The Reveal (a fragment)
by H. A. Kirsch
This is a fragment, possibly an early draft of a chapter from a novel I'm working on. Most likely, the finished product won't be very much like this. A lot of stuff has happened before this scene, but I like it and am curious how people will react to this sort of thing.
Leo, Dr. Soren, and Dary appear in various other stories by me, some of them published ("Attachments", in Will of the Alpha, for example.)
What you need to know is:
- Leo is a fox who was in a train accident as a nine-year-old boy. He was burned severely and lost his forearms, lower legs, and tail. He later suffered an infection that required the removal of his genitals. He later received cybernetic replacements for all missing parts.
- Dr. Angelo Soren is one of Leo's doctors, a cybernetic prosthetist who specialized in genital reconstruction. He's an albino jackal.
- Kenny Waleman is one of Leo's medical techs, assigned to him throughout his recovery process at Davidson Biotechnology. He's a Shenaus, a black wolf with no fur.
- Dary is Leo's boyfriend, a Beauceron dog (the French version of a Doberman)
- Baxter is Dr. Soren's pet four-legger dog, a large German Shepherd.
Leo could not have picked a worse night to show up at Dr. Soren's home. The taxi driver let him off at the end of the private drive, refusing to go further. Halfway up the considerable driveway, the splattering of lightning finally gave way to a drenching downpour. By the time Leo rang the doorbell, he was soaked through.
The jackal was preceded by a muted scrabbling inside, and then energetic chesty German Shepherd barking. Dr. Soren opened the door with one hand on his dog's collar. "My apologies, Baxter has always been rather bad with gue-"
"Just let me the fuck in, I'm wet," Leo hissed.
Dog and jackal disappeared behind the door, and it opened. Leo rushed in and backed the door shut. Dr. Soren wrangled Baxter away, finally distracting him with a tug toy after several aborted attempts that had the canine trotting around part of the house and back. The two disappeared, and only Dr. Soren returned.
Leo had only ever seen Dr. Soren in casual dress once before. He wore khaki shorts, hiking sandals, a black neru tee-shirt, and an expensive wristwatch that seemed to tell the time using arcane symbology. He seemed normal, with his platinum albino fur and haunting pink eyes, but the mechanical iridescence in his eyes gave him away. The fox scowled at it.
Dr. Soren directed his eyes at the floor. "Ahh, you seem to be taking to those hooves quite well."
"Cut the crap, creepazoid," Leo growled. "You're screwing up my life. You're screwing up everyone's life. I can't take it."
The jackal blinked.
You don't need to blink, Leo thought. Don't give me that look. He didn't say it though, jaw too tight to let words come out.
"What exactly are you talking about?"
"I..." and then Leo's fierce intentions melted into tears that ran down the sides of his muzzle, almost unseen due to the rankled, wet fur. Dary.
Dr. Soren ducked away around a corner and returned with a large beach towel, then wrapped it around the wet fox. "Come here, I'll try to find you something to wear that isn't sopping wet, and you can explain what's got you so bothered," the jackal said, gently guiding Leo into the airy living room. It was lit with an inviting night glow, punctured by the occasional brilliant flash of lightning from the storm outside.
Leo sat where indicated, towel protecting the leather sofa. He had imagined coming in and exposing Dr. Soren for the terrific, perverse fraud that he was, but couldn't even be mad that his own plot had been torn up merely by the thought of the poor dog. When Dr. Soren returned with an undershirt and a pair of gym shorts, the fox took a sob-gasp breath and tried to talk again. "Dary's dying."
The jackal set the clothing down on Leo's lap, and then sat down on the ottoman. He looked genuinely hurt. "I know."
