Origin of the Species

January 7
They say she’s still crazed and the doctors won’t let me see her, the woman who will be the most famous in the world after what I will write.
But if I go fast, there’s still enough of her left to talk to, the orderlies tell me, enough of her hasn’t yet changed over. They say she still has a consciousness of being herself, though barely. Time is running out, they tell me. They want $200,000 to take me to her. They say my magazine will pay. They’re right.

January 9
Talked my way into the lab without paying the orderlies and I’m relieved.  Once, I could talk my way into anything, at one time, anybody. Then all of a sudden I couldn’t anymore And I still can’t. But I did. This story has enough sleazy angles, I don’t want buying my way into the death chamber of a crazy and heroic woman added to it. Unless there’s no other way in.
I had to get to her now, when she’s actually in the act of changing. It is so important that I use the truth in this book.
I laid it all out before Dr. Redoren, the project leader, the guy that owns her now. I told Redoren I needed something special, that talking with the subject of his experiment before the experiment and him after was not enough.
He knew about my Prize and might have known about the drugs parties and booze that came after it. And after that and after that. Until my son Lucas got cancer and died. In the hospital with Lucas is where I first heard of the experiment.
I told Redoren this was it for me, he was my best shot in a long time. I told him I would be as cooperative as any reporter ever has been. I gave blue pencil rights to the first draft.
Dr. Redoren couldn’t resist. But he said I couldn’t see her right away. I’ll get to see her as much as I want as soon as she calms down, he said. My deepest fear is that she will only calm down when she becomes the cancer. When she won’t have mental faculties at all. She will be gone.
She. Listen to me talk. Catherine Trentino is her name. From a big family, lots of nieces and nephews. Aunt Cathy, the kids called her. Before.
Before they had to keep her here to keep her alive, Cathy was a pretty woman, 36, with dark hair, light smooth olive skin. An occasional pimple, she said. Her face kind of porcine actually, and yet pretty. Heavy around the middle. The most incredible green eyes. Riveting.
I wonder if her eyes are still there, still green?
Before she started changing she told me about her life. The life, she said, she was leaving, to imply she were going to another one.
Her childhood disappointments and contentment balance was all right and her grades were pretty good. OK social life. Three older sisters and two younger brothers. Always a big crowd without having to work for it.
An associate degree in computer technologies and marriage to Steve from her neighborhood, who turned out to be nice and sexy, but to too many other women. It took her the rest of her 20s to get rid of him.
Then, just as Cathy was thinking she better get used to being just thirtyish Aunt Cathy, she met Rich at a girlfriend’s barbecue. He was just the right simmering of orneriness, backbone and fidelity to suit her taste. He and Cathy are still together.
I don’t know about now.
They informed Cathy she had cancer in middle of the happiest period of her life, she said. But she’d never have children, even if she turned down the chemotherapy and started right away, they told her. The cancer was in the wrong place.
Cathy said that made Redoren’s offer easier to consider, but harder, too. She said she didn’t trust her motives, she wanted a kid so bad.
God, woman, where are you now?

