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The patient is sitting there on the plastic-coated table, clad only in a flimsy paperish-cloth garment like every patient through my examining room, yet he seems not in the least perturbed. That is the first unusual thing I notice about him. Well, that and his particular affliction, but I already had my outburst over that, back in the office.
"_Hansen's_ disease?!" I threw down the file and
shot my receptionist, Sherry, a glare that she knew was
meant for the world in general, not just her, but she
shrank from it nonetheless. "I thought they wiped out
those damnable bacterial diseases ages ago. How in the
hell did he get _Hansen's_ disease?"
"Well," she answered, once certain I was through ranting, "the patient is from Earth. Seems he picked it up there, somewhere. I shouldn't be surprised if there were whole colonies of them, along with goodness-knows what else. He has reported having been affected for a number of years."
"Figures." I sighed and looked at the black-on-white file again. "Earth is so backwards they likely have people dying of bubonic plague, let alone contracting leprosy. Well, as long as he's here, we can get him some proper treatment. I see they did some surgery on him. Worthless, really, but I suppose it was a cosmetic aid."
Sherry nodded. "It appears as if he will require a full-body regeneration treatment. He has been through the routine checking-in and preliminary physical, and is ready to be seen."
I reached under my short, white lab coat and tugged at my blouse to straighten it. I can never keep clothes on straight. "David," I thought, exasperated, for the hundredth time, "you and your creativity..." I blessed Sherry with a grim smile and started off down the hall to my exam rooms.
You might think that after my faithful service to the Luna City Hospital, after returning from a bout with a disease that should have been my death, after being recognized as one of the best, if not _the_ best physician practicing here today, I would get an office closer to my exam rooms. No. It seems like miles to walk, every time, both directions, day after day after day. No special treatment for Carol Serschel. I don't really want any, anyway.
It was humiliating, as always. That blasted tail, which serves no useful purpose whatsoever, got caught in the door on the way out of the office. I made more noise than thirty college students on tour, between trying to work all four legs at once and clipping the back of my ankles with my rear "hooves", and I got messed up in directing my body and smashed into the wall, broadside. All in one trip to the exam room. Typical. There was no other way, said David. You'll be pretty, said David.
As if I ever was. As if "freak" and "pretty" somehow go together. Well, I guess they would, in David's mind. Yet he is still my best friend. He did save my life.
But _damn_ it, I should have found a cure!
Stuck with _this_, for life. Would I rather have a block attached to a wall somewhere? That was the other option. But then I may as well have been back in the hands of those who wiped and fed and babied me, two years into the disease's progression. No, I need to work. I need to _move_, to _control_. If I cannot cure this cursed thing, I can live with it. Barely.
I swore under my breath as I sidestepped away from the wall and clicked and clanked onward, avoiding eye contact with any person attempting to share the hall with me. I had a job to do. I turned my concentration to that, and nearly stumbled. Will I never get the hang of these legs?
Yes. Well. Earth. What do you expect.
Backwards, all of them. Bizarre beliefs and minimal medical care, ever since that Fissure opened. Thank Heaven I am here, a Lunar citizen.
At any rate, I have a patient to assist. Typical Earth inhabitant, I would guess, somehow got under a Lunar authority's skin and managed to book passage for the moon, so we can fix him up. Well, fine, I will. That I can do.
I look at the name on the file again, stopping to do so before opening the door and entering-- one action at a time is about all I can handle. I subdue the frustration for the time being.
Damien. Earth native. Treated on the American continent for leprosy, to the extent that the Americans _could_ treat him, anyway. At least the bacteria are dormant. We can regenerate the nerves and replace the prosthetics and send on his merry nutball way.
I know what I am expecting. And this man is not it.
"Mr. Clavius?" I turn on my best soothing,
welcoming smile, but the patient has already beat me to
it. As soon as I clop through the portal into the
pristine exam area, the Earth native is outright
beaming at me. I do my quick, automatic check to see
whether he is smiling in consternation at my unorthodox
cybernetics, but no, his eyes are on mine, and he seems
genuine. That or simple. I opt for the latter.
