Outdated as of April 26, 2016. Rewritten and posted [ here ].
I’ll think it over later. “That… that’s enough. I need a while”
The soft slam of the binder off to my left, the screeching of a side table on marble tiles. Dr. Matthews lays a hand on my shoulder. “That’s fine. If you need anything, Ryan will be here to assist you.” Footsteps smacking floor – the metal door closes with a click. The assistant, Ryan, was still somewhere in the room. Deep breathes, just focus on breathing. Tuning out the ambient beeps and the huff of the AC – I’ll try and focus on something else.
Ryan taps at my shoulder and gently guiding me up to a sitting position. No idea why, but I don’t mind.
My name is Andrew Pottarus and I’ve been out for five months and still for longer. I’m maybe a father with a dead wife and two living daughters, ‘grandparents’ participated in a skin color project. Was part of a covert … squad of something, robotic arms where issued and enhancement eyes. I have no jaw and the mask is keeping me alive how? A harness keeps my head still and bolts attach it to the skull – which was fractured by what?
A needle sticks somewhere in my arm and I don’t move. Air blows into the mask and I breathe it in – sleep, I need more sleep. It was Ryan and he’s there when I wake.
“Sorry for the induction, Andrew. There was an infection around one of the screws.” The harness was gone. In its place was a cloth wrap still damp with blood, I reach to touch it and Ryan catches it, pulling it back to the bed. He says nothing and leaves the room with a hand to his ear.
I try again.
Andrew Pottarus, died three times and out for five months. Dead wife and two daughters, born with unnatural skin. Employed in covert squad operations, maybe, and robotic eyes and arms were issued. No jaw, mask keeps me alive – somehow, need to ask. The harness is gone, healing fractures still. Burned most of my body, lots of broken bones, had a rebar through the shoulder at one point – need to check that – and partly deaf. All because of a botched terrorist attack…
Wait. How many died? 50 something, plus injured people. How is it botched, it blew up the first few floors and the building started collapsing. Fire consumed one side, I was found with the girls in a collapsed stair well.
And how could I speak without jaws, and with the mask? I try speaking low.
“A E I O U.” Clear, a cough.
“Sore. Skin. Arms. Month. Answers. Remember. Supposed. Family.” No problems, just a sharp tightening around the neck. “Flesh. Botched. Terrorist.” They must have made a mistake. “Enough.” I sit up, pause for my stomach to catch up, and I stare at my arms. The skin strips where replaced while I slept, they were all the same color and way different from the dark and light points. The wrappings around my chest moves and pushes, if they where mechanical wouldn’t it be easier to break?
Need to remember the questions for later and ask the doctor when I see him. I exhale, didn’t realize I was holding my breath. Might be a few days or weeks, I lay back, another exhale, I guess I’ll sleep till then and listen to my heartbeat. Ba-thump, Beep, Ba-thump, Beep.
A week passes by with a few hours of sleep, less than six hours a day – except when I get knocked out every so often. A procedure here and there, in between them I stare out the windows to the distant towers. I forgo sleep more than I should, watching the distant lights. On one of those nights, Dr. Matthews walks in.
“Andrew, what are you doing up at this hour?” he asks on his way over to the bedside, pulling over the chair – I can tell by the screeching. For a moment, looking away from the window, I glance over at him.
“Just watching the city lights.” Turning back to the window I see that one of the lights went off on one of the towers, third from top, the helipad lights turn on.
“It’s not healthy, to be awake all the time in your condition. You realize that, right?” I hear a click, paper shuffling, and another click – a clipboard.
“Doing nothing isn’t healthy either. How long will it be till I can move around?”
“It’s that head injury we’re worried about, Andrew. It’s still bleeding and the metal plates can’t be removed yet, the fissures aren’t completely healed over.”
“How long will that take?”
“Another few months, give or take. However, if you are dead-set on moving around, I can talk into getting you a physical therapist at the very least.”
“Sounds nice.” Another few lights go off and on in the distance. Behind me, is the scratching of a pencil or pen on paper. I don’t mind. “Is the window locked?”
“Tomorrow can you bring the binder back again? I still got some questions.”
“Just… some questions.”
“Do you need anything else?”
“No… I’m good for now. I’ll get myself to sleep soon.”
Soon after then the door closes, he left.
