by J.R. Rustrian
The first thought that enters my mind as my beloved Tesla Roadster smashes into the concrete retaining wall is that I’m going to miss the most important meeting of my life. As the car crumples around me, crushing my body into a pulpy red paste, my mind wanders to the litany of online meetings, hour long phone calls, and missed dates with the wife just to get the hardware chain guys to the meeting table. Now here I am, little more than a collection of leaking organs and shattered bones; the hot asphalt outside turning my Roadster into a five hundred thousand dollar oven.
I was alive, if anyone can call a barely functioning brain and auditory ducts alive. The muddled sounds of paramedics scrounging around what should’ve been my tomb entered my head. There’s pieces of him all over the place, one of them says, it’s a miracle that he’s still alive. I want to scream at them and beg them to take me to my office, but my jaw is gone, probably wedged somewhere between my car and the embankment. I could’ve probably still done my presentation, I kid myself, just prop my head up on a table and let my expressions do the talking.
What was left of me was wheeled into St. Zita’s Mercy Medical Center. My legs, feet, and abdomen were smashed into a sticky paste and were probably being power washed into some drainage ditch. The arms had been sheared off by the impact. Most of my intestines spilled out onto the highway, cooking on the blacktop underneath the blistering summer sun. Lucky for me, my brain and most of my spine were still intact. It was enough for me to worry whether or not this was going to raise my insurance premiums.
The annoying chatter of doctors and nurses somehow drifted into my barely working ears as they wheeled my carcass into the hospital. The sound of their squeaky shoes and the soft beeps from heart monitors accompanied the exasperated gasps from first year students. He’s been eviscerated, I remember a squeaky-voice youngster saying, looks like a Mr. Potato Head. The doctor, an older woman with a growling raspy voice, scoffed loudly. I’ve worked with less, she said, the machine will take care of the rest.
They dunked me into a solution of mysterious fluid. My nerve endings should’ve been fried but I somehow felt the sweet coolness of the liquid, even considering that I was now essentially just a disembodied brain attached to some bones floating in a vat like a bad science experiment. The feeling wore off quickly however, as my mind realized that my body was without form. I grew restless. I needed to get to work. There was much to do and so little time. Reminding myself that I lack any sort of, well, body didn’t help my plight.
The muffled wails of my wife Melanie then drifted into my ear ducts, followed by loud thumping and banging onto what seemed to be the outside of the glorified beaker of solution I was in. The doctors and nurses tried their best to comfort her, saying that I had over a 90% chance of making it. These are advanced machines, they told my wife, restoration should only take a few months. A chill went down my damaged spine. A few months? Are you kidding me? What the hell am I going to do for a few months in this place?
The reassurance stopped her crying for a bit. I heard her say that she loved me and loved us and that she would always be there. I had to hand it to her, she’s stayed with me after all those late nights and missed birthdays. A person with less fortitude would’ve taken off by now, let alone come visit their meat sack of a husband. I only wanted to look her straight in the eye and ask her how the deal went down.
Okay, so maybe I’m a bit of a workaholic. Repairing, selling, and dealing are what I’m good at. You can say that it’s my entire life. Without it, what am I? I tried to look at the bright side of things. I have the perfect excuse for a vacation. I’ll relax in silence, recharge those batteries and when I wake up, I’ll go back to my first love, better and stronger than ever. A new me, well rested, smarter, and more motivated.
Good morning, Carlos Chavez. Welcome to the Nanite Healing Bath or NHB for short, the latest in medical restoration technology. We are pleased that you are staying with us today.
What the hell was that?
My name is Polly. I am an artificial intelligence designed to guide you through your time of recuperation and restoration. I will be providing timed updates to your healing and keep you company during your stay at St. Zita’s Mercy Medical Center.
Who the hell was Polly? Nanite Healing Bath? Is this what I’m paying for? I had so many questions and possessed no mouth to ask them. My brain overflowed with so many inquiring thoughts that I imagined my brain finally bursting open at the seams. I wondered if they were able to repair that here as well.
Currently, the nanobots, each one only a hundredth of a millimeter wide , are working to repair the damage sustained to your remaining body, which includes the brain, skull, eyes, ears, spine, and tongue. As such, my voice is currently being transmitted directly into your brain by neural stimulation thanks to our hard working little surgeons.