Damien Clavius (an assumed name, my receptionist has told me, as the patient has lost track of his own family history... not surprising, coming from Earth) sits, amazingly at ease, in his thin covering and holds out a hand. "Doctor Serschel?"
"Yes, Mr. Clavius..."
"Everybody calls me Damien."
"Right... Damien..." I shake hands with him, taking the opportunity to look at the offered hand and feel for scar tissue. Some, in certain folds of the palm, but overall he is in remarkably good shape. Either he is mistaken about how long he has had the disease, or he is a meticulously careful patient. I may have to re-think the "simple" appellation. Damien's eyes are clear, hardly scratched, his hands and feet are smooth and free of inflammation. I think I see a minor injury on the left hand, but decide to wait for the full examination to discuss it.
It is hard to get started, however. Not because the man is talkative or difficult, but because, for some reason I cannot put my finger on, I am overly distracted. Damien is calm, calmer than I ever was during my examinations at the hands of other doctors. He answers my questions pleasantly and promptly.
"I see you had reconstructive surgery, but your file does not specify what was done, nor whether it was all done at one time. Looking at your face, I see..." I lift the man's chin lightly and tilt it so I can look along his temples and jawbone and feel the structure of the forehead. "... have your eyebrows been replaced?"
He nods, then remembers that I am examining him and is still. "My face was done within a month of the surgery for the tendons in my hands. Since then I've only had a few minor injuries, really. All healed up. Except for that cut in the groove of my left thumb."
"How did you get that?" I know now that Damien is certainly an unusual patient. It will be good to see him in possession of a sense of touch. He has excellent skills of observation, to be aware of all his injuries, and is honest with me, the physician. I catch a glimpse of his intense blue eyes sparkling at me, and quickly avert my gaze. He deserves to recover, then be on his way. I get the sense that this man is as professional a patient as I am a doctor. He seems openly friendly, however, and he need not be. He need not pity the physician in the odd metal get-up. No one else does.
Besides, I am alive. I have my job. That is really all there is. Standing here, working on a patient, I am nearly as dexterous as I ever was. If only David could have designed something a little more tractable... But no. Not David! I have seen his sketches, the ones he does for fun. If he were not the only one with the skill to help me, I would have gone to someone else. Someone more grounded in Lunar society, even in the _law_, for crying out loud. I swear but I don't know sometimes that David doesn't belong on Earth with the other--
Well, so far, Mr. Damien Clavius seems intelligent enough.
"That cut," says Damien, "came from the latch on my carry-all. I suppose I tried too hard to push it shut when it wouldn't go. I keep an eye on it." He smiles at me again and I smile back, in what I hope is a superior manner. Can't have patients thinking they're equal to you, or why should they trust you?
The examination finished, and Damien determined to be in good health other than having been ravaged by _mycobacterium leprae_, I stand back with a click of my metal hoof on the tiled floor and sign my name to the observations I have made on his file.
"Well, Damien, I don't see why we can't start intensive treatment right away. If you will collect any personal belongings you might need during a hospital stay, and return here tomorrow, I will have the regeneration tanks ready for you by Thursday. In the intervening days we will be removing and undoing the work done on Earth. Remember, this is not a setback, simply a necessary step in replacing your nerves, tendons, cartilage, hairs and skin with your body's own resources. How do you feel about that?"
Damien's face lights up yet again as he slides from the exam table. "Thank you, Dr. Serschel. I feel great." Suddenly he pauses, laughs, then says mischievously, "Actually, I don't feel anything at all. But I expect to shortly."
Very funny. I feel the edge of my lip twitch slightly, and stop it just in time. Disease is not humorous. "Very well, then, I will see you here tomorrow. I believe you will be pleased with the results."
This is the only way, Carol. You'll love it. Come on, please. Do you want to die? _Hell no_. A cure would've been so much better. But I am alive. And I send another living being out of the office, pointing him in the direction of his street outfit, knowing the Luna City Hospital will flawlessly cure his affliction and he will, oh, I don't know, probably go home to Earth. Which will be just as well. The less mixing of Lunar and Earth cultures these days, the better.
