Outdated as of April 26, 2016. Rewritten and posted [ here ].
All I do is lie and listen.
Listen to what the doctors do and say though their conversations take place beside a heavy door, and the young doctor that let me hear never shows up for the next couple days. Different ones come in and out, take notes of every little thing; changes in position and bedding, telling me to roll, shift, realign my back on the bed and pillow. It is always during and after a bed change, when four people lift and pull me to another bed – each time they remove and reattach the leather belts. When I asked why one said it was for their ‘safety’. But I’m always drugged stupid in painkillers, and they soon after stop it with tying my hands down – replacing them with saying I can’t touch the harness, that I need to keep them away from my face, to not fiddle with the needles, and so on.
My various questions are … ignored.
“In time, Andrew,” a doctor said.
“Not now,” said another.
“Just wait a little longer,” said yet another before closing the heavy door. Leaving me alone with the ceiling. I always fall asleep afterwards, too tired all the time from the painkillers and the sleeping pills I’m guessing they sneak in with a paste they pump into a small tube; through what I am guessing is my nose, but the lower half of my face is always numb. When I ask how long I’d need it they answer with silence or the same thing, ‘you’ll learn in time.’
When I asked a general questions about the tubes I feel in my throat, mostly about the one itching my throat. Unlike the others, this doctor says something else.
“Without them, you couldn’t eat or breathe,” is what he said before turning back to the papers in his hands and the beeping machines to the right. He was standing close enough that I can nab the papers from his hands and force answers out of him. I can but won’t. Too tired, too weak to even sit up in bed without assistance, and that makes me angry. Fingers dig into a hardened palm, touching scars and stretching skin grafts on the other side. It hurts, just like everything else thanks to the painkillers. I hope I didn’t put myself here, even if it wasn’t I’d still be angry at myself.
This doctor finally leaves the room, slamming the heavy door.
On the counter, almost out of reach, was a sheet of paper I could see in the corner of sight. No hesitation, I reach for the sheet and miss the edge by a stroke the first time. A burning pain surges from the hand skin grafts when two fingers pinch close. The second time is successful but almost as painful, dragging it over and dropping it down on my chest and let the nerves rest for a short time.
After then I hold it up between my face and the light. Double-sided and written in spastic handwriting, small print hidden beneath looping circles and lines. What a mess. Might have to wait for them to say something to me. Only a bit was barely legible after sometime focusing and a bit of tilting. All of it at the top.
‘Andrew (Avon) Pottarus (POCOCK)’ was at the top following the little words ‘name’ at the top left side. I assume the other corner was a date because of the sequence of numbers and letters. ‘225842192132’ I wonder what it means. Besides these, there were only the frantic scribbles.
The door lock jiggles.
I drop the paper and brush it on to the floor as the metal door opens and fall into my default position – right at side, left on chest, staring up at the AC. “Andrew, how are you?” It was the young doctor, the one that let me hear. I heard him talking to his assistant, telling him to help me sit up. The assistant did as he was told, lowering the side rail on the left and undoing the belt that crossed my chest and stomach and knees. When the assistant pulls the sheets to the foot of the bed I prop myself up, looking over towards the doctor and read his tag – Dr. Matthews. He has a thick binder, one he drops down on the side table and it slams hard.
I turn my head and cringe, the bolts twist flesh and bone and blood oozes from the holes. The assistant keeps my hands from them. I turn to Dr. Matthews and flinch, “Sore,” I croak, clutching onto the sheets.
“How is the medication working for the pain?” Dr. Matthews pulls over a chair and sits down across from me and beside the thick binder. I shake my head, close my eyes, and rub them with my thumb. For a moment, fight or flight clicks on then off and my stomach lurches.
“Wish I could tell,” my stomach lurches again, “wish I could taste,” my throat clenches and the tubes bounce.
“Maybe it would be better to wait for a later time, when you feel better.”
