The Handicapped Man

The doctor finished surgery and went out to clean up. The man had been
lucky. He had been helping out at a local church fund raiser when a gang
had decided to make the priest there (who had been an outspoken opponent of
the local gangs) a target of a drive by. But the man was handicapped and
in a wheelchair. When the bullets started flying, most of them went over
his head, and he was able to throw himself out of the chair and onto the
ground before the level of fire lowered to the point of being directly
dangerous. But, as occasionally happens when sub-machine guns throw a hail
of bullets through the air, a ricochet caught him right in the back. But
the wound was clean and had done minimal tissue damage. His most serious
problem had been blood loss. The nurse came in and said, “The wife is waiting for news. Want me to
handle that?” The doctor shook his hands off. “No, I can do that.” He went out to the waiting room and asked the nurse on duty where the wife
was. She pointed to the end of a row of chairs, and the doctor saw a
dowdy, brown-haired woman. He went down and said, “Miss Jackson?” From the vending machines at the end of the row of chairs he heard, “Right
here.” Realizing that the vending machines were in the same line from the nurse’s
station as the end of the row of chairs, the doctor turned, and was struck
dumb. The woman was a Nordic Goddess! Six foot tall, yellow hair, the
color of daffodils, well-developed bosom, and a physique that looked like
she could win a wrestling match with a grizzly. She could’ve stepped right
from the pages of a book on Norse mythology. And, despite himself, the
doctor wondered how an average-looking cripple managed to score a babe like
this. The doctor was too stunned to move and couldn’t even speak as the woman
said something. Finally what she was saying got through to him. “Is she
okay, doctor?” The doctor shook off his reverie and said, “Excuse me?” “My wi-” Then, as if realizing she was saying something wrong, she said,
“My husband. Is he okay?” “Oh, yes, that. Can I speak to you alone?” She got a concerned look on her face and nodded. The doctor led her into a
small office and she said, “Is there something wrong with my husband,
doctor?” “Your husband is fine. He lost a lot of blood, but took little damage.”
She breathed a visible sigh of relief. “But your HUSBAND is what I wanted
to talk to you about.” “Oh?” “Out in the waiting room just now, you referred to him as a her, and just a
few seconds ago I was sure you were about to refer to him as ‘My wife’. Is
there something we should know about? Is he a female to male transsexual?” “No, nothing like that.” “Then what?” She sighed, and, almost as if talking to no one in particular, she said,
“You’d think that after all this time that I’d learn to refer to her in the
masculine.” She looked to the doctor and said, “I don’t suppose I could
talk you into just forgetting about that?” “No.” “You got a while, doc? This is a bit of a story.” “Well, I just got off, so feel free to talk.” “The story starts about a year ago. On the other side of the galactic core
is a school for an alien race known as the Torivan that teaches
manipulation of psychic abilities.” “What does this have to do with you and your husband?” “Patience, doctor. You’ll see.” ************ Ilanna Tarvera glided into the headmaster’s office. “You summoned me, sir?” “Yes, Ilanna. You have a visitor.” Ilanna suddenly became aware of another presence in the room. “Papa!” She
extended energy tendrils as he did the same and the two performed the alien
equivalent of a hug. “It is good to see you, father. But why the
telepathic cloak? Why mask yourself from my awareness?” “Because I needed to see for myself whether the reports the headmaster has
been sending me were true. That shield should not have been powerful
enough to shield from a first year student, much less a student who is
about to graduate, such as yourself. Your telepathic and empathic
abilities are still stunted, aren’t they?” The elderly alien felt a wave of shame emanating from his daughter. “Shame
is useless, Ilanna. Correct the problem, don’t dwell on it.” “But I have tried, papa! But no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to
forge the lightest links.” “The headmaster and I have been talking. He feels that your status as a
royal princess has given you an aloofness that interferes with your ability
to form a close link with anyone.” “But, as princess, don’t I have a right to a certain level of distance?” “Not if it interferes with your development as a Torivan. We are an energy
race that relies upon its telepathic and empathic abilities for
communication. Perhaps if you could only link with other Torivan, that
might be tolerable, but without the ability to link with others of our own
race, you would never be tolerated as queen by the citizenry.” “But what can I do?” “The headmaster and I have discussed that, and come up with a possible
solution. One of our anthropologists, on a return visit to a backwater
little planet on the other side of the core, met up with someone he
considered a friend from his last visit. During his last visit, the man
was personable, pleasant, and a joy to be around, even to a telepath. But
on this visit, the man was sullen, moody, and withdrawn. Withdrawn to the
point of being unreadable by his own telepathic skills. Remembering that
the man’s personal light was the kind that will help his planet overcome
their barbarous nature, he asked for a telepathic master to come and work
with him. We are instead sending you.” “Instead of sending a telepathic master, you’re sending someone with no
telepathic ability? Forgive me, father, but your logic escapes me.” “Despite the man’s previous light, he has not actually accomplished enough
to merit a telepathic master. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to abandon
him. By sending you, and making it your mission to find and correct
whatever has driven him into himself, we hope not only to correct his
problems, but yours.” “How?” “You will be forced to rely on non-psychic means, simple communication and
the such. In order to make it work, you will be forced to develop a
certain minimum level of empathic skills which will allow you to break
through and develop your other skills.” “Alright, I’ll do my best. What do they call this world?” “I believe it’s called… dirt?” he said, looking to the headmaster for
confirmation. The headmaster emitted an emotional wave of amusement. “The residents of
the planet pronounce it Earth. And although, in our language, both dirt
and Earth translate to the same word, you must be careful to use the proper
pronunciation and not one of its synonyms.” Ilanna asked, “Why do both words translate to the same word in our language?” “Because the humans have a belief they are descended from animals and that
a mix of chemicals in the depths of their oceans is what spawned life.
Some of them even refer to their planet as ‘Mother Earth’.” “You’re kidding. How could any energy race still believe they are only
chemicals?” Ilanna felt amusement from both men. Her father said, “The resident race
is still at the stage where they believe their physical bodies to be
necessary things. A few even believe they don’t have souls at all.” “You’re sending me to such a barbaric world? Isn’t it going to be dangerous?” “I told you, love. They don’t believe they have souls, and as such have
developed no weapons capable of affecting souls. The body we construct for
you to use may be in danger, but YOU will not.” “And I must go there?” “Both of us think it best.” “As you wish, papa.” Ilanna went right to the medical lab to have a body constructed for her.
The technician there asked, “What do you want it to look like?” “I hadn’t really thought about it. What do the Earthans look like?” The technician accessed his computer database. “Biped, hair of various
colors in limited places on their bodies, two manipulating limbs, a few
other significant features.” “Well, since I don’t know anything of the race, scan the data banks for
their idea of an ideal form.” “Do you want it to be ideal male or female?” “They have sexes?” “Sure. Admittedly, they’re a rarity. Most biological sentients are either
hermaphroditic or asexual, but there are a few who have developed gender
differences. Apparently Earth is an extreme rarity in that most of the
biologicals have developed different sexes, even the non-sentients.” “Uhm, I guess I’ll stick with female.””You may want ot rethink that.
Apparently there’s a schism between the two sexes. The planet is still far
too focused on the physical, and too many of the planet believe that women
are an inferior subclass, just because the men are physically stronger.
Although the place you’re going isn’t as bad as some others.” Ilanna thought about it. she briefly considered taking a male body, but if
she was to succeed in her mission the compatibility between body and soul
must be maximized. “No, make it female. But just in case, maximize its
physical parameters. If the Earthans are impressed by physical strength I
want to be as strong as possible, even without resorting to telekinesis.” “As you wish.” The technician scanned the data banks and constructed the body she needed.