Mutations indeed. They're probably all scarred from various diseases. Driven mad by the futility of their world. Only _wishing_ it were "Magic".
I have here my own version of magic, and it will work for Damien.
Magic. Research. End results. Carol Serschel the-- what did David call it? No matter. I am a professional. I am nothing _but_ a professional.
Back to the office, halting rhythm of hooves echoing along the white passage. I hate being so conspicuous. Hate it. When I think back, though, to lolling in a chair, padded against my own immobility, trying to stare at the computer I used to redeem my physical self, drool wetting the shoulder my head tended towards, I know... anything is better than that. But this form is--
Again, no matter. None whatsoever. My smooth, metallic tail swishes out of the way of a dietary department aide who is attempting to carry a tray to someone. Good. At least I got that move right, this time. It has been too long to still be making mistakes, though.
I should get out more often, David says. Get out and rehearse the moves, get used to the feel, find the advantages. Advantages? There are none. I am putting up with this, not gaining from it. A _tail_. A tail.
Balances out the design, says David.
Wait. Why am I caring what a _patient_ thought of this crazy chunk of metal? I am not caring. There.
Quick break before the next patient, and then I am here all night, tonight. That's all right. I may as well be here, doing good, as relaxing in my apartment, and there will be time enough for that when I get off shift. I have a "bed" of sorts, here, that allows me to stand in my office and relax my torso against the padded wall. David's idea.
Everything lately seems to be David's idea. Except the maintenance program itself. _I_ came up with that. Fighting my own helplessness, I designed a system to help me survive.
And then I called upon David to build something to put that system _in_.
Short break. Coffee.
Damien's treatment begins and progresses. I see
him daily until Thursday, checking on the procedural
details of undoing the primitive Earth work so we can
truly cure his condition. He claims that the center he
went to was state-of-the-art in America. Sad.
Frightening and sad. Something really ought to be done
about those people.
Anyway, I have plenty of projects to occupy my mind with, but Damien's cheerful countenance is almost to the point of haunting me by the time Thursday comes around and he is finally off my hands. He seems so _eager_, certainly beyond the prospect of having his nerves repaired. He seems to have no doubt that all will be well. I don't have _Lunar_ patients with that much faith in me. It must be something else he is thinking of.
Thursday arrives, Damien is removed from my schedule and my sight, and I get on with business. The clean-cut, blond Earth man will be sunk into our regeneration tanks and the specialists will oversee his recovery. No more nerve damage. A dramatic change, for him. I don't know if he realizes just how dramatic.
I don't know why _I_ am still thinking about it. I go home and rest. My turn for a few nights at home, and I deserve it.
My apartment is a ways out from the hospital, but since I regularly order a private, large cab for myself it is almost better than having it close in, where it would make the most sense to walk. Besides, on the outskirts of Luna City are the structures with the views. I can see Earth, in all its fantasizing, blue-swirled glory, from the broad window situated as a main feature of my living room.
There is nothing on the viewscreen-- well, there _is_, but nothing that would entertain me. Incredibly, no messages on the videophone. I keep the rooms dark, feeling quiet and almost light as the only illumination comes from outside and my hooves contact only carpet.
A glint from the curve over my rear cybernetic leg makes me wince as it enters my eye. Reflections of light off an impossible thing. I shut my blue eyes. Lighter blue than--
God. It serves me right for agreeing to treat an Earth native.
The machine that keeps me alive carries me cautiously to my bathroom, where I must catheterize myself through the concealed opening just below the amputation point. I am the woman I used to be, from that point up. Except that my woman's brain is striving constantly to control, to use this thing, to make the moves and uses right.
I brush my shoulder-length, ash-blonde hair and inspect my face for wrinkles. Fairly young-looking, really. I almost expect to age faster, with all the stress. Oh, well. That's not what counts. I can't expect to look good-- besides, who's looking at my face anymore? David constantly checks over the horse body, when he sees me, desperate to keep me healthy and pleased with his work. And when he invites me out to socialize I refuse.
He really does care, but I don't know if _I_ do.