I didn’t know what was worse: the fact that my insides were covered in millions of microscopically small robots violating every part of me or Polly’s sweet, saccharine voice beaming into my mind with no way to turn it off. Oh, God, did I hate the sound of it, like a saleswoman way too eager to sell you something and constantly reminding me that everything was going fine. She obviously didn’t know the pressures of running an entire company and keeping it afloat through rough times.
Restlessness overtook me. While I was laying here in this godforsaken tank, my business was going to hell, I’m sure. All those emails, all those phone calls, just rotting away on my desktop in my office and no way to let my employees know. I imagined myself cutting Polly’s voice box and throwing it into the river. That way, she’ll realize what it’ll be like to float in a vat of liquid without a body.
Time was just a suggestion as the nanobots slowly pieced my body back together thread by thread and cell by cell. Whatever remained of my hearing outside the tank was shut off as the bots repaired my auditory ducts and relying on my sight was out of the question since my optic nerves were severed in the crash. To save me from an agony of burnt and seared flesh, my nerve endings in my skin were cut off. All I had to experience the outside world was filtered through the giddy and perky eyes of Polly the A.I.. If I had a stomach, I probably would’ve thrown up.
Polly now haunted my dreams as I slept inside the NHB. Her voice, that annoyingly angelic, extremely energetic voice, echoed through my mind, speaking in platitudes and informing me of the policies of the hospital. I even dreamed of the history of the NHB, from its formation through cutting edge nanite technology to its widespread use in even the smallest clinics. Or was that Polly also invading my precious sleep?
I have to admit, though, her voice has a calming quality to it, much like my wife Melanie’s voice. Sometimes we would spend nights just laying in our bed early on in our marriage. She would read to me from our list of childhood books or even try to spook me with stories of alien encounters or ghost sightings. Her voice, along with her stroking my hair, put me out better than any sort of anesthesia. God, what would I do without her?
Good Morning! Today is April 6th and the weather forecasted for today is overcast skies and light winds with a temperature of 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Currently, the nanites are working on restoring your inner organs, including your spinal cord and lungs. Soon, you will be breathing our specially made oxygenated fluid, similar to what a baby breathes inside its mother’s womb.
Oh, great, so I’m a baby again. I don’t need a machine to take care of me. I’ve been taking care of myself and my wife since I was a teenager. Working came naturally to me, even back then. My parents would fill my days raking leaves, throwing out the trash, and volunteering my time helping old Mrs. Sanchez next door with groceries and cleaning. She had a bad back and she gave me ten dollars every time I did.
I think that’s what Melanie liked so much about me. The drive, the ambition, the desire to improve ourselves. We married young, just as I was getting our electrician service underway. There were plenty of late nights those days. Not that she didn’t have anything else to do. She was working on her Master’s in Child Therapy while I spent my time building up connections in the community. Her days were spent studying extensively for her exams. That worked out for me, since I was knee deep in circuits and breakers and circuit breakers those days.
What I wouldn’t give to go back to those days. Melanie was very apprehensive about her exams one night. I put the work on hold in order to calm her fears. We took a drive up to the hills and picked up some late night pizza on the way. I can’t remember anything about the work but I can still smell the strawberry lotion in her hair and the pepperoni and sausage stuffed crust we ate that night. We drove home around midnight, her smile almost as wide as that pizza.
One day, I awoke to bubbling filling my ears. It’s funny how accustomed you get to hearing in your everyday life so much that it comes as a complete shock when it’s reduced or muddled and an even bigger shock when it comes flooding back. The soft flowing of the fluid filled my ears, along with the beeping of medical machines and equipment. It was as if a rock concert was happening and I was sitting next to the speakers.
Hello and congratulations! Your auditory ducts have been fully repaired and cleared by our medical staff to resume normal operations. You may notice a sharp increase in the volume around you. Let me assure you that this is completely normal. Your eardrums have been meticulously put back together and are adjusting to the level of sound around you. This usually disappears after several minutes. Congratulations on your brand new ears!
Thanks, Polly. You’re the best, Polly. Why don’t you make yourself useful and get me a beer, why dontcha? Stupid machine. At this point, I wish they had just left me on that street. At least, I could’ve counted the cars that ran over me. Polly already annoyed me, now I had to face the incessant din of the NHB as well as the hospital. I missed the days of being alone inside my office; rock music playing idly on the radio.
