* * *
Terry Mann received a hero’s parade, and was buried with full honors. Danny wrote and recited a speech. It was a moving speech touting a firefighter’s endless service to others and a renewed commitment toward training and education. When she concluded her speech, the gathered crowd jumped to their feet, cheering and clapping wildly.
Dr. Mann, Colonel Bishop and Terry attended the funeral. Danny had a brief opportunity to see Terry before the mourners disbanded. Colonel Bishop started to speak with Danny, but the flash of a camera ended their brief encounter. Dr. Mann and Colonel Bishop drew back a few paces to allow Terry and Danny a little privacy.
Terry grinned at Danny. “This is some weird mojo, huh? I liked your speech a lot. I really appreciate it.”
“So what happens now? You just continue as Joe the lab tech?”
“Joe knew the risks involved, and everyone at the facility knows I am Terry and not Joe. It’s basically ‘business as usual.’ They tested out the procedure a few more times with no glitches. It appears to work best if the hosts are unconscious for the transfer. Makes the transfer less traumatic to the senses and allows quicker motor control.”
“They’ve tried it again?”
“Yeah. First one day, then two and three. As long as I’m alive and kickin’, they’ll keep trying to do it longer. I’m the first, so they haven’t tried it again with me, but it looks like I will always be the longest swap. Anyway I gotta go, we had to fight to get this outing, and they are eager to have us back. I won’t be able to see you again, so I wanted to say goodbye.”
Terry leaned in and gave Danny a quick kiss on the lips. He was wearing the cologne she had purchased for him. A swell of emotions surged through her with that kiss, but it was brief, and the dull loneliness and sadness quickly returned.
Terry walked away. Colonel Bishop walked behind him toward Dr. Mann waiting at a sedan. The trio got in; Terry paused to look at Danny once again before closing the door. The sedan drove away. As it disappeared down the driveway, Danny’s eyes teared up. Many mourners mistook those tears for tears of the loss of a close colleague, but they were not. They were tears mourning a colleague’s loss of freedom. She suspected Terry would never again feel free, and the world had lost a great firefighter again.