If I hadn't been on the brink of death, I would have worked out a cure. I still work on it, off and on, but the urgency is gone. And no progress has been made, in all this time.
Horse. _Centaur_. That's what he called it. Some mythical creature. David, David, David. I did not and do not appreciate being seen as some freakish fairy tale, when I am a _medical doctor_.
Beautiful. Yeah, right.
I wonder how Damien is doing.
Once again, the patient is on my table. This visit
is just a formality, really. I am to check him over
and release him, as I was officially assigned to his
case. He sits, grinning at me, and I smile back. It
would be hard not to.
The eyebrows have come in nicely, and his blinking reflex has been timed-- normal. Nerves fully restored. Tendons re-cut and restored. All done, finished, cured and pleased. If only it were so easy for all of us.
"Dr. Serschel," he says, and I get the feeling he is going to say something serious. "I want to thank you."
"Well, you're welcome, Damien."
"And I want to know something."
There is that eagerness in those eyes again, the same I saw weeks ago during his initial treatments. He looks older, stronger, determined. I wonder... "Yes?"
Damien does not speak for a second. Then, he takes my right hand and holds it, firmly, seeming to judge something in my eyes. I do not feel threatened, but I do wonder. No patient has reached out to me before.
"Dr. Serschel, what medical school did you go to, and where can I register?"
He's dead serious. "How long have you been thinking about this?"
Damien speaks so quietly, I would not think his voice would carry, but it does, a perfect resonance for an exam room.
"I will give you information on the university."
Damien keeps his hold on my hand for a moment longer.
"I have not felt anything like this in a long time."
I am being granted an understanding of how he feels at this touch. It is not that I do not appreciate this, but I must not let the patient lean heavily, in an emotional way, on the practitioner. His grip is so calm and solid, though, I need almost to fight to remove my hand. He lets me go immediately. I realize, with a twinge of embarrassment, that I could have asked him to release his hold.
Still, it is not good that this should continue. I ask for his videophone code, so I can get the medical school information to him. He thanks me again. And on the way out, Damien turns to smile at me, saying, "By the way, who did your cybernetics?"
I am taken aback. Of course, he is only trying to be friendly, saying something conversational before he leaves, connecting in that dangerous emotional way again. I'll answer him and we'll be done. "His name is David Stephenapolous."
The grin broadens. "He does marvelous work. You look very nice, Doctor."
The man is telling the truth. I realize this as he leaves, with me still standing there trying to appear professional.
David is my friend. He saved me. It's his work. He _has_ to try to keep me sane, to tell me I look fine, I'll survive, et cetera, et cetera.
In the entirety of his treatment Damien has not once been dishonest. His symptoms have matched his words. Rare, for anyone...
Well. He's from Earth. He probably has a skewed vision of the world anyway.
A glimmer of hope fades, professionally, and I collect my metal limbs and my next patient's file and go on doing what I do best.
I am a doctor.
I note to myself that I must get that university information to Damien Clavius.
I really should give him my home code, too, just in case he has any questions. It would be a shame to lose such a promising professional as himself, should he be discouraged by Lunar procedures and such. After all, that honesty and charisma could be good features in a doctor.
I hope he decides to go through with it.
This man is twelve years younger than me.
I am sitting next to him on my couch, or rather, I have my legs folded awkwardly under my "body" and am situated close to him on the cushions, but I do not believe this is so nor know why it might be, so I repeat it to myself a few times.
Damien is still sitting there.
"Man, my feet are killing me," says the med student, and removes his dressy shoes, grinning all the while. He turns to me, almost flirtatiously. "I have _so_ wanted to say that."
I can't believe this. Did I actually invite him over here? Yes, I did. _After_ we did lunch _out_ three days in a row. Fast. Too fast.
Wait. No. Nothing is happening. I am just being nice to Damien, who is a lonely, lost Earth person in need of guidance as he progresses in his medical career. And he was _not_ being flirtatious.
"Carol? You all right?"
I think I nod. He watches me, solemnly. Then he turns on the viewer, flicking restlessly through the channel options, watching me out of the corner of his eye more than he pays attention to any of the shows.
