Author: Martin Berka

Alma sobbed over the bed, oscillating between wails and shrieks until the exasperated surgeon ushered her to his small office at the back of the ICU. He offered her a seat, eased the door closed to spare his assistants’ ringing ears, and maneuvered a box of facial tissues across the cluttered desk. Alma hurried through a dozen – it had not been entirely an act, and this was her one chance.

“I know this is difficult –”

“She will be good as new by the time a treaty is signed.”

Dr. Manos managed to convert his instinctive laugh into a cough, hidden behind a russet palm. Seeing Alma’s interest in his scarred wrists, he pointedly busied himself with sanitizer and a pair of neoprene gloves. She fidgeted with a handful of tissues in her lap.

“The brain damage is serious and those limbs will not grow back. Her directives –”

“Specify donation if she cannot fully recover. She will.” Alma had witnessed them, though only at Andrea’s insistence.

Manos was getting up, shaking his head. “And what are directive to you?” Alma blurted out. “The public knows you as the self-delivered poster child of modern transplantology. You are the hope of every wounded soldier, the brass’s favorite. Yet the more you save, the more they demand. More potential recipients, worse injuries, fewer suitable donors. So here and there, you have made cold, rational decisions.”

“Nothing outside the regulations. I assure you that all the forms are in order, properly stored and witnessed.”

“As will mine be when you report that nothing could be done to save me.” Alma stood, revealing the bloody wad of tissues clenched between her wrists, and the blade. “And that your only chance to save either of us was a whole-body isograft, never seen before or since. What else is there left for you, Doctor?”

Judging by the lighter blue of one iris, she certainly doubted there was much left of him. New man, new name, but still that same old ambition built on a murky past. The ambition won out, and he hurriedly gestured towards the door.

“Are you really so determined to die for her?” he asked.

“For her and for me. I’ve had too much time to myself since she deployed. I never want to be parted from her again.”

And then he held the door open so Alma could walk out and suddenly collapse by the bedside, alerting the unit to the depths of her grief.

Beyond shock, mourning, desolation, and the stress of her (medical) discharge and return to (peacetime) duty, Andrea gradually came to terms with subtle differences. Odd scars, reflexes, and fingerprints were common enough in her field, due to a particularly skilled pair of hands. Less so, the uninvited memories and associations, traces of a second mind that still echoed with an unfamiliar obsession: