Part 50 of an original tale that delves into the unexplored realms of the human mind. Hired by her lover to find a raven haired beauty, Benjamin Bering must avoid the local police as well as the agents of a nonexistent government agency who are after him and the woman. There are just two problems. The woman is in a coma and her body has been stolen. (Part 1 can be found HERE.)
My resolve steeled by anger-charged determination I said to Rosie, "I'm going to get to the bottom of this. I'll find out where they've taken Susan! If you're up to it, we'll confront Bishop King together."
She too was angry, but she was still overcome with grief. "You go ahead, Ben. I'll be along shortly," she replied. "I need to think, to gather myself."
I barged through the door into the lab area and ran up to King. "What's going on King? Where did they take her? Why did Faye get on that chopper? Why wasn't her mother allowed to go with her?" I grabbed his collar and said, "I know you can have me fired in a heartbeat, but I'm sick and tired of all these clandestine operations. It's time for you to come clean."
He straightened his shirt when I let go and responded, "There wasn't time to confer with you. The girl ... Susan ... was going to die. Inducing a coma bought her some time." He spread his hands, "I don't know what Faye is up to. I told her to make her sister comfortable and to help her onto the helicopter."
"Tell that woman to one thing and she'll do the exact opposite!" I quipped. I looked over at Brock O'Day who had been unusually quiet for some time and said, "Sorry, Brock."
He nodded and replied, "No need to apologize, Ben. You pretty much hit the nail square on the head." He grinned and added, "Don't tell her I said so."
"Mr. Bering ... Ben, my chopper is flying her to a private wing of the Mass General Hospital. Before you ask, the wing is solely funded by me, and in exchange for the availability of the best doctors and care I also contribute one million dollars annually to the hospital's general research fund. Your Susan will receive the best possible care there is."
I sighed, "...And the best that money can buy, eh? For that, I am thankful."
"I must admit that I can buy anything I want and pretty much buy anyone." He positioned himself until he had made eye contact with everyone present. "People, Mr. Bering said that it was time for me to come clean. I agree. To begin, I'll address the question Ben asked me before he rushed to the lobby out of concern for the injured young woman." He paused to study our attentive faces, especially mine which was displaying a gaping mouth.
"Yes Mr. Bering, I was indeed speaking from experience when it came to the subject of swapping minds into different bodies. Let me see, what did you call it? Ah yes, perpetual immortality!"
"My God!" Michelle exclaimed. "Just how many times have you done this?"
He acknowledged her and replied instead with a question of his own, "Ms Gray, allow me to put it to you this way; How old would you guess me to be?"
She thought for a moment and answered, "Oh, I'd say mid to late fifties."
He smiled, "If you are aging this body, you'd be correct." He cleared his throat and continued, "As for my mind, or if you'd prefer my soul, you aren't even close!"
There was a hush among all present. In turn, we each exchanged glances with those standing around us. Too stunned to speak, King's revelation evoked no verbal responses.
He loosened his tie and espoused, "My real name is Ernst Fischer. I was born in Baden Baden, Germany in 1848!"
"Great Scott!" Stu bellowed. "That would make you ... one hundred sixty-one years old! That's impossible!"
Michelle barged forth and vented, "That's what's this is all about? Immortality? You've been cheating death all those years so that you can live forever?" She glared at him before continuing, "What makes you think you have the right to play God?"
"Believe me, Ms Gray," King responded, "I have no aspirations for infringing upon the enterprises of the Man upstairs."
"No? Then what of those who have died so that your secrets could be preserved?" She took a deep breath and turned to the rest of us and said, "How many of us here today are going to die, Mr. King? How many will be sacrificed this time to protect your precious hold on eternity?"
Stu spoke up, "Bishop, when you approached me with your plan, you never mentioned the mind reading, the mind control ... and most certainly there was no hint at mind swapping. You said wanted the world to know about the medical applications that would revolutionize surgical medicine."
"Yes, that's true, Stu. All I wanted was to end the exclusivity of the research by the government and the military. Had they allowed it, they could have had their cake and eaten it too, and many lives could have been saved in the O.R.s across the country. Alas, they would have no part of it. They wanted complete control."
I had been undergoing a slow boil during the exchange between between Stu and King, "You knew about the story ... even before I received that e-mail? What else did you keep from me?"
"Nothing significant," King answered in Stu's stead. I saw that Stu was nodding his head in agreement. "You see, Mr. Bering, the less people involved and the less they knew the better for all parties. I couldn't even let Michelle and Michael know that I shared their sentiments. It was important that I appeared to be a part of the conspiracy."
"So you threw all your eggs in one basket, figuring that the story being made public would force the Feds and the military to concede," I opined. "Yet with all your planning, they managed to find out about it anyway and in time to keep the story off the street." I paused and studied his face for a moment before asking, "How do you suppose they found out?"