After the pod lit the “Done” light, the technician said, “You will have to
enter the body immediately upon opening the pod. Biologicals disintegrate
quickly without an animating life force.” “I’ve been through the courses in physical body animation.” “Okay. Are you ready?” “Yes.” “The technician punched in the release code on the pod. There was a
release of steam and a hiss as the vacuum seal released, and the remains of
the chemicals inside were exposed to the atmosphere. Ilanna flowed inside
and took control of the body. She went through the standard checklist of
taking control of a lifeless body: Start autonomic systems, check control
relays in neurological control center, and individually tense and release
every muscle in the body. She opened her eyes and pushed the lid of the
pod up. She stepped out feeling weird as the body shifted in strange ways. She looked down at the curvy form she now controlled. She hefted the large
globes hanging from her chest. “What functional purpose do these serve?” “Data banks say that when the females of the species gives birth, those
glands fill with liquid sustenance for the newborn.” “Are they this large for the entire species?” “No. In fact, most are much smaller. But you asked for beauty. The men
of the species find larger mammaries attractive. The computer evaluated
the relation of body size, shape, stress factors on the body’s spine, et
cetera and gave you the largest size possible within the range for average.” “Okay.” She looked at her hands. “These claws don’t seem very sturdy.” “They’re called nails. And they’re more for beauty than for any form of
defense.” “Am I ready to go?” “The body is finished. But the culture requires you to cover it.
Apparently, in most places, you are required to cover your body. And
except in very limited places, in public you are required to cover your
genitalia and the front quarter of the mammaries at all times.” “The mammaries are a source of attraction for the humans, but I’m required
to keep them covered? That makes no sense.” “You’ll find the customs of most biologic cultures to be riddled with
inconsistencies like that. Most of them you just have to accept.” “So where do I find these coverings?” “The Cultural Preparation Division will give you what you need. And they
call the coverings clothes.” Ilanna walked to the Preparation Division. They outfitted her in a
collection of clothes for Earth, the American subculture. They also gave
her a collection of information to learn about the place she was going,
which included political situations, local geography, and languages. On the ship to Earth, she was astounded to find that Earth was a fractured
planet. Which is to say that the planet had no single governmental body
running the planet. The world was, compared to the Torivan kingdom, in a
state of perpetual chaos. Constant border skirmishes, both on the micro
and macro scale; wars where thousands of lives were lost were fought over
simple differences of ideas, and wide scale hate based on genetic
differences were amongst the worst of the problems. She was just glad she
had only the problems of one man to deal with. When she landed she was met by another Torivan animating a body, this one
male. She stepped up to him and asked, “Are you the one who requested aid
for a human friend?” “I did. Are you the telepathic master I requested?” “Not exactly.” Quickly she outlined who she was and why they had sent her. “Great. This man is in pain. Even I can sense it. And they’re playing
experimental learning techniques.” “My father knows what he’s doing.” “I hope so, princess. The last time I was here, my friend, Oscar Jackson,
was a stable point for me. The chaotic emotional state of most of the
residents of this planet plays on your empathy, wearing you out. Normally,
Torivan visiting this planet need to go into seclusion one out of every
fourteen days in order to recover their stability. But just by spending a
few hours out of every week with him, I was able to go over forty-five days
without going into seclusion. “But now… I don’t know. He’s withdrawn, reclusive. He’s like an
emotional black hole. Now, I spend any time near him and I need to go
away. He needs help. And I hope you can give it to him.” “Any idea why he’s withdrawn so much?” “Most likely it’s due to the infirmity that he picked up. Apparently he’s
been diagnosed with a condition called Multiple Sclerosis. It causes a
breakdown of the biological communication channels between the body and the
primary control system that the soul uses, what they call the brain.
Depending on the exact progress of the condition, it causes a wide variety
of effects. In Oscar’s case, extreme leg stiffness, loss of manual
dexterity in the fingers, extreme exhaustion, and some vision problems.” “If this is all caused by a medical condition, then why not just ask to
have the damage repaired?” “Because the medical science of this planet has no idea how to cure it. If
he were to suddenly go from being bound to a wheelchair to perfect health,
he would become a study subject, with no part of his life being his own
until they found out why.” “What is a wheelchair?” “An assistance device. His legs are so unusable that he is forced to sit
in a chair with wheels and move himself around that way.” “Do you have any suggestions for how I should approach him?” “That’s easy enough. He’s starting classes at the local community college
tomorrow. You’ve been enrolled in the same classes. Approach him over
some study issue. If it’s something he’s good at, ask for help. If it’s
something he needs help on, offer to work with him.” “Alright, then, let’s get to work.” “You’ve been outfitted with a collection of local accouterments to make
your image more realistic.

