Paul and Sylvester had their operations the same day, at the same time. Nelly organized two teams to work in parallel. Thereafter, the two men had “slept” for two days to allow the biological processes to be completed. They closed their eyes as almost-humans and would open them as real humans.
—Hey, how do you feel? Nelly asks Paul, who has just opened his eyes.
—In love, he answers.
—You’d better be, she teases him.
—How is Sylvester?
—Still sleeping. What are you doing?
—I just want to sit up.
—Let me help you.
She then sits on his bed, very close to him.
—Let’s try again, proposes Paul.
—What do you think?
She kisses him.
—Hmm …, exactly this, he whispers. Let’s try again. These feelings are great.
After many long kisses, he asks,
—Is the door out there locked?
—Can it be locked from the inside?
—What are you waiting for then?
—Are you sure? After two days of sleep you may feel a little weak.
—Oh, I can assure you, speaking strictly of my masculinity, there is no weakness at all.
—Yes. But you need to be ready too.
—Oh, I am, she says going to the door. She pushes on some buttons to lock it.
When she is back at the bed, she says,
—Paul, I’m so excited, and so afraid too…
—Shhh. We’re going to take our time. If there is any problem, we’ll manage. Ok? What do you think? I’m as afraid as you are, he confesses.
—I love you.
—I love you, too.
And they kiss again.
In another room, Beth and the Major are watching Sylvester sleeping.
—How long has that door been locked? asks Beth, signaling Paul’s bedroom door.
—In Earthling or Frygellyan time?
—It doesn’t really matter. I presume the answer is long. There’s a “Do not disturb” sign above the door. Do you think we have such a sign above ours in the Castle?
The Major smiles and answers,
—No, I don’t think so. These are rooms to be used by people who may need intimacy with their visitors. Paul and Sylvester are just the first to be operated on, but Nelly told me this unit will be used for other almost-humans.
—I’m beginning to worry Sylvester hasn’t woken up yet.
—He looks so pale, remarks the Major.
—Hello, everybody, says Nelly joyfully as she enters the room at Paul’s arm.
—Oh, you two look simply radiant, notices Beth.
—We are, answers Paul.
—Nelly, he’s still sleeping. This is not normal, is it? worries Beth
—This is Sylvester…
—He’s got the slowdown syndrome…
—Paul, I think it’s time to explain, answers Nelly. And tell them what the humans would have done to him…
And so Paul does. The Major does not bat an eye, since he was already aware of this.
—But this slowdown, it is about his psyche, objects Beth.
—Er, yes, answers Nelly.
—This is a physical transformation…
—Oh, I see. You’re from the 25th century; sometimes I forget this… His transformation is facilitated by micro-tools called nanites. They work in tandem with the brain. Nothing could be done without a brain connection. That’s why it’s slower with Sylvester.
—I understand now. Thank you, Nelly. And you hid this from him all this time, Paul? The syndrome, I mean.
—I didn’t want him to learn how cruel his world was. He didn’t need to know.
—You should have talked to me, whispers Sylvester in a weak voice, a tear running down his cheek.
—Have you heard everything?
—Yes, Paul. You should have talked to me, repeats Sylvester as he tries to sit up in his bed.
Paul comes closer to help him.
—Sylvester, when we met, even if you looked like an adult, you were just a 5-year-old kid. I couldn’t just tell you what they would have done to you if I had made my report in the truth room.
—You ran away to save me and you never told me.
—It’s in the past now.
—You came with me to protect me and you never told me.
—You loved me, and you never told me.
—Sylvester, stop it. Please, stop it. I just saw an amazing boy and let him grow into a man. There is nothing more to say.
—We already had this conversation. I’m terribly sorry to have been so tough with you at first. I didn’t know how to reverse the situation thereafter. Yes, I cared about you. No, I didn’t know how to show it to you. This is in the past and if you don’t mind, I would like you to look toward the future. Your future. You’re human now.
—I feel terribly bad. My stomach hurts. My head’s spinning.
—You’ve got to take rest, Sylvester.
