I sat across the desk from the oncologist, Dr. Olga Kirillova. Kirsten squeezed my hand while I studied the doctor’s pensive features, trying to guess what the news was. Her blond hair flowed loosely to her shoulders, and her gray eyes were cast downward at her pale hands lying on the dark screen of her desk. Every few seconds her button nose would twitch as though she had a sniffle, and her full lips were pulled tight. If no news is good news, as the saying goes, I was about to get something particularly awful.
My wife was a nervous wreck, however, and I had to hold it together for her. Kirsten’s black hair was cut in a bob, with bangs just above her eyebrows, and her dark brown, nearly black eyes were wet with tears yet to fall. Her narrow nose looked as though it were made out of stone, and she constantly worked her thin, pink lips with her teeth. The ivory skin of her face was creased all over from worry, and her white skirt and black blouse were both creased from her fidgeting. Every few seconds she glanced down at me, as though trying to reassure herself I hadn’t died already.
“Mr. Fletcher, I’ve gone through this hundreds of times, but I’ve never found a gentle way to break this. The cause of your headaches is a sizable tumor just behind your brain’s frontal lobe.” She pressed a button, causing a holographic display to appear in the air above the desk. My wife let out a quick yelp and leaned over, touching her head to mine. “This is the image we took of your cranium last week.” She poked a thin rod through the hologram at a black spot about the size of my fist. “Considering its size I’m not sure how we didn’t catch it on your last visit, but it’s not unheard of for them to grow this rapidly. I’ll be surprised if you live four months.”
Kirsten’s tears dripped onto my jacket, and I squeezed her hand back. I was devastated to the point where I could do little more than stare blankly at the doctor and serve as a warm pillow for my wife. My brain raced, trying to process the news but starting over repeatedly. “What are my treatment options?” I asked flatly, almost an automatic response for Kirsten’s sake more than mine.
“Despite how far we’ve come in the field I’m afraid the options in this particular case are severely limited, and not without severe drawbacks,” Olga replied, picking her words carefully. “The obvious solution would be to remove it, but due to its placement our neurosurgeons assess that there is a sixty percent chance that you would die from it, and even if it were successful your mental capacity would be severely diminished, placing you roughly on the level of a five year old. Drug or radiation therapy are also options, but there’s a significant chance they wouldn’t reduce it quickly enough to save your life, and even if they did your frontal lobe’s blood flow would be disrupted to the point that you could, again, end up being child-like, mentally.”
I struggled to focus on what she was saying, but a persistent ringing in my ears made it difficult. Coming in I had figured the news would be bad, but this was catastrophic. Without a doubt I was going to die, and there was nothing I could do. “So, I should get my affairs in order?” I asked. It was a pointless question, I knew, but I had to say something. With the silence all I could hear was my wife’s quiet sobbing.
“That may be a little premature, Mr. Fletcher,” the doctor answered, much to my surprise. She must have noticed the confusion on my face and elaborated. “Biosleeves have been used for years for extreme cosmetic adjustments and academic research, and have shown great promise in radical treatments of terminal patients. If we transferred your consciousness into a biosleeve grown to your exact specifications, the sleeve would be free of the tumor and you would be able to live a long, relatively full life.”
“Then of course I’ll do it!” I moved my hand to Kirsten’s back, doing my best to reassure her by running it up and down her spine. “How is that even a question?”
“There’s one drawback. I figured you’d take this option, so I called the insurance company before your appointment. A full-sized biosleeve is, according to them, 25 million dollars, and they absolutely will not cover it or budge on the price. They are, however, willing to cover a set at a reduced price, but also at a reduced size.”
“Reduced in size… how?”
Olga hesitated. “To approximately one inch in height.”