Time goes by. Maybe twenty minutes. Damien is calm, as he nearly always seems to be, but his concern over my silence is evident. I flick my tail, idly. As soon as I see the slight smile from Damien I realize what I am doing, and concentrate on being still and cool. Professional. Centaurs or whatever the hell David dreamed up are not professional.
"Look, Damien, I'm sorry, but I can't spend this kind of time with you."
I stand, quickly, afraid of being near that man-- afraid as I have not been since I began to experience the symptoms of ALS. No motor control. Nothing for it but to die or wear-- this. I am as afraid as that. I stumble a bit in rising, jerking back quickly with my back-bent ankles so I won't tumble completely into the couch. Something is wrong, he has to get out of here. I do not want a man in my apartment.
"Damien, something is wrong. I can't see you here anymore."
"All right, but..."
"I'm sorry-- excuse me-- I have to--"
I work my way cautiously back from the couch, my feet just barely behaving themselves. Damnit, why a _horse_, David? Some good this does my image, and with Damien here, who has seemed to like me... Who _seems_...
I almost run to the bathroom, this time managing not to trip over myself. This body _is_ powerful. If I had a use for that power, I might appreciate it. In my own home, though, I intimidate myself. The bathroom door is open, and I fit my whole cybernetic, clanking self inside and slam the door shut.
I think I need to catheterize myself-- _something_ feels odd. The messages to my brain are like that, as if the sensitive machine is alerting me to a need. David designed it so I would have a familiar way to know when to take care of myself. He says the body has sensations of a horse and a human. I don't care. I can barely figure out how to use it in day-to-day practice. What does he expect? Outright worship of his art? I _had_ to get this machine.
It helps me to work. It regenerates my motor neurons as they degenerate. Over and over, constant battle. I see my expression in the mirror as I fumble with the equipment, and I notice that I am pale. Almost obviously distraught. Do I look like this to Damien? Does the ever-cool Damien see this white, drawn face tonight?
I have to get him out of here. He's too young to be wasting his time socially with a doctor like me.
I slowly emerge from the bathroom and step as gracefully as possible back to the couch, my silver feet soundless on the carpet. Damien watches me.
"Carol. I'll go, if that's what you want. But I'm not going anywhere until I'm sure you're okay."
I smooth my hair and look at him, calculating the appearance of my expression. I will be as calm as he. "Sorry about that. I just had to, um, catheterize myself. Or at least I thought I did. Darn machine must be screwy."
"Hm... Should David look at it?"
"No!.. No. That is, I can have him look at it next time I see him. It's not important right now."
"About my leaving..."
"Yes. I'm sorry, because it's not you, and I can't explain, but I would like you to go."
"I would like you to explain. Try, please, Carol. Are you _sure_ your machine is messed up? Are you sure it's not something else?"
"Why-- what else would it be?"
"Sit down again. Here. Talk to me, please." Damien pats the couch where I have made a deep indentation. I look at his hand, then back at his face. I feel, somehow, as if the choice to make him leave is inferior to-- something.
I climb into my seat backwards, my hocks sinking into the cushion first, then my front limbs pulling up under my creased metal chest. My original torso is in an uncomfortable position until I lean just slightly against the back of the couch, facing Damien. And here we are. Again.
I begin to sweat. I have nowhere to dry my palms but on my blouse or the couch cushions, so I ball up my hands and freeze in position. Damien leans just the slightest bit towards me, as well. He looks so _clean_.
"Carol. Did you know I am attracted to you?"
"Damien! Don't be ridiculous. Don't be..." Screwy machine. My brain can't shake the messages. Calm...
"You don't give me any credit, do you." He's smiling, and speaking gently, but almost as if he sees me as a longtime friend, as a companion. I live alone. "Are you certain there might not be some other messages getting to you through the machine? Why assume something is wrong? David does beautiful work.
"Damien, this is not _me_! From the waist down is not _me_. Maybe living on Earth has made you think this kind of thing can-- can be. But what you need to understand is that this is a medical device. Not a body, not truly. Okay? Are you understanding me?"
