THE TEMPLE OF MAGGIE STONE
Chapter 3: A New Body
Maggie woke up, once again naked and once again on a bare, cold steel table. But this time when she sat up, there was no pain. Her hand went instinctively to her head, and there was a full crop of hair. She moved the hair in front of her face. It was green. She was inside the body. Maggie looked down and saw a pair of plump breasts wrapped in tight pale skin. She lifted both her arms and studied the backs of her hands. There were no liver spots, no hair that refused to die. She flexed the muscles in her legs, and for the first time since before she could remember, felt the muscles tighten.
She dangled her legs off the table. Her heart stopped. The old fears of falling and breaking something flooded her like a bad habit. But she didn’t have to worry about that anymore. She felt anticipation cramp her stomach. For a moment, she was afraid she’d try to stand and fall anyway. Maybe her new body took some getting used to. She hoped not. All she wanted to do was walk. If she could do that much, she would consider herself lucky.
Slowly, she began to slide herself off the steel bed. Her feet hit the cold floor. She curled her toes several times and put all her weight on her legs. She was standing. Maggie took one step. Two steps. No weakness. No stumbling. For the first time in over two years, she felt good. She felt great! She felt healthy!
Photo Edited by Gary Varner
Maggie ran to the one-way mirror and studied herself. Her green eyes shone with tears. She touched her warm cheeks and studied the long green hair that fell past her bare shoulders. She cried; not just cried, wailed! Those cries slowly turned to wild, childish screams of delight. She began to run from one end of the small room to the other. Then she jumped, and soon, she was doing cartwheels and somersaults like a child. She knew she looked silly, and she knew that if anyone was watching on the other end of the one-way mirror, they were getting a show, but she didn’t care. She was a ten-year-old tomboy, running through the fields with her friends. Maggie was back in a time where sex, age, status and all the things that came with being an adult didn’t exist. She was innocent. She was new.
Maggie kept waiting to run out of breath. She didn’t. She wondered if there ever really was a time when she could run and play like she was doing now. She kept on like this until Ray burst through the door to her left. Without thinking, she ran to him and nearly knocked him over. She belted him with a barrage of kisses as she started crying again. He held her, saying nothing, but he was smiling, and his smile meant more to her than anything in the world, a world she would get to see a little more of after all.
It was an hour before Maggie could calm herself enough to let the doctors check her vitals. She was given a hospital gown which she wore grudgingly because the whole time she was naked Ray kept staring at her. And she wanted him to stare. They’d given up on sex years ago, but now, he was looking at her with a sort of awe that made him look twenty years younger. It was a vain thing, but it had been so long since she allowed herself to believe she was pretty, and as childish as it might have been, she didn’t realize how starved she was for that kind of attention. Still, she put the silly thing on and was guided down the dark hallway that didn’t seem quite so dark anymore. And there were people, doctors and nurses, who took her from one room to the next, all saying everything was normal, something she hadn’t heard in over two years. As she went to each room, it slowly began to dawn on her that the reason the place had been empty before was because it wasn’t a guarantee that she would agree, or really, despite Dr. Lane’s assertions, that the operation was going to work. When Dr. Lane first realized what Horace and Randolf had done, she must have cleared the facility because she wanted as few people there as possible since the situation was so uncertain.
After all her vitals were checked and everything was cleared, a nurse gave her some proper clothes, and Maggie put them on without arguing. She wished she could’ve teased her husband for a little longer. It might make him want her more. Yet as time went on, Ray was already looking at her less. Sure, he smiled and was every bit as affectionate as ever, but at the same time, he was growing increasingly distant. Maggie understood why. After she’d agreed, he’d begged her to reconsider.
Maggie was not a naïve, little girl anymore. At no point did she ever suspect that he was urging her to say no because he wanted her to die, but that didn’t stop her from making the accusation. She felt a pang of guilt as she remembered this. Dr. Lane had guided her to a gurney and helped her into another hospital gown, and as she lay there, waiting for the drugs to carry her away to oblivion or salvation, Ray had made his final plea, and she’d accused him of wanting her to die. It had been enough to make him acquiesce. The last thing he wanted was to end what could have been their last conversation on bad terms, and she’d known he would feel that way and had used his sentiment against him. She felt bad, but after all, it was a matter of life and death. Once he’d agreed, the drugs took her quickly. Dr. Lane wanted to give her as little time to reconsider as possible.
