Psychopomp Magazine Spring 2016 - Page 40

40 | Psychopomp Magazine

Nature that killed her already, he reminds himself. She got the cough at thirty-five, got the grave ten months later. Everyone gets one thing or another eventually. You get the cough or you get blood-poisoned or bone-sick, and it doesn’t matter that each of these is a bucket for dozens of specific illnesses. You use the generic terms or all the -emias and -itises will crowd your mouth and catch in your throat.

The red light above the machine goes out and the green light comes on, and the collective intake of breath in the room is audible.

The Director signals the engineer this time and the machine’s clamped mouth opens wide. At the edges of his vision, the Director sees what looks like choreographed movement, a mass swiveling of heads as the scientists look to the machine, back to the Director. His reaction is as much on display as the Jonas Command result.

The machine has produced a boy, approximately fourteen years old. The Director sheds whatever surprise he feels at the sight of the child and calmly waves over his assistant.

Two alerts are sent out, the first to all hospitals in the Green Zone. They are to report any patients with three or more symptoms off a list: headache, neck stiffness, sore throat, vomiting, muscle weakness. The second alert is sent to the Center for Contagions, requesting that their stores of polio vaccine be immediately inventoried.

The boy Jonas is kept close to the machine so that he can be sent back should his presence have repercussions, though truthfully, none of the scientists are sure that the machine is capable of affecting a reverse journey.

When no consequences arise, the Director concludes that it is possible to take from the past without changing it. His assistant remarks that this used to be referred to simply as learning, and the Director gives her an elaborate coffee order to remind her that he can.