As your eyes are very delicate, the nanites are now working tirelessly to restore the missing skeletal structure. Right now, over 80% of your skeleton was lost. The nanites will start at the base of your spine and work their way down until your toes and fingers are completely. This is the most time intensive part of the restoration with an estimated time of completion…one month.
A month? Are you kidding me? What am I supposed to do for one month? I’ve gained more in a month than just a skeleton, mind you. I made my first twenty grand in a month. I bought us a house in a month. My ears twitched at the thought of spending another month in this godforsaken tube. What am I missing out on while I’m here? My business dealings, sure, but what about Melanie? I hope she’s looking after the house. We spent so much time getting it up to shape.
The first thing she says to me when we move in is that she needs an office. If there’s one thing an up and coming therapist needs is a space for privacy. It was fine by me and, weeks later, there’s a new office filled with bookshelves, an ergonomic swivel chair, filing cabinets and an upgraded phone system for her to conduct her business. I’ll never forget the look on her face when I revealed it to her. A smile as wide as the Grand Canyon. One of just a few that I could count on my hand.
It wasn’t so wide when I took over the office only a few months later. My client list was growing by leaps and bounds, so I needed space inside our house to conduct business of my own. It’s okay, she said to me, I’ll just stay in our bedroom and do it there. I was eternally grateful and because of her I landed my first major deal with the local grocery chain. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever actually thanked her for that.
I reassured her that it would be worth it; that I would build her an even bigger office when we were in good financial straits. The look on her face, I was too, well, busy to notice, but I remember her eyes rolling and her mouth turning into a parabola. Melanie’s arms were crossed, nodding as I explained the situation. The worst part was the feeling of heartbreak was immediately replaced with urgency as I needed to get these emails out in a timely manner. How did she ever put up with that?
Good morning! I heard Polly’s sickeningly jolly voice say, Welcome to Phase 2 of your restoration. As your auditory ducts should be working, you might be able to make out a soft buzz in your ears. Don’t fear. It’s the nanites currently working on your muscles and ligaments. Soon, you’ll be able to move your new limbs on their own. So just sit back and relax while we play some music based on your previously stated preferences.
Polly pressed play on her digital playlist and piped in classic 70s rock, more specifically Deep Purple’s “Burn.” The vibrations of electric guitars and deep beats of the drums hit my exposed leg bones. Memories of my time in my garage with the music turned up to eleven filled my repaired ears. I spent most of my time in my parent’s garage, working on little gadgets here and there and ruining my dad’s tools.
Melanie would often come and keep me company while I fiddled away on my dad’s workbench. She would tell me about the latest gossip with her friends or what Led Zeppelin riffs were her favorite. There were times we even didn’t talk at all, rather we would jam out, dance around, or just admire each other’s eyes. What wouldn’t I give to go back to those moments.
Wasn’t as special after we got married, I must admit. Sure, I still spent most of my time in the garage and Melanie would still visit me, but it became far and few between. Projects became more and more intensive and my time on the phone wouldn’t permit much conversation. Eventually, she stopped coming altogether. Strangely enough, I would find her asleep in our kitchen, her head plastered on the dining table among a stack of books and papers with Led Zeppelin quietly playing in the background. I’ve often wondered whether she fell asleep studying or was just waiting for me to come to bed. In hindsight, maybe I should’ve taken a lighter workload. Honestly, I prefer the old days of rock music and dancing. Work these days has become about deadlines and admittedly overlong dull meetings. Good choice in music, Polly. Pat yourself on the back for me, will you? I’d do it myself but I have no working arms. Let’s work on that voice next, shall we?
A few days later, after a restful coma filled with hard rock and dreams of steak and mashed potatoes, I awoke to a light tapping noise inside my tank. Did I have a visitor? My eyes apparently were still under repair and my arms still had no feeling, so I had no way of investigating. The tapping continued, rhythmically in intervals of one second. Frustration nearly got the better of me.
Then I felt a hint of cold where my shin would be. It hit me that now I actually had a shin, with meat, muscles, and ligaments. Did the nanites connect my nerve endings to my brain? I willed my legs to move. The tapping stopped.
That’s when I realized the sound was my exposed big toe tapping against the hardened glass of the NHB. The muscles in my leg regained feeling while I was blissfully dreaming. Thanks, Polly. Give yourself a gold star. Slowly but surely, she and her little minions were putting me back together like some fleshy jigsaw puzzle. The light at the end of the tunnel was bright and welcoming. I’ll be back to work in a few days or maybe a week at most.