Once she was dressed, Maggie and Ray were led to the cafeteria where they saw Dr. Lane sitting behind one of the sticky tables, papers scattered around her. She was thumbing through the sheets mindlessly until she looked up and saw them. The doctor smiled, stood up and motioned for them to have a seat.
As Maggie and Ray sat down, Dr. Lane stared at them. The smell of something fried filled the air. Cooks chattered amongst themselves as pans clattered and rang in the kitchen. Maggie met the doctor’s eyes, and her cheeks grew warm. She felt like a shy child.
“You look lovely!” Dr. Lane said. “Your new body was always one of my favorite children.”
Maggie looked down at herself, again regarding her recaptured youth. She was surprised to discover that she felt at home in the thing. She’d expected to feel like an imposter, like a virus invading some host. Instead, she felt welcome in her new form. “Thank you.”
“No, thank you,” Dr. Lane said. “Thank you for believing in me! Thank you for giving me the chance to prove myself and fix a situation which could have spelled disaster for our cause! If you said no, I would have been forced to tell my donors the operation was a failure. Like I said, if we’d tried to force you, the operation wouldn’t take, but they wouldn’t care about the nuances. They would’ve pulled my funding. I’m sure of it.”
“But you’ve done the operation twice already,” Ray said.
“Success wouldn’t matter if we couldn’t convince anyone,” Dr. Lane said. “How could they make their money back if no one would accept the risk? I couldn’t go out there and prove it to the world myself because I’m the only one who knows how to perform the procedure. Rather, than people flocking to the operation, some government may have tried to kidnap me, or some activist might’ve burned me as a witch. Then where would they be? Besides, an experiment must be repeatable, not just on a prisoner who we can’t openly acknowledge, but on a willing volunteer. You make the experiment marketable, Maggie Stone.” Dr. Lane laughed and shook her head. “Anyway, we only have a few minutes before the staff come in for lunch, so let me get to the point. Your operation was a success. Now, it’s time for the trial run.”
“Trial run?” Maggie asked.
“Yes, we’ll be releasing you today, so you two need to make some decisions. We want you to go back to living a normal life, and if there are any side effects, good, bad or anything in between, contact us right away. I don’t expect anything detrimental, but there are some oddities that are a natural consequence of having this particular body. For example, if you cut yourself, your “blood” might be red, at first, but after a while, it will become clear like water, same thing for your menstrual cycle. It’s nothing to be alarmed about. It’s just that the substitute we used for blood reacts differently in the body. We don’t know why it happens, but there’s nothing life threatening about it. As an aside…or really, rather, a bonus, we’ve maximized your blood’s clotting ability, so the chances of you bleeding out are much smaller than before. But I must confess, we’re not exactly sure how this body is going to react to injuries. We suspect it will be much more durable; although, there have been no tests in this regard.” Her face darkened. “I don’t intend for there to be any either.”
Maggie didn’t care for the doctor’s look. It told her that, although she had no intentions of conducting such experiments, people had tried to persuade her in the other direction. Ray’s cynicism for the government had bled into her own opinions as well, and if the military got involved in a project like this, the first thing they would be thinking is how to apply this new technology on the battlefield. This begged the question of who within the government did Dr. Lane sell her soul to in order to get the funding to finish her project.
“If you get injured for some reason…and by injured, I mean, something as small as a paper cut…be sure to call us so we can document the details, how quickly you stopped bleeding. How long did it take for you to heal; did you feel nauseated or feel anything out of the ordinary, things like that. Be sure to do the same if you get sick as well, which is another thing, I suspect, isn’t going to be a problem, but I don’t want to make any promises.” Dr. Lane took one of the sheets of paper in front of her, wrote down a number, and handed it to Maggie. “My personal cell.”
“You said we had to make some decisions before we left. What are they?” Ray asked.
“Well, the big thing is what to do with Maggie’s old body. You also might want to talk about how you’re going to address your wife’s new body to family and friends. Those matters are between the two of you, but I want you to discuss them and call me when you’re done.”