Another cluster of lights go off in a closer tower, then another and another until only a few lights sprinkle the dark sky, no stars. I lay down and try to sleep, laying for how many hours until I wake to the morning sun staring me in the face. The heart monitor slowly beats with my heart, Dr. Matthews isn’t there but Ryan is by the window, to my right.
“Slept well I hope; any aches or pains?”
“Nothing beyond the usual. Any I should be aware of?”
“Well, the replacement brace you’re aware of and the skin graph replacements. A good bit of your bones are still fusing, so more bed rest.” He readjusts himself and shoves his right hand into his pocket.
“Dr. Matthews said he can -”
“A physical therapist, I know, but he didn’t say when.” He swats at his head, “Just to clear up any misconception, speaking of which, want me to call him up? Dr Matthews.”
“Oh, uh, yeah. Remind him to bring the binder.” He leaves the room with a hand on his ear and he’s watching me out of the corner of his eye. The door closes, clicks. I sit up out of the sunshine and stare out the window – back to routine.
I tune out the heart monitor and the soft ticking on the wall clock, and go over the questions.
One, do I still have a jaw or a replacement.
Two, what is the function of the mask.
Three, how was the terrorist attack botched.
Four, how mechanical are the arms.
Repeat, rephrase, figure out the best way to say each of them. I got time.
Dr. Matthews enter the room, the binder in tow. “Andrew, good morning.” He’s rubbing his eyes, hair is still a mess, must’ve been sleeping. The doctor takes his usual spot at the side of the bed and pulls over the side-table, it screeches. Not opening the binder, he leans forward and rubs head, eyes, still part asleep. I rise and push my covers off and legs over the side of the bed. The movements are painful; blood travels down the side of my face and an ache crawls through my arms and a sharp pain in my legs. Of course I cringe, at the end of the triple movement. “If you need any sleep medication it will be provided to you.” Dr. Matthews is more awake now.
“Six hours per night, if I ever try to get some.” Fingers dig into partly covered thighs, waiting out the pain.
“Hm, I’ll see if I can find anything that can get you additional hours. Any who,” he sits up straight and opens the binder to the sections gone over last time, “you said you had some more questions, or just some elaboration?”
“Questions … mostly, maybe elaboration.” The envelopes are in the binder too. “Can I see those again?” I partly motion to the envelopes sticking out of the binder with my head, just slightly.
“Sure,” he pulls them out and hands them over, “what was the first question elaboration you were wondering about.”
I open the x-rays envelope first, looking for the one centered on the skull. “I am able to speak, right? I think I remember that it looked like I had none.” Each slide is held up in the light. “Do I got a jaw or not, or is there a replacement.” I found it, head on and profile, no jawbones in sight.
“Ah, that is… a bit difficult to explain.” He rearranges himself. “See, when you came in to us, most of your lower jaw was gone in one way or another. We believe it had been crushed in the incident by two slabs of concrete or concrete hitting it while it was against something else.” Head tilt forced down, slam of stone on jaw, itching scratching, two more slams. Spiked rod on crooked teeth. ” But to answer your question, yes and no, some parts are still natural and others are replaced. Only a few of your teeth survived and the front most of your jaw had been damaged beyond conventional repair. In a quick decision, it was offered that the front-most be replaced.”
“That leads to the next question. What is the function in and behind the mask?”
“A bit difficult… you see the idea of metal with synthetic flesh was great and all – but it is not completely practical. Besides the front-most of the jaw being shattered most of your respiratory system was compromised from smoke inhalation and other injuries – it all had to be replaced except for one lung. It’s not just a mask, but a system that allows for easy respiratory.”
“Then why can I feel two.”
“Because, Andrew, it’s meant to feel that way. It’s not practical to leave an empty space in the chest cavity. Is there anything else?” I’m pulling out the photo timeline of the building collapse and body retrieval. The blast hole is huge for starting underground, the collapse takes place quickly and there is just a rubble pile. How many people died in it, both the collapse and fire? Around 60 or more?
“I want some more information on the terrorist, the anti-tech attack. I’m looking at the damage and it… it doesn’t seem botched.” I had the images over to him, watch Dr. Matthews flip through them again and again.
“Yes, it does seem strange for it to be called a botched attack, however I am pretty sure the counter-intelligence of the attack said there would’ve been more casualties if it had arrived to its target destination, or behaved like it was intended.”