The office was quiet for a moment; even Kirsten had gone mute, for the moment. “So then I would effectively be…”
“An inch tall, yes.” Dr. Kirillova shifted through some menus on her screen. “I understand this drawback might be a little less concrete than the others, so I’ve gone ahead and prepared something to help you visualize it.” With the final press of a button a hologram of Kirsten appeared over the desk. “If I could direct your attention down to the desk’s surface.” Standing beside my wife was a tiny version of me. “I used data from your most recent physicals to show you just how extreme this change would be. As you can see, Mrs. Fletcher, your husband would be no taller than your shoe.”
“We’ll do it.” Kirsten’s strong, resolute voice cut through whatever pain she had been feeling before, making her opinion absolutely clear. “I’m not going to watch my husband die, and I would rather be married to someone the size of a mouse than a mental invalid.”
“Mr. Fletcher, do you-“
“Absolutely,” I said, backing up Kirsten’s opinion. “Whatever physical challenges there are, we can work through them together. I won’t be a burden on my wife, and I want to grow old with her.”
Doctor Kirillova looked surprised, as though she hadn’t expected us to come to mutual concordance so quickly. “Well, that works for me. Just so you understand, your consciousness will be uploaded into a mobile database which will then be entrusted into your wife’s care. Once your consciousness is first downloaded into a biosleeve we are absolved of all responsibility, your current body will be declared dead, and, let me reiterate, you will be one inch tall.” She enlarged the hologram of us until it filled the room. While we stared at it she continued, “You understand the severity of this, yes?”
I nodded. “It’s the best choice out of the lot, doctor, and I’m comfortable with it. Kirsten values me as a partner and her equal, and I will not leave her alone. If the only way I can be with her is to be an inch tall, then so be it.”
“If your mind is made up, then I respect your decision and wish you the best on your new life in a biosleeve. Now, if you’ll excuse us, I need to explain details of your upcoming treatment to your wife that you may find unsettling. Obviously I can’t make you leave, but I remind you that you should never see sausage being made or laws being passed.”
“Oh, no need to worry about that.” I threw up my hands in mock surrender. “I’ll get out of your hair and let you two get down to it.”
The three of us stood simultaneously. I turned and hugged Kirsten, sliding my arms under hers and letting her rest her chin atop my head. “And you thought I was short before,” I quipped, giving her a light squeeze.
“I hope you can still love me when I’m a towering giantess,” she replied, running her long, slender fingers along my back. We held each other close even while Dr. Kirillova’s high heel shoes clicked toward us on the tile.
“I’ve sent a memo to the reconstruction lab detailing what to do, if you head down there while we work out the details here they should be done with their work-up around the same time we finish here,” she explained, drawing my attention. Though we had met several times before we had never both been standing, and while I suspected she was fairly tall I didn’t expect she would be head and shoulders taller than me. I confirmed that she was wearing heels on her long, stockinged legs, but that hardly explained the nearly two foot difference. “Mr. Fletcher. If my height surprises you I would like to remind you that you will soon be one inch tall. To put that in perspective, my heels are three. Myself, your wife, and literally every other human being who is not in a similar biosleeve will be giants to you. It’s best if you acclimate yourself to the idea sooner rather than later, so I’ll have the lab instruct you on how to make the appropriate adjustments to your holoscreen.” I nodded and cupped Kirsten’s hand, looked up into her eyes meaningfully, and left the office.
Olga and Kirsten watched Julian leave, and once the door clicked shut Olga wasted no time in getting to the instruction. She pulled something roughly the size of her palm out of her pocket and held it out to Kirsten. “This will be your husband’s new bed. You can place it wherever your like, but it must be close enough to connect to his database via these ports.” Using her finger, Olga indicated two black blocks at the “head” of the bed. “Not only is this the means through which you download him into a new biosleeve, but if he spends at least four hours in it, it will add any new memories to what we have stored.”
“Okay, several questions,” Kirsten began. “Why does it use wires instead of a wireless connection? What happens if he doesn’t sleep in there, or if not for four hours, and why would I need to download him into a biosleeve after the first time?”