Maggie’s heart stopped. A wave of guilt rushed through her so intense she clutched her stomach with both hands. Ray’s face turned pale. In all the confusion, neither of them had thought about what to tell their son and daughter. She looked up at the doctor as if she wanted advice, but Dr. Lane was already standing up and gathering her scattered papers.
“Before you go,” Ray said. “I want to ask you something. What if everything goes well? We announce your discovery, and we use Maggie as a poster child for this whole thing, and people don’t…accept her? Should we be worried? Should we ask or expect some sort of protection from the government? Has anyone thought about what’s going to happen if this whole thing goes as you plan?”
Dr. Lane stared at Ray for a long time. It was strange, but Maggie felt like these questions had never crossed the doctor’s mind. Finally, she said, “Our announcement has big implications for the world. Unlike Frankenstein, Maggie is a promise of immortality, not damnation. I think you’re going to find that people will be much more accepting of her than you think.”
Ray nodded, but he wasn’t convinced, neither was Maggie. Dr. Lane finished grabbing her papers and started for the door. “That’s about it. I wish I could stay longer, but as you can see, I’m swamped with paperwork, another consequence of joining forces with the government. I know you have lots of questions, or at least, you will once the new wears off. Wait a couple days, and after that, feel free to call me with whatever questions you might have. Just don’t ask me how I did this. I’m a lousy teacher. No offense. You both seem intelligent enough, but I doubt either of you have the periodic table memorized.”
“You’d be correct,” Ray said.
Dr. Lane smiled. “Let me know when you have a plan, and I will have Horace and Randolf take you back to the hospital.” She left. Maggie spoke first.
“What are we going to do? They won’t believe any of this.”
“They’re smart kids. I’m sure we can convince them, somehow.”
Maggie looked at her husband, surprised. A part of her was expecting him to say the only logical thing that could be said. They would have to lie about who she was. The idea of telling her children the truth seemed absurd.
“You mean to tell them?”
“I do,” Ray said calmly.
“Because I’m not going to be here forever,” Ray said. “You’ll need somebody. What would be the point of this whole thing if your second chance at life was spent estranged from your family? We have to convince them.”
Terror gripped Maggie, and she wrapped her arms around her body like she was giving herself a hug. “You’re not going to have the operation?” she whispered. “But Ray…it worked! Look at me! You saw the bodies. They were beautiful! And they could be us! We can see the world, not just see the world, explore it, participate in it! We have the money now. Imagine. We can do all the things we wanted to do when we were younger.”
Ray shook his head. “I can’t, Maggie. I just…well, we’ll talk about that later. The important thing right now is trying to find a way to convince Ashley and Robert. I want you to think for a moment. Is there any…I don’t know, memory I guess…a story that only you and Ashley or you and Robert would know?”
Everything in Maggie wanted to scream at the foolish man. How could he resist a second chance at life! Did he have some sort of moral aversion to it? Why? She took a deep breath, and with everything in her, pushed the emotions down. There was time now. That was one thing she didn’t have before, but now, there was more, not a lot, but more. She could wear him down. So, she tried to think of something that had only happened between her and Ashley or Robert. A vague idea sprouted in her mind. She spoke to Ray slowly. “I don’t think one memory or story is going to be enough, but what if…what if we did more than just one story. What if we invited them to dinner? What if I cooked dinner and made them both their favorite dish and my own special recipes? You can’t cook. There’s no way you’d be able to teach a young woman to cook my casseroles and get them right. Then we pull out the photo album, and I’ll point to each picture and tell the story behind it. Then I’ll talk about the play they were both in, the one you missed, and I’ll tell them every detail I can.”
Ray’s eyes shone. “We let them draw the conclusion themselves!” he said. “We won’t even bother telling them until they ask. It will be easier to accept if it’s their idea!”
Maggie nodded. “But we need to do it fast. I mean, this evening when they get off work. They know you’re spending every waking moment with me at the hospital. There’s simply no way you would have time to hatch some sort of scheme with a young woman. Besides, these people can’t hide my body forever.”
“I agree,” Ray said.
There were other matters to discuss, but those issues were left for another time. The most important thing was persuading their kids. Maggie called Dr. Lane and told her to hold onto her old body for another couple days. She cringed when Dr. Lane told her that she would keep the body in the fridge then laughed. Mad scientist indeed.