He sort of chuckles. "Centauress. Actually, I have seen many. But they are no--"
"Stop it. You know full well you can get arrested for saying things like that. I think you'd better watch it, Damien. There are no such things as mutants, and this body is a machine. Two points you need to keep in your head." I am fighting to concentrate. I hope I am the guidance this man needs right now. He obviously believes creatures such as this thing of David's dreaming can be living things. Earth. What has it done to people?
"I have met David. He is devoted to you, probably your best friend that I know of. This _is_ a cybernetic creation with a sense of touch, isn't it, Carol?"
As he says this, Damien touches my metal shoulder, lightly. Then he strokes it with a little more pressure. I twitch, but I don't feel like getting up and risking a fall right now. "Yes," I say, guardedly. "Touch. Of course I can feel things. It keeps me from damaging myself or hurting others."
I am not even sure how it has happened, but Damien's face has come so close to mine that I can feel the breath from his nose tickling my upper lip. I snort, a bad habit, but one I have nonetheless and which seems to always amuse David and Damien greatly. "What are you doing?"
The air moves near my face as he speaks. "Would you like me to kiss you?"
"Damien!" This time I do jump back, still on the couch, and balance precariously on my haunches. "How many times do I have to tell you? You and I are going nowhere. This is not me. Do you get this? Do you understand?"
Damien strokes the front of my centaur chest. I feel it, yes. And those confusing signals are firing constantly in my brain. But it doesn't fit. It _can't_, can it?
"David would not let that happen. I know you don't want to listen to me. But I would ask you to please, give me a chance. The only thing I can do is to show you. But it might be considered... Unacceptable."
"Look, Damien, if you have something to show me you may as well. I am sorry you are missing the point. David has dreams-- he used them to make this appliance to control the ALS. It is practical--"
"As practical as you are. I still don't think David thinks quite the same way you have been, Dr. Serschel."
That teasing tone in his voice is friendly, but I am frightened. There is no denying it. However, I am not frightened of _Damien_. "Show me. And then we will discuss just why you are refusing to understand."
"Are you attracted to me?"
"Are you? Please. I don't want to do anything you would consider... well... any kind of violation..."
"There is nothing to violate. Do what you will. And I... am your friend. Although I don't know what you... see in me..."
Damien proceeds to show me. That is, as if in answer to my question, the man runs his hand over my face and hair.
He taps my back softly with his fingers, each digit in turn touching the flesh, and then proceeding to the metal withers beyond my amputation point. I wait. I am thinking of many things at once, as usual, and as Damien moves to touch the further parts of me I forget to keep track, for awhile. I come back to him again when he speaks.
"How do you feel?"
"I don't know." I feel as if I am being petted. So. What else? Cybernetics usually have some sense of touch.
"I am not going to continue unless I know that you know that this is the only way to explain what I mean about you, Carol, and you do not comprehend it any other way."
"Go on. Do. Do show me what it is I do not comprehend."
Damien's hand travels over my forelegs, then he hitches himself up from his seat and kneels beside me. The sensations of his hands on my "body" continue. Sides. Coronets over the hooves. Flanks. Base of tail.
Damien slides his hand silently under my tail.
Instantly I am on my feet and turned furiously at him.
For the first time since I have met him, Damien's face pales, blue eyes sadden as suddenly as I speak. He stands back immediately. He leaves, trenchcoat and shoes still on the rack and in front of the couch.
I stand, trembling, for a moment after the door has closed.
Then I stamp, brain and body burning, to the videophone.
The viewer is on, quiet and mindlessly busy in its images, behind me. Earth can be seen as I head for the phone. He should never have come here.
He seems to have known it was coming. The Greek face, perpetually dark with stubble, is haggard beyond the usual stress of this and that. He has been waiting. Worrying and waiting.
He just nods. He knows I can see him and that I will speak first. There is nothing for _him_ to say.
"David, how could you _do_ this to me?!"
He looks up at that. Not defiant, but determined. And that determination makes me fume as he says, "Carol, _you are a woman_. You asked me to design--"
"A medical appliance! Nothing more!"