“No, I’m fine. Just can I get some water,” I cough and the assistant leaves the room. Only now do I take the time to look at the skin grafts that run from the back of my hand up to the inner part of my elbow. Before it was too dark to see the difference but now it was more obvious. Tan flesh edged by darker skin and milk whites. The underside of each finger ran white, the top part lightly banded at the joints. The skin graft was a single shade, breaking the color separating hand from wrist. “Doctor, why is my skin like this.” I hold my arm up, Dr. Matthews says nothing. “Why do I have multiple arms?” I felt myself shaking, my stomach still churning, the heart monitor beeps faster.
“Calm down, Andrew. I’ll answer your questions soon.”
“A month, an entire month I’ve been waiting. I just want answers now.”
“Andrew, settle down,” the doctor reaches for the binder, pulling it onto his lap and opens it to the first tab, which was an upside down packet of photos. “One answer at a time, after these I’ll answer those questions.” He pulls the photos out and drags the side table over. It screeches on the floor.
The assistant comes back with a small cup of water. I couldn’t take a sip with the mask over the lower part of my face, the assistant opens an access hatch and inserts a thick sloped tube that I felt against my tongue. He also helps guide one hand to the outer lip of the tube, and dumps the water in.
Dr. Matthews puts a photo on the table and pushes it in front of me. “Do you know these people?” It was a family of four; two parents and two little girls, one of them sitting on the father’s shoulders. The father’s skin was not as clear as the wife and daughters, more hidden in shadows.
Dr. Matthews points to the father, “that’s you, Andrew.” I have family? I have a wife and children. He let me sit there in silence for a few minutes. “You alright?” I nod my head slowly.
“Yeah, just… I don’t remember them at all. Are you certain?”
“Your identification, your history, medical records.” I’m quiet, he points to the wife. “You married her eleven years ago. Does she at least look familiar?” A head shake, a hand on forehead, a soft temple rub before the assistant pulls my hand away.
“No, no. I…” Matthew pulls out another photo, it’s a picture of the wife smiling. Her face was familiar but I can’t put a name to her.
“Her name is Elise.” Elise, Elise, it rings something and sounds familiar now. Now the child are more familiar but their names don’t come up. They look similar to the girls in the dream. “The girls, 9 and 5, their names are Terra and Andrea. Do you remember them?”
“Now, yes,” I don’t say from where. Dr. Matthews pulls out another picture, it was of the older girl. She had a clip in her hair and was sitting on her father’s shoulder, apparently mine. “Do you remember how troublesome Terra was? Getting into frequent fights while Andrea spent time in your office. Do you remember?”
“No but…” There was another photo, the younger girl this time and she was sitting in an office making a face at someone off to the side. She was mocking a man sitting across from her in a half-spun office chair, making a fish face with her hands pressing her cheeks down. The person in the chair had two left arms. I was quiet, staring at the image, and flip it. “I’m not going to believe this until – until I see my own face.”
“Don’t be so hasty Andrew, Ryan,” I guess that’s the name of the assistant, “can you find a mirror?” The assistant leaves and the heavy door slams. Dr. Matthews turn back to me, arranging the photographs. “Your wife, Elise, was two years younger than you and wanted to be a lawyer. Your occupation was a covert – “
“No. I don’t want to hear about my supposed family right now. Look, why do I have six arms, why are they like this!” I hold out my free arms, yanking the needles in the right arm taut. Dr. Matthews pushes them back in after dabbing the entry points with alcohol. For a moment, he leaves me alone and enters the bathroom with the small cup. He fills it and hands it back to me; tension. “Are they flesh?”
“No, robotic. You were part of a high-ranking convert squadron. A main point was free climbing, it was vital for the Theta square, your squad. You excelled, however like everyone else, additional working limbs were requested. You agreed to a transplant service – a lengthy three month process for one set at a time. Each arm was government manufactured.”
“A side effect of a melanin project, ACTM. Your grandparents participated and it was passed down to your mother, then you. It is not as severe as theirs, relatively unnoticeable in most light. Neither of your girls showed any lasting signs of skin discoloration.” That was easy to tell from the photographs, but then there was memories that come up and last only a second.