—Nelly’s right, adds Beth. You look so pale.
—I don’t want to stay here. Shall we go home?
—Everybody out. I’m going to examine you, Sylvester, Nelly says firmly.
Five minutes later she comes out of the room. The others are waiting in the corridor.
—I gave him a sedative. He is going to sleep until tomorrow. I think the process was not really completed with him. I promise, tomorrow he will be better.
—Maybe we should go home now, says the Major.
—What are we going to tell Lucia? wonders Beth.
—The truth. Sylvester needed more time to get well. He will be all right as soon as the process is complete, answers the Major. Good-bye, Nelly. See you tomorrow morning. Paul, will you be coming with us?
—No, I’ll stay here. I won’t move from this room, he says, pointing to the door, until he opens his eyes again.
Gazing at Nelly intensively, he adds,
—It’s non-negotiable. I’ll take the sofa near the window and wait. From today, I’ll always be there when he needs me.
—You have always been there, says Nelly softly.
—Now I want him to know.
—He will. I’m sure he will.
—See you tomorrow, repeats the Major as he and Beth go to their transporter.
The next morning on Frigellya
—Hey, Paul. Wake up!
Sylvester is shaking Paul’s shoulder softly. Paul wakes with a start. As he sees Sylvester, he stands up and hugs him warmly.
—Thank heavens, you’re fine.
Then he steps back and looks at him.
—Where did you find these pajamas?
—They gave them to me here. I usually don’t wear pajamas.
—And what do you usually wear at night?
—I didn’t teach you that.
—What kind of conversation is this? Paul, are we really talking about wearing or not pajamas at night?
The two men look at each other and start laughing out loud.
—Sorry, son. I’m a bit tired. You scared the hell out of me yesterday. You were really not well at all.
—What did you just call me?
—What did you just call me; you said sorry….
—Er, Sylvester, don’t pay attention. Emotions.
—There’re worse things in the world than being Grumpy’s son, you know. No more brothers then?
—It’s just a matter of feelings, Sylvester. I said “son” without thinking.
—An almost-human with a father. I’ll be the only one of my kind.
—You’re human now.
—I can’t feel any difference.
—Paul, I had a weird dream about a disease I might suffer of: slowdawn syndrome.
—Slowdown syndrome, Sylvester. And that wasn’t a dream. I’m sorry.
—It was all real?
—You saved my life?
—Oh yes, you saved my life. I can remember how I was at that time. I would have let myself die of sorrow if I had been locked up in an asylum. By running away with me, you gave me a goal, and you protected me from a world that would have rejected me. Thank you so much.
—Never again say my life is nothing.
—That’s not what I wanted to say.
—I know, you old fool.
And Sylvester hugs Paul in his turn.
—So, father, how about going back home now?
—You know, I should be happy being called father, but the way you say it, it is a little bit mocking, isn’t it?
—You’re wrong; it’s affectionate.
—Really! Maybe you just prefer “old fool”?
—You see, never satisfied!
—I surrender. Let’s get out of here.
—Don’t you wish to see Nelly before we go?
—Er, I sent Nelly home early this morning. She was so tired.
—You two, you are…
—… really in love. We … need to be together.
—That’s great. She’s a really smart woman.
—You’re a nice guy, Sylvester. Shall we go?
—I need to put on my own clothes first. You don’t want me to show up anywhere dressed like this.
—Why not? We’re going home…
—Our home has become a real meeting place.
—You’re right, says Paul, smiling.
—My clothes are in the bathroom. I’ll be ready in a few minutes.
When Sylvester comes back, he asks,
—Nobody to say good-bye to here?
—Late yesterday I told the Queen we will go as soon as you wake up. It is what you asked for when you opened your eyes for a few moments. She said we’ll have other occasions to meet…
—I’m not so sure.
—We’ll see, Sylvester, we’ll see. There’s someone waiting impatiently for you out there.
—Oh, you exaggerate, Beth likes me but…
—I’m not talking about Beth, idiot.
—Oh, and who are you talking about?
