Sunday, December 1, 2013

12/27/12 - Straffer - One Look Up I Can See Down - pt. 3.2

At last, the body has taken full shape, minus its skin and its head.

It looks surreal, under those lights. An unearthly sculpture commissioned by some strange lover of the arts, and brought into being by the sort of person who envisions things best left unspoken. A headless nightmare in red, white, and silver.

A figment of a dream, real and gleaming outside of the sweaty fantasy that birthed it.

The screens around it seem to indicate that all its functions are working. The doctors seem confident that all is well. This means the second phase can begin, and it is the most dangerous.

For, up until now, the patient has merely watched from his table as his new body is created before him, piece by piece. Now, he must make the leap of faith from what he was into what he could be. What he must be, in order to survive.

And that leap requires sacrifice.

The holographic head that floats beside him is a perfect representation of what he looked like, before. Not the battered, beaten remnant that they salvaged when he was brought back to Earth, but a healthy, proud thing. It almost smiles, there, as though enjoying a pleasant thought with its eyes closed.

The doctors ask one more time if he's ready, and certain. He has to be both, or this stops now. They will need him fully active in what takes place next, and there is no room for uncertainty or hesitation.

We can't hear him from up here, or at least I can't. But when SPYGOD leans forward and smiles (and is that a tear in his eye) I know that he has heard what I clearly cannot.

The answer is yes. And so they obey.

* * *

There's prep, and then after-prep, and then one last check. And then it's just Straffer and the Chief of Surgery, alone in the room, looking at one another -- doctor to head.

"Ready?" the man asks, going down on his haunches to look his patient in the eye.

"More than you know, Harvey," Straffer says.


"Yeah. But it's the waiting more than anything else."

"Hear you there," he says, smiling a little: "Reminds me of the Service."

"'Go and then wait, wait and then go,'" Straffer quotes, and they both chuckle over that.

"You ever miss it?" Straffer asks.

"Sometimes," the surgeon admits, looking up at the ceiling: "Miss the rush. Going to 12 Gs in five seconds. The whole world shaking apart for three minutes that feel like three hours. Sky turning from blue to black..."

"And then that moment when you level out, and you're weightless," Straffer says, closing his eyes: "It's like being lost for days, and then finding your way home."

The surgeon smiles and nods: "Had other ways to describe it."

"You would, wouldn't you?" Straffer chuckles, looking at him: "You always were a dirty-mouthed !@#$."

"That's Major !@#$ to you, Lt," the man says, putting a finger in his patient's face.

"Not anymore. You quit, and I got promoted."

"Really want to argue with the man who's fixing you?"

"My boyfriend's going to be watching you, you know."

"I know," the man says, grinning and getting back up: "Does he know the theater's glass is bullet proof?"

"I guess he's going to find out if you !@#$ up."

"Won't !@#$ up," the surgeon says, looking at his watch: "Not here. Promised him that."

"I know," Straffer says: "I heard. And I know the risks, but I want this. And you know why."

"Then it's done," the man replies, and then there's silence between them -- a long period where neither of them know exactly what to say, or why.

Straffer finally breaks that silence: "Why did you resign, Harvey?"

"Told you when I did it, didn't I?"

"You did, but I never believed it."

"Your problem, Lt-"

"Come on, man. 'Needed new challenges'? Every day in the Service is a challenge. You told me that when I signed up, green out of the Academy, and you were more right than you knew-"

"Don't throw my words back at me-"

"Don't avoid the truth, Major. It isn't !@#$ing worth it. I know."

There more silence between them, and harsh stares. And them the surgeon's stare softens, and he sighs and nods, thinking of how to put this.

"Didn't feel dangerous, anymore," the surgeon finally says: "After the accident, the reconstruction, I felt removed. Not real, somehow. Like it was all happening to someone else. No more excitement..."

"No more rush," Straffer says, understanding at last: "I think I knew that, somehow. I could see it in your eyes when you came back from a mission. The thrill wasn't there, anymore."

The man nods: "Felt dead inside, like someone flipped a switch. Needed a change."

"I'm glad," his patient says: "This place needs someone like you, here. They need someone who knows what it's like to lose your own skin and need a new one."

"No need to brown-nose, Lt," the surgeon says: "Can't reach from there, anyway."

"That's Director to you, Major," Straffer says.

"Not anymore,"  the man says, and they laugh about it, warmly, allowing the chuckles to trail off into silence.

"Good?" the surgeon asks, extending a hand for a zen shake.

"We've always been good, Harvey," Straffer says, smiling at the hand: "I've always trusted you. I just figured... if this is it, let's get that out of the way."

"Not going to be it," he says, heading for the door: "Going to be something new."

And as the man leaves -- and Straffer remembers what it was like having him as a C.O. -- he feels as though he couldn't be in safer hands.

But still, he wants this over with. Now.

* * *

The next step is gruesome, but necessary.

A team of doctors crowd around their patient, and reach forward. As they do, holographic hands nearby echo their own movements, allowing them to touch him by remote.

The skin is peeled from the back of his skull, allowing access to the metal beneath. And then, with a series of movements (pressing sensitive spots, unlocking certain things) the skull is opened up at the back, and swung open horizontally. 

The face is distorted and misshapen as they do this. The eyes remain conscious and alert, but soon he closes them, perhaps at their direction.

The force hands move in, and then out. As they do, the patient's brain comes with them -- its folds full of wires and other structures. Some are new and glistening, some are old and sagging, cracked from the stress and strain he's put them under, recently. The old ones are gingerly removed, revealing new ones, growing right underneath, like fresh skin under peeling scabs.

