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A story that comes to grips with an age old question what is soul? and where? and postulates an age new answer.

If I listed every trouble I've accumulated in a mere two hundred odd years you might be inclined to laugh. When a tale of woe piles up too many details it looks ridiculous, unreal. So here, at the outset, I want to say my life has not been a tragic one whose life is in this day of advanced techniques and universal good will? but that, on the contrary, I have enjoyed this Earth and Solar System and all the abundant interests that it has offered me. If, lying here beneath these great lights, I could only be as sure of joy in the future....

My name is Treb Hawley. As far back as I can remember in my childhood, I was always interested in astronautics. From the age of ten I specialized in that subject, never for a moment regretting the choice. When I was still a child of twenty four I took part in the Ninth Jupiter Expedition and after that there were many more. I had a precocious marriage at thirty and my boys, Robert and Neil, were born within a few years after Marla and I wed. It was fortunate that I fought for government permission that early; after the accident, despite my high rating, I would have been denied the rare privilege of parenthood.

That accident, the first one, took place when I was fifty. On Planet 12 of the Centauri System I was attacked by a six limbed primate and was badly mangled on the left side before breaking loose to destroy it. Surgical Corps operated within an hour. Although they did an excellent prosthetic job after removing my left leg and arm, the substituted limbs had their limitations. While they permitted me to do all my jobs, phantom pain was a constant problem. There were new methods of prosthesis to eliminate this weird effect but these were only available back on the home planets.

I had to wait one year for this release. Meanwhile I had plenty of time to contemplate my mysterious affliction; the mystery of it was so great that I had little chance to notice how painful it actually was. There is enough strangeness in feeling with absolute certainty that a limb exists where actually there is nothing, but the strangeness is compounded when you look down and discover that not only is the leg gone but that another, mechanical one has taken its place. Dr. Erics, who had performed the operation, said this difficulty would ultimately prove a blessing but I often had my doubts.

He was right. Upon my return to Earth, the serious operations took place, those giving me plastic limbs that would become living parts of my organic structure. The same outward push of the brain and nervous system that had created phantom pain now made what was artificial seem real. Not only did my own blood course through the protoplastic but I could feel it doing so. The adjustment took less than a week and it was a complete one.

Fortunately the time was already past when protoplast patients were looked upon as something mildly freakish and to be pitied. Artificial noses, ears and limbs were becoming quite common. Whether there was some justification for the earlier reaction of pity, however, still remains to be seen.

My career resumed and I was accepted for the next Centauri Expedition without any questions being asked. As a matter of fact, Planning Center preferred people in my condition; protoplast limbs were more durable than the real no, let us say the original thing.

At home and at the beach no one bothered to notice my reconstructed arm and leg. They looked too natural for the idea to occur to people who did not know me. And Marla treated the whole thing like a big joke. "You're better than new," she used to tell me and the kids wanted to know when they could have second matter limbs of their own.

Life was good to me. The one year periods away from home passed quickly and the five year layoffs on Earth permitted me to devote myself to my hobbies, music and mathematics, without taking any time away from my family... Continue reading book >>

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