“Not sure?” the Doctor repeated, reclining in his noisy chair. From over the frames of his thick glasses, he gave Adam a long, knowing look. There was sympathy in the doctor’s eyes. “Do you really not know? Or are you too frightened to say?”
“Maybe,” said Adam, forcing Doctor Gordon to let out a small chuckle. Doctor Gordon had a fatherly air about him that put Adam more at ease the longer the two sat in the sterile office.
“You’re not alone, you know? I haven’t met an aspiring surrogate yet who wasn’t at least a little nervous. Hell, most are terrified. I would be, too.”
“Really, you would?”
“Yes, I would.” The doctor nodded. “That is if I hadn’t seen the good it has done in the world. Would you believe that this program has been helping people for almost two decades now? Hard to imagine, I know, but in that time, we’ve prevented countless lives from being ended in some of the worst ways imaginable. And we have our brave surrogates—men, and women just like you—to thank.”
“I’m just not sure it’s right for me.” Adam fidgeted in his chair. He could feel the sweat beading up on his forehead.
The good doctor paused and gave one of his sympathetic smiles. He opened the paperwork once more. “Let’s see,” he muttered. “Yes, here. It says here you were brought under the care of my colleague Dr. Neyens about a year ago. Correct?”
“His notes say you are a ‘suicidal depressive.’ Would you agree?”
Adam hesitated before relenting. He hated having his personal life talked about so matter-of-factly with a man he met only twenty minutes ago.
“He mentions elsewhere that you are tired, exhausted of living a life devoid of purpose. Is that true?”
“You have his notes right there,” Adam said, hoping the interrogation would soon end.
“Yes, but I want to hear it from your lips, Adam. Do you lack purpose? Let me ask this another way. This world of ours…it’s rather bleak, isn’t it? All anyone ever thinks about is themselves. The vapid masses clog the streets with no thoughts in their heads other than where their next meal comes from, or what brain-dead TV show they’re going to watch that night to forget the ugliness that has become our lives. Billions of people living criminally banal existences that spit on the very spark of life we as a species have fought so very hard to hold on to. Do you agree?”
“I don’t see what this has to do with me.” Adam said.
“You don’t? Isn’t it obvious? You’re bored, Adam. You’re bored to the point that medications and therapy will no longer do the trick, and your boredom causes you nothing but pain. I need not see that tremor in your eye or the quiver of your lip to know that I have struck a chord. Adam, you deserve exactly what it is you’re seeking. You deserve a meaningful life, an existence that leaves the world a better place than when you entered it. You deserve the rewards of a life spent in selfless service to others.”
Adam looked away. He didn’t want the doctor to see the tears pooling in his eyes. He was at a loss for words.
“Surrogacy, Adam. Surrogacy allows you to give something back, to give a piece of yourself for the better good, if not the salvation of the entirety of mankind. The surrogates are what keeps our society safe for all. I’ll ask you this once. Do you wish to make the world a better place?”
“Where do I sign?” Adam said, his voice quaking in his throat.
“When does the switch go in?” Adam asked the nurse, an awkward but pretty woman about the same age as himself.
“I’ll send in the doctor,” she said before briskly leaving the room.
Adam looked around at his new surroundings. He didn’t know what to expect when Doctor Gordon had described his new living quarters as modest. In truth, the room was larger than any apartment he could ever have hoped to live in. The central room had everything he could ask for: a computer, a TV, a comfy couch made of what appeared to be genuine leather, and a refrigerator fully stocked with all his favorite foods. In the back of the apartment, there was a self-cleaning bathroom—whatever that meant—and to top it off, there was a private bedroom with one of the largest beds he’d ever seen.
The apartment was windowless, but Adam never felt claustrophobic. One wall of the main living space doubled as a fake window that projected a three-dimensional landscape, featuring one of the most beautiful mountain lakes in existence.
Who knew public service could be so luxurious?
“Ah, you’re awake,” said the ever-cheerful Doctor Gordon.
“Of course I’m awake. When do I leave for surgery?”
“Why, you already have. Here, take a look.” Dr. Gordon retrieved a small mirror from his lab coat and held it up to Adam’s face.