An apartment, a vehicle, and a budget to make
purchases you may come across.” The next day, Ilanna went to her first day of classes on an alien planet.
The local college struck her both with its similarities and with its
differences. The open curriculum mystified her. She could understand choosing your
profession, but once that choice was made, you should go through a
proscribed series of classes, so you got a minimum standard of skills for
your desired profession. Likewise with the proscribed time system. A
class should consist of a certain collection of skills and knowledges. It
should be that you passed the class when you had those knowledges and could
perform those skills, not if you got a certain percentage within a quarter
of a year. But the open discussion forum was old hat to her. And the camaraderie
between students and teachers was likewise a familiar set up. Much of the
learning was done in the same way as at home, so she shouldn’t have too
much trouble. She met Oscar during their first class together, College Algebra. She
attempted to get over to talk with him, but she found the first drawback to
her decision of bodies. After she left the classroom, she was besieged
with young men trying to get her to agree to spend time with them. They
were constantly asking if she would go with them for a quick bite to eat,
or if she was available for a meeting on the weekend. Unfortunately, Oscar
was never amongst them, and by the time she politely (and sometimes not too
politely) disentangled herself from them, he was long gone. This went on
class after class, and by the end of the first week, she still had yet to
even talk to him one on one. The second week she didn’t fare much better. But at least the men seemed
to be getting the hint that she wasn’t interested in a romantic
relationship at this time (or ever, but that was another matter). It was the beginning of the third week when she finally managed to catch
Oscar on his way out of their Algebra class. She called out to him as he
rolled down the hall with a non-formal greeting, “Excuse me,” she said, but
he just went right on as if he didn’t hear her. She ran up to him and
grabbed his shoulder, causing him to startle. “Sorry,” she said, “but I
just wanted to talk to you.” He looked up at her, suspicion evident in his eyes. “Why?” “Well, I’ve noticed we’re in all the same classes, and that you seem to be
having an easier time of it than I am. And I was wondering if you had a
few minutes to discuss the class work.” He gave her a doubtful look, but said, “Alright. The cafeteria’s on the
way to my next class. We can stop there for an hour or so to discuss
things.” They went down to the cafeteria together. Ilanna tried to engage him in
conversation, but he barely replied. Usually responding in monosyllables
or grunts of assent or denial. They got to the cafeteria and found a
table. He asked her, “What do you want to discuss first?” “Let’s start with math. I’m having the most problems with that.” It was
an out and out lie. The one constant in this universe was that no matter
what culture you were from, math was always the same. No matter what the
individual names used, two plus two always equaled four, the ratio of the
diameter of a circle to its circumference was always the same, and so on.