“And it was… beneath the vehicle I owned? What would the target destination be.” I reach over for the photographs, he hands them over.
“I’m not provide that information. All I was told that it would’ve been in a more populated part of the city, another amusement park or on the road. It might be easier to pin down if you start remembering again.”
“And what if I don’t?” He shrugs, I sigh. “Right, last question.” I pat the bandaging around my ribs and waist, right on top of a hidden arm. “How mechanical are these.”
“They aren’t made to break anything, just for climbing assistance. But you are wondering how they can’t break through the bandaging, yes?” I nod. “Well, it was one of the first things we secured when you first came in. Hard to help if there is metal arms flying everywhere.” A smile is on his face, a small laugh.
I only stare. “Wouldn’t it be easier to remove?”
“No, besides its easier to wrap up now and remove later. Though we checked in with your superiors after we had you stable – if removing the arms would’ve been easier. They said no because of an internal fail-safe and that it would’ve short out the entire arm. They are thankful none of them were damaged.”
“Yes, they are also attached to your circulatory system as well. Without professional care, it would’ve been possible to bleed out in a few minutes.” Handing over the photoset I turn to the clock, 10:05, and back to Dr. Matthews. He’s quite honest and informative, but I still have trouble trusting him.
“About the physical therapist, when could -”
“Next week. Don’t worry about Ryan. He’s a sour pot and wants everything to follow to the letter. I think you’re well enough to start walking around and getting used to those arms again. Hell, you need it.” He pats my right shoulder once, twice, four times, and gets up with binder in hand. “I could get you some lunch later, talk more about what you missed and the past you’re missing. Want anything?”
“I could get a milk-shake or slushie, anything would be better than the food here. How does that sound?” I nod, taken aback. “How about both, what flavors?”
“Uh, chocolate or… some red flavor?”
“Strawberry? Cherry? Those are the most common.”
“Cherry. Cherry sounds good.”
“Alright, see you then.” He closes the door, I stare out the window.
He returns two hours later with the drinks, two for me, two for him, and brought back the binder. Only thing I wasn’t ready for was the chill of the drinks. In the proceeding hours he reintroduces me to the date, technology, medical procedures, criminal system, my past, some of my job, and apologizes for the other doctors behaviour in the past months. Explaining my previous employment, in his words, “hard to explain because I need permission from your superiors and government officials. I am not completely sure what your job enlisted you to do, but it was with a squad, you needed the arms and eyes, and that is pretty much about all I know.” He leaves later that night, has some sleep medicine issued to me, and leaves them on the side table – incase I want them, I do.
Between that week and next I sleep, stare out the window, and sleep again. Hunger is a rare issue, since the basic nutrients get pumped straight to the stomach in the early mornings. Though the rare milkshakes or slushies are a treat whenever Dr. Matthews comes in during the middle of the day, he says its consoling sessions – says he has the training, and in one of the sessions there’s a knock on the door.
“Come in,” Dr. Matthews closes the binder on the papers he was showing me. At the door is a small man, dark skin, a scar going ear to ear – he also has six arms. “Andrew, this is your physical therapist, Trent Summers; Trent, this is Andrew Pottarus.” The smile towards me is crooked, a few teeth are missing in the front.
“Hello Andrew, how are you?” The short man’s smile is crooked and bends the scar, his voice slurs. His upper arms are free, the bottom right holds a binder, bottom left a box, the middles behind his back – they too are his skin tone. “These arms? I got connections, lot easier to assist.”
“Ah,” The arms of mine beneath the wraps shove, I readjust on the bed before sitting up. Trent drops the box on the bed and the binder beside it, settling himself there as well. Dr. Matthews is packing up on the other side; putting stuff back in brown envelopes, putting loose papers into the binder, clicking the rings open and close. Soon he’s out the room and Trent is opening the box.
“So, how long has it been since you walk or used your arms?” He’s pulling scissors out of the box and a bigger pair with solid teeth.
“Never. For either. Bed bound and they’ve been – well – wrapped up.” They budge to further the point.