The invisible hands take the brain from the now-empty head, and move it over to the hologram, over the smaller white square. Another set of force fields cradles it, just so, and moves it to the exact spot it needs to be in. For a moment there is a strange illusion of a half-transparent head, with its brain showing underneath like a 50's movie monster.

And then the white square comes alive and begins moving up and down, building a new skull around the brain, itself. One slow pass, and the cranium is whole, save for the front area. Another, faster pass, and it's mostly sealed up.

Then begins a series of quick cycles, creating the recognizable front of the skull: eye sockets, cheekbones, nasal cavities, the upper and lower jaw. Muscles are made and attached, creating the underlying face, and nerves and blood vessels stitched between the layers.

And finally an underlayer of raw, red skin -- fresh and new and beautiful. 

The head is still for a moment, and then it shudders. Its newly-made eyes open, and its mouth opens and closes. The doctors ask it questions, and seem to approve of its answers.

With that approval, the next step can begin.

* * *

"Yeah, I !@#$ing know," SPYGOD says, talking on his phone down a deserted hallway, just outside of the operating theater: "I !@#$ing saw what was !@#$ing left of Krwi. I still can't !@#$ing believe it...


"Yeah, I'm okay. Sort of. Me and that !@#$ing Pole, we've been through some !@#$ together, right? Who would have !@#$ing thought there were so many !@#$ commie vampires out there, eh?


"No, this doesn't !@#$ing change a !@#$ thing we talked about," he says, looking around to be sure they're not being eavesdropped on: "You keep a !@#$ing eye on things at the White House. Things get worse, you tell me. Things get better... aw, !@#$, who am I kidding. They never do.


"Yeah, tell me about it. I sympathize. You got a foot in each side of the !@#$ road, now. Not gonna be !@#$ing easy.


"I know. I do. But you hold strong, (REDACTED). I know we've been at the wrong !@#$ing end of each other's business since the !@#$ War, but I know you're a good man under all that. You do the right thing and I'll figure out what we !@#$ing do about that... thing. Okay?


"Okay. Knock 'em !@#$ing dead, Mr. Veep."

Then he hangs up, sighs, and leans up against the side of the hall, thinking of the vampire hunter he'd hated to love. He remembers the many times they'd fought side-by-side as allies. He reflects on the times they'd fought each other, which were all too frequent, lately. That horrible way that he'd died.

And the mocking message his killer left, there amongst the mess that was once a man.

"I get a moment, you're !@#$ing mine," he says, wondering if the other him can hear him, somehow: "I don't care where you are, or what you're doing. I will find you. I will kill you.

"And then I'm going to drink Krupnik until I !@#$ yellow for a month." 

And with that, he turns his phone off, puts it away, and stomps into the operating theater, trying to think of nothing but the man he loves.

* * *

There's some double- and triple-checking, and consultation with the screens, and then the doctors pick up the head with their force hands, gently cradling it by remote like a strange baby. 

When nothing changes on their screens, they tip the head back, so that it stares at the ceiling. And then they move it -- oh so gently -- towards the red, white, and silver sculpture that lies on the table. It's a long, slow process, as they must make minor corrections in angle and trajectory every step of the way, ensuring that the neck aligns perfectly.

They take it over so far, and then leave it. Then there are a few minutes where the head and body float in space, like a planet and its moon. 

Seconds later, something both miraculous and curious occurs: a long, silver tendril snakes from the head's portion of the spine, like the frond of some skinny, mechanical plant in search of sunlight. 

The frond is soon kept company by another, and then another. Soon there are many silver strings, floating and twisting in the air between the two halves of the neck. 

The doctors and the patient are speaking, and though I cannot hear them, I suspect from what the expression on the patient's face, this is both normal and desirable. 

"Go on," SPYGOD whispers beside me, his voice like crushed glass: "It's your body, now. Take it and don't look back."

And then, not a full second later, the patient does exactly that. The fronds slide into the other end of the neck, one after the other. And when they are all in a straight line, the head and body begin to move closer together, once more.

Two feet, now. One foot. A few scant inches. The two parts become one, and as they do, the body begins to twitch and move, ever so slightly.

There's one last effort, then, and then contact is made. The patient closes his eyes, and opens his mouth, like a man sliding into a relaxing tub full of perfectly-warm water. 

The two have clearly become one. 

Seconds later, the large, white square begins to move, once more. It starts at the toes, and works its way up the body, ever so slowly. It lays down a layer of red underskin, and then another, and yet another. Layer after layer, building up on the body, until one last, white spray almost completes the process.

And there he is, at last -- a whole and perfect being, hairless and new, floating in space.

The doctors and surgeons crowd around him, asking him various questions and manually testing certain things to be certain the screens aren't lying to them. They're so busy, and there's so much going on, that for a few moments I don't see that SPYGOD is crying.

He says something. It might be "ecce homo" -- "here is the man." Or it might be something else. But I do not intrude, and let him have this moment. 

Of course, they won't let this new man walk, just yet. There are more tests to be made. Decontamination. Sterile environments and allergic reactions. Nutritious meals and bowel movements. All sort of final things that must be done and measured after such a great undertaking.

But they let him lift up his arm, towards the windows of the operating theater, where we sit. He looks his lover in the eyes, and smiles, and says, quite clearly, "I love you."

And SPYGOD puts his hands on the glass and says the same -- keeping them there, and continually repeating those words, even after they've wheeled his rebuilt lover from the now-quiet and still operating room.

- Karl Scott, Neo York City

 (SPYGOD is listening to Red Skies at Night (The FIXX, Shock remix) and having Krupnik by the ton)

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