A Somewhat Unethical Plan

The desk phone rings. Ell tears herself away from her screen to answer it with her usual script. “Neuro Research.”

Angry car honks and crackling line noise almost drown out the thin voice. “Hi. Is this Elana Garcia?”

Still wary of crank calls, she leans back to her laptop. Ell wonders how a pre-teen kid got a cell phone and why he’s calling from such a busy street. “This is.”

“The same Elana Garcia that works with Dr. Delgado?” A static pop punctuates his words.

“He’s no longer with the program, but I did work with him, yes.” Ell realizes the kid is using a pay phone. She didn’t realize those still existed, never mind one that actually works.

“I’m more interested in talking to the real one, if that’s possible.”

Ell forgets her laptop and focuses fully on the caller. Thin voice or not, this kid is remarkably self-assured. She hedges, “I’m not sure what you mean.” She glances at the etheric sphere and wishes Dr. Delgado still had human form and senses. It would make getting his attention and voicelessly communicating her freakout so much easier. But for now she’s on her own.

The child continues. “A little bird told me about him. The real one, I mean. And we have an idea that we need some help with, so I’m trying to get in touch with him. Can you do that?”

“Could you hold on a minute, please? I’m going to see if I can clean up this connection a little. Thanks!” She jams the hold button without waiting for a response. “Dr. Delgado? We have a problem.”

-***-

The kid says his name is Delano Franklin, but calling him Ted would be fine. Ell spent her psych rotation triaging addicts and honing her bullshit detector, so she knows a lie when she hears one. She can’t quite figure out the joke with the name, nor what Ted is up to. She feels a pang of guilt at making him wait in the vestibule after he called to say he had arrived, but only briefly. After all, he showed up 15 minutes early.

Ell brings him over to her desk and sits him down. “So, uh, ‘Ted’, let’s start again. What can I help you with?”

He looks past her to the etheric sphere on the desk next to hers. “A pleasure to meet you, Dr. Delgado.”

Ell freezes. Keeping Dr. Delgado’s sphere in sight was a calculated risk to gather more information, but she didn’t expect Ted to see right through it.

“Likewise, Ted. How did you know?”

“I see things. And a little bird told me.”

The etheric sphere glows brighter and the speaker crackles with a different, louder voice. “Bully! Can you hear me? This is splendid! We simply must get one of these!”

Dr. Delgado’s voice takes over again. “Indeed, Mr. President. We shall do our best to provide you with whatever you need, but perhaps talking through Ted would be somewhat less confusing for Ell.”

Ell watches Ted straighten up and spread his presence to take up the whole lab. He speaks in a commanding voice that shakes her desk. “I’M NOT VERY GOOD AT IT!”

Dr. Delgado’s sphere flickers an amused green. “You shall improve, Mr. President. For now, perhaps we should let Ted speak for both of you?”

Ted slumps into his usual you-don’t-see-me tween slouch. Ell asks, “Ted, can you stay for a while? I’d like to run some tests if that’s OK.”

Ted nods. “That’s why we’re here.”

Ell sends a high priority email which reads, “Cancel all MRI appointments this afternoon.”

Dr. Delgado prompts, “But that’s not the whole reason, is it?”

Ted turns. “He told you already?”

“I caught the jist of it. Why don’t you tell us the plan?”

“OK.” Ted looks at Ell. “I’m a Whisper.”

Ell smiles. “That much I caught. Not many Whispers can channel like that, though.”

“Teddy’s been teaching me, but he’s not very good at it either. He’s very loud.” He shrugs an apology.

Dr. Delgado chimes in. “We may be able to help you with that.”

"Teddy? Mr. President? Ah, Roosevelt explains the Delano Franklin name." Ell smiles. "Clever."

Ted nods and smiles. “He's my little bird. He knows things. People, other spirits, plans. Oh, yeah - plans. Learning how to channel better would be a great start, but it's not why we're here. We’ve been rescuing a few spirits here and there, but it's not working. Some don’t want to be rescued because they'll just get captured again. Some get free and start killing people.” His eyes unfocus for a second as he hears the screams on the train again.

“But we need a bigger change, and faster. Here's the big problem: people don’t think of spirits as people. They see the power that comes out of them and don’t think of the cost.” Ted takes a breath. “So we thought if you could figure out what’s different in my brain that makes me a Whisper, maybe we could make a drug or a gene therapy or something that would let everyone see and talk to spirits the way I do.”

Dr. Delgado’s sphere swirls white with intense thought. “Challenging work. But some would say it is akin to playing God. Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should. The ethics questions are staggering.”

Ell took a second to process the plan. “So let me get this straight. If we find a difference in your brain, and that’s a big if, you want to figure out how to change someone else’s brain and let them talk to spirits?”

Ted nods. “Preferably something inhaled or spread by contact so we can change minds as quickly as possible. Starting with Congress.”

The scope of the idea settles into the room like the thick air of a tropical night just before a storm. Ell squirms in her seat. The lights swirl in Dr. Delgado's sphere, doing a credible impersonation of a tornado made of lightning.

“The ethics of forcing changes onto someone without their consent," Dr. Delgado intones, "is simply paralyzing.”

Ted asked, "But haven't people done exactly that to spirits for decades?"

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