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[page 19] TIME OF WAITING BY TOVA INPYN {Image: A punch card serves as a watermark for the title. The card slopes at a downward diagonal as it approaches the right side of the page. There appear to be no pattern to the locations of the punches.} Most people expect to live until they become old. I suppose, and then, even though they can feel the minutes and days hurrying faster and faster by, they probably anticipate another day, and another, will come along. Certainly--though time can shrink as fast as wool in hot water whether or not it is used well--few of us ever really expect that portion of time which is our own to end. Why should it when there's still so much to do? Who knows? I don't. But, I can tell you of a time when the arbiter of time lost his place or his hold, whichever it might be, on the skein of days he thought to halt unwinding; lost it to a man, a woman and a machine and never got it back. Tara Mecklin was just in the middle of the lovely age of twentytwo, a tall, slender, serious-faced young woman deeply involved in a medical internship at the Dallas Center for Research and Treatment of Genetic Disorders and lightly involved, on this particular day, in a luncheon engagement with a rather brilliant young cybernetist employed by the center as their computer development director. She was just about to dip her first spoonful of raspberry parfait trom the glass before her, and she had just remarked to herself for the tenth time, at least, how really nicely Jerry Todd's eyes crinkled in the corners when he smiled, as he was doing now, directly at her, when time--the time that belonged to her--ended, almost. The soft-sounding, good-smelling, walnut and gold panelled restaurant to which Jerry had chosen to bring Tara this particular day was one of Dallas' better known dining places with a longstanding coterie of regular patrons whose seating preferences were carefully [page 20] acknowledged by the management so that at any particular time on any particular day one oould count on seeing certain people at certain tables. Tara and Jerry were not part of this faction--their presence in the restaurant was a rare, and, therefore, most cherished, deviation from the hurried meals managed between their work schedules at the center--but the back of Tara's chair this day was directly behind the chair and table of one Nicholas Pomeroy who was. The chair in which this plump, undistinguished little man sat morosely consuming lasagna was the same chair in which he'd been sitting every Tuesday afternoon tor the past six years, a fact carefully taken into account by an unknown gentleman who undoubtedly wished to terminate an unpleasant association with Mr. Pomeroy in a definitive manner. At any rate, the chair exploded forcefully, distributing its occupant untidily about the dining area, and driving a large splinter of itself diagonally through the midsection of Tara's back. For the first shocked moment following the blast, the room and all within appeared void of either sound or movement, suspended outside or moving time. Then, somewhere, a woman found breath for screaming, plaster dust began to fall, and people started moving. Tara's mind registered, first, the horror covering her companion's face, then, the pain beginning to fill her terribly torn body. Lastly, as a reddish blackness began to submerge all thought, she noticed how completely unafraid she felt. "There just isn't any way to save her, Jerry. I'm so sorry." Doctor Herbert Tyler's usually benign face confirmed the heavy tragedy of his voice as the chief of neurological science in the center attempted to prepare his young colleagua to face the undeniable fact that Tara Mecklin was, at that present moment, dying. "Almost every vital organ has sustained damage, too much to repair, too many to replace. If we knew of any way at all to keep her alive long enough to even try, you know we would do so, but the trauma of surgery would kill her just as surely as her wounds are, and more quickly. "She is such a vital woman, Doctor Tyler." Jerry's voice was strained. "She's the special kind of person who looks at all life with joy and love shining from her eyes, the kind that will always give everything to life and to living that she has. How can a girl like Tara die just because some imbecile decided to rid the world of some other imbecile? It just can't happen, Doctor. There has to be some way to give her a chance. There has to be!" The gray-haired man slowly shook his head. "If there is, Jerry, none of us here know of it. We just don't know yet of any method of replacing the entire internal organ structucture, but that's what Tara needs to survive. And please remember, too, that her spinal cord was severed. Would Tara still love living if all of hers must be done in a wheelchair? Im sorry. I know you're right; she has so much to give. Who knows what might have been; her internship here has been one of the most promising; perhaps, in addition to our loss of a good friend, the world is losing something ultimately precious because she won't be here to give it. Humanity is continually robbing itself [page 21] of blessings through its own blunderings. We only realize our loss when the deprivation occurs unavoidably within our sight. Here, in our work, we see so much of this happening but we have the hope that by facing it and learning from it, we'll stand a better chance with the future. Isn't that why Tara came here, why you're here with the computers, why all of us are here? Others will come for help tomorrow like those we couldn't help today, but that which we learn today will enable us to give them the help they'll be seeking." A look of dismay crossed the kindly face of the doctor. "Jerry, please forgive me. This is no time to be giving a lecture. Wouldn't you like to stay with Tara until she goes? She isn't conscious, of course, and we don't intend to deliberately restore her to consciousness, as that would only subject her to pain; but she might awaken for a moment voluntarily and be glad to find you there." "Thank you, sir, but. . ." Jerry's whole body had assumed a curious tautness somewhat like that of a sprinter just before the beginning of a race, though his stance was very erect. He seemed to be reaching for elusive words. . ."You said, if there was a way to save Tara you weren't aware of it. I. . .I think that maybe you are, that we both are, but it's so far out I don't know how to phrase it to you. . .We've never tried it on a human being but it works, you know it works!" They stood there then, the young man and the old, facing each other across the barrenness of a hospital corridor and changed all time. Genetic research under Dr. Tyler's guidance had been recently following some far-reaching paths in Dallas. Several of these had converged in the computer department, and it was to these truly fantastic developments that Jerry Todd now directed Dr. Tyler's attention. Briefly, those developments were: l. Animals had been reproduced from the unmixed chromosomes of single parental cells. . .induced parthenogenesis. 2. This had been accomplished outside the parental matrix in an artificial uterine structure. . .extrauterine development of embryos. 