The First Dead Man
They got him on the surgery table, hooked him up to a blood bag and undid the tourniquets. Whatever had gotten a hold of him had sheared through the flesh and bones of the lower legs as neatly as a bolt cutter. It took him hours to repair the damage, to ensure the kid wasn’t going to die on him. He then applied the protein pain gel and clean up and suture the wound so that once the prosthesis were ready, Haru wouldn’t find them too hard or painful. Then the clean up of the sick bay followed. Then a very short respite, before at last with Zara, he run the health exams for the new six arrivals.
“Yeah, it did. But we were supposed to get it done. Zara, please incinerate the torso and hose down anything it touched with heavy duty cleaner. I’m going to take a closer look at our friend.”
Napier a stocky, barrel chested man, with the waist size to match; he’s getting on with the years, a veteran of a war, something else he calls a skirmish, and decades of work on commercial and industrial ships, but can still move lightly on his feet. He doesn’t want to wake Haru, who’s still weak and needs rest, not to mention depressed as hell, but he needs to be sure. He goes to the small semi-private patient’s room, pulls up a chair next to the young man and gets his syringes, containers, and tubes set up then sits next to him.
“Haru, hey Haru, wake up,” he says and shakes the man’s shoulder.
Haru opens his eyes. The dark circles beneath them are still stark but not as bad as yesterday, at least today he has some color to him. “Wasn’t sleeping.”
“Don’t mope, back home they’ll grow your limbs back. Not even cybernetics, it’ll be real feet and real legs you’ll be getting back. You can even ask them to make you taller.”
“Right now, I’m useless, and I can feel them. I can feel my feet. It’s freaky as hell, but at least they don’t hurt. ” Haru replies, the recent trauma has weakend him and softened his voice, but Napier can still hear the tang of anger around its edges. Haru pulls himself up on his elbows until he’s almost sitting in up in the bed, then moans and shuts his eyes tight. “I feel woozy.”
“Lay back down, the woozy feeling will pass soon as you get something to eat. As for the feet, it’s a phantom sensation, it’s common, and it’ll probably be with you for a while. And you aren’t useless, we’ll get you up on legs exos, and you’ll be walking out of here and breaking everyone’s balls again in no time at all. For now, I’m taking some of your blood, and I need you to poop and pee for me too.”
“Like, fffh…What, why?! What is this, the twentieth century? How ‘bout a heavy duty scan?! You maybe got some leeches you’re dying to try while you’re at it?”
“There’s the Haru we know and love! Some critters that look like sand fleas came out of that miner’s body. I want to make sure you don’t have any weird parasite that hitched a ride. Don’t worry; we’ll do a heavy duty scan too.”
“There weren’t any in the water; they were in the sand.”
“So, you are an expert biologist now?”
“No, but the sand fleas, worms and other critters were squirming and hoppin’ all over down there. But, on the dry stretches. I grew up in a fishing village, I know those critters, and anyway; I had my suit on, read the report.” He replies and crosses his arms.
Napier smiles, nods then gently holds one of his wrists and unfold one of his arms. “I will do that, meanwhile, make a fist.”
“Not taking any chances,” Zara says to herself as she stuffs herself in a too-tight biohazard suit before entering the small morgue down a ways from sick bay. It’s a cold small room, on a regular day it would also smells cold. And it would also smell of medical cleansers and metal. It has a metal floor, walls, and ceiling; inside it’s barren, sterile and minimalistic with scant few edges present for anything alive to hide behind.
But this past two days have been far from regular, and today the stench of rot from the miner’s remains permeate the room, they lie on the metal table near its center drained of color, gray and waxy meat. She sprays the now hollowed-out torso with its lone remaining limb, the internal organs that they had pulled for inspection are just by it, with the harshest biohazard cleaner they have on the ship. She soaks the remains inside and out, over and under, until the man’s faded tattoos, so old that the artless blue and black lines have smudged to ugly blurs, vanish beneath the white foam. The cleaner sizzles the flesh, she flips the flesh and bones over one last time then resprays the back of the torso; finished, she stands back and gives it ten minutes while she watches for anything jumping or crawling out of the foam. Her breath is tight, and her scalps itch but Zara’s focus has the intensity of a hungry hawk watching for baby chicks in a hen yard. Rewarded with an absence of apparent life from the wet mess, nothing crawls about or slithers about that she can see., Zara slides the remains onto a wheeled and shiny stainless steel cart then pushes them over to the incinerator at the far edge of the room.
“So long miner. Good luck wherever you’re going,” she says and hits the incinerate button. “Now I gotta clean up the room…look’it this mess you left here for me miner.”
Read what happens next.
Illustration by U.K. artist Luke Spooner
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