Whispers of Mars [Chapter 5]
Cecil’s body was sore when he awoke, but the only thing he remembered from that night was the distant sound of his own name being called—
“Cecil. Are you awake?”
He was sure he had heard the door, but that was before he had been forced awake by the strange call. His eyes flickered open. The woman hovering over his bed was thin, with a messy bun of hair.
“Maria?” He uttered.
The woman looked up and across the room with a distant look. Cecil’s eyes followed. He caught a glimpse of the dark-haired woman to whom that name belonged. Then it was the pull of the first person’s hand.
“Cecil, I need your attention right now,” she said sternly. Her accent was similar to that of Agrippa’s but somewhat distant. “I’ve been asked to put a few others on hold. To come here to see you.”
Cecil blinked at the thin woman.
“Perhaps you don’t remember. You may have heard me referred to as Doctor Tulia. We’ve… seen each other bi-weekly for the past seven months.”
Cecil nodded blankly. He sat up the best he could, his back and arm sore. “The doctor… is a man, though?”
Tulia yanked a stool up close to the edge of the bed and rested a tablet on the guard rail. “I’m a doctor of psychology, Cecil. Perhaps you’ve heard speak of an evaluation?”
Cecil glanced at Maria. Tulia nodded her head in the corner of his eye, and he turned back.
“Let me remind you, as your forgetting seems to be a part of a bigger picture of your mental state. My job here, personally, is to communicate with all members of the station to attempt to build a profile of the psychological effects of the long-term occupation of a place like this. Our findings are shared with the agency back on Earth. Does any of that ring a bell?”
Cecil nodded, but out of obligation rather than understanding.
Tulia frowned. “Okay then. Cecil, let’s first go over your Prosopagnosia. You’re familiar with what I speak of, right?”
Cecil nodded again, finally catching onto something familiar.
“Good. To date, it hasn’t affected your work, but we’re…. I’m concerned about its possible progression. For reference, can you describe when you first remember experiencing it?”
“I remember it when… after… after I was in the hospital as a child for head trauma.”
“Good. That is according to your record,” Tulia said, scrolling along the screen of her tablet.
“It was when… I couldn’t… recognize… my mother’s face. My mother… Maria.”
Tulia let out a short sigh. “She’s not going anywhere.”
“No… my mother…” Cecil murmured, rubbing his forehead, attempting to seek the connection somewhere in his mind.
“I’d like you to focus on what I’m asking you, Cecil. Next, wow would you describe… the way that someone appears to you?”
Cecil blinked and faced Tulia. “It is… a blur, yours is just… no different from anybody else. The same five things, the same places.”
Tulia nodded. “That is also consistent. Do you remember who you were with during the accident?”
“Agrippa and… Markus.”
“All good readings.” Tulia rested her tablet down in her lap. “Let’s continue with a few more questions. You sleepwalked two nights ago, I heard. Do you remember any of that?”
Cecil almost answered, then remembered the bandages, since removed from his healing fingers. “I remember… the outside.”
Tulia nodded hurriedly. “And last night. The… attack. When you fell out of bed… gasping, it was recorded. Was it a nightmare? And if you remember it, perhaps you can recall it for us?”
Cecil looked at the blanket in front of him. “I remember… not being able to breathe. No more than that…”
“A recollection of the accident perhaps?” Tulia leaned back and rested her elbows on her thighs. “One last thing. Something that Agrippa mentioned— an aversion to water. Something connected, as well, to the accident?”
Cecil blinked in confusion. Tulia studied his face before glancing to the nurse. Maria nodded and stood before taking down a plastic cup out of the cabinet, then filling it with water from the faucet. Cecil pursed his lips tight.
Tulia took the water cup from the nurse and poised it on the edge of the bed. “You’ve been on intravenous fluids, so you don’t really need to take anything orally, but perhaps your throat is dry?”
Cecil shuddered. He held his hand to take it. He steadied himself the best he could and pulled the cup up before his face. Without looking, he threw it back, attempting to swallow without having to feel it. One gulp through, he sputtered and coughed but managed to down the rest.
Tulia nodded and scribbled on her tablet. “I see. Nurse, keep him on IV for the time being, but make sure he is able to take some oral hydration as well.”
The door whooshed open. The person who stepped through was obscured by Tulia. The thin woman glanced back, then returned her attention to Cecil. “Cecil, I can see that you’re getting better, at least by some measurements. If we don’t solve the root of these remaining… issues, though, getting you back to work may have to wait. That’s not what you desire, I’d hope?”
The man who entered through the door stepped up beside the bed. He was older, with a bald head, but he made no move to speak. Cecil studied him, but Tulia’s presence was overwhelming.
“Well, Cecil…” The woman sighed and sat back finally. “Agrippa, were you able to speak to the commander?”
Agrippa looked down at the floor. “Yes. Cecil’s department leader as well. Cecil, getting you back to work is our main focus, but not if you’re unable to— physically or mentally… well, please, work with us.”
Tulia blinked and nodded. She shuffled herself back and stood. “Like I said, I’ll be putting in more research, as busy as I already am. Agrippa, I’m at least happy to say that his Prosopagnosia— the face blindness— is at the same condition as it likely was before. There are other aspects we should keep an eye on, I’m afraid of, though. Maria, you have your instructions.”