“What happened to me, to them – my family I mean.”
“You don’t… you were in an accident. Right now, you are in the Aelus-Enap BioTech Recovery Center. If I tell you all the details, it may take a while.”
“I got time.”
Dr. Matthews flips through the binder, past several forms, past three tabs and four and flips through the two before finding what he is looking for. “On the third of July, you took your family to a resort in Florida for a week. The first few days were spent at the beach, amusement parks, the like, and then the fourth day rolls around.” He flips past a page and gets to a form and in the corner is 1 of 37. “I’ll summarize, you need more sleep. On the fourth day it was struck by a botched terrorist attack – anti-tech – at the time your family was on the seventh floor, east wing, when the explosion happened. The first four floors were blown and the rest of the building began to collapse and there was a fire rising up the west side and slowly went through the entire building – 57 people died in the blast and several more were injured, even more by the fire and following collapse.”
I was numb, imagining the fire all over again, and the collapsing hall. “What happened after that?”
“In seven minutes the fire department arrived, in fourteen the bulk of the ambulances and helicopters show up. You survived, of course, but in a severe condition. You, Elise, and the two girls were in the east stairwell. Elise wasn’t as fortunate; she died a week after being put on life support.” He pauses and I see him look up at me, fingers messing with the paper. The assistant comes in and stands off to the side, a mirror in hand. “However, your daughters were luckier, right now they are in foster homes and are still undergoing recovery.”
“A botched terrorist attack… Where was it? Who was the intended target?”
“In the underground parking lot, the bomb was attached to your rental car.”
Only now does the assistant hand me the palm-sized mirror, meaning a lot of tilting is necessary to get a glance at my complete face. The first thing I pin down is the metal harness digging into my skull, identifying welded pieces and screws keeping it together. Two bolts bleed red on either side of my head from their positions near my temple. I can’t see the colors of my eyes, they’re too dark, but I can make out the bands of white that cross from somewhere within the head harness and around my eyes. On both sides of the white patch and near each eye was a pair of dots. I raise my hand to one side and put two fingers over the dots, some vision fades in and out. “What are these?” I motion to them.
“Ah,” starts Dr. Matthews, turning the pages to the first tab, where the rest of the photographs are. “Those are sight enhancement implants; they were issued with the robotic arms.” I guess he means seeing in the dark?
My attention returns to the mirror and the reflection of the bulky off-white mask covering half my face. It went from cheekbones to chin and even farther from what I feel when I stretch my jaws. On one side was a small blinking light flashing with each breath. Dr. Matthews pulls out several photos and lays them on top of the previous ones, most are headshots of a man similar to me and his family, mine if what the doctor says is true. Each one has the ridge of white; some have the tiny dot eyes above his eyebrows; and the hair changes length and style with each image. I have no hair to compare it them. Only thing I can compare with them is the color, but the eyebrows on every image, and on my own face, may as well just be black. There was the lower half of the faces that were not comparable either, they had a nose and a mouth while all I have right now is a mask covering both. “The mask, what does it do?”
Dr. Matthews sighs, “it’s the only thing keeping you alive at this point,” picks up the photographs and sorts them into the binder. We are both silent; I down my cup of water and he turns to the last tab of the heavy binder. “Andrew, I would rather save this for another time, but you said you want answers. When you first came in, between the collapsing building and stabilizing, you died three separate times.” He pauses and takes out the three brown envelopes in the last tab, “once on the road, twice on the operating table. Here, the first one,” he slides the first one to me. It’s sealed.
On the front of the for mentioned envelope is ‘J. Riachixs’ and ‘freelance photographer’, the seal on the envelope is fresh and reads ‘forensics only.’ I look at Dr. Matthews, he motions to the envelope, and I tear off the red tape and pull out the contents.
More photographs, these plot a story.