It was with a sarcastic laugh that Brock O'Day offered, "You need to look no further than at a certain ambitious receptionist. It seems that a long estranged father and his daughter have become quite cozy lately."
King grimaced and mused, "... And it was Gates who insisted that she be hired!"
Michelle appeared to be confused when she interjected, "Michael and I reached the decision independently to go to the press. We even hand-picked Benjamin Bering as the reporter we wanted to cover the story. You're suggesting that it was you who contacted the newspaper."
"Michelle, I'm surprised that you are overlooking the trace imprints, those subtle by-products of the mind links," he said to her. "You knew that you were once linked with Mr. Bering. When you and Michael discussed the press, the name of Mr. Bering and his image rose to the forefront of your thoughts. I simply anticipated that you would turn to the newspaper which employed him."
It was somewhat unsettling, but King's words were making sense to me. One point eluded me however and I asked, "How is that Michelle remembers our ...ah, linkage, but I cannot?"
"All of the test subjects were injected with a drug that suppressed the short-term memory associated with their most recent sexual activity. Having said that, Mr. Bering, it is quite possible that those subjects could experience deja vu-like moments as a result of those trace imprints," King replied peering directly at me. "I assume you have experienced this?"
I nodded but did not verbally reply. His answer to my question had explained why Susan and I had had shared memories of the same song. Was the sexual tension between us at Rosie's house the catalyst that evoked the song to play in both our heads? Or was it the song that brought about our sexual attraction to each other? Then there was the matter of our first interlude eight years earlier. Although we hadn't recognized each other, the memory of that night may have been drawn forth because of the song. I sighed in dismay, as I realized it was like the classic 'chicken or the egg' scenario.
"We need no introduction, Mr. King, "O'Day said, "but for the benefit of those who aren't in the know, you and I worked together on your research in Vietnam. I remember that you were well prepared and knew exactly what you were doing and what was to be expected of your tests. That told me that you had been working on that research prior to the war in Southeast Asia. Dare I ask just how long you've been playing around with people's minds? Did you acquire the knowledge of this particular ... science on your own?"
He cleared his throat and began, "It's been a long time since I've reflected on my past. I suppose I should begin with my early schooling where I showed an aptitude for science. After University, I taught Science and Physics for a number of years as a young man until I moved to Berlin and took a position in Germany's Ministry of Education and Research. During the months before Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in 1914, Germany's top scientists were forced into the service of the country's war machine. Some of those scientists helped to develop the poisonous gases and the delivery systems that were unleashed on the British and American forces."
He studied each and every one of our faces before continuing. "My conscience is clear on the matters of chemical warfare. I was assigned to a team who studied techniques of interrogation, hypnosis, and yes, methods of mind control. When the war ended in 1918 I was 70, a tired old man. By then I had begun to experience a series of heart problems and had slowed down considerably."
I don't know if he was waiting for our cries of disapproval, but once again he let his eyes roam over our ranks. Nonplussed he picked up his story where he'd left off moments before, "During that time Germany was in a state of disarray as the Allied nations chopped her up and dismantled her ability to make war. With the aid of a young Jewish assistant I was able to continue my work in relative anonymity. I can take little credit as my assistant and I developed, by today's standard, crude head pieces that allowed us to exchange rudimentary thoughts - a word or two here and there. I became excited and soon was obsessed with the possibilities of our work. Unfortunately the excitement was becoming too much for my heart to bear."
He directed his next words to Michelle, "You asked me how many had to die so that I could pursue immortality. Well, in 1938 I was faced for the first time with that very question. The Nazis, led by an obvious mad man had taken control of the government. I could feel the winds of war in the air. As had been the case twenty-five years earlier, scientists were being pressed into service under the vigil of Hitler's ever present SS and the Gestapo. Walter Rabinowitz, my Jewish assistant of over twenty years had far more to worry about than I."
"So why let the Jew die in a Nazi death camp, eh?" I said with acerbic sarcasm. "You decided his death could better serve you in another way."
King nodded with a slight trace of regret on his face. "Walter was a good man and a trusted friend, but I was desperate. I didn't want to die and not see my work reach its fruition. Walter did not want to be taken by the Nazis. It was only a theory, but he and I had recently discussed the possibility of transferring minds from one body to another. We'd already had limited success with a few lab animals, but we didn't know if the process was possible with human beings."
"Of course the transfer was a success," I announced. "Young Walter awoke and found himself in a ninety-year-old body with a bad ticker, while you had become a young healthy Jewish man. That left you with a major problem, didn't it? You had to flee the Nazi tyranny!"
King spread his hands before him in acknowledgment, "Yes. I had no alternative. If I wanted to continue to live I had get the hell out of Germany."
The young intern David said, "That makes Mr. Rabinowitz the first of your "sons" on the way to building the empire you have today ... Your Empire of Sons."
(To be continued in Part 51, on Friday, 5/22, with The Trail of Blood.)