"Carol! I don't care how much you deny--"
"This is not _me_! How dare you take such initiative without me? How could you--"
"How could I not?" A tear presses into the crease under my friend's steel-grey eye. "You don't know what's good for you, Carol Serschel. _You are an attractive woman_. You couldn't stay alone forever. Damn you, you could've asked! But you didn't. And I knew what you would say. I know you. You're as complete now as you ever were. I couldn't let you live incomplete, as you would have it. I--"
"You made me make a fool of myself in front of Damien! David, so help me--" Anger roils up within both my chests.
That's it. With the phone still on, I wheel around, square my haunches, and fire a kick with all the energy I can muster-- all of it channeled fear and anger, forced into and through that right rear leg, smashing the phone into crinkling shards.
I clop back onto the silent carpet. I fold myself up in front of the wide, shining window and will myself to stop thinking.
David's face is almost childishly eager as he
faces the man who has come to him for solace. "Are
there really Centaurs on Earth?"
"Oh, yes." Damien is white, cautious, having feared the woman's anger and still reeling from its effect. He is deeply grateful for David's devotion to the ideas behind the images in the cyberneticist's sketchbook. The ones for him, just for fun. The ones no one would never need, let alone desire, in Luna City. Not, that is, until a certain doctor with ALS had no other choice... "Yes, David, there are plenty of Centaurs. Sphinxes, too. And unicorns." A slight smile relaxes Damien's features for an instant. "Werewolves, you name it."
"Why do you live _here_, then? When you could be among those people?" David himself is still reeling from a kick that affected him as much as if it had struck him bodily. But Damien has captured his imagination. "Why not return there?"
"No. I will become a doctor, and the best place for it is here. But I guess, if Carol..."
"She won't. Not forever."
"But she hates me."
Damien sags a little. "She nearly attacked me, David. I warned her, but it was too much. I did everything wrong, and now..."
"No." David recovers himself enough to speak firmly to his companion. "She-- loves you.
"I don't know how you did it, but there it is, and..."
"I'm sorry, David."
"No! And I am getting sick of saying that, so please, listen to me when I say that if you go to her tomorrow, Carol will be so-- happy to see--" the cyberneticist pauses. "Well. Would you put in a good word for me? Would you? Please?"
Damien smiles. He is tired, he is unsure, but in the face of David's trusting request he begins to gain a small amount of confidence. "David, if she wants to see me, I am sure she will want to see you, too. But if you think I should, I will say whatever you ask me to."
"Good man. Thanks. Damien?"
"What do you-- think?"
Damien looks at his friend closely. He sees how few times this man has been told. He wonders how often he has even had the courage to ask. Perhaps he really does not belong on the moon... Earth people would appreciate... "She's beautiful. You really do stunning work."
David sighs. "I did make it to help her. Honestly. The details and reliability are of utmost importance to me. But she doesn't think..."
"She is alive because of you. She is also beautiful. If what you say is true, I will be able to tell her. Again. Until she gets it."
"I want to show you something I couldn't show her."
Damien waits. David Stephenapolous rises, lifts a black-bound sketchpad from a side table, and returns.
"Here." He flips through the pages until spreading the book wide open at one place and holding it for Damien.
The Centauress, as if born that way, stands lightly in the drawing, one forefoot lifted in a captured pause as she regards the men. Carol transformed, yet always been. "Are there Centaurs on Earth?"
"Yes, David. You were right not to show her this. Yet."
"Brown? You think?"
"No doubt in my mind." David grins slightly.
"Mm... I was thinking maybe, I don't know, Palomino..."
"You're the artist."
"Yeah. Yeah, the artist. Damien..."
Pause. Biting of the lip. Thinking, staring into space. "Would you..."
"Yes, I'm sure. Nothing _now_. But sometime I might..."
"You do really good work."
The men think around the drawing of the shaded brown, graceful animal on the paper. Carol waits. At home, in metal. Thinking around a sphere of impossibility. Earth shows in her apartment. She lowers herself to the carpet and buries her shame in the dark-- for now.
Just for now.