Even advanced math was the same no matter where you went. And she had
passed this level of math almost two decades ago by Earth time. But it was
also the class Oscar seemed to be best at, and she wanted to try to give
him a feeling of confidence and importance in their dealings. Unfortunately, it proved the exact wrong thing to do. About fifteen
minutes into their discussion, he slammed the book shut and demanded, “What
the hell is going on?” Mystified, she could only say, “I don’t understand.” “You don’t have a problem with this. At worst, you might say you have a
few rough spots, but even that would be stretching it. You don’t need my
help with this. So what’s going on?” But not thinking she would be caught, she hadn’t thought up a suitable
answer, and just sat there for a few seconds, until he said, “Oh, great,
another fuckin’ amateur social worker.” He grabbed his book off the table
and jammed it in his bag. Without even looking at her, he said, “Look, I
don’t need some little do-gooder thinking she’s doing the poor, crippled
boy a favor by sacrificing her vital time to socialize with him since he’s
so alone as he rolls down the hallway.” He released his brakes and rolled
away from the table. “Do us both a favor. Choose someone else for your
charity work.” She was too stunned to say anything as he rolled off
towards his next class. She tried to apologize to him the next day, but he just said, “Don’t
apologize, just don’t try to do me any more favors.” She tried to engage him in conversation many times over the next month, but
he made it clear that he wasn’t interested in any way, shape or form. For the next three weeks, Oscar behaved in much the same way, being
reclusive to the point of unsociability, and wouldn’t let Ilanna get
anywhere near him. It was when the snows came early that year that Ilanna
saw a possible way she could get closer to him. Because of the snows,
Oscar was forced to use a door to door lift system run by the city, and she
found out that he scheduled his rides in advance, and could also cancel
them with a few hours notice. So, at the beginning of the next week of
school, just before class, she called the lift system, and, faking Oscar’s
voice, she canceled his ride home. After class, Oscar went down to wait by the door for his ride. Since the
lift system wasn’t a precision outfit, it was over a half hour after his
scheduled pick-up when he pulled out his cell phone and called to find out
what had happened. After a few minutes on the phone, he angrily slammed
the phone closed, saying, “Damn it!” Ilanna took that moment to step up and ask, “Something wrong?” Too angry to think about what he was saying, Oscar said, “I’ve just got to
pay for a cab home.” “If you need a ride, I’d be more than willing to help.” Oscar stopped right in the middle of dialing the number, and gave her a
suspicious look. “You did it, didn’t you?” “Damn,” she thought, “how could a man so closed off to those around him be
so intuitive?” But she tried to deny it. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” “Your face is an open book, lady. You’re a lousy liar.” It was a drawback
of taking a biological. The physiological responses to lying were built
into the brain’s control set up. Although those responses could be
controlled or sublimated, that took practice and experience with cultural
references, and she had not devoted herself to that task. Oscar continued to punch numbers into his cell phone, saying, “Whatever
this costs, I expect to be reimbursed by you.” Ilanna was beginning to feel a little put off. She had tried the nice
approach, and had tried trickery. Now maybe it was time for a little
direct anger. She reached out and snatched the phone out of his hand.
“Give that back!” he demanded. “Not until you hear me out. Yes, I canceled your ride and I’m sorry for
any trouble I’ve caused you. And I admit I made a mistake in trying to
trick you into helping me with a subject I didn’t need help with. But all
I wanted was to just be a friend. But more I try, the harder you push me
away. What have I done to you, really? What have I done that was so
wrong?” “Nothing.” Ilanna smiled, thinking that maybe she was making some headway.
But he dashed that hope by saying, “And that’s how I want to keep it. Now
can I have my phone back?” “Fine.” She extended the phone back to him, but before he could take it,
she yanked her hand away. “But I have a perfectly good car to give you a
warm, comfortable ride home in. I made the mistake, so you should give me
a fair chance to be the one to make up for it. You want a cab, you pay for
it yourself.” He just stared at her for a while before saying, “Fine.” She went out and got her car, driving it as close to the door as she could.

He rolled up to the passenger door, opened it and got in before she could
even offer to help him. She folded the wheelchair up and put it into the
backseat of her car. As they drove together, she tried to engage him in
conversation, but once more, he resorted only to monosyllables and grunts
as replies. When they got to his place, she set up the chair, then pushed
him up the driveway hill. As he unlocked the door, she asked, “Can I come in and talk?” He wasn’t even polite about it. He just said, “No,” opened the door, and
pushed himself inside. As the door closed behind him, she stopped it and
barged inside. “What is wrong with you?” “Get out of my house!” “Answer the question first. Ever since I have met you, I have only tried
to be nice and helpful. I only want to get to know you. But you keep
pushing me away. I don’t deserve this. No one does.” “So take the hint and realize I’m gonna do it anyways, and leave me alone!” “That is it!” She slammed the door behind her, walked up to Oscar,
unbuckled the seat belt on his chair, lifted him up, and carried him into
his bedroom, him complaining all the way.