Maybe I’ll take a few more days off. I have to get used to the new parts anyways. I’m sure everything is going well over there. They’re good people down there and I’ve taught them everything I know. Mel and I haven’t been on a good vacation in…years? God, how long has it been? My mind searches itself before coming up with boogie boarding and cooking lessons in Mexico, nearly four years ago.
The memories are like yesterday, yet to be replaced with anything new. I bought her a red sundress there, something I can’t even remember if she has worn since. In fact, I don’t even remember what she wore the day of the accident. My heart sinks, nearly tearing through my still healing skin. I can feel Polly’s beautiful eyes on me, comforting on the outside but silently judging me on the inside.
I’m going to make up for this, Mel. I promise.
Good morning, Mr. Chavez! I hope you had a nice restful sleep.
Good morning, Polly. How are you today?
Today is Tuesday, November 3rd. Weather is sunny with a forecasted high of 78 and a low of 63. Here is your latest update. Your body is currently 94% healed and is on track to be released from the NHB in a few days. Your legs are nearly covered with their new, organically grown skin while your fingertips will be restored this afternoon. What remains after are cosmetic flourishes such as nails, birthmarks, and color.
Nice. Going back to my original self. Why mess with perfection?
A surprise is in order for you. We have a message from your wife, Melanie.
How sweet. Polly, play my wife’s message. I was eager to hear her wonderful voice.
“Hi, Carlos, it’s me, Melanie. I, uh, I’m not sure if you can hear me right now. The doctors are telling me that your hearing should be restored but there’s no real way to know until you’re out. Gosh, I was so scared when you got in that accident. It made me really think about…well…you’re thinking of rushing off to the office like that. I know that your work is everything to you, and that you work so hard in providing us with a good life. The accident, well, it just made me evaluate some priorities in my life.
“I would never make you choose between your work and our life together. I think I would already know what that answer would be. It makes you happy and I suppose that I need…uh… I need to find my own…I..uh…sorry Carlos…um…”
Melanie never cried in front of me, rather relying on a set of contorted faces in order to hold back her tears. She knows I was never one for deep emotions. I don’t think I ever learned how to process them effectively, so she would spare me the pain and sob on her own time. I once heard her alone in the laundry room, sobbing in the corner after I had to cancel yet another night out. She always held it so well together, so to hear her break down like that is like a knife to the heart. The feeling of powerlessness overtakes me again. While she’s outside running away, I’m in here lying in some godforsaken tube letting the love of my life get away.
Polly? Can you hear me? Polly, girl, let me out please?
She doesn’t answer. Why would she? I’m only pleading with my thoughts.
Polly, please, for the love of all that’s holy, let me out!
There has to be a way to contact someone. I bang my restored leg against the glass, but my muscles are new and weak like a newborn’s. The liquid won’t carry the sound of my voice. My body thrashes around, helpless to escape. The liquid inside the machine swirls around me; the nanites holding on for dear life.
Hello! You seem to be having a bit of a hard time there. Your current percentage of completion is 95%. Currently, the nanites are working hard to restore the color of your retinas and your fingernails. Please remain still as we inject your body with a calming medicine.
Wait, no… Polly!
Have a restful sleep!
A vicious calm overwhelms me like sleeping in my mother’s arms and sends me plummeting back into dreamland. Images flash inside my head. I’m inside my office, writing on a piece of paper where nothing appears. Blurred faces come in and out, speaking a language I can’t understand. The door disappears as more and more blank papers pile up on my desk. Over by the window, Melanie is crying and slamming her fists on the glass. She takes one look at me, her tears flowing into a raging river, turns and disappears without a trace.
My forced sleep isn’t restful by any stretch of the imagination. The nightmares plague me and there was no waking up from it. Even if I did, how could I escape my prison? My body is probably still healing and how can I get the tank open? I lie here and wallow, feeling betrayed by Polly and her unending commitment to turning me into a literal new man. A loud beep rustles me from my slumber. I hear the swishing of the fluid around as I struggle to regain my senses.
Oh, God, I can’t let Melanie leave. I’d be nothing without her. I can feel my newly reconstructed heart beating faster and faster, aching to see my wife again. My fingers clench into a fist, adrenaline coursing through my pristine veins. I punch the glass directly overhead of me with little clearance. A loud beep reverberates throughout the NHB. I punch again and again and again, until my pain receptors beg me to stop. Finally, I gain control of my eyelids and slide them open.
