Then he remembered Slade’s aircraft speeding towards him across the solar mirrors, the small, vicious propeller that shredded the light and air, time and space. This failed astronaut had first come to the clinic seven months earlier. While Franklin was away at a conference, Slade arrived by air force ambulance, posing as a terminal patient. With his white hair and obsessive gaze, he had instantly charmed the clinic’s director, Dr. Rachel Vaisey, into giving him the complete run of the place. Moving about the laboratories and corridors, Slade took over any disused cupboards and desk drawers, where he constructed a series of little tableaux, psychosexual shrines to the strange gods inside his head.
He built the first of the shrines in Rachel Vaisey’s bidet, an ugly assemblage of hypodermic syringes, fractured sunglasses and blood-stained tampons. Other shrines appeared in corridor alcoves and unoccupied beds, relics of a yet to be experienced future left here as some kind of psychic deposit against his treatment’s probable failure. After an outraged Dr Vaisey insisted on a thorough inspection Slade discharged himself from the clinic and made a new home in the sky.
The shrines were cleared away, but one alone had been carefully preserved. Franklin opened the centre drawer of his desk and stared at the assemblage laid out like a corpse on its bier of surgical cotton. There was a labelled fragment of lunar rock stolen from the NASA museum in Houston; a photograph taken with a zoom lens of Marion in a hotel bathroom, her white body almost merging into the tiles of the shower stall; a faded reproduction of Dali’s Persistence of Memory, with its soft watches and expiring embryo; a set of leucotomes whose points were masked by metal peas; and an emergency organ-donor card bequeathing to anyone in need his own brain. Together the items formed an accurate anti-portrait of all Franklin’s obsessions, a side-chapel of his head. But Slade had always been a keen observer, more interested in Franklin than in anyone else.