Leo cradled his face in his hands. "How fucked up is this, that you _know_ what's going on? I... he just got food poisoning with me a few weeks ago, it sucked but you know, we got better. Then he, he was over visiting and said he was feeling like he had the flu, you know, achey and feverish. I left the room to do some chores and there was this big crash, and he'd yelled out that he couldn't stand up, and suddenly we're at the hospital and his, his immune system is attacking all of his peripheral nerves, and they're being destroyed and he's paralyzed and now he can't, he can't do anything at all except lie there and stare into space." Leo facepalmed again, dizzy as he had managed to squeeze more words out than he had air.
Dr. Soren sighed. "I assure you, Leo, that I am not any more instrumental in this than God. I trust that you aren't particularly faithful. You don't strike me as the type."
"That isn't going to cut it."
"But it's the truth. I only found out earlier today. I was going to contact you, despite the numerous laws against that sort of thing. As it is, it is probably illegal for me to know. It was dumb luck, even, that Dary's neurologist happened to go to school with a colleague of mine and chose to consult him. But I'm sorry. I'm sorry about what's happened, Leo. I'm sorry that I know. I'm sorry that you know me. I am, at times, too hard to trust."
Leo stared. "Too hard to trust?"
"I am quite observant. Do you think I wouldn't notice someone following me? And of course, there was the little sting operation you arranged. That does not reflect very well on you, regardless of what you think of my interests-"
"Your interests fucked me up! I'm a perverted freak now!" Leo almost laughed, so unprepared for Dr. Soren's regretfully knowing attitude. Nevermind that the doctor actually looked wounded.
"You seem to have done well with the AnimaLogic referral, though."
"That's not what I'm talking about! You know what I'm talking about!"
"I do nothing without consent, Leo. Are you going to just sit here and accuse me of things? We both have better things to do."
"Like what? Tie guys up and jerk them off?"
"You could be spending time with your poor dog-"
"Poor dog! He can't fucking do anything except stare off into space! What am I going to do, fucking cry all over him for hours on end?"
Dr. Soren stood up. "Would you like some tea? It might help break the second stage of grief in you, so that you can do something other than yell and wave your arms."
Leo gave up and slumped on the sofa. He unconsciously pulled a leg up, then stared down at the very obvious seam between flesh and prosthetic. At some point, real fur and faux fur had to meet, and water always spread the two apart. "Fine."
The jackal left, and returned a quarter hour later with a mug of tea. It smelled fresh and herbal. He handed it to Leo, and kept nothing for himself. "All I can offer you is sympathy, and tea. And perhaps even some empathy."
"Empathy for what? You've never had someone crippled in front of your eyes," Leo grunted, then carefully tasted the tea. It had to be a relaxation blend, with the savory taste of chamomile and vanilla hiding in the hot leafy water.
"Only myself. That, and I shot someone's legs off, to be blunt about it."
The fox put his hoofed foot back down to the floor with a clop and he chuffed. "Don't try to one up me. It won't work. You know that. I mean, the whole accident and- wait, you did what?"
"I shot someone's legs off. I was quite unprepared for how viscerally destructive a shotgun blast could be at short range. Not completely off, to be macabre. But enough that they had to be amputated."
Shot someone's legs off, Leo thought. That was so familiar. He put aside the fact that Dr. Soren was admitting to mauling someone and tried to chase the black cat of deja vu.
"You are going to see something that might be very disturbing," the jackal said, holding one pale hand up to a door off of the main hallway in the house. The doctor was wearing quite average clothes, a pair of khaki shorts and a light v-neck fabric teeshirt, hiking sandals. Despite the class of his clothing, he exuded a profoundly important air.
"Fine," Leo said, unconsciously pinching his thumbs as he fisted his hands up by his sides. It hurt a little, but then he wondered, did it really? His fingers were not crushing his thumb. Mechanical joints and synthetic biocontractors were pulling a circuit-mesh protective tactile covering against the same, and a computer somewhere was translating that sensation into what he had decided was the sensation of crushing his thumb. He walked into the room.