3. And the learning of one parent chimpanzee had, apparently, been stored in the electronic circuits of the center's multiphasic computer until its genetic double was ready to be released from its manifactured womb, then transmitted, intact, into the memory synapses of the double. . .mechanical transmission of memory. All of these data tumbled from the lips of the cybernetist in a jumbled heap or words which on1y seemed at first to horrify the man of medicine. "Stop! Jerry, you can't know what you're suggesting!" Dr. Tyler gestured shakily for silence as he stared almost dazedly at the tense young man whose burning eyes seemed to be penetrating to the doctor's very soul. The concept of renewing life from the [page 22] matrix of a single cell was, naturally, familiar enough to him. He had devoted his entire professional life to that very concept; his work in the field had been pioneering; since his group had first succesfully caused reproduction to take place in an extrauterine environment from an unmixed chromosome pair, the entire field had been undergoing revision and speculation into its ultimate possibilities grew daily. However, to risk the lives and well-being of lower primates on an adventure into the realms of the unknown for the greater good of mankind was an unpleasant but well-established necessity, accepted by all biologically oriented explorers, while the substitution of human life as the risk agent in an experiment filled with the unknown variables of this one, was diametrically opposed to the moral ethic by which he lived. "No, sir!" Jerry rushed on, "Tara is dyng. You must let me explain. When that last spark of life leaves her, there will be no more Tara forever. All that she might have been, all that she might have done, will never be. If there is one chance in all infinity for her survival and we--knowing of its existance--deprive her of that chance, we shall be as guilty of her death as that damn bomber is." Doctor Tyler had managed, as the other continued talking, to regain a portion of his habitual composure so that his voice held some degree of confdence as he replied, "There are times, my friend, when dying is the preferable alternative. There have been hideous freaks among our reproductions. Perhaps you aren't aware that our success-to-failure ratio has been little better than 3:1, and that this memory transfer of yours increases the random error factor considerably. We need so much more time! The risk is too great!" Jerry, too, had taken firmer control of his emotions. Though he felt cold--as if he were supported internally by a rigid column of ice--his voice was gently calm as he said, "Shouldn't Tara be the one to decide that? She has the technical training to evaluate the situation, and, sir, it's her life at stake." Fervent determination is close to irresistible. The neurologist's mind, having overcome its first dilemma, leapt toward the new problems facing them and began dealing with them almost before the younger man was able to recognize the change in facial expression which registered his acceptance of the logic of Jerry's final argument. Now the rapid flow of words proceeded with authority from the elder man: "I must assemble my staff and explain this situation to them. They must be present to witness Tara's decision and to answer any questions she might have as she makes up her mind. While I gather them, Jerry, check the computer; it must be in perfect order--no weak circuits; then, wait with Tara until the rest of us get there. And tell Whoever is conducting life support that he'll answer to me if everything isn't kept at maximum need!" [page 23] The two men then literally fled from each other's presence in their desperate race with time. "Tara, my dear, can you hear me?" The voice seemed very far away--faint, as if proceeding from some distant point in space and time--calling to her across acres of rolling, tearing pain, summoning her back, through cruel agony to light. "Tara, try!" There was something terribly insistant in that voice. Her conscious being rose toward it in a tremendous effort of will which brought her through the suffocating, reddish-black mist into the brightness of a room filled with dearly familiar, anxious-looking faces, and to the harsh sounds of life support machinery. "Something terrible has happened to me," she thought in surprise. "They're all looking at me so strangely, and Jerry looks like he's ready to die. Die? No, I must be the one who's dying, I hurt so much." What has happened?" she gasped painfully. "Some damned fool put a bomb in the restaurant and it. . . and you. . ." Jerry clasped both of his hands--big strong hands that were shaking now--around one long slender hand of hers, holding tightly, as if he might keep her there by his strength, but the power of speech was gone from him. She looked toward Dr. Tyler who stood beside Jerry. "Can you give me something for this pain? I'm afraid I can't bear it." "We need to talk to you for a few minutes first, Tara, if we can," he replied gently. "I'm dying." It was a matter-of-fact statement. Her eyes grew momentarily wider as she considered the prospect, then narrowed again against her pain. "What do you want to tell me?" Quickly then, beginning with Dr. Tyler, her colleagues described her condition exactly and detailed the single perilous alternative to her otherwise certain death that they could offer her. Jerry stood silently beside her as the others gave her their specialized information, his eyes never leaving her ever-paler face. Finally, the rush of words ended. She looked wonderingly from face to face, stopping at last with Jerry's which, so clearly, reflected the agony he shared with her. She understood, now, that this incredible hope had originated with him and she sensed the turmoil within him as he waited for her decision. "Well, love," she whispered, "either way I'll find out something I never knew before, won't I? But, I think it would be nicer if I start out on the one that gives me a little chance of coming back to tell you about the trip, so--how do you think your computer will like getting a little company?" And she smiled! [page 24] The same sweet, half-mischievous smile that, from the moment he first met her, had never failed to find its way directly to his heart, was shining at him and Jerry Todd knew that his life lay at stake with Tara Mecklin's, for life without her would be no life at all. "All of you must witness what I say now, for I haven't strength to write it down." Tara's lips were taut with the need to hold back screams of pain while forming words. "I willingly give my body to this hospital while I still live, in the hope that you may be able to preserve my life for me, but, also, in the hope, that should this not be possible, the use you will make of my body will yet be of benefit to others. Therefore," her voice grew weaker, but she held it steady, "no one must ever attempt to hold any of you responsible if failure does occur, for that which I am about to undergo is of my own free and willing choice!" Again she smiled, at all of them this time, then fell back through swirling mists to darkness.