President Morewitz swallowed the capsule and promptly dropped the glass of water, which shattered into a wet spray of shards on the wooden dais.
“Oops...I'm OK, I'm OK. It hasn't started working yet. I don't think!” Grinning, he stepped clumsily backwards off the dais as Ruth and Geddes rushed forward. Morewitz had regained his footing by the time they reached him. Chuckling, he led them into an alcove behind the curtain. The space was occupied by a steel cot and a couple of folding chairs. Morowitz sat on the cot and motioned to the chairs, but before either Ruth or Geddes could sit something mechanical jerked the curtain up and rolled it into the ceiling exposing them to the floodlights and the president's son peering at them through the camera's viewfinder. Geddes waved him away.
“You can turn that off now, Bradford,” Geddes said. “Show's over.”
“No no, leave it on, Brad! I want the world to see the whole thing live.”
Ruth leaned in and said quietly, trying to keep her voice from the sound pickup, “Not a good idea, Geoff. There'll be a stretch when nobody looks very presidential.”
“I don't care, Ruth. I believe I've already shown them that side of me.” He laughed. “I can't imagine a better way to demonstrate how this stuff works.
“Besides, you're going to join me aren't you? Have you taken yours yet?”
“No, Geoff. Changed my mind.”
“Whatsa matter. 'fraid we'll start singing Auld Lang Syne? No, wait, Eve of Destruction! Hahaha.”
“Oh, Geoff.” She nudged Geddes. “Thanks a bunch, Al. You didn't have to put that in the book, you know.”
“So when will this stuff kick in? Should I be lying down? It sounds in your book, Al, kinda like an LSD trip?”
“You ever done acid, Mr. President?”
“No, Al. They asked me that many times once I got into politics. I've been with people who were tripping. When I was at Yale. At least I assumed they had taken acid. I think they called it windowpane.
“Frankly I was afraid to try it. I smoked some marijuana – oh, and I did inhale hahaha – but the other stuff, the windowpane, if that's what it was, well, they just got too weird for me when they were on that stuff.”
“There are similarities, Mr. President. The first time I took it unknowingly. Thought I was losing my mind.”
“I know. I read both books, Al. You called them fiction, but I suspected at the time there was more truth in them than not. So has Vulcana made you a...a better man?”
Geddes shrugged and, trying to keep his face deadpan, turned to Ruth. She met his eyes and shook her head. Morowitz interrupted her as she started to speak.
“That's an unfair question, Al, and I apologize for putting you on the spot. I know we're still live, although I can't imagine every station is still carrying the feed, but...”
“It's OK, Mr. President. It's a perfectly valid question and, double entendres aside, I really don't feel any different, except obviously a little older and...well, even more disappointed. I'm not sure Vulcana's given me any new insights or mental abilities. Maybe I was too old and set in my ways.”
“You're a goody two-shoes, Al. Vulcana doesn't affect goody two-shoeses...is that right? Two-shoeses?”
Morowitz remained seated on the cot, but his face wore a puzzled expression. He seemed distracted, staring at something behind them. Before Geddes could turn to see what it might be, Dr. Knoe appeared at his side. Her intriguing scent – a subtle marriage of fetching and dangerous – reached him first. She touched his arm and pushed him gently out of her way as she moved nearer the president.
“Mr. President,” she said, in the protective voice of a mother to her child, “are you comfortable?”
The corners of his mouth twitched as if he were starting to smile, but he continued staring at the opposite wall. Geddes and Ruth stepped back and eased toward the alcove entrance.
Dr. Knoe reached out and placed a hand on his forearm, drawing no reaction. In a near whisper she said, “Geoffrey?” Nothing. Then, barely audibly, what sounded like the word no.
She patted his arm. He started rocking sideways on the cot. He blurted, “NO! NO NO NO NO NO NO!” He turned his head and met her eyes, his wide and fearful. Small voice, “Mommy?”
“It's alright, Geoffy. It's alright, honey.” The rocking continued.
“Mommy, I didn't mean to. I'm sorry. I didn't mean it, Mommy. I'm sorry.” He closed his eyes tightly and rocked back on the cot, not seeming to notice his head bumping loudly against the wall behind him. Geddes rushed to the cot and helped Dr. Knoe move him so he was lying lengthwise.
Morowitz offered no resistance, but pulled his legs up to keep them from dangling off the end of the cot. He pulled them up further than necessary, contorting his gangling body into a bizarre fetal position.
Geddes saw the president insert his index finger into his mouth, and watched the lips and jaw muscles begin undulating.
“What the hell?”
“This is not good, Al.”
“We haven't seen anything this drastic, have we? I mean, I sure as hell didn't suck my finger, did I?”
“He's jumped straight to infancy. I'm not aware of anyone else who regressed that far. And so quickly.”
“Can you do anything, Liz?” said Ruth, horror stretching her face as she moved toward the cot.
“Let's wait. Maybe this will be temporary.” Dr. Knoe removed the president's shoes, and she and Ruth spread open the Navy blanket that was folded at the foot of the cot and draped it over his lower body.
Geddes stepped in front of Bradford Morowitz to keep him from moving the camera dolly closer.
“He wants this to be live. All of it,” the president's son complained.
“You can keep the camera rolling, Brad, but we need to give your dad some room here. I'm sure he would agree.”
Bradford halted the dolly. “Is he going to be all right?”
Dr. Knoe turned to him. “I'm sure he'll be fine, Brad. I'm a physician. I'll make sure nothing happens to him.”