At this point Dr. Brooks was correct, somewhat. I really wasn’t thinking about regrets at all. I was thinking about having something to do and being in demand again. I was thinking about trying to find some way, any way, to get back to the only world I knew how to live in. Regrets were the furthest thing from my mind at this point.
As we ate the crappy diner food Dr. Brooks detailed how we would go forth from here and I began signing the thickest contract of my life. He detailed the nuances of the procedure and the risks and complications involved, which surprisingly seemed minor compared to what I would have expected. We would board a specially configured commercial jet, which would depressurize when we reached a certain altitude. This was apparently the most dangerous part of the procedure, but I was assured that my oxygen level would be monitored closely at all times. During this time of the flight is when the injection will begin to move freely without the constraints of normal atmospheric pressure. We would spend forty-five minutes at this altitude before the cabin would re-pressurize and we would begin our descent. As the anesthesia wears off I would awaken in apparently just a smaller form of the man that boarded before takeoff.
“And here is a picture of the people you’ll stay with during the testing. We want to keep this as low profile as possible...” Dr. Brooks trailed off, but I wasn’t really paying attention to him as I began to focus on the glossy postcard he deposited on the table.
It was a picture of a four person family that looked remarkably like the pictures that come installed in picture-frames. There was the husband and wife sitting behind their two children amidst a background of a rocky beach as picturesque as the idyllic family vacation they were on. The wife sat just shorter than the husband, a man of average height and build and with a face that was neither scarred through years of hard labor nor overly delicate, and the corners of his lips pinched a smile that gave off a mixture of stoicism and humor. The woman was a bit heavier than most but looked exceedingly able and warm and sported a conservatively pastel collared shirt. The daughter sat politely underneath the watch of the father and did her best to look cordial and distinguished, creating a humorous juxtaposition between the older son resting Indian-style beneath the mother, surely kept there with gentle tugs to avoid any typically boisterous behavior.
“This is Karen and her husband Pete, and their two kids Josh and Sarah,” Dr. Brooks began. Like I said, because this type of medical research is as controversial as it is groundbreaking, we will be keeping as tight of a lid on this as possible. The Vaughn’s live in a small suburban community about an hour north of Portland. Pete, an alumni of our university, has been a long time donor after doing very well in software development. The town is fairly well-to-do and I’ve been in contact with the pair for quite some years, so trust me when I say that you’ll be in good hands and won’t be bothered by media at all. You’ll blend right in.”
I was both curious and excited about beginning such a trip, but the picture of the family did well to remove a good portion of my anxiety. They looked like the type of folks that I had encountered a number of times growing up, the type of family that always made me wonder whether the inside of the home was filled with as much comfort as they made it appear from the outside. I continued with the paperwork and signed the last of the documents, and as we all pushed our plates to the edge of the table we rose and left in unison, making our way to the airport.
After a short drive I began to see signs for the airport but Jerry disregarded all of them, driving around to a secluded checkpoint in the rear. We presented our credentials and drove through the guardhouse and into the tarmac reserved for the Air National Guard. Huge steel birds were positioned in hangers and strategically along the flight line, and they were so massive that I dismissed the notion they could really fly.
“I’ll be honest with you, Todd,” Dr. Brooks spoke loudly to overcome the booming hum of the engines of nearby planes, “we do get some funding from the defense industry. We’ll be flying in a modified medical transport plane. It might not look as comfortable as the ones you’re accustomed to, but,” he smiled, “I assure you they’re just as nice to sleep in as the others.
Our car drove behind a large metal hanger that was left unpainted for the sake of efficiency. A small fleet of government-plated cars were parked outside of a metal door and we pulled alongside them, and I was guided through the maze of corridors towards the open hangar. I looked up to see the aircraft as it towered above me as it sat dangerously heavily on wheels larger than most cars I had seen. There were men and women in green suits hustling back and forth finishing whatever work necessary to get the plane ready for takeoff and they shouted commands over the ever-present symphony of industrial ambient noise.
“Dr. Brooks, Mr. Lavelle,” a uniformed medical person said to our group as they shook hands. “This way, we’ll begin.”
We were led into a makeshift medical wing of the hangar, and as the door shut we were removed from the clanks and rivets of the aviation world, our ears calmed by the soft rhythm of an air conditioning unit in the corner. As we entered we set in motion a series of movements by the doctors and nurses as they danced in and out of the blue glow of fluorescent lights.
“Our takeoff time has been moved up, Dr. Brooks,” said a small woman who came forth with a clipboard, frantically flipping pages and pointing out things in the print.
“Alright,” Dr. Brooks continued, “alright, Todd, we’re going to get started! This is very exciting, very exciting indeed. Follow Lieutenant Belvedere, she’ll get you ready for the flight.” Dr. Brooks paused solemnly, “Todd, this will be the last handshake we have before we meet in Portland.”
He extended his hand with sincerity and promise.
“I’ll see you on the other side.”
I smiled and replied just as cordially before following the Lieutenant into the next room.
“Alright, Mr. Turner, because of the flight change we’ll move quickly. Here is what you’ll be wearing for the flight - it’s pretty typical, but here are some warmer undergarments, it can get a little chilly in the bay at higher altitudes. I’ll leave you to change, just meet me outside the door whenever you’re ready and we’ll get situated on the plane. Hurry, though, we’d like to be airborne in twenty minutes.”
I took the clothes from the mission-oriented Lieutenant and she left me. There were too many thoughts in my head to focus on just one so I was overcome by some strange calmness. I put on the cotton sweat suit and then picked up the green suit that all the flight technicians were wearing, a one piece jumpsuit that took a roomy fit, even over the bulky sweats that I had on underneath. I looked down and on my right breast was a patch Velcro-d on it depicting a lighting bolt crossed behind a strand of DNA. I couldn’t help but give a little chuckle. Such an allegedly top secret project still outsourced a patch to be made. I slipped my feet into the thick and plush slippers and met the lieutenant outside, and she guided us through another small maze and into the bright lights of the outside, the hulking aircraft now situated on top of the dotted line marking the point of takeoff.
“This way, Mr. Turner.” She mentioned efficiently, and I obeyed. She led me up the aft ramp of the plane into the cavernous internal bay. There were canvass seats lining either side and in the middle sat a lone seat with various straps hanging clumsily from either side.
“Please take your seat,” she smiled as we approached the lonesome chair. I sank into it and was surprised at how soft and forgiving the foam was as it formed almost wholly to my body. The lieutenant buckled all of the straps and I was securely fastened for travel, and as she was done a handful of nurses began to activate sensors and buttons on the chair and on stations nearby, and the lieutenant explained the emergency egress procedures. Halfway through her conversation the plane began to vibrate as the four engines powered up. I could hear the ramp behind me begin to close and men and women began to secure themselves into the seats against the fuselage. A young woman approached me.
“Mr. Turner. I’m going to give you the injections now. The first one will be an antihistamine-based anesthesia that will let you get some sleep on the plane, and the second one will be the glandular modification serum. We’ll begin takeoff shortly, but I’m not sure if you’ll still be awake or not. The flight will take about three hours and you should wake up just around then. If you need anything at all at anytime during the flight, I’ll be sitting just off to your right.”
I appreciated her pleasantries and she rolled up the sleeve to both my flight suit and sweats, and gave two quick injections and pulled down my sleeves before taking her seat. The chatter of the men and women aboard were eventually drowned out by the increasing thrust of the engine. I felt the plane jolt forward and I was pulled softly into the seat. My eyelids became heavy and the forces helped shut them, and soon I was asleep.