ANTI-MAN by Dean R. Koontz

“Not any longer.”

“I can resign from society without giving up my degree and skills. Don’t pride yourself that I would cancel out all my medical interests, hopes and dreams just for you, boy. Now get that coat and shirt off!” It felt good to be forceful after letting Him derail me so many times before. Funny that I should be considered the terror of interns for eight years, the scowling, black-eyed dragon who ate young doctors whole if they so much as appeared with wrinkled whites for duty, and yet allow myself to be put off by this non-man so easily. Wasn’t I the same doctor whose nurse, working the same floor and duty shift with him, arrived half an hour early and left half an hour late rather than forget to prepare or finish something? Yet I must wrangle with this Adam for the simple purpose of perhaps saving His arm from gangrene. Perhaps, I told myself, it was because we were running, because I was a criminal and afraid. I had set up a new life style for myself, and the whorls of its pattern had rocked my self-confidence. That would have to change. What was I without my bluster? My towering rage? I scowled the intern-paralyzing scowl. “Hurry up!”

When it was put that bluntly, a severe command, He obeyed. He always obeyed commands. He was almost the perfect android. There had just been one incident when He had refused to obey a command, and that had been the same incident that had revealed the fact that He was developing abilities far beyond any we had anticipated. Considering the fact that World Authority research administrators anticipate everything (or so they proudly proclaim at every opportunity), the discovery shook up quite a few people. Quite a few of the wrong people.

I had been with Him that day on the ground floor of the testing lab, working on analysis of His reflex pattern (which had just then begun to show an extraordinary rapidity, especially in the areas of heat and light tropism) when the explosion had rocked the research complex. The floor trembled, windows rattled, plaster dust sifted down onto us. I didn’t think about Him or leaving Him alone, but I grabbed my bag and ran, following the intercom directions to the sector of the disaster.

I worked for two hours in the smoking ruins, trying to do preliminary patchwork on the dying bodies-trying to convince myself that they still had a chance-while we waited for the base and the town ambulances to return from their agonizingly slow trips to the local hospital. When I had seen the animated form of a man I had earlier left for dead—damn dead!—under a crushing pile of debris, I thought I had finally flipped out of rational thought ways. Then I began to see others, six in all, men certainly dead only a short time before. He was doing it. He. I became aware of the military standing around, almost every important officer on the base and enough MPs to make a war movie. They were ordering Him to stop reviving people. It should have been that simple. Command and obedience. Instead, He wouldn’t listen to them. He repeatedly disobeyed. Finally, they shot Him with narcodarts and put Him on ice until they could decide what was to be done.

Under the current social mores, it was perfectly correct and noble to keep someone from suffering or dying prematurely. The operative word there is “prematurely.” In a world of nine billion, it was taboo— and suicidal—to bring anyone back from the dead. The ranks of the living, God knew, were almost more than the planet could bear. The government had successfully discredited the Crionics Association, had squashed all possibilities of producing Mercer Serum to regress the effects of aging. Here was a new threat every bit as frightening and impossible as anything they had faced before.

They talked to Him, explained to Him what disaster this could bring into the world. They examined His fingers and watched as He demonstrated His ability to reshape His hands into flesh scalpels, thin His fingers into three-molecule-thickness knives that could penetrate another man’s skin, go into him and work like a miniature surgeon. They were horrified by the possible applications of such a talent. Try as they might, however, they could not convey their horror to Him. He had been given a mind freer than any mind in history. Where a man rarely uses a third of his brain, He used nearly a hundred percent of His. Completely unshackled as He was, He held true to what He had deduced as the highest values of existence. One of these was to prolong human life as long as possible, as healthfully as possible. Since He refused to let men die when He could delve into them and correct or heal them with His magic fingers, let the strange time-reversal touch draw together their deteriorating flesh, He was a menace to World Authority. Since He could get into parts of the liver or kidneys where no mortal surgeon could ever reach, delve into the alveoli of the lungs and scrape out the cancer cell-by-goddamned-cell, He could not be allowed to exist. We had given Him a conscience, and He had given Himself new systems that enabled Him to reshape His hands. We had given Him a complex human-type brain that was almost totally operative, and He had begun to surpass Man in a speeded evolution consciously wrought. Given all that we knew about Him, all we had built into Him, we should have expected something like this. But we had not. And now the panic began.

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Categories: Koontz, Dean