Adam gasped at the site of his recently shaved head. A faint scar ran from his forehead to the back of his skull.
“But it’s already healed? How?”
“Amazing, isn’t it? The Pearson-Eckhert Switch is nothing short of a miracle. But how can one explain a miracle to another who has yet to see it? In the case of the switch, one must experience it to know it’s true power.”
“So, what? I’ve been in a coma or something?” Adam couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“Not quite. You had the surgery six months ago, and you’ve been living your life here ever since. Do you remember anything from the last six months?”
A shiver ran down Adam’s spine. To his recollection, the doctor had left the room mere moments ago.
“No, I don’t.”
“Good,” said Doctor Gordon. “And you never will. That’s the beauty of the Switch. Though you were conscious during that time—living in this room, conversing with our staff, even beating me at chess more times than I would like to admit—you will never remember any of it. Thanks to the Switch, this program is possible. And thanks to this program, we’ve saved so many lives—victims and perpetrators alike.”
“For centuries, we in the psychiatric field have sought to fix just what it is that causes an ordinary person to go ‘bad,’ as it were. When it came to serial killers, sadists, sociopaths, and the like, the solution was always to eliminate these antisocial behaviors by exterminating those afflicted by such curses of the mind. To punish, exorcise, or destroy. But righting wrongs with more wrongs only creates a cancerous society in the process.”
“Thanks to the monumental works of psychologists Dr. Rosalie Emmenthal and Dr. Min Joon Kim, we discovered that the solution to such problems is via outward expression, not inward. We no longer suppress the demons, we face them head on.”
Adam looked away from the doctor, feeling as if the man’s eyes were burning into his soul. The doctor spoke with such conviction that Adam felt bad for questioning the project to begin with. Surely, if the shining example of human decency that was Doctor Gordon was convinced of the righteousness of the Program, who was Adam to doubt it?
“Now is the time to say if you’re having second thoughts.”
“I’m not,” Adam said, doing his best to sound strong. “I’m happy to help. I feel like…I’ll finally be making a difference.”
Doctor Gordon nodded his admiration. “I can make you one promise. Your selfless devotion will not go unrewarded. Your life from now on will be free of all worldly strife. In this domicile, you will be treated as a king, and live in the lap of luxury.” The doctor paused. “Speaking of—what’s your favorite food?”
Adam shrugged. “Cheeseburgers, I guess.”
Adam sat at the dinette table. The pretty nurse from before had just finished setting a delicious looking burger in front of him. The plate was overflowing with fries and onion rings and an assortment of sauces. “Doctor Gordon will be in soon,” she said. There was a sadness in her eyes.
Adam looked at the plate of food, feeling ravenous. He had become quite hungry all of a sudden. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he ate, or even how he came to be seated at this table. He reached for one of the fries before recoiling in shock. He shoved the table away as he stumbled backwards, knocking the food to the ground just as Doctor Gordon walked into the suite.
“What the hell happened to my hand?” Adam shouted, holding his mangled hand out for the Doctor to see. “I’m missing two fingers!”
The doctor remained calm. “Take deep, slow breaths. It will help slow the adrenaline.”
“What happened?” Adam shouted again.
“An unfortunate accident, but you can feel proud knowing that the patient made great strides after only one session with you. Quite extraordinary, really.”
Adam’s heart raced. “What do you mean with me? I don’t remember a…” Adam fell silent after remembering their conversation from what felt like only a few minutes ago—the one about the Switch and how it blocks out memories. “How long have I been…out of it?”
“That’s not important. Time here is incidental, as the work we do will prove timeless. Have a seat, please. I will have the nurse fetch you a new meal.”
Adam took a seat, but he no longer had an appetite. He couldn’t stop staring at his hand.
“I’m truly sorry about your hand. But I want you to know that the patient is sorry, too.” The doctor paused, allowing for a response, but when none came, he expounded on the significance. “You see, the mere appearance of remorse in this individual is an enormous step forward. If he continues to make progress at this rate, he will soon be able to live a normal life. All thanks to—”
“You never said I’d get hurt.”