It was completely dark. "I have been waiting years to show this to someone who was not unfortunately connected to my stain," Dr. Soren said, closing the door behind him. "I'm sorry, this is not supposed to be alarming."
Leo trembled so hard, he swore he was catching a chill. He let go of his fingers and leaned back, into the doctor.
The jackal did not embrace Leo. He gently pressed the fox off, then snapped a switch on. A small picture lamp lit up a large printout of a horrific picture. It looked vaguely recognizable as a humanoid form. No, canid. The picture seemed out of focus, but then Leo squinted and saw the indistinctness turn to ghastly horror. The shape was twisted, wretched, black leathery something, split all over with glistening red lines. Medical tubes stuck out in random places, including one skewering in between the legs.
"We share something, Leo," he said, then produced two switch snaps at once. That light shut off, and displayed a large picture of two uniformed mates. One of them was ink black, leathery, almost furless except for some black chestruff that came out of his unbuttoned uniform shirt collar and a black crewcut. The other was Dr. Soren, but far younger, exuberant and almost doggish in his grin. Both were clasping at beer bottles. "But we don't share the same thing. Do you know who this is a picture of?"
"That's Kenny," Leo said, staring at the black figure. Dr. Soren had a somewhat gleeful, feral look about him; Kenny looked like he was militant and tough.
"And you knew that, already. You know what happened. You found out. I also told you, but I lied, because I couldn't just _tell_ you, Leo," Dr. Soren said, and put a hand on Leo's shoulder. "Kenny was everything I wanted. Strange, in that he was so affectionately cold, so visibly opposite of me, so thrifty with math that I was both glad to partner with him and humiliated at my own inadequacies."
Dr. Soren changed the lights again, adding a picture of a strange mess of metal. Dr. Soren was inside it, mugging for the impromptu photograph. Leo turned to look at him, and the jackal's face was completely devoid of anything, perhaps even life. "This is the project we were working on. Imagine a camera flash, something that produces a bright burst of light focused in one direction. Then, imagine the inside of a microwave, sending out radio waves that resonate in every day objects. Imagine combining them, but on a massive scale. Enough power to decimate the electronics at a radar installation from miles away."
"I wanted Kenny, but he had his own life. I couldn't understand that, Leo. He was going to be mine, and it seemed so simple, so irritatingly obvious. He had his own life, his own girlfriend. He had his own research, which was going to be my research. It ate away at me, and then it came out, to threaten him, to stalk him. I finally lost it after he told me he was petitioning to have me removed from the project."
Dr. Soren said all of this while staring at the picture, through the picture, hands behind his back.
"I found one of the high-powered shotguns from the quartermaster's workshop, which I had stolen weeks before. We were researchers; we never needed weapons, but they gave them to us. War is bloody. I took it to the lab, and I confronted Kenny. He stood up as I stormed in, and I shot him in the thigh. Then, I pulled the gun over and shot him in his other thigh. Both point blank, both right here," the jackal pointed to his thigh a couple of inches above the white fur at the cuff of his shorts.
"He moved to attack me, but fell over, legs bending where they never should bend. He screamed, and by the time I realized what had happened, security was about to barge into the door. So, I ran. There was only one way to run, only one sort of space, a dark hole, that I could go into. I ran into the test chamber for the weaponized maser we were working on. Kenny somehow pulled himself up, and overrode the safety interlocks. Then, he fired an experimental burst, two seconds of a three-hundred kilowatt maser. I was microwaved alive, third degree burns over seventy five percent of my body, with the remainder being fourth degree burns. A forth degree burn is what happens to your steak when you leave it far too long and it turns to char," Dr. Soren said, then changed the image again, to the next picture over.
