Dr. Valdheim, wearing a white coat over shirt sleeves, appeared in the hallway
while Jarrow was still completing formalities at the reception desk. He was
in his sixties, Jarrow guessed, a tall, gangling man with thick, metal-rimmed
spectacles, who managed to combine a broad, straight-shouldered frame with a
gaunt, hollow-cheeked face topped by a balding dome, looking as if it found
its way onto the wrong body.
"Mr. Jarrow, good morning. Right on time as always. And how are you feeling
"Not too bad. At least the weathers easing up."
"It has been a tough one, yes. I thought the snow was here forever."
Valdheims voice had a trace of a foreign accent that Jarrow had never
been able to place but hadnt asked about. Despite his senescent features,
his manner was always brisk and sturdily robust. Jarrow wondered if that was
his way of seeking to impart professional reassurance. If so, it never quite
worked, for Jarrow always found himself with a feeling of something sinister
in the background, like a shadow lurking just beyond his limit of vision. He
wasnt sure why.
Marje, the receptionist, ran Jarrows verification coder through a slot
on her terminal to confirm the details shed entered, and handed the card
back. "Thats fine, Mr. Jarrow. How are those kids treating you at
"Oh . . . " Jarrow fumbled for an answer. He had always suffered
from an acute awkwardness with women, which taxed his thinking faculties even
over questions as innocuous as this.
"I guess youve been there long enough to know how to look after
yourself," Marje said.
"Er, yes. I guess so."
"This way please." Valdheim rescued him with a gesture in the direction
of the passageway leading to the treatment room. "Youre the first,"
he said over his shoulder, indicating the empty waiting room with a nod as Jarrow
followed. "We can go straight through."
Jarrow had been attending these sessions periodically for almost six months
now, although the circumstances leading to them had begun some time before that.
In the course of his mandatory annual checkup the previous summer, he had described
periodic attacks of lethargic depression and emotional confusion, sometimes
bad enough for him to take time off work. Suspecting an incipient cerebral disorder,
the local clinician referred him to a specialist for diagnostic tests, who in
turn brought in a neurologist from the Regional Health Authoritys Ramsey
Hospital in St. Paul. The condition turned out to be a mild inflammation that
soon yielded to a course of antibiotics and drugs.
But to Jarrows consternation, he was informed that the tests had revealed
certain irregularities in underlying patterns of neural activity, which were
thought to have induced the condition. In other words, although the prescribed
treatment appeared superficially successful, the suspicion was that it had addressed
the symptoms rather than the cause. Nobody could be really sure, however, since
that area of psycopathology was on the fringe of contemporary research. However,
Minneapolis had been selected as one of several national test sites for a new
piece of diagnostic equipment that was being developed for decoding and analyzing
deep-seated brain activity, and Jarrow was approached to volunteer as a model
case study. Jarrow agreed, and the introduction to Dr. Valdheim had followed
They entered the treatment room, which Valdheim had once described as housing
a "glorified video reading head." All the same, it still managed to
require the inevitable carts with rubber tubes, glassware, and trays of implements
that doctors everywhere seemed incapable of functioning without, and the sight
of which always made Jarrow feel slightly sick. The room itself had a bench
and a sink along one side, with shelves and a glass-fronted cabinet full of
jars and bottles above. A control console with a keyboard and several display
screens, along with two cabinets of electronics, took up most of the wall opposite.
The centerpiece of it all was an assembly of electrical apparatuses, focusing
guides, windings, and cooling coils that dominated the space in between. From
its center, a leather-topped couch extended into the room, its head end surrounded
by a radial array of metal tubes and crystal plates laced by wires and optical
fibers, around which the rooms other fittings seemed to stand in respectful
reverence like the lesser trappings in a chapel before the main altar.
It was called QUIP, which Jarrow now knew stood for Quantum Interferoencephalogram
Processor. Valdheim had told him so. Valdheim had also been more than generous
with his time in trying to explain about superconducting current loops, quantized
molecular magnetic moments, and resonant phase patterns deep in the brain; but
that kind of thing really wasnt Jarrows field.
Although he tried to nod and shake his head and say the right things at the
right times, he still didnt have a clear-enough grasp of how the device
worked to have hazarded any attempt at describing it to anyone else. But apparently
the detectors could sense changes in electrical current as small as a millionth
of a millionth of a millionth of an ampere, which Jarrow gathered was about
the same fraction of the current in a small flashlamp as the thickness of a
piece of tissue paper was to forty times the sun"s distance from the planet
Pluto. After that, he hadnt even bothered trying to follow. His first
impulse had been to flaunt this newfound knowledge at Larry, but it would only
have given Larry, who taught sophomore math and physics, the satisfaction of
snowing him with more technicalities. So in the end, Jarrow had decided against
Valdheim went over to the console, flipped some switches, and commenced a dialogue
with one of the screens via the keyboard. "Youre becoming something
of a celebrity, you know, Mr. Jarrow," he said over his shoulder.
"Oh, really?" Watching Valdheim checking the responses and then entering
another command put Jarrow in mind of a virtuoso organist enraptured with his
natural medium. He himself found the ubiquitous thickets of buttons and cryptic
symbols, which barred the way to seemingly everything he wanted to do in the
modern world, incomprehensible. You had to be under fifteen or Japanese to understand
anything these days. Or one of those people whose business it was, like Larry---and
which Larry never let slip an opportunity to demonstrate.
