Whispers of Mars [Chapter 26- Final]
The odor of the washed silt and the partially decomposed body hung to the medbay and the hallway even after the resealed corpse had been wheeled out and down the hall to the morgue. The vinyl sheathes protected the walls of the room were noisily yanked down and smashed into a compactor bag to rid the room of most of the remaining miasma.
The doctor was washing his hands at the sink as Agrippa led Cecil back inside. “Still here, Agrippa? I must thank you for calling me to examine the find. Well, I would have seen it anyways, but the way the body was preserved under the layers of silt and within the confines of an environmental suit is quite the… curiosity. I could, and may, write a study on it. Mr. Ruiz is here too?” he finally looked back, drying his hands in the low hum of the air dryer.
Agrippa stood behind and pushed Cecil forward. “Tulia wanted a second opinion.”
“Still unwell, Mr. Ruiz? And not just from the toxic air, I hope.”
The older man shook his head. “Tulia went off to pull his medical and family history. In the case of tumorous growths running in it.”
Cecil couldn’t make eye contact as the Doctor shuffled toward him, the last few drops of washing water collecting in the ends of his rolled-up coat sleeves. “Hmm, I trust that woman’s intuition. What symptoms, beyond what we’ve already seen?”
“Headaches, blurred vision. Both of which he’s never mentioned, it seems to anyone.”
The doctor crossed his arms. “I should hope he could speak for himself. That true, Ruiz? I see it, eh? The swelling behind the optic nerve?”
“That’s what Tulia noticed, too.”
The doctor brushed his hands together and let out a long breath. “And I just relieved Maria and Paul for the rest of their shifts. I’ll get one of them back in to help me out, I guess.”
Cecil couldn’t concentrate on anyone’s words, nor their coming or going, only the throbbing of his temples and face. He held his head up with his hands, perched on the edge of the chair. What pulled his attention up was the touch of the cold, soft hand to the back of his own.
“The very person I imagined to see back here. You must really love me.”
The soft voice belonged to Maria, but when he looked up to find her face, the only thing he could see was the cloud of her dark hair and olive skin.
The nurse spoke up again. “The doctor told me about the situation, Cecil. I’m surprised I didn’t see it earlier. The… best way, at least among the things we have… is to scan your head with the ultrasound. I have to get the clippers again, shave your head once more.”
Cecil smiled and attempted to joke, allowing his eyes to dance around the shadow of her face. “If I were back… in the service… I’d be needing a cut anyways, for regulation.”
Maria’s hands traveled along with the buzzing of the hair trimmers, but even her light touch caused shooting pain across his scalp. Cecil bit tight upon his lip until he tasted blood. The noisy door opened as the doctor pushed the ultrasound cart into the medbay. “Is he prepped?”
The cold gel after the shaving of his scalp was a slight relief from the pain, but the movement of the wand caused ripples of tension up and down along with its movement. The passage of the device eventually landed on a sole area.
“Is that correct, doctor?”
“That’s it. And what I’m afraid it is, too.”
The cart was pulled away, and the nurse worked tensely to wipe down Cecil’s scalp. The stool crept up close to the side of the bed, where the doctor and his white coat settled. “Mr. Ruiz. Let’s make sure we’re on the same page. I will send these particular images off to my colleagues back on Earth to confirm, but what I am seeing is a tumor resting between your left optical nerve and your frontal lobe. The method for extracting something like that is through the nasal cavity, an operation which I have not been specifically trained in, but am perfectly certain that I can perform. It is in our ability here. The risks, though, of such an invasive procedure range from you losing your sight, to your frontal lobe function being permanently impaired.”
“There is… another option?”
“There is, at least one that has been discussed in a purely hypothetical sense. The agency has contemplated various options in the case of one of us becoming injured or falling sick in a measure that cannot be treated by our hands alone.”
The doctor lowered his head in thought. “You are to be put in cryo-sleep until your treatment is viable here, or a ship has the means to bring you back. Considering your outlook, returning home and having access to MRI imaging, or a more skilled surgeon, or more precise tools would improve your outlook vastly. But you would also be forever excluded from returning here. I recall your desire to remain here, Mr. Ruiz.”
Cecil held his hands to his face and shook his head. “I… have nothing to return to at home, on Earth. Nothing… nobody. If… I am to die here, as did Quaseem Saïd, then let it be so.”
