The auction is almost over when John comes-to. Sedatives. They keep feeding him these Goddamn sedatives, as if the shackles chaffing his wrists and ankles are somehow not enough. Lousy jerks, making him sit through the auctioning off of everything he owns. His whole life.
The auctioneer is sweating like a pig beneath the fluorescents; the glare of the lights are bright on his oily, bald dome.
“Lot twelve,” he calls. “One laptop computer. Attached artificial intelligence persona, ‘Debra’. Do I hear five-thousand Euros?”
John fumes as a paddle is raised by some geeky looking prick with carrot-red hair and sweat-stains beneath his arms. The laptop is small potatoes, but Deb! Those sons of bitches can’t take away his AI. She’s been with him for ten years!
But they do. Deb and the laptop are sold. John grits his teeth, cracks a molar. He barely feels it, looking down at his hands, focusing on the small scar on his right pointer-finger.
“Lot thirteen—Thirty-five bottles of Aberdeen Single Malt scotch, aged forty-three years. Do I hear ten-thousand Euros?”
John feels as if he’d been kicked in the stomach. Those bottles were the last batch to come out of his grandfather’s distillery. They were priceless, and he wants to sell them for ten-thousand? Better to pour each bottle down the drain.
When no one responds, the auctioneer drops the price to nine, and then down to eight. A paddle goes up, almost grudgingly.
I hope you choke on it, John thinks, glaring at the white-haired cheapskate who won them.
But a deeper part of him is relieved, desperately relieved, that the alcohol is gone. He sees with a dusky recollection the road and the setting sun bright in his eyes, feels the drunken abandon with which he sped down that straightaway.
And the kid. John remembered him most of all. It was a cruel trick of the mind—remembering him when everything else was lost to the booze-haze—recalling the white dot which grew into a face too startled to register fright, a shock of blonde hair, freckles. The son of some big-shot cyber-neurosurgeon, he found out later. Poor guy had even saved his son’s brain in hopes of salvaging what his Porsche destroyed.
When his eyes refocus, his car is being sold.
“Lot fourteen—One refurbished ’68 Porsche Leopard, sold for sixty-thousand five-hundred Euros.”
And as much as John loved that Porsche, he wasn’t sorry to see it go.
An Italian suit, an espresso machine, a DelTorin original, and a home-entertainment system all sell for crap. Most of the audience has left and the auction seems at a close, but then a bailiff walks over to him and jerks him up by the shackles. John cries out in pain and surprise.
“What the hell, mate?”
Indignation collapses into fear as they put the gag in. Two orderlies pin his arms and legs to his side; a third rolls the shirt up to his bicep, slips a rubber-band around his forearm. A vein rises, and, horror-struck, John feels the hot bite of a syringe, and then a spreading numbness. And then nothing at all.
“Lot nineteen,” the auctioneer calls. It is more of a formality; only one person is intent on this one.
A paddle is raised, far to the back of the room.
It feels like he has been asleep for a long while.
(running after a baseball as it bounces across the road, a sudden exclamation of pain that drags him down into excruciating depths—)
“Can you hear me, Jacob?”
Jacob groans, blinks, raises unfamiliar hands to his face. They are big-knuckled, hairy, and there’s an unfamiliar scar on his right pointer finger—a grown-up’s hands, like his father’s.
Has he been asleep that long?
Bright light shines into his eyes. When they readjust, he sees his father standing over him. A stethoscope hangs around his neck. Tears stream down his face.
He trails off, frightened at the stranger’s deep voice leaving his lips.
“Don’t try to speak,” the big-shot neurosurgeon says, smiling through his tears. “I have a lot to tell you, son.”