"Yes," Valdheim said. "Your case is being talked about in professional
"Well, a certain rather specialized group of professionals, anyway. It
has some interesting features."
Jarrow had never thought of himself as important. He felt mildly flattered.
|Valdheim touched another button, entered a code, and looked up expectantly
as one of the screens that had been blank came to life. "Let me show you
a little of what we found last time," he said. Jarrow followed his gaze
obediently. The screen showed a mass of what looked like scores of richly branching
trees of various colors, all densely intertwined and enmeshed together. Some
seemed to flicker in highlights, with branches suddenly disappearing from some
places while others added themselves elsewhere, darting their way erratically
through the forest like fingers of multiple-forked lightning feeling pathways
to the ground. Other patterns came and went spasmodically, while still others
propagated smoothly, changing and distorting like smoke rings moving through
turbulent air. Valdheim had shown Jarrow, it could all just as easily have been
a computer reconstruction of autogenesis in a petri dish, or a surrealistic
vision of colliding galaxies.
Valdheim stepped a pace back and explained, still looking at the screen. "Heres
a recurring cycle of activated dendritic arboration paths occurring in a region
of your inferior temporal cortex. Thats one of the regions where visual
primitives resolved in the striate cortex are combined into coherent imagery.
It also receives an input of emotively significant associative weightings from
the neocortex. But the configuration of synaptic modifications established as
a consequence is inhibited by oscillations correlating with the conscious state,
which are communicated from the thalamus." He pointed from one entanglement
of meaningless, pulsating luminescence to another, then turned to look as Jarrow
"Fascinating," Jarrow said.
"We are looking at what goes on inside your brain, you see," Valdheim
went on. "This is where the images that you see begin to come together.
Man is a visual animal. Images are very important to us. We weight them with
various emotional associations, depending on our experiences." He gestured
again. "Normally, of course, the images are driven by signals coming in
from the world outside, which is how they keep in step with reality and hopefully
reflect whats happening there. But the region can still function when
there are no signals coming in to direct it. Then it invents images of its own."
At last, a glimmer of something that made sense. "As in dreaming,"
Valdheim returned a perfunctory nod, as if to a moron who had just grasped
the connection between A and Apple. "What we have here is
a repeating pattern of just such a nature, which represents a persistent set
of images and connotations that will affect the processes taking place in the
further areas that this region maps into. And this, we believe, might be the
root of the depressions and disturbances that you described when you came to
Jarrow thought he followed that part. "These images . . . am I supposed
to know what they are?" he asked uneasily.
"No." Valdheim shook his head. "As I said, the activity is suppressed
during the waking condition. Hence you have no conscious awareness of the form
in which it manifests itself. And our techniques at present are not sufficiently
sophisticated for us to tell you. But later, we would like you to take a series
of psychological tests to help us try and establish that." The doctor rubbed
his palms together. "In the meantime, back to work, yes?" He showed
his teeth in a skull-like parody of a smile. "Or at least, I shall do the
work while you relax. To activate the pattern, we will have to put you to sleep
Jarrow knew the drill by now and was already removing his jacket. He hung it
on the stand by the door, added his necktie, then slipped off his shoes and
sat down on the leather couch. Nurse Callins---Valdheim"s stern-faced,
middle-aged, and terrifyingly efficient assistant---entered through a rear door
as Jarrow settled himself back and lowered his head onto the rubber headrest
at the center of the radial array.
"Good day, Mr. Jarrow," she said, at the same time handing Valdheim
a folder filled with papers, charts, and printouts.
"A three-seven soporific, please. Same dose as before," Valdheim
said. Nurse Callins turned toward the bench and the sounds came of tablets being
dropped into a beaker and liquid being stirred. Valdheim moved over to the couch
and began positioning supports and fittings around Jarrows head. Jarrow
felt soft pads tightening snugly beneath his ears and cold contact heads probing
through his hair to touch his scalp. Although he knew that the procedure was
noninvasive and painless, an involuntary nervous reaction asserted itself, and
he found himself talking reflexively.
"It must be pretty expensive---all this stuff youve got here."
"You wouldnt want to pay the insurance premium," Valdheim agreed.
"Im surprised that a private practice would have equipment like
"Im cooperating with a national trial program, dont forget.
The government owns it."
"Isnt it kind of unusual for it to be in a place like this? I mean,
why wouldnt they set it up in one of the state hospitals somewhere?"
Valdheim watched a readout while he adjusted a control. "Hold still now,
Mr. Jarrow. No more talking, please."
Nurse Callins moved into view and lowered a shallow drinking cup with a shaped
lip. "Here you are. Easy, now."
The liquid tasted mildly tannic. Jarrow drained the last of it, then raised
his eyes to find Valdheims face peering down at him, seemingly from afar
and yet filling his field of vision. The drug was taking effect already. Valdheims
voice sounded distorted and hollow. "Thats the idea. Nice and comfortable.
Watch my fingers as I count. Youll be away before I get to ten. Well
see you later in the recovery room. One . . . two . . . three . . . four . .
. five . . . "
The fingers blurred into each other, and Valdheims face receded to become
a pink smudge. For some reason his eyes, gleaming through the metal-rimmed spectacles,
still remained distinct.
The voice boomed, emanating seemingly from everywhere: "Six . . . seven
. . . eight . . ."