Pulse – A Flash Fiction
“Will it hurt?”
The question posed was not an uncommon one for the surgeon. But as he looked into the boy’s bright blue eyes, eyes on the verge of tears, eyes that could not disguise the horror that he felt, a catch formed in the surgeon’s throat, and he had to look away as he answered.
“You’ll be asleep. Trust me. All will be right as rain when you wake up.”
But he knew that was a lie. The survival rate for this procedure was abysmal, and in all his thirty-five years of experience, it was the only of its kind to more likely result in failure than success. Innocent blood stained his hands no matter how often he washed them.
He gently pressed the breathing mask to the boy’s face and asked him to count to ten.
“One… two… three…”
The boy’s eyes fluttered then shut. A certain calm manifested in his features as he slept. Relaxed. Content. And importantly, unaware of what was about to happen. It made the process easier—a bitter pill as it was to swallow. The surgeon took a scalpel off the metal tray next to him, and, taking a deep breath, plunged the small blade into the boy’s left leg near the shin.
Such surgery involved a complicated series of steps and long hours to graft cybernetic implants into the patient’s bone structure. Beginning with the legs, in an effort to avoid vital organs first and then working upward until finally, the heart is reconfigured. The surgeon and the boy were not alone, however: men and women with high political stature sat behind a large one-way mirror to observe the proceedings.
Their impressions the surgeon could only guess.
Seven hours in, sweat beading his forehead, the surgeon reached the heart: the most dangerous and difficult to enhance. He cut open the breastbone. When the heart became visible, it beat slow and rhythmic; he connected the boy to a bypass machine. Then the real work could commence.
“Dr. Framm,” cut a voice over the intercom. The interruption was so sudden that the surgeon nearly dropped his utensils. His blood pressure rose. A fierce heat rolled over his cheeks.
“It would behoove you, esteemed ladies and gents, to not startle me.”
“Apologies.” The voice was feminine, light, and soft. “I was just wondering why these trials needed to involve boys. Why not girls? Or adults?”
The surgeon heaved a sigh. “Because boys this young typically do not have health complications. Advancements in genetic conditioning have increased this probability tenfold in the past decade. And because boys are typically stronger than girls. It is a matter of simple biology.”
“And does this boy… does he have parents?” The voice shrank as if it withdrew within itself.
The surgeon shook his head. His gaze focused on the boy, who did not move. Not even a twitch. Relaxed. Content. Unaware.
“He is, so far as we know, an orphan.”
“That will be all. Please continue.”
The boy remembered his name when he opened his eyes and saw a bright light bearing down on him. Bartimaeus. Barty for short. His mouth was dry. Smacking his lips, he tried to speak. An old man stooped over him. His glasses almost slipped off the bridge of his nose.
“Hello, Barty. How are you feeling?”
Another smack of the lips. “Thirsty.”
“Here. Drink up.” The old man handed him a plastic cup. Barty guzzled down the ice-cold water until it was hastily taken away.
“My name is Dr. Framm, Barty. You may not re–”
“I know you. You look like my grandpa.”
Dr. Framm smiled, scratched his snow-white beard. “I need to check your sys–”
Barty felt weak. He tried lifting his arms, but the effort was useless. Too heavy. His eyes threatened to close, and he had an overwhelming need to sleep. Just a little bit. A nap would do him some good. He could hear a machine whir loudly. Voices shouted all around him. Stop yelling, he thought. I’m trying to… trying to…
“Dr. Framm, what the hell is going on?” yelled someone over the intercom. A man.
“His heart rate is dropping rapidly. We’re losing him!” The monitor showed a flatline. It beeped without end.
“Come on, Barty!” Dr. Framm grit his teeth and performed chest compressions on Barty, desperate in his attempt to wake him up. Desperate to keep him alive. He breathed out sharply with every push down.
He kept going even as they told him Barty was lost. He kept going despite what the monitor told him. He kept going until they pried him away, a sobbing, blubbering mess crumpling to the floor. They covered Barty’s body with a clean sheet and called his time of death.
The next week, Dr. Framm stood in a well-lit hallway with a clipboard in hand. Three boys stood in a line before him. Each of them held fear in their eyes, wide and innocent. Proffering what he hoped was a consoling grin, he said, “Trust me. All will be right as rain.”