The transition is always disconcerting. There are many factors - the sudden sense of dehydration or weightlessness, the oddity of having more or fewer limbs, the abrupt change in Mei Changsu’s angle of vision.
In this particular direction, the nudity can also be disconcerting. But it’s happening often enough these days that he’s almost become accustomed to it. Indignities of the body are nothing new, and this one at least is painless.
If Fei Liu were in the room he’d have thrown a cloak over Mei Changsu before he had even had time to count his limbs. But it’s just Lin Chen today, so when Mei Changsu recovers himself from the brief vertiginous wobble of regaining human form, he just finds his awful, impossible doctor holding out a robe to him with a truly irritating level of mirth.
“I thought,” he tries to say, and stops as it comes out an awful dry squawk. He takes the robe and eases it onto himself, rolling slowly through his human arms’ range of motion to remind himself what they can and cannot do, and then accepts a cup of water from Lin Chen. He takes several swallows before trying again.
“I thought this was supposed to be happening less often.”
Lin Chen snorts and flaps a hand at him.
“Less often isn’t the same as never, and the treatment works better when the patient is cooperative .”
“You knew what you were getting into when you agreed to treat me. I am the same person I was when you met me”
Lin Chen looks very unimpressed by this.
“You were at least two people when I met you,” he says, “and now you’re up to what, four? And an octopus at times. I should charge you more.”
This is probably true, actually, since the nature of their relationship long since outgrew the boundaries of anything so simple as service and payment. Mei Changsu makes a mental note to address it, but at this particular moment he has more pressing questions.
“How far did I get this time?” he asks.
It’s not that he doesn’t remember the things his other self does. He’s aware of them, after a fashion. But the other creature views the world in its own way and it one set of perceptions doesn’t always lay simply over the other. He remembers wanting to see Jingyan. He remembers slipping through the doorway.
He does not remember making it all the way down to the end of the tunnel, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t do it.
Lin Chen does Mei Changsu the courtesy of looking sheepish.
“Lucky for you, you didn't reach the bell at the far end before Fei Liu caught up with you,” he says. “But I suggest you reinforce the door at this end.”
Mei Changsu’s head is throbbing. Whether that’s the transformation or his human body’s illness or the thought of the locking mechanism he is going to have to invent or pay someone else to invent without explaining why, is unclear and scarcely matters. The alternative - stationing someone in the tunnel around the clock to monitor his comings and goings - is not an option.
Jingyan might allow it, if persuaded it were somehow relevant to Mei Changsu’s health. His solicitousness would be overbearing. It would prickle under Mei Changsu’s skin like thorns.
He will think of another way.
“Another glass of water,” he says. “And then I will thank Fei Liu. And then we'll get back to work.”