Birds and Bedrock
Dr. Juliet Rose Galena wasn't at all the kindly maternal figure once she was inside her O.R. It's as if she scrubbed off that demeanor as surely as she scrubbed her hands before surgery.
Her eyes would almost immediately shift, changing that comforting glance, to the analytical stare of a hawk. Reserved, piercing eyes, challenging you to meet their gaze, as if she would make you a few organs lighter if you broke eye contact. Stare too hard, though, and you come across a moment of awkwardness that all young men are intimately familiar with, and with eyes like those, always peering and processing every detail, you can't help but feel like she sees your pubescent shame. So, once more, you're an exposed fieldmouse and she, a famished falcon that can see you far better than you can see her.
“Time to sleep Cole. Promise, you'll feel better in the morning” a remnant of Dr. Rose smiled sweetly as she deftly stabbed my forehead with a syringe loaded with local anesthetic. As my brain began to tingle, she fitted my mouth with a gas mask, and a sickly sweet gas came through it so that I was completely out for the operation.
“Good, he's down for now. Hand me the Muramasa.”
Music spread throughout the room, melodious twangs and howls filling the dark room with a different color. This folk music was my tell that Dr. Galena was truly in control, effortlessly precise like the fingers of one of her musicians. I fell into a doze, not fully asleep, but stuck in mental quagmire of mind numbing anesthetics and that melancholy music.
My left eye got dimmer by the moment, as an effect of the injection. The intern, who I didn't recognize, handed Dr. Galena a chrome instrument as long as her forearm, but the light hit it in such a way that my eyes, that is – my one eye – couldn't tell what it was.
Dr. Galena started the contraption and I was grateful for the blinding lights, because it even sounded vicious. Accompanying her pleasant music was a chorus of cacophony. Gnashing gears growled orders to precision saw blades that began to purr in ecstasy at the prospect of being put to task, then a hiss sighed out and a belch, fire danced it's yellow-and-blue dance somewhere strangely close to the whirling dervish blades.
Oh what fun these little toys must have. They get to play with another scratching post today.
“Would you please quit trembling? It's distracting.” said the good doctor in her patiently exasperated tone as her invention surgically excavated my left eye.
“Sorry. It's just that... he looks so serene like this, as if we aren't gonna send him off to die after the surgery. Why?” The intern's tremors manifested in his shaking voice.
“It's simple finances really. We've discovered that civilians die cheaply. Sterilize this, please.” Dr. Galena passed blood coated forceps as she halfheartedly assured the intern.
The intern swallowed the rest of his questions, laying them to rest along with his outdated ethics, at the pit of his stomach. With his principle stowed away, the trembling stopped just as he slashed open my inner thigh. Good thing too, since it turned out he was precariously close to nicking my femoral artery. Still, I felt a little sullen that no one felt the need to let me in on this part of the surgery. Not too mad, though. keep in mind I was doubly stoned by the anesthetic cocktail.
From what I was told, the game plan was to replace my left eye. I didn't have much attachment to it, as I was nearly blind in that eye and I figured the prosthesis would be an improvement. No one gave me any warning that my leg was next to be Frankensteined. I awoke, paralyzed but only numb from my mouth on up. The gas wore off far too quickly the carry me through the entire surgery, especially with the intern calling audibles halfway through.
Do surgeons ever wonder how the operating room looks to a patient while they dig in? Probably not, or else their hands would quake so much from empathetic anxiety for the patient, with his insides splayed out among cotton marshes of deep, encompassing reds. But from my view, with my left eye gone and the empty socket burning, and my right eye blurred by the lights and blood, I saw an S&M playhouse hanging above me. Barbaric instruments with motors attached to make them all the more relentless - knives, tweezers with blood, most likely mine (never knew I had so much) splashed everywhere. Doctors stood over my defenseless form and rummaged through my innards as though they were looking for a keepsake accidentally dropped in the garbage.
“Shit. It seems the anesthesiologist cut a few corners,” Dr. Galena peered into my shuddering eye, a mild fascination danced on her brow. “We'll just have to finish quickly then, before his body reacts.”
Doctor Galena was lifting one such tool of barbarism out of my left socket, my new blind spot. She had a mask on but I knew those dark green eyes and that auburn hair, regally restrained by her lucky yellow scrunchy. The device looked like a perfectly anachronistic example of modern technology in her arms. It looked as if someone took all the traps from a cursed labyrinth, and stuffed them in one compact machine. Even if the anesthetic had run its course and finished its in my system, the good Dr and her weapon were not. Not a big deal though. See, my mind compromises with pain, like a solitary defender that slips through as the encroaching horde breaches, watching and wondering how long it would take to fake a copy of the invaders' uniforms.
It also helped that I knew Dr. Galena needed me alive and kicking. She wouldn't let a slightly-used birdbrain like myself go to waste that easily. There were a thousand better ways to kill me off.
Centuries ago, miners would send down canaries, little fragile yellow birds, to test the air in mine shafts. If the bird, with it's tiny lungs, succumbed, the air would be proven noxious and no miners would die.
“Slow down, Greene. Too fast and his leg starts spasming. So either take your time or take a pay cut for letting him bleed out all over my floor.” Dr. Galena calmly chastised the intern over his almost killing me, while she fitted my prosthetic eye in place. By now, I could smell pork and popcorn as my skin burned, the oddly appetizing scent making it's way through the mask.
I'm called Cole, as a part of some joke I guess. Unlike a real canary, I don't have wings. Besides the basic trappings of gracefully clumsy boy, the only apparent mutation I have is this spastic tail. Genetic enhancement, they call it. Genetic entrapment fits better though. I'm branded by the company for life, a contract canary, down to the DNA, though I'm lucky that I seem mostly human.
A Canary. Not for checking something as benign as noxious mine shafts, but to test the hostility of foreign lands. After the minimal amount of training, those classified as “yellow tail” are leased out to facilities such as this one. Here they give us canaries a few upgrades to make us feel a bit more bold about going alone and pitifully unequipped into strange lands. Then they drop us off to frolic with the cuddly natives. Once one of us dies, a handler collects his er yu, his whisper; a record that may only be accessed after death, and uses the data from it to estimate the force necessary to conquer the area. If the canary lives to gather enough intel by his own wits, he gets picked up, stitched up, and sent out again.
“Okay, doctor. I'm almost finished installing the arterial monitor,” huffed Intern Greene.
Long ago, there was this show called The Flinstones. During some of its episodes, some animal would be shown substituting for a modern machine part, and at that point, the prehistoric critter would look up for his dreary duty and reassure the audience.
“Meh, it's a living.” he'd shrug and go back to being the scratch needle for the record player, or the speaker for the answering machine, or the shower head.
If a canary dies, he is given a glorious discharge as if he were a decorated military officer, and after his revival through clone proxy, he receives his promotion along with healthy pension and is allowed to rejoin society as a hawk, an accomplished diplomatic veteran lauded for having an “uniquely fatal expertise on international matters.” So they tell me.
There's a running joke around the faculty. Someone like me is an IF. Ironic Failure. See, I still have a pulse in my “birthday suit”. I've spent my teens searching for death in all the jungles, all the forests, all the fields, valleys, and mountains they could drop me; in nine years, and I haven't died yet. I'm not immortal, though. The aches that seep through my body and the scars that line it serve constant reminders that surviving isn't everything, not for canaries.
“Okay, just about done. And … there-” Dr Galena twisted something in place and for one gorgeous and agonizing moment, the left side of the world returned, dipped in blue. Then my body finally caught on that being sliced open hurts, and the room was taken away completely as I passed out. Not even the music remained.