* * *
Terry Mann received a hero’s parade, and was buried with full honors. Danny wrote and recited a speech. It was a moving speech touting a firefighter’s endless service to others and a renewed commitment toward training and education. When she concluded her speech, the gathered crowd jumped to their feet, cheering and clapping wildly.
Dr. Mann, Colonel Bishop and Terry attended the funeral. Danny had a brief opportunity to see Terry before the mourners disbanded. Colonel Bishop started to speak with Danny, but the flash of a camera ended their brief encounter. Dr. Mann and Colonel Bishop drew back a few paces to allow Terry and Danny a little privacy.
Terry grinned at Danny. “This is some weird mojo, huh? I liked your speech a lot. I really appreciate it.”
“So what happens now? You just continue as Joe the lab tech?”
“Joe knew the risks involved, and everyone at the facility knows I am Terry and not Joe. It’s basically ‘business as usual.’ They tested out the procedure a few more times with no glitches. It appears to work best if the hosts are unconscious for the transfer. Makes the transfer less traumatic to the senses and allows quicker motor control.”
“They’ve tried it again?”
“Yeah. First one day, then two and three. As long as I’m alive and kickin’, they’ll keep trying to do it longer. I’m the first, so they haven’t tried it again with me, but it looks like I will always be the longest swap. Anyway I gotta go, we had to fight to get this outing, and they are eager to have us back. I won’t be able to see you again, so I wanted to say goodbye.”
Terry leaned in and gave Danny a quick kiss on the lips. He was wearing the cologne she had purchased for him. A swell of emotions surged through her with that kiss, but it was brief, and the dull loneliness and sadness quickly returned.
Terry walked away. Colonel Bishop walked behind him toward Dr. Mann waiting at a sedan. The trio got in; Terry paused to look at Danny once again before closing the door. The sedan drove away. As it disappeared down the driveway, Danny’s eyes teared up. Many mourners mistook those tears for tears of the loss of a close colleague, but they were not. They were tears mourning a colleague’s loss of freedom. She suspected Terry would never again feel free, and the world had lost a great firefighter again.
* * *
In the months that followed, Danny went about doing the job she was elected to do. She was expected to do a lot of politicking. She hated every minute of it, but that was how things got done. She had looked forward to her new position, but it felt empty without Terry Mann. She managed to win a few federal grants that lessened the impact of the new training programs she instituted. The Terrance Mann, Jr. Memorial Fund received a large anonymous donation. She suspected it was hush money, but even if she did tell someone about Terry, no one would believe her. She operated as if Terry were gone – she knew she would never see him again. She would just have to move on, as many of Terry’s friends were now doing.
Her job became commonplace. She threw herself into her work. Better to focus on the work at hand than to focus on the surreal events surrounding Terry’s ‘death.’ Everything was running smoothly until one day about six months after her experience at the burn ward. She arrived at her office like every other morning and a familiar face was smiled at her in the waiting area to her office.
“Colonel Bishop, what can I do for you?”
Bishop glanced around the room, “Can we speak privately?”
Danny motioned towards her office door, “Right this way Colonel.”
Bishop waited until Danny had closed the door before asking, “Have you seen Doctor Mann?”
“Yes he has been missing from our facility for about four weeks now. We believe he has gone rogue.”
“Why, what happened?”
“Well, there is a flaw with the swapping process. It seems when the switch happens, the original consciousness of both bodies is suppressed, but that suppression is only temporary. By day one hundred-twenty, the host consciousness starts to regain control over the body.”
“What happened to Terry?”
“Uh Miss Peterson, I don’t know to tell you this, but Terry Mann developed a severe case of paranoid schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder. None of the existing anti-psychotic drugs were able to help him. His mental state was rapidly deteriorating. Eight weeks ago he assaulted some staff members, abducted Dr. Mann and was able to elude us for about two weeks.”
“And you’re telling me this because…”
“Because, the retrieval of Doctor Mann is a high priority. During a standoff Terry was holding Doctor Mann hostage. Terry was shot and killed to ensure Doctor Mann’s safety. A week later, Doctor Mann escaped custody with one of the early prototypes he developed. That was four weeks ago. We discovered he stockpiled a significant amount of cash. He had also stolen some equipment and parts needed to build another device. We think he blames us for his son’s death. His captivity and the resulting death of his son may have been too much for him to bear. There has been intel circulating he is attempting to sell the technology to the highest bidder. Attempts to retrieve him have failed. We were able to apprehend several switched bodies and restore them, but we suspect he has financial backing from a criminal syndicate and may be able to elude us indefinitely.”
Danny looked at the ceiling, “Pithos Pandora.”
Danny fixed Colonel Bishop with an icy stare, “You know, the Greek myth: Pandora’s Box. Pandora was given a jar that contained all the evils of the world. She opened it against the wishes of the Greek gods, releasing evil into the world.”
“I hope this nation can survive this particular kind of evil.”
Danny shook her head, “When Pandora opened the jar, it wasn’t just Greece that suffered, it was the entire world.”
Colonel Bishop stood, touched Danny briefly on the arm, and walked out of her office. He closed her office door behind him and she never saw him or Dr. Mann again.