“There’s no need to feel sorry for yourself,” the doctor replied. “The loss of a few digits is troubling, I’m sure, but what are a couple of fingers compared to the loss of a human life? You gave one finger for the life of our patient, and another for the would-be future victim of his damnable desires. Surely your two fingers were worth the price of two human lives, are they not?”
Adam didn’t know what to say. He just stared silently at the simulated window’s 3D projection of a lake.
“Thanks to your sacrifice, our client is on his way to recovery. The experience he had with you left him chilled to the bone. As it turns out, the violence was too much for him to handle. It was the breakthrough of a lifetime. As a result, he has agreed to move on to the next phase of the program. Who knows how many lives he may have ruined had you not been here to save him?”
The doctor’s words left Adam speechless. For the first time in his twenty-four years of life, tears of joy rolled down his cheeks.
A knock came at the door, and the nurse entered the room with his new burger.
“Ah! A hero’s feast! The doctor exclaimed, clapping his hands together as if in applause.
The nurse set the tray of food down on the table and left without a word.
“Go on,” the doctor urged. “Eat. You’ve earned it.”
Adam wiped his eyes with his sleeve and took a bite of the burger. The flavor was beyond anything he had ever tasted.
“Good, isn’t it?”
Adam’s mouth was full, so he simply nodded.
“Enjoy it. You’ll need the energy. You’re in a fight to save the soul of humanity.”
It was nighttime when Adam awoke. He was in his bed, facing the soft glow of the simulated window. The stars were out in all their glory and the moon reflected off of the glassy surface of the lake. The hidden speakers in the wall produced the sounds of waves gently lapping against the smooth stones that made up the shore. Adam smiled a rare smile. It occurred to him that as long as he had the image of the lake to keep him company, nothing else mattered. It brought him comfort to know something so beautiful could exist.
While staring at the scene, wondering if such a place could be real, something struck him as odd. The trees ought to have leaves, he thought. It had been summer just yesterday, but now the trees were barren, and a light frost shimmered in the moonlight. Yes, the window was only a simulation, but it had always been synced with the time and seasons of the outside world. Something was wrong.
“What day is it?” he said aloud. At the sound of his voice, a calendar widget opened up in the corner of the simulated window. He couldn’t read it at that distance and his glasses were nowhere to be found.
“What day is it?” he asked again, hoping for the screen to tell him. But he was met only with the continued sound of the waves.
It took far too much effort to pull himself up to a sitting position, and this troubled him. He must have slept weird, caused his limbs to fall asleep, because his arms felt heavy, and his legs tingled like pins and needles.
Adam swung his legs over the side of the bed, but before he could plant his feet on the ground, he careened off the mattress and collapsed in a heap upon the floor. A white-hot pain blurred his vision, nearly blinding him, and every light in the room came on all at once in an automated response to the possible emergency. He cried out when he felt the firm grasp of hands under his shoulders, trying to lift him up off the ground.
“It’s okay,” Doctor Gordon gently reassured. “You’re all right now. You’ve just taken a little fall. No matter.”
Adam heard the man’s words but couldn’t stop himself from screaming.
Adam was in bed again. Someone had put his glasses on for him and turned on the lights. Adam looked towards the glittering image of an early spring dawn, shining on the lake.
“Good morning, Adam,” said the nurse. She was looking more haggard than usual. “Are you ready for breakfast? The doctor should be in shortly, but we can get some food started for you in the meantime.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think I ever caught your name?”
The nurse grew wide-eyed at the suggestion, and her lips began to quiver. She looked like she wanted to say something, but she rushed from the room instead, mumbling a reminder that the doctor would be along soon.
The memories of the previous night were fresh in Adam’s mind, especially the pain. He still didn’t know why he had fallen, but today he would find out. Maybe if he got up and stretched, he’d remember. But when he peeled away the sheets from his body…
Just then, Doctor Gordon entered the room.
“Where are my legs?” Adam couldn’t believe his own words “What happened to my legs?”
The doctor motioned for Adam to calm down. “Remember what I said about relaxing? Deep breaths.”
“What the fuck have you done with my legs, you bastard!”
“Me? I did nothing,” the doctor said flatly. “This was all you.”
“This is what you signed up for, is it not? Yes, you lost your legs, but you saved the life of another patient. He had to do this, go to these limits. It was the only road to his recovery.”