“I understand. Alas, much of the decision lies with the agency. I will take it, then, that you consent to be operated on here, by my hands?”
“If… it will stop it. Stop everything. Fix… me.”
“I see,” The doctor sighed, grasping at his knees. “I shall proceed, then. I will need to gather my information and consent from the agency. Maria will try to make you as comfortable as possible for the time being while we work through getting the tools and permission we need. The sooner the better… for all of us, eh?”
“Thank… you,” Cecil said, shaking his head to better his concentration.
The doctor stood and took his leave. Maria wandered about the counter on the opposite side of the room. “You… answered quickly.”
Maria stepped back, leaning against the cabinets behind her. “I guess there is only one answer, though.”
“You’re not going to ask Tulia? As if I were somehow not yet stable enough… lucid enough… to judge for myself?”
“Would you rather me to? Ask Tulia, that is?”
Cecil shook his head and stopped, allowing the smear of the nurse’s true image to settle in his mind. “I lied back then. When I said… I could recognize myself.”
“In the mirror, you mean?”
“Yes. But… what I really think I realized… was that I was simply so engaged in my work here that I disconnected myself from my own body. I was just a working drone. Do you feel the disconnect, too? As if the Earth is a completely different world, a different reality?”
“Sometimes, yes.” The nurse nodded. “The lack of communication… makes it feel like that, sometimes.”
“People accept you’re gone forever, so they stop trying to contact you all together. When… I received… the message about my mother… it all rushed back to me, in one sudden movement.”
Maria shook her head and shuffled to the edge of the bed. “Then why not go back? Better your chances of coming out of the operation with everything intact?”
Cecil looked down at his knees, barely sticking out of the blankets of the medical bed. “Because… then I would never get to see your face properly. To remember it.”
Cecil wanted to capture the movement of her face, of her eyes, and her brushing back of her hair in that very moment, but the sudden whoosh of the door interrupted the formation of the memory.
“Cecil?” Agrippa spoke up, marching to the edge of the bed. “Thank god you’re not under yet. I passed the doctor coming here from Command. You’re… truly going to go with the operation here?”
Maria shuffled back. “I suppose that is the case, at least according to him. Cecil, how is your head feeling?”
Cecil felt the pressure behind his eyes and the throbbing of his temples. “I… need it gone.”
“We should get you sedated, Cecil. Either way, he’s going under, Agrippa.”
Agrippa crossed his arms and stood back. “I understand that. I’m surprised that Tulia… I don’t know, didn’t think of this possibility first. A tumor. I suppose she would say how it could explain your reckless decisions, your bullheadedness, your lack of attention, your mood swings, your… everything. I did once feel like I could have figured you out, Cecil, but I guess that was impossible all along. Did I really get to know the real you? The careful, thoughtful, attentive Cecil?”
“I’m… sorry, Agrippa.”
The older man smirked. “I don’t need those to be what may be the last words I hear from you.”
“What words?” Agrippa rubbed his face and shrugged. “I don’t know if words suffice. Just think about… what you’re doing. I might sound cruel here, but I would hope you end up back on Earth to get the operation done. To have the best chance at remaining yourself, your true self. Even if you aren’t here, you can still do so much more. Alas, this is just me doting again.”
“You… never had to dote on me, Agrippa,” Cecil said weakly.
“No, but if I were in your position, I would want someone to be a pain in my ass so I could get myself back in order. Ignore what I said, you understand the risks. I suppose I have no say in it. Never did. But it stands that I wish you the best.”
Cecil laid his head back and squeezed his eyes shut. “Thank you for… keeping up with me.”
“Never mention it.”
The nurse approached with the needle and alcohol wipe in her hand. “Cecil, this will help you relax. Let you sleep. Depending on how things go… when you wake back up, you… may be in a completely different place. But either way, I hope nothing but the best from your recovery.”
Cecil nodded as he felt the needle pierce the skin of his upper arm. Blinking a few last times, the blurry figures of Agrippa and Maria faded out into the bright lights above.
His body was heavy. The room smelled different at first. The lights above only existed to blind him and cause his eyes to burn.
“Cecil, can you hear me?”
Thank you to those of you who continued to work your way through this book as I kept putting it up at a snail’s pace even a good three months after the writing was completed! It was quite a long one as well. Perchance my next book up here will be a more manageable short story.
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