January 14
Dr. Redoren has agreed to allow me to see Cathy for 15 minutes tomorrow, provided the questions I ask do not set her off.
There’s been enough of that, he said.
He said Cathy has stabilized somewhat, but is still quite jumpy at times. If she is having any kind of problem, the interview will be postponed, he said. If she becomes agitated, it will be halted immediately, he made clear. If I do not follow every instruction, I will be immediately escorted off project grounds and not contacted for 48 hours.
Redoren is a jumble of flaws and virtues. Abovew reporach as a sceintist — organized, methodical and thorough. Painstaking as a clinician. He has been attentive to Cathy’s every physical need and want from the beginning of the project.
But it has never seemed to make sufficient impact on him that she is giving up her humanity for science. He treats her a little like she isn’t human already. Redoren isn’t cold, exactly, just like his relationship with her is not between human beings.
There always has to be something of her left in there, hasn’t there? We can’t just disappear, can we?
We put Lucas in the ground, that’s why he disappeared. He looked so perfect at the end, like he was going back to being the doll he had been from the beginning. A perfectly formed toy, but lifeless. We got so close at the end. I’ve never been that close with anyone before Lucas got sick.
During one early interview, Cathy told me Redoren promised he would end her life at any point if she asked for it, so she figured if it got too bad, she could just bow out.
That was her worst terror, she said, that she would be in a bad way and couldn’t bow out. As long as she had that option, as long as she held on to her ability to choose, then she could go through with it. She said that was her bottom line.
Cathy said she didn’t mind dying, but she feared the pain and loss of control. Awful discomfort, she thought it would be like a terrible itching. It was her cunt, for God’s sake.
She didn’t want sympathy from her family. She didn’t want them around feeling sorry for her and trying not to show they were so happy with their families.
Redoren offered her own stage, for once. He also promised her there would be no pain. She would just change, he said.
Cancers always end because the host body dies, he told her, what I want to do is keep you alive and let the cancer grow. Let it make the decisions where it wants to spread and how. Keep your autonomic systems going as long as possible, then augment and ultimately replace with mechanical systems. Doctor your own immune system to accept, rather than reject the cancer.
Might we be dealing with some new organism? he asked her.
The way Redoren explained it to me once was cancer is the body’s evolutionary response to environmental cacophony.
Organisms evolved in response to external stimuli, basic Darwinism. He said that everything around, say, a squirrel, is constantly pushing on the squirrel’s natural selection, factors selecting for one gene or another. But most squirrels’ environments are pretty changeless and the squirrel has evolved into the best squirrel for where it lives.
But what if that environment were not changeless. What if the squirrel imported food from around the world and clothing and sounds and movies? What if the squirrel got on a jet once or twice a year for travel to a completely different environment? What if the squirrel continually changed its scent or hair color or even the size of its snout?
And what if all the plants and animals over all time, all the organic matter, carrying all the changes of history were boiled down, pressed and distilled into an elixir and the squirrel drank it?
Are you developing such an elixir? I asked.
We already have it, Redoren said, triumphant. “Petroleum.”
“And, ” he said, his voice rising, “we took the elixir and rubbed it on our bodies in creams and jellies, ate it through the  fertilizer on our foods, wove it into cloth and wrapped it around our skin. We burned it and took deep draughts of the fumes.”
Petroleum is the cue for evolution to go into high gear, he said.
The elixir is so powerful, he said, people respond on a cellular level.
“Cancer is evolution screaming to get out.”
I’m to see Cathy at noon.

Jan. 16
Sorry, no journal entry yesterday, I needed time to sort my thoughts and get my stomach back.
I got to ask no questions of Cathy. Too overwhelmed.
Cathy spoke though.
“I want to die, it wants to live,” she said.
The cancer wants to live, Cathy said. She said she can feel the cancer wanting to live.
She is more frightened than any person I have ever seen. Can anything be more grotesque than this?
I would kill her if I could. I would find a way no matter what. I swear it.
For Luke, too, the treatment was worse than the disease. When he got so bad they stopped giving him the drugs, there was a sweet drowsiness we both had, like we had passed through a difficult doorway on the road to peace. I slept right there with him in his room that day.
Cathy told me she must stay alive. She said she is not alone any more. She must share her body. In any case, she will get her wish soon, she said. If she waits, then it can have its wish, as well.
I cursed Redoren on the way out the door.

Jan. 19

Redoren surprised me by inviting me back into the lab yesterday. He had discussed me with Cathy.
Cathy said if I had come in a week ago she would have asked me to kill her, but no longer. She told me she got frightened for a short time, but Dr. Redoren helped her see the errors of her desire to die now. “You lose your body any way,”  Cathy repeated.
She was much calmer than last week, Redoren said its not from medication.
Her calm makes it easier too look at her. The straining of her face against the pool of undulating flesh that was her neck and shoulders when she got upset was the hardest to take, at first.
Now, her face stays still, tranquil in its pool, a tranquil pool. Except for her glowing green eyes.
The rest of Cathy’s body is covered by a blanket, but the silhouette indicates there are places that didn’t exist before and places missing that should be there.
I want to ask her to peel back the blanket but modesty forbids me. Were she simply mutilated, I would not hesitate to ask for a peek. But this is something infinitely more personal.
Lucas just had a spirit inside him that stole away his life. The disease did not change him, it only made him sleep, and then forever. It there anything more precious than a sleeping child?
Cathy’s middle, her groin, is rotting out and putrefying.
She told me that the original photographer quit and she is getting the feeling the videographer is not going to last. They had to look under the blanket frequently
Cathy’s voice sounds liquid, it warbles as well as resonates. It is coming from a different spot in her throat than before. The sound is soft, the tissue of her throat must be getting thin.
In that tissuey, slurring voice she tells me that she hardly needs sleep anymore.
I asked her in what way she is communicating with the cancer.
She said she feels how terribly much it terribly fears life and just as terribly desires it.
I can’t write any more.