“Hah, I see.” He moves over with the scissors in one hand, the larger one in two others, and the last three arms grabbing at the wraps going from chest to hips. One snip and part of the wrap is loose, while it starts getting pulled off another snip and more of it comes loose. Trent works fast to remove the wraps, dropping them on the floor and not in a trash bin he could have asked for. Even with the wraps off the arms feel tight and I look down. Each one is pulled to the other side and kept there with something on the wrist, and each pull one way pulls the other; the doctors sure were thorough. “The problem, I see, turn round.” He holds up the bigger thing with larger teeth – I turn my back to him.
My four lower arms feel a sharp tug at the wrists while Trent works, holding each arm while fiddling with the larger scissors before throwing it on the bed in a huff. “I see, need another solution.” He rummages in the box, my arms still held, and he puts various things on the bed beside him – I don’t see them, just hear them hit the sheets. With the four arms pulled around to the back and held back there, it was getting uncomfortable. “Here we go!” He screeches and pulls the second pairs binding tighter, holds them taut, and starts a back-and-forth motion with what I assume is a toothed blade. Eventually the second pair is freed and so was the third but they still had the bindings around the wrist.
At least I can see them now. The arms where like the first pair, same coloration and form with light skin damage to wrists from the worn down restraints. I forget Trent is there for a moment until he grabs a sore wrists – he lets go when I hiss in pain. “Sorry.” He grabs hold of the mesh mitt on the same hand. “I am sorry about the doctors. They could have done a lot better. Hold out your hands.” Carefully he starts removing the thick leather bindings and mitts, dropping them off to his side. “Now, hold out your arms like this, as much as you can.” His arms go up and out, almost straight.
Even with stiff wrists and arms, I mimic and hold out the three pairs. Pain sears through the shoulders and wrists of the second and thirds. Trent nods and holds his head with his right top, middle wraps around his chest, and bottoms knuckle into his legs. “Ai see,” the one free hand grabs the left middle and pulls it forward to him, rubbing a thumb against the muscles. “Tell me where it hurts. Here?” Starting from the wrist his hand moves around, up, and down my arm; he nods at each utter of ‘there’ and continues.
Besides that, there was no more talking for a while
“Andrew, I am friend, is there anything you need to speak about?”
“No, no, just getting used to them.”
“Hah yes, the harms, the harms. Next time can do more good, yes? Needs stretching, needs rotation, work on them when away, yes?”
“Yeah, I’ll do that.”
“Good good, can go if want, true?”
“I’d like the peace and -”
“Sorry, but someone wants to meet, friend of yours, no doctor. I think.”
“I guess that’s my cue,” starts a voice at the door, which I turn to, and there is a taller guy in the room now that dwarfs Trent. Speaking of, Trent is already packing his stuff and walking out of the room, closing the door. “Hello Andrew, been a long time.”
“It’s me, Jacob. Don’t you – still have amnesia, huh?”
“I guess so.” I sigh, stretch the second and thirds when possible, the first set resting back on the bed and hold me up. “Would be nice to know more, what I missed and such.” Second and third lefts grab the rights and stretch. Jacob puts down a side bag in the chair Dr. Matthews left set up, he also removes his jacket.
“Jacob Astregael, worked in your squad few years ago and got the same tech issued to me. Though, I had them removed last month for various reason, also retiring.” He pulls off the front of his shirt to show the four circular scars around his ribs, right where mine feel at. Checking, I double over to check the joints if they are similar. They are, but the chest muscles are odd and there is no clear difference between my body and the arms – and I now notice the spotting of white between each set of chest muscles. “Oh, right, Dr. Matthews doesn’t know how they work.” He sits down on the bed; I see the faint scars across his forehead.
“He has told me a lot of things. I believe only a few.” The bottom four are leaning back on the bed, propping up, while one top hand points to them and the other rests on a leg. “These aren’t included – much.” Jacob finds his way to another chair, pulls it over, and drags the side bag to the floor and by his foot.
“Okay, first off. Functionality; they are almost the exact same as regular arms and a few things that indicate mechanical. The straps around the chest and look like muscle? False, it keeps them in place along with internal mountings which are attached to the ribs. Might be why it took so long to fix it all from the looks of it.” I’m remembering what Dr. Matthews said about them a week prior, that they were too secure, had a failsafe, and impossible to remove.
“Question, when they are – uh – issued? How are they put in and how do they stay in.”