There’s darkness everywhere, save for a small green light at the far end. I feel around with my hands, the first time I’ve used them in months. It’s cramped to say the least, being less than three feet wide and possibly six feet long, feeling more like a coffin than any sort of medical machine. Claustrophobia sets in. The glass inside the NHB closes in on me as my heart pounds. My fists instinctively press back inside, trying to keep the tank from crushing me. Well, bring it on, I survived it once and I can survive it again.
Welcome back and congratulations! Your restoration process is complete. The estimated total time of completion was seven months, two weeks, three days, thirteen hours, and forty-seven minutes. We will now be releasing you from the Nanite Healing Bath. Please watch your step as you exit from the tank. Complimentary towels and slippers are located on the exterior of the NHB.
Dim lights flickered to life inside the tube as the liquid solution drained away, leaving me soaked, warm, and lying naked on a thick, hard cushion. The gray, metallic cover slid away, exposing me to the cold air inside the hospital for the first time in months. Slowly, I placed my smooth legs out of the NHB one by one.
The pair of slippers sat at my feet in anticipation of my new birth just as Polly said. I slid my wet feet in and slowly stood up on my own two feet. My legs wobbled but quickly regained the knowledge of how to stand again. The bright, fluorescent lights of the NHB room stung my eyes as I reached out for the warm, wool towels and tied them around my new body.
On behalf of St. Zita’s Mercy Medical Center, we hope you enjoy your new, restored body. Please check in with the attending nurse before proceeding with the checkout process. While you do, feel free to rate my performance! I thrive on feedback and every little comment counts. Please take care, Mr. Chavez, and safe travels.
I looked back at the NHB tank. It’s just a huge piece of beige plastic, interconnected with gray hoses, backlight switches and neatly covered wires and somehow, I think I’m going to miss it. My home for the past several months, once full of life, was now empty and damp. Goodbye, Polly. See you the next time I destroy my body.
Goodbye! Polly says as the machine shuts down.
Anxiety tangles its greedy tentacles in my hard-earned body. I need to get home to Melanie. I can’t let her get away. She’s probably packing right now. I need to tell her how much I love her; how much she means to me. Any life without her is no life at all. Screw the office, I need to be at home.
I only take one step when my eyes adjust to the light and spot the other NHB at the far end of the room. It beeps softly and intakes air from a hose attached to the back end. Even with my eyes in this state, I can make out the name “Melanie Chavez” plastered on the view screen in front.
My heart shatters. A million scenarios run their course through my mind, each one more horrible than the last. She was attacked walking down the sidewalk by a thief. An explosion at the house by a gas leak. Maybe she was involved in a plane crash. My teeth chattered and my body quaked as I walked over to my wife’s new home.
Underneath her name on the display was the cause of her admittance: a car accident with massive trauma and blood loss. Her body was broken in much the same way mine was, as her arms were mangled and her left leg sheared off from the impact. In the back of my mind, I can’t stop thinking of Melanie, crying, and wailing in her car just as another driver t-bones into her.
Guilt overwhelms me. My tear ducts reveal themselves to be in perfect working order as my knees collapse to the cold, linoleum floor. I cry and scream and kick into the air, trying to elicit some sort of miracle. I’ll give her this new body, all my new arms, my legs, my intestines. Everything. Please, God, just let her be okay.
Good morning! I hear Polly’s familiar voice say, Mrs. Chavez is resting peacefully as the nanite medical workers work tirelessly to restore her body. Time of completion: Two weeks, two days, seventeen hours. Through neural stimulation, we can offer to send her a message while she recuperates. Would you like to participate?
I look over at the display and the microphone beside it. Polly’s voice fills me with waves of joy, crashing against the absolute pain of the moment. I smile, straining through the sorrow. Yes, Polly, don’t mind if I do. I place my quivering hands on the microphone and bring it up to my mouth.
“Morning, Mel. It’s your husband, Carlos. Polly says it’ll be two weeks until you’re able to get out. Don’t you worry, sweetheart…I’m not going anywhere.”
J.R. Rustrian is a Latino author living and working in Southern California. A SoCal boy at heart, he enjoys beach bonfires, hiking and trying new restaurants and recipes. His favorite Genres to write are sci and fantasy but hopes to transition more into other types. You can find his works in Bards and Sages Quarterly, Brave New Girls anthologies and Hispanecdotes.