Agrippa shifted around, hands behind his back, as Tulia sped out, exiting the loud door. He made a few cursory glances as the door closed behind her.
Cecil stared at the shapes of his legs under the length of the blanket.
“She really knows how to make you feel vulnerable, doesn’t she?” Agrippa spoke up.
Cecil nodded. “I need… a mirror.”
Agrippa pulled his attention up. “A mirror. For yourself?”
Cecil nodded. Maria shuffled about at the edge of the room. “I think I have a small one here…”
“I’ll remind you… you’ve been through a lot, Cecil.”
“I want to… make sure that… I’m still myself.”
The nurse stepped across the room, carrying the hand mirror, reflecting a bright spot of light across the surfaces of the room.
“Well, you are the same Cecil that I recruited to join us there that day…”
Cecil pursed his lips and nodded before taking the mirror. “There’s… something. Something I’ve never told to anyone. Even that woman.”
“Something that you haven’t told Tulia? You’re sure of that?” The older man tilted his head. “That’s something you remember?”
Cecil nodded. “Else she would have asked me about it just now. When I first started noticing the faces of people around me… blurring into obscurity… I could still always recognize myself in the mirror.”
Agrippa nodded. Cecil held the reflective surface up in his lap and gazed into it for a long moment. Just as everything else appeared to him, the tanned face in the mirror was blurry and distorted. The skin upon the man’s cheeks was dry and flaking and taut, his hair cut close to his scalp, and eyes rounded out by dark circles.
“That’s me,” Cecil lied.
’Good, good,” Agrippa mumbled, taking the mirror from Cecil’s hands with a slight resistance. He sauntered across the medbay and offered the mirror back to the nurse. “The first part to getting better is knowing how and where we hurt. Keep this in a proper place, Maria. In the case it needs to be used again.”
Maria nodded. Agrippa leaned in close for a moment to her ear, his lips moving. “I see. Okay. Okay.”
Agrippa pulled back and smiled at Cecil. “One last thing… what I came here for actually. Tomorrow, Cecil— the commander wants you to come by. Tulia and I shall be there too, to discuss with him our desire to get you more time to recuperate. I imagine that sounds alright with you?”
Cecil mulled the words and nodded. “Yes. I… don’t mind.”
Agrippa clapped his hands together. “Good. Then, we shall see you at 09:00 hours.”
The door whooshed as the older man took his leave. Maria was left, finding her way back to the desk at the corner of the room. “Are you anxious to get back to work?”
Cecil stared at his hands, the thought of the projects back in his department waiting to be assembled, disassembled, cleaned or maintained. The gears in his mind ticked like the mechanisms he studied and fixed and improved. He couldn’t remember what task he had left behind before going on the expedition with Agrippa. “I… like the feeling of getting things to work. Seeing how they work. If only… my body was the same way.”
“You may leave that to us medical professionals,” Maria attempted to joke. “Even Tulia. Though, compared to your tools and machines, the human body still has its mysteries. You said… that your condition came about after a head injury, right? I don’t mean to pry, but I didn’t see anything like that in your medical records. You do have a scar, though— I saw it when I shaved your hair.”
Cecil felt at the spot just above his neck, where the streak of skin remained, unable to grow hair like the rest of his head. “Yeah…”
“I’m sorry, I was just thinking of the record-keeping. If it were so important, it would be there. The administration is very thorough, after all.”
“My father threw a bottle at the back of my head when I was a child. Six years old.”
Maria shuffled quietly.
“She told me… after I was older… the whole situation. My mother, that is. She didn’t want to have the police involved, plus we probably didn’t have insurance. My mother took me to some little place where they were probably just playing doctor. Someone unlicensed. I got stitches, and that was that.”
“I’m sorry, Cecil.”
“My father worked long hours, two jobs probably. Got drunk when he wasn’t working. He probably felt bad after hitting me like that, but… it wasn’t long before I couldn’t remember who he was. When he was home those couple of hours at night before going to bed, it was like he was just a stranger to me, someone with a face I couldn’t remember. It was the same for my classmates at school, then my teachers. The only face I could remember with any accuracy was my mother’s.
“My father… got fed up… with being treated like a stranger, both by me and my mother… and he just left. Those times were tough, but the people at the church my mother attended helped us out a lot. By the time I had gotten into high school, we had lived with a few other families and in shelters and little dingy apartments.
“It didn’t matter to me, all the different people we dealt with back then… because there was no remembering all of them… any of them. But I could always see the pain in my mother’s face, from having to move us around, to borrow things, sell things… steal things. Maybe she didn’t think I could recognize it. But I told myself that I didn’t want to see her like that forever.
“Since other people didn’t seem to care for me, the person who never knew their name or spoke back to them, I could just focus on studying and working. When I graduated, I got into the Navy and tried out for the engineering division as soon as I could. From there… well, that’s all history. Well, that’s actually where I was finally diagnosed with the Prosopagnosia. Though, you probably know that part already.”
“That’s a lot to go through, Cecil,” Maria said, her face turned away from him. “It warms my heart to know that you’re still thinking of your mother, even now.”
Cecil nodded. “I… I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me. For some reason… I can’t stop thinking about her. My mother. She was… I don’t know.”
The nurse finally turned back and forced a smile at him. “For the time being… focus on yourself. Your rest is the most important, Cecil.”
“Yes, of course.”