“I’m glad you’re engaged enough to ask questions, and I’ll address them in order. While we are capable of doing this wirelessly, a shielded fiber optic connection will ensure that no data is corrupted when leaving or entering the biosleeve – it’s a failsafe. If he doesn’t rest long enough in it, his memories will either be missing or incomplete, which is why we suggest at least four hours, especially at the start when he’ll be overwhelmed by trying to interact with familiar objects at his new size. Finally, there’s a reason the prescription is for a dozen biosleeves. We understand and expect a certain amount of loss with these models, either through natural causes or accidents. I understand that you’ll be as careful as possible with him, but at an inch tall with human frailty he simply won’t be able to withstand some stresses. As a note, you should never, under any circumstances, let him see the extras. In every trial this caused extreme insanity that required the immediate termination of the subject.”
“Hold on one second,” Kirsten said, placing a hand to her temple. “You not only expect that I’m going to kill my husband, but you plan for multiple instances of it?”
In response, Olga reached into her other pocket and withdrew a small item pinched between her thumb and forefinger. Carefully she placed it in Kirsten’s open palm, then withdrew her hand. To Kirsten’s surprise a tiny man laid motionless in her palm. “This is an inert biosleeve, roughly the same size your husband will be,” Olga explained. “If you could be so kind as to make a fist for me, as tightly as you can.”
“But… that’ll kill him.”
“It. This is a totally blank model for demonstration purposes. It has no mind, consciousness, or memory. Beyond that, I’ll emphasize that even if this were your husband, this wouldn’t ‘kill’ him – only destroying his memory database would do that. So please, make a fist.”
Kirsten looked nervous. This was far beyond her comfort level. Even if this thing lacked sapience, it was still technically alive, right? She looked to Olga for support, and found only cool gray eyes staring back at her expectantly. With reluctance she curled her fingers inward until they came to rest atop the tiny body in her palm. Every detail of the body was evident to her through touch, though it was strangely cold under her fingertips. Slowly Kirsten gripped harder, increasing the pressure until a couple of loud pops emanated from her fist. A bit more pressure and the tiny body gave way entirely, reduced to mush beneath her fingers with a soft crack.
“So you see, Mrs. Fletcher, something that you and I take for granted could easily destroy your husband’s biosleeve, and it would be quite unfair to hold you responsible.”
“No offense,” Kirsten said, wiping the shattered body onto her thigh, “but I don’t expect I’ll be squeezing my husband in my fist until he pops.” She placed a hand on her chest and swirled her index finger, and moments later her pale thigh was completely unblemished, with a fresh outfit appearing on her.
“Not literally that, but think a little deeper. You slap your desk in frustration, or you set something down without looking. Maybe you’re drowsy and you see something small running along the table and swat it without thinking. These are not only possible, but documented cases. Now, come with me, I have something else to show you.” Olga walked behind her desk, heels clicking loudly on the tile the whole way.
Kirsten went to follow her, but the second the toe of her ballet flat hit the ground she heard a light crunch. Quizzically she lifted her shoe, revealing the smashed remains of a corpse crushed flat beneath her sole. She looked around and saw a half-dozen other biosleeves, none taller than her shoe, scattered around the office floor and locked into standing positions. “Did… did I just…”
“Another empty shell,” Olga said, doing her best to reassure Kirsten with her clinical tone. “That was just to demonstrate how easily you’ll be able to crush your husband, entirely on accident. But please, I do have something to show you.” Much more carefully this time, Kirsten walked forward, watching for any tiny people before each step. When she reached a spot beside Olga, the doctor showed her a transparent yet firm box, about six inches wide.
“This is an example of where you’ll keep the ‘empty’ sleeves of your husband. I’m showing you this so that you can pick out a spot now to put it so that he won’t be able to see it. I suggest a high shelf or locked drawer that he won’t be able to open. Once his biosleeves are inside, biometric locks will make sure that only you or people you specifically authorize – your husband excluded – can open it.”
