Neville picked furiously at a bit of cuticle, not really noticing he was doing it until he’d picked so hard the bit of skin peeled away and left a sore, bloody mess on his fingernail. He swore mentally at himself as he stuck the offending digit into his mouth. Now that was going to be sore for days. Then corrected himself. He didn’t really know, now, did he, what might hurt and what might not.
He glanced around the waiting room. No one seemed to notice his mishap. Matter of fact, they all looked, men and women, as nervous and pre-occupied as he felt. Neville took a deep breath and wiped the now, not bleeding finger on the side of his pants, then folded his hands in his lap to keep from further picking. The raw wound stung, which actually helped him keep his mind off of why he was in the waiting room.
It had all started weeks ago in the company cafeteria. He sat with his co-worker Jim. “Hey, buddy. Have a seat. We’re talking about the alien’s new offer.”
Neville greeted the others. “Hey Sam, Bill.” He put his tray down and sat. “What new offer?”
“It was in this morning’s news feed. They’re offering to cure diseases. All kinds.” Sam made a circle, pointing at all of them. “Anything you can think of. Arthritis, heart disease, lung trouble.”
Bill piped in. “I saw that too. Migraines. Can you imagine? My wife’s been fighting migraines her whole life. She said she’s contacting them as soon as they opened for an appointment.”
Neville scratched his chin. “Really? Anything? Is it safe?”
Jim picked up his sandwich. “Must be, right? Otherwise would the government allow them to do it?”
“Hard to say.” Neville speared a bite of his salad. “Who knows what kind of deal was made when they landed ten years ago.”
Since then, of course, he’d thought it over and obtained an appointment for himself. He’d been suffering from neurological problems for years. All kinds of steroids, physical therapy, he’d been through it all without much relief. If he could get rid of the pain, it would be worth it, he’d finally decided with his wife, Joi. So here he was. Finally, it was his turn.
He followed the human nurse into the back. “Seems like a lot of people are taking advantage of the offer,” he said to her back.
“Oh yes. A great many,” she responded as she stopped at a door. Go on in. The doctor will be with you shortly.”
Neville went into the little exam room. There was a chair for him. A stool for the doctor, a standard medical scale, blood pressure machine and cuff on the wall, and a couple of nature scene pictures facing him as he sat down. In a few minutes a human doctor came in. “Mr. Kirchner?”
“Yes. That’s me.”
The doctor checked his electronic pad. “I see from your records you’ve been suffering from this for years.”
“Yeah. No one’s ever really fully identified the problem or fixed it.”
The doctor tapped the screen a couple of times. “This is just what you’re looking for then. We’ll get you in right away.”
“Um,” Neville glanced at the blood pressure cuff. “No weight check? Blood pressure?”
“Not necessary.” The doctor tapped the screen and smiled at him. “We’re going to sit you in a chair, facing panels of lights. They’re hot, I’m not going to fool you. But not to the point of burns. Then, after a few minutes under the lights, you’ll find that the pain will be gone.”
Neville’s hands twisted in his lap. “Will an alien be there?”
“No. No. It’s all set up for us to run. Simple, really.”
Neville sighed with relief. He didn’t really want to meet an alien. The pictures were scary enough. “Okay then. Sure.”
“I’ll go see if the last patient is finished. The nurse will bring you in.” He left the tiny room.
Neville started picking his cuticles but stopped when the already injured finger flared up in pain. Hot, he thought, but not too hot. Wonder what that means?
He was interrupted by the nurses knock on the door. “We’re ready for you, Mr. Kirchner.”
He followed her down the hall to a room with banks of lights on a wall, a small counter under them, and a chair in front of the counter. “Please have a seat, Mr. Kirchner. Put your hands on the counter, and face the lights.”
“That’s it?” he said as he sat.
“That’s it,” she said as she left the room. “We’ll call over the intercom when we’re ready to start.”
He nodded and waited. Soon, a voice came through the ceiling speakers. “We’re ready to start. Please remain still, close your eyes, the light is very bright. We’ll let you know when we’re done.”
“Okay,” he said, though he didn’t know if the speakers went both ways.
The lights flashed on and he snapped his eyes shut. Boy, they weren’t kidding about them being bright. A minute later, he started feeling the heat. He cracked an eye open but it was too bright. The heat was making his skin prickle. It got hotter. Neville began to wonder when this would be over. His skin felt very tight and uncomfortable. He made himself think of cool swimming pools and lost track of time.
The lights snapped off. “You can open your eyes, Mr. Kirchner.”
He did, and blinked. Neville examined his hands, flexing them, turning them over and back again.
The door opened. “It’s complete. How do you feel?” the doctor asked.
“Different. But I like the way the hands move.” Neville looked at the doctor. The process is really very efficient, isn’t it?”
“Very. We’ve taken over half a million humans already. Best idea the council has had in centuries.”
They shook hands. “Nurse will lead you out the back. Good luck with your new life.”