Parallax Update #12

Yep, another Parallax Update, and this one is on the heels of breaking the 90,000-word mark for a total of 91,682 words or 367 pages if you prefer. As always, enjoy:

On the surface, the procedure was fairly straightforward. A special helmet fitted with miniature surgical tools was slowly placed over Pratt’s head, the full-color screen rotated by the surgeon for the most optimal angle as anesthetic spikes were inserted into his skull. Other than a slight tingling at the base of his neck, he felt nothing.

The Surgeon, a young woman with a deft touch and a calming voice behind her surgical mask spoke to him while she used the screen to direct the tools of her trade. Covered from head to toe in a white surgical suit except for her pale eyes, her gaze never left the screen as she spoke. “So, Lieutenant, the rumor is that you’ve spent some time with The Locknar. That must have been interesting.”

Pratt fought to keep from moving his head. “It had its moments, Doctor.” He felt his right eye twitch. “Everything okay, Doc?”

“Not to worry.” She replied. “Your passenger is making it difficult to get a lock on.” Her breathing quickened as she fought to tighten down a set of cross hairs on her target. She turned to her assistant watching from a nearby console. “Bill, adjust the Lateral Servo Sensitivity by Point-Oh-Three. There, that seems to have done it.” She frowned. “Damn it, the thing just detached from the cell wall and is about to become a floater.”

“I’m picking up increased thermal output from the object, Doctor.”

Pratt’s eyes moved as far right as he could make them go. He felt a tingling behind his eyes and his voice pitch rose. “Doctor, is there a problem? The back of my head feels funny.”

“Bill, I need you to adjust the anesthetic another 5 points.” Another nurse gently swabbed around her eyes as her sweat began to leak out from under her head gear. “Damn you.” She muttered as she worked her controls. “Be nice and let me snag you.”

Pratt stiffened in the chair as his right eye’s vision went dark. “Doc? Would this be a bad time to tell you that I’m blind in my right eye?”

“I was afraid of that.” The Surgeon adjusted her controls and his vision resumed as normal. “Your little friend is trying very hard to thwart my efforts to get a capture beam on it. I apologize if I cause you any unnecessary discomfort.”

“Look Doc, if you have to cut into something to get that thing, do it.” Pratt felt his irritation rising. “But do me a favor and leave the Flight School lessons and some hand-eye motor control. Drool is not attractive in a cockpit.”

The Surgeon’s dance with the tracking device went on for several more minutes before she finally grabbed it. “Bill, what are the thermal readings?”

“Still rising. If you don’t get that out of him within the next sixty seconds, the heat’s going to start cooking his tissues. I’m also reading elevated ketone levels in the surrounding tissues.”

She leaned over next to Pratt’s left ear. “Lieutenant, I’m going to need you to remain perfectly still while I extract the object. I have reason to believe that it is reacting to my capture field by inducing ketosis in your brain and neural tissues.”

“Doc, ketosis creates acetone. Are you saying that this thing trying to turn me into a spontaneous combustion bomb?”

The Assistant looked over, his eyes filled with caution. “The evidence would appear to suggest that, Lieutenant. Doctor, I recommend we sound the Bio-Hazard Alert and clear this section at once. If he explodes before you finish-”

“The explosion could blow out most of this section.” The Surgeon reached over and hit a large red button that sounded an alarm. Pendrake ushered the rest of the medical staff and patients out as two large blast doors came down behind her, sealing the room from the rest of the station.

She turned back as alarm volumes rose exponentially to an ear-splitting level. The tracking device, now grown to the size of a pea with six small grabber legs, was trying very hard to pull itself free of the magnetic field that held it fast. She caught a fruity odor coming up from the surgical site and shuddered. If the acetone levels were strong enough to emit such a strong scent, she didn’t have much time. She began pulling the device away. As she did so, she noticed the beginnings of light tissue scarring left behind. It didn’t look very serious, but as one of the device’s legs broke off, she worried about retrieving it and applied a second field. The device began to pulse, its matte black casing visibly flexing in an out as it left Pratt’s skull and into a sealed specimen jar along with the broken leg fragment. “Bill, grab that thing and eject it into Space while we still have time.”

The Assistant froze. “You want me to do it?”

“Jesus Christ,” Pratt swore. “I’d do it if I wasn’t otherwise occupied.”

The Surgeon grabbed the jar from the machine and ran to a small ejection port. She pulled open the chute door and flung the jar inside. A couple of key presses and they watched the jar floating away from the station before it exploded in a bright flash that cracked the armored windows. The crack expanded for several more agonizing seconds before a set of automatic shutters came down and prevented the inevitable breach.

She heaved a sigh of relief and returned to her assistant. “You picked a hell of a time to show how cowardly you can be, Bill.” She pointed to his console. “Get over there if you can manage that without falling apart.”

After double-checking her work, she applied a sealing paste to Pratt’s skull before closing the skin. “I believe I got all of it, Lieutenant, but I would like to keep you here for observation to make sure there are no lingering after effects.”

“How long?”

“Three or four days is standard for this type of operation.” She said. She turned and glared at her assistant. “Shut off those damned alarms. The Danger’s past now and notify maintenance about the window breach.” Her voice softened as she removed her mask, revealing a not-unattractive woman with strong and slim African features and a quick smile that she favored him with. “You need rest, Lieutenant.”

“What I need is to get out of here if someone would get this thing off my head.” Pratt retorted. “No offense, Doc, and I appreciate what you did for me, but I’ve had my fill of people poking, prodding, shooting, stabbing, and climbing around inside my fucking head.” He threw his hands up as far as his restraints would allow. “I’m done and I fucking quit.”

“Fair enough.” She raised the surgical helmet from his head and released the restraints. “Once I clear you for Duty, you may leave.” She placed a hand on his arm. “Oh, and watch the language. I may appear sweet and kind, but I will tear you a new one if you provoke me. Do I make myself clear, Mister?”

It was at that moment that Pratt noticed the silver eagles on her uniform collar. He gave her a perfunctory attention stance. “Very clear, Ma’am. Permission to leave?”

She smiled. “As soon as the blast doors are cleared. Have a seat.”

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