I noticed figures moving toward me; figures wearing protective suits and air handlers. I didn’t need that, of course; I could easily convert the carbon dioxide straight to oxygen in my cells, the urine my kidneys produced back into clean water, and so forth. As they got closer, I saw that one of the figures wasn’t wearing a suit or a mask—a woman, middle-aged, a little heavy. They stopped a few yards from me, and then the woman reached out to touch my hand.
I pulled away, but she had the strangest look on her face, and she stepped forward to reach my hand. I allowed her to touch me, and when she did, I heard her voice in my head, masked by the roar but not made inaudible by it. “You’ve bleed-gated to Camp Europa,” she said inside my head. “I’m Evelyn, I’m a 16 triplet like you. There are three others of us here.”
“How did you know about that?” I thought back to her.
“No time for that now,” she said. “Follow us, we’ve got to get inside quickly.” She drew her hand back, spun around, and stepped off, with the suits following her. I did to, with difficulty, through the magnetism. There was nowhere else to go.