“Issued on assignment to special group, you were part of the first formation, pretty damn impressive with them once they got fitted and everything healed over. Uh, shit, let me think how they got put on – it’s easier to remember how they get removed that’s for damn sure.” He scoffs. “See these?” He’s pointing to the circular scars on his sides. “Where I had the arms at until about a month ago. I was under for most of the procedure but plenty of photos taken. I was interested how they looked coming out since I didn’t see them going in.
“First thing they do is put me under, had to be stable for half an hour before they went on to take them out one at a time. There was lot of blood. They have to cut the faux skin from the arm first and enable the disconnection as well as preventing the Bleed-Out affect, then they get to removing the arm and it ain’t the prettiest thing. Beneath the arm and the chest secures, look likes muscles, there is a pipe coming up from the ribs, where the connectors and Killswitch Valve sit. That’s where most of the blood came from. I think so scientist came up with it to be a dick and pretended it was a feature, to keep the arm-owner from being tortured for too long.
“Anyhow I like to think of them as arms-dealers, hold your life in their hands and give you ones as well. Funny right?” I can’t tell if it was a genuine attempt at a joke. Second right itches around the flesh bulges, I feel scars and trace them, tuning out Jacob. There is one going from top to bottom (collar bone to belly), few going along the sides of the flesh bulges. I wonder what else differentiate the arms. “Stop feeling yourself up.”
I lean forward on the lower four elbows, the upper two are resting on them and wrists crossed. “What else makes them different?”
“The what?” I wait. “Oh, yeah, the arms, right. Shit, got off track.” He fiddles with the side bag he brought in. “Second is they are more resilient than regular arms and don’t tire out, surprise surprise because they are mechanical. And, uh, third, I think this makes them different, don’t feel as well as actual arms except on the hands because climbing and shit, also guns, to fire guns.”
“Tell me, what did we exactly do. Dr. Matthews doesn’t know much about what I did before – this.”
“Being in the hospital.”
“Oh yeah. It’s sort of hush-hush and such. Hold on.” He starts digging in the bag. “What we were, or you still are and I’m not, is an infiltration unit in the counter-terrorism unit. You know how the government is, afraid if invading forces and unaware of the shit going on in its own soil. I digress. But yeah, counterterrorism infiltration unit that can climb almost any surface. Rock climbing but more extreme and with guns.” He’s smiling and pulls out a stack of papers. “Ah, here we go,” and hands them over to me, the bottom left grabs the stack. “Your ’employer’ wanted you to have these. It’s information on what you did and how to reprep if you want to stick with it – else you’re pretty fucked in places to go. If I heard right, taking up the job once more lets you care for your girls again, but with less happy times.” Now he’s pulling more shit out of the bag. A laptop being one, a radio, a pack of cigarettes, lighter, and two cords – one laptop one radio – I think. “Here, few things I could sneak in here for you – mostly the cigarettes, shit’s expensive, you smoke right? Any who, got to run. Hope to see you soon.” And he’s out the room without the jacket and the bag, the items sitting on a table in plain sight.
Now all I want is sleep, but there is too many things still out and I am not sure if I can stand – but fuck it, I’ll try. Shoved off to the side, mentally, wondering if I picked up cursing from Jacob or if it was resurfacing.
Turning to the right I see the wraps, leather bindings, and the mittens that were used to secure my hands around my back, a grimace, and I see the trash bin on the far side of the room. Shit. I start to stand.
Muscles scream and bones ache, the lower arms help me stand still and get my bearings, the middles and right upper grab the wraps and leather on the bed to take to the trashcan. After a couple minutes I can stand on my own but still limp over to the trash bin and drop the things into it before middle and lower arms catch me against the wall, where my forehead now rests. It couldn’t have been more than an hour those jack-asses spent here, all together, and they drained me more than several hours talking to a doctor.
I tap my head on the wall two times and limp back over to the bed, grab the jacket, and fall back down on the bed. Bad move. But I wait the pain out before feeling around the pockets of the jacket for anything else, there is a phone and a note.
One phone, one jacket. Both yours
Call if you need anything –
No name or number. Just perfect. Back to the bag, I drag the table Jacob set everything on, and the bag, and start putting everything back into it, including the phone and jacket. When every bit gets stuffed in I toss it beneath the bed and lay back down in bed and pull the sheets over. Now with all six arms spread out, free, I turn over to the left side and drift to sleep