—Sylvester, you’re a hopeless case…
—Let’s go, son.
And Paul takes Sylvester by the arm and leads him to the transporter.
At Paul and Sylvester’s apartment
As Paul and Sylvester arrive with their Frigellyan transporter in the living room, Sylvester can hear his name shouted out loud. He has just time enough to stand when Lucia throws herself in his arms. He hugs her gently, and finds Paul’s look saying something like, “Well, I warned you.” Suddenly, Sylvester parts from Lucia, mumbles an embarrassed “sorry” and runs away.
Lucia stands there speechless, then suddenly bursts into tears.
—What did I do to him? she moans.
—What’s got into him? adds Nelly, who had witnessed the scene.
—I’ll go and talk to him, suggests Paul.
As he knocks on Sylvester’s door, he receives a desperate “leave me alone.” Paul doesn’t heed the request and enters the room.
—Next time you want to be alone, lock your door.
—You know I never lock my door.
—Yes. Sylvester, what happened?
—It’s very embarrassing.
—Talk to me.
—It’s really embarrassing.
Paul does not answer and just waits for Sylvester to say something.
—My … my man’s thing. It’s woken up.
Sylvester lowers his head to show Paul what he is talking about.
—You’ve got an erection?
—Yes. Thank you for your tactfulness. Why are you laughing? It’s not funny. What is my life going to be now, if every time I see Lucia, I’ll get an erection?
—This … “man’s thing” … you can tame it. Well, I really didn’t have to tame anything yesterday, because Nelly and I, we … we…
—… had sex?
—… made love. But we saw each other many times after that, and I can tell you, desire is just a matter of timing. You can regulate.
—Think about something else, something that will effectively cut any desire you have to…
—Maybe I should think about you?
—Sorry, Paul. I’m being unfair. Brussels sprouts. I hate Brussels sprouts.
—Well, you can try that.
Paul hushes a moment and goes on,
—Really, Sylvester. Didn’t you see that Lucia fancied you? She’s always with you. She does everything with you.
—I liked her being with me. I found it natural.
—Sylvester, when two young people spend as much time together as you two did, most of the time there is something behind it, and this something is love.
—Do you think Lucia loves me?
—It’s obvious. And you, what do you think?
—I don’t know. I was an almost-human two days ago…
—Three. You were given one more day, because of your syndrome.
—So, I was an almost-human three days ago, and I spent the 25 years before that with Grumpy!
Paul does not answer and lets Sylvester go on,
—I didn’t have these feelings. I didn’t know anything about feelings like “love”.
—And now you have. Your man’s thing told you something. But didn’t you feel anything else?
—I shivered, and I felt something weird in my belly. And I think about her all the time now…
—Oh, yes, you’re in love. It’s not only desire. She’s got you.
—I’m not ready for … love.
—You don’t have to be ready. Love catches you. Accept it. Live it.
—Paul, I would like to be alone for a while. Please.
—I will tell the others you had an operation after-effect. You nearly threw up. You’ll come back when you feel better. Is that ok?
—Yes, thank you.
—You’re welcome. See you soon.
When Paul is back in the living room, there is only Nelly left.
—Where are the others?
—Beth and David had a meeting with Beth’s friends. They took Lucia with them, to help take her mind off what happened with Sylvester. She’s completely lost, and so sad. What was the matter with him?
Paul tells it in Nelly’s ear.
—Oh. I understand. How is he now?
—Shall I talk with him?
—He wants to be alone for a while. He certainly needs to think about all this.
—Right. So Mister Smith, we’re alone.
—Sylvester! says Nelly.
—I need to talk with her. Where is she? Where’s Lucia?
—In a café with Beth and David, and Beth’s friends. They’re going to talk about the wedding…
—The one she used to go to when she lived in her apartment, answers Nelly. Near the park…
—Which one? The White Cat? The Moonlight? The Ol…
—Yes, yes, now that you mention it, I remember, the Moonlight.
—Bye! Now you’re alone.
And Sylvester bursts out.