“You sick bastard!”
“Please, Adam. This is no way to act.”
“Go to Hell!”
“I think this is a good time to remind you of the waivers you signed when joining the program and how they absolve myself and this facility of all legal liability. You knew the risks and you consented.”
Adam sobbed quietly into his hands. He tried to remember his orientation and the papers he had signed, but nothing came to mind. He couldn’t remember what he had agreed to. Had he been that
depressed when he signed the papers, or was there something else? Was it the Switch? Could they have erased a part of his memory? Had it happened at all? How would he know?
“You needn’t feel sorry for yourself, Adam. Let this moment wash over you and let it be gone. Your mission in life is bigger than both of us, never forget that.”
Adam looked to the artificial window. “Where is that?” he asked, gesturing to the screen.
“That is a live feed of a lake high up in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Majestic, isn’t it?”
“Live? Can’t be,” Adam contended. “It was winter there last night.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Last night, before I fell out of bed, that was a winter scene. There was snow on the ground.”
“That’s impossible,” the doctor said, a look of concern crossing his face “Your Switch was running until just this morning.”
“A dream then?”
“Yes,” the doctor said, accompanied by a curt smile. “A dream then.”
Doctor Gordon was suddenly gone, and so was the live look-in at the Cascade Mountains. The lake and the trees and the gentle breeze were absent. Only a blank wall of dead pixels remained. The fluorescent ceiling lights seemed brighter than usual. Everything had changed so fast. They must have Switched him. Adam looked down at his legs, hoping his last memories had only been a nightmare, but after removing the blankets, his fears were confirmed. He breathed a great shuddering breath and then began to cry.
“I thought I told you no crying.”
Adam gave a start at the sight of a strange man standing in his room. Heavy set and middle aged, he held a duffel bag in one hand and anxiously cracked his knuckles with the other.
“Who are you?”
“How did you get in here?” Adam looked all around for a button to press, an intercom switch, anything that could reach the world outside of this room.
“What the fuck?” The man’s face turned red with anger. A trembling hand fetched a handkerchief from his pocket and used it to mop the sweat from his brow. “You’re not supposed to talk. They said screaming only.”
Adam looked around frantically for something to defend himself with. “You’re not supposed to be here,” he stammered.
The man took a step closer towards Adam, his wide face full of wrath. He dropped his bag to the floor. Heavy metals clanged inside. “Ah!” he exhaled. “I get it. This is the next phase of my treatment.” He unzipped the duffel and rummaged about inside. Grinning wickedly, he pulled a pair of pruning shears from the bag. “Doctor Gordon really is a wonder, don’t you think? It’s so good of him to be helping guys like me.” He wiped the blades of the shears with his handkerchief and placed a heavy hand on Adam’s trembling shoulder. “Most people don’t want nothing to do with us, but thanks to the program, there’s hope. I’ve made so much progress already.”
Adam tried to shout, but the man covered his mouth with a sweaty palm.
“I’d hate to be you though.”
The lake had returned, and the trees were in the resplendent verdure of summer. Adam stared absentmindedly at the rustling greenery while a conversation happened behind him.
“He’s going to need a feeding tube,” said the nurse. “He can’t eat with his mouth.”
“That’s a shame,” said Doctor Gordon. “But no matter. As long as we can keep him alive”
Adam tried to speak, but he could only muster a strange mewling sound that barely dribbled from his lips.
Doctor Gordon turned an inquisitive eye to the noise. “Does he do that often?”
“On occasion,” the nurse replied. She followed her answer with a shudder. “I know it’s crazy to think, but sometimes I wonder if he’s not fully Switched in.”
“No need to worry, my dear. He’s fully sedated now, never to wake again. Allowing him even a moment of consciousness would be barbaric.
“But for how long? How long are we going to keep him alive?”
“As long as his body permits. Hopefully for many years to come. He’s made such a remarkable difference in the lives of our patients.”
The nurse gestured to the artificial window. “Is there any sense leaving the live feed running?”
“No, I suppose not. Go ahead and turn it off.”
The room was dark, the wall was blank, and a new voice spoke from somewhere nearby.
Copyright © 2023 Ilan Jones