The first few draw closer to a building spitting fire, moving around it to the partly chewed lobby and to the pool filled with red, black, and browns. In rotating shots there are specks, people jumping as Dr. Matthews points out. Then the building collapsing, three shots, a crowd running, a dust cloud clots the sky with brown and grey, and then there is firefighters. The rubble is high, two stories compared to previous shots, and the photographer follows the firefighters. Shots of dead hands rising above the rubble, corpses stuck between concrete slabs, few are still alive in the photos, and three firefighters pull at a mound of roofing material.
Then I see what could be me. Through the commotion of red, yellow, and padding pink, is a body stuck between concrete and broken ceiling tiles. Firefighters work the debris from the man and two children seen through the pink padding and white dust, the children are two girls; they could be his daughters; one has a hair clip. The girls are taken away and the father left to the firefighters. Broken bones are visible in the noodle-pose limbs, raw muscle and char sit on the skin, blood is plenty and a piece of rebar sticks through one shoulder.
“This can’t be me,” whispering, looking over the photos again, half disbelief and half confirmation. I pass off to the next set after fever shuffles and stare at the man’s face now in clear view, the markings of white stark and pale against the blood and bile bubbling over my lips, eyes closed and a firefighter tapping two fingers on the darken neck. Its only pictures but I hear their movement, their words, their actions as another calls for a stretcher, not seen for several frames as the freelance photographer gets angles after angles. Clear markings, six arms, dots among the eyebrows, dark hair – from upper jaw down was nothing but red and deeper red, torn flesh and broken teeth from a phantom buckshot. They’re loading me on a stretcher, pressing, pulling, hands around arms and head, stabilizing, rushing, loading, needles, pressing, there’s blood, blood everywhere. I’m choking on blood and I can’t see, throat tight, wheezing, pounding veins –
“Andrew, put the photos down,” Dr. Matthews’ hand is on my wrist. The next moment the photos are face down and askew. I’m turned from them.
“It is me…”
“Yes.” A pause. “I’m sorry I had you look at them,” reassuring, quiet, calm. He’s taking the photos away, stacking them, sorting, putting them gently into the light brown envelope. “It’s too much to take in for the moment, I’m sorry. Another day?”
Tight chest, I croak. “No” Silence. “Please, continue.”
“As you wish,” Dr. Matthews pulls out the second and third envelopes, one labeled ‘X-Rays’ and the other labeled ‘Lacerations, Burns, and Fractures.’ Both were put on the table, still close and their labels up and staring. He’s letting me choose. I go for the latter and inside are layers of blood, flesh, and bone frozen in time. Full frontal, both sides, full back shots, there was dozens upon dozens of gore within. Burns stretching five feet, gashes across the face and arms, the bloody mass that could’ve been where there was once a nose and mouth. There was still hands in the frames and bloody fabric laying around. I can take the reality, I remind myself, browsing over the measured wounds and burns. Then there was the images of three-jointed arms, white peering out beneath the red and black inside a sleeve of skin. My stomach lurches and my throat burns then the back of my throat. I go on, slowly.
I put all images back on the table, backside up, on top of the envelope they were pulled from and reach for the other one, the ‘X-ray’ file. Of course it is sparse, holding a few sheets that need to be held to the light of placed flat on the backs or the previous pictures – the ceiling lights hurt my eyes and the roof swirls. There is images of a cracked skull, shattered ribs, bones splintered and prodding against masses of black. Nothing looks survivable, but so say it’s me and here I am, staring at the mass sheets of negatives. I ask him for an overview.
He pulls another set of papers from the accursed binder and he begins; “Trauma to the back of the head, punctured ear drums, severe damage to upper and lower jaws, broken collarbone, broken ribs, ruptured lung, and internal bleeding; two third degree burns, 35 second and first degree burns, several lacerations, fractures to all limbs, and broken tailbone…” he goes through a long list of specific injuries I don’t understand. Still in disbelief, at the impossibility, that anyone could survive such injuries – even me. Turning away from Dr. Matthews I lay back on the bed, arms cross across my face, eyes closed.