Kirsten nodded. “So, going back a bit. If I kill my- I’m sorry, ‘crush my husband’s biosleeve,’ won’t he know?”
Olga shook her head. “Not unless you tell him. Remember, he only writes memories to his permanent consciousness if he’s in his bed. For all he knows he’s waking up at the start of a new day.”
“How long should I wait before I…”
“Re-download him?” Olga smirked, the first bit of emotion she had shown for the whole meeting. “Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of the lingo. You can do it any time within 72 hours of a biosleeve expiring. Any longer than that and the system flags you and alerts the authorities that you’re possibly murdering him. But that means you can either take a day or two to cool down from it, or not even take the time to clean your shoe off.”
Kirsten looked visibly shaken. “I think that’s enough questions for now,” she said.
“I just want you to be ready for the very real possibility that you’ll be finding your husband’s smashed remains several times a month once he goes through with this,” Olga said. “And if you have any questions or need to talk to me for any reason, don’t hesitate to call me on my personal or office number – I’m an oncologist, but I’m very familiar with the smaller biosleeves treatment, and want to make sure the two of you adjust to your new lives as quickly as possible. Just remember that you will be responsible for every aspect of his life, and for his life itself.” With that Kirsten left the office, taking care to avoid stepping on any tiny bodies scattered around the floor, and headed down to meet Julian at the reconstruction lab.
Right when the lab tech finished explaining the process, Kirsten’s slender form came around the corner. Dr. Kirillova had predicted the timing absolutely perfectly. I walked toward her and wrapped my arms around her in a hug, though she suddenly stiffened. Quickly I let go and stepped back. “What’s wrong?”
“Uh, nothing,” Kirsten replied. “I’m certainly not… nevermind.” She forced a smile. “When do I get to meet my new, inch-tall husband?”
“It’ll be a few days,” I told her. “They’ll have the sleeve ready in a couple hours, but a full brain upload can take 96 hours. Once that’s done though you will have me in the palm of your hand for the rest of your life.” I grinned, but Kirsten couldn’t bring herself to return it. Instead her eyes went wide, and she began to frantically wipe her hand on her skirt. “Seriously, is something up?”
“It’s just… are you sure you want to be an inch tall?” she asked. “Everything’s going to be a lot more dangerous for you, and there are other treatment options that we haven’t tried yet.”
“I trust you entirely to keep me safe, hun. And it’s the best option, unless you want to be wiping drool off my lip until we’re both gray.”
No, I’ll just be wiping you off my shoe every time I come home, Kirsten thought. She forced her smile back on though. “If it’s really what you want, then I’m behind you one hundred percent. Besides, I’m already kind of gigantic to you, aren’t I?” Kirsten stood on her toes and loomed over me. “Fee fi fo fum, I smell the blood of Julian!” Finally she cracked a real smile and fell down, draping her arms over me. “So when do you get uploaded?”
“Right now. They wanted to get me in as quickly as possible before I started losing brain function, and that ended up being fifteen minutes from when I got here. Guess I won’t get any of that time to get used to a new, gigantic world before being thrown into it, huh?”
“You know, that might not be such a bad thing,” Kirsten said. “We’ll get used to it together. Me and my tiny husband.” She took me by the arm and together we walked down the corridor to the brain backup wing.
Two hours later dozens of diodes were connected to my head and spine, and Kirsten still hadn’t left my side. “He’s about to go under,” one of the technicians declared. “It’s time to say your goodbyes and get clear.”
I squeezed Kirsten’s hand one last time. “Hey. I love you,” I said. “I can’t wait to see how you majestic you are when I wake up.”
Kirsten squeezed back. “Love you too,” she said. “Try to enjoy this break from being under my thumb.” She leaned forward and kissed me, then got up to leave. When the door closed behind her I felt my eyelids fluttering, and a moment later I was asleep.