January 22
I’ve seen her every day for a week now. I’m getting more used to her appearance, so I’ve been able to concentrate more.
I suppose I will ultimately have to describe what she looks like, but I’m not sure I could ever do it justice.
Think of molding a doll out of clay with perfect features, absolutely life-like. Then drop big gold marbles on it from the top of a ladder. Then inflate each place where the marbles hit, until there is just the outline of a person in all the bubbles.
No, that’s not quite it.
I think of her more and more as a pool. A pool of knowledge, or emotion, or experience. Definitely a pool of flesh.
Her green eyes shine out from the pool, that’s why I know she is still there. It’s like her eyes are lit now, phosphorescent. They leave the lights on in the lab all the time, but I bet Cathy’s eyes would glow in the dark.
Luke just floated on a river of tainted blood. I think of him with a tumor, a big oozing lump on his head, and I want to shake myself and escape.

Feb. 3

The light in Cathy’s eyes is changing. Her voice is stronger, lower in register.
There is movement in parts of her body that seems unconnected with her eyes and mouth. She has little mouth left, but is making manageable sounds from somewhere. All her hair is gone, even eyebrows.
She says there is no pain anymore, no real sensation in her body.
She says she’d like to see Rich again, but they agreed not to try.
She said she knows more than just the will of the cancer, now, but she can’t find the words. She said she’s not sure what she knows can be expressed in words.
Something about the balance of desire to live versus the willingness to take life. “Proportion,” she said, pulling an arm from the pool with an awful sound to point momentarily toward heaven.
Cathy wants to talk things over with Rich, like they used to, but she doesn’t want him to see her the way she is.
Dr. Redoren said he thinks any contact with Rich would be a terrible idea. I agree with the doctor, for once.

Feb. 7
Redoren hooked up a speaker phone and Cathy just got off with Rich. She said she needs to rest, the first time she’s asked for that.
Rich cried the whole time. Cathy said she’s going to go through with the experiment.
Cathy said the decision now involved more than just her.
Rich told Cathy it’s all right to die, that he would like her to die, that he would sleep better if she were dead. Dead, he could understand a little.
Like Lucas is always in my mind, I replay the things we did, his face. It would be so different if he had been stolen, if I thought he might be alive somewhere. That he might need me. But I saw him go into the ground.
Rich said he understood that Cathy wanted to give more meaning to her life with the contribution of her body to the experiment. That’s when he cried the most.
It is probably better that Rich not come to the lab, which is what he wanted on the phone. Maybe he could convince himself that the low rasp he heard was the phone line and not the way she really sounded.
I wonder what Rich pictured when he talked to her?

Feb. 19
Cathy won’t answer questions anymore, she barely speaks at all. What she does say is often unintelligible, from the slurring of the words or from the seeming randomness of the words chosen.
Yesterday, Cathy said something seemingly meaningful. “Things in the basement, now we quarry.”
She keeps saying “we,” not “me” or “I.”
Beneath the sheets that cover her body there is constant movement now, a hive-like kneading beneath the cloth. Redoren is having the movement filmed and analyzed to see if there are recurrent patterns. Communication.
Cathy’s respiration is shaky enough that the good doctor has moved her into the pressurized room. Redoren said the move adds another level of sterilization, which he likes.
Redoren said soon she will need mechanical assistance to breath which will render her unable to speak at all. He reminded me my time with her was passing.

March 3
The light is going from Cathy’s eyes now. Eye, actually, since the other one has developed a sort of film. I visit her daily now, although usually just for a minute. She no longer speaks.
Redoren is the main story now, as he analyzes what is happening. My editors are clamoring for me to get to work on the book. They want it in weeks. Redoren reminds me daily he gets to blue pencil the first draft. I’m sorry I made the promise.
Rich blew the secrecy of the experiment after trying to force his way into the lab. Then he got legal help to try and shut things down. He failed and the experiment goes on, of course, but with the word out on Redoren and the project, there went my exclusive.
I’ll have the definitive book on the subject, though, interviews with Cathy both before and during her change. No one else has that.
But some of the others will do a damn good job of making a fine fiction out of the whole thing and most readers won’t know the difference. Play up the romantic and physical angles more than me and sell a lot of books.
Mine will be the one that lasts, though. My book will be seen as the one that tells the truth.
Cathy’s experience will last, too.
I wonder if there’s any of her consciousness left? There is a little light left in her eye.
Redoren said they’re almost down to the long haul maintenance stage of the experiment. He’s talking about a vacation. I heard him joking with a colleague that he’s going to stage his next experiment some place warm.

I wonder how long Redoren can keep the cancer alive. I wonder how much of Cathy is left in it. I wonder if I should do anything, or if too much has been done already.