This one was a legal document, words too small for Leo to read. A photograph. "Kenny lived, as you are well aware. I lived as well, although I have no memory of what happened for several months. It did not exactly hurt; it instantaneously killed all of my peripheral nerves. It deafened me. It blinded me. One day, they managed to shove a speaker up against my head and start talking to me. I could barely hear it, but I did. They informed me that I was convicted of first-degree murder, which held a court-martial sentence of execution. This was not under the auspices of any one national government. It was top secret. But, they would spare me. I was in a unique state, alive but sure to die in weeks, if not days. No chance of survival beyond that. I would give my life to research. I became the property of Samek-Davidson Medical Devices. You might recognize part of that name. Davidson soon split off."
The jackal switched the picture again. They were now on the next wall, at the end of the room. It was a medical room, an immense amount of dated equipment and medical pumps and tubes. "When I was convicted, my name was killed. I was executed at gunpoint. But just like my skin, my name is only one part of me. I gained a new name, Angelo Soren. This picture is myself at three months old. Prior to this, a picture would have been far more ghastly than the first. My body had for the most part died, but I was not yet removed from it. This, in particular, is me." He pulled a laser pointer out of his pocket and shone a dot on the image, then circled it around where much of the tubing seemed to lead. Leo had to go up close to the picture to see what it was. It was a clear cannister, with something inside of it, a roundish shape. It looked like a walnut.
Leo's throat caught and gurgled, but he choked it back down. "That's impossible."
"Leo, you have seen _inside of me_, and you say that is impossible? How else do you connect primitive wooden legs or barely useful hook and claw prosthetic arms, to _This_?" Dr. Soren swept his hands down his body. Despite looking like a tall, albino jackal, his entire body was synthetic. "The project was simple, in a way. Preserve someone's brain outside of their body, but keep it functioning. Interact with it."
Another picture, this time of a whole person. It was vaguely humanoid, and not at all canine. It was almost a mannequin, an incomplete plastic structure over indiscernible metal parts. An umbilical of cables ran from the back to a wall full of complicated equipment. "This is me at two years. As you can see, technology has progressed. No longer were we limited to preserving the functioning brains of homicidal recruits in jars; we could give them bodies! That sounds quite like a terrible movie plot, doesn't it? Destined to fail, as well, because once evil, never turned."
The next image had a much more canid shape to the figure in it, although the it was close enough that the attempt at a functioning face looked like a dog mask that a human would wear at a costume party. The umbilical led to a single console this time, a few feet square. "At this stage, there was big funding talk about building a body that required support units that were only as large as washing machines. The idea being that they could allow those who needed to be... supported... to live in a familiar, residential setting."
Now, an actual recognizable Dr. Soren, with an articulated head but not much beyond mechanics for a body, wielding a rather substantial backpack. "This is what they called the hiker project. I preferred to be known as Jackal Plus, but had a devil of a time convincing anyone to go along. None of them seem to have read any Frederik Pohl... At this point, I was becoming more outgoing. Untethered, I felt like I was actually alive again. And I felt very-"
"That's like that book. Where the guy is made into a cyborg so he can go to Mars. Instead of humans trying to live in an alien environment, the human is re-engineered to be perfectly suited to it!" As Leo described, his look of queasy discomfort perked up into giddy astonishment.
"I see you and I share the same reading tastes," Dr. Soren said, voice as cold as the machine in the picture. "Yes and no, same general idea, much more disturbing outcome. Imagine what the military could possibly want with the ability to take a soldier's brain out of his body and implant it in a machine. A machine that can be stronger, purpose-built, repaired, replaced."
Leo did not lose his wide-eyed awe.
"Luckily, that never came to pass," Dr. Soren continued. "At least as far as I know. I don't know why. Perhaps it was just too far away, too inhuman. The research then turned to whether we could replace the bodies of people and have them live a normal life. That produced me." The final picture was a fantastic image. The doctor's body was covered in some actual fur, some colorless gummy protective nerve matrix, and then completely exposed in other places. He was holding an apple and staring into the camera with his mechano-iridescent eyes. There were strange rectangles on the image, obscuring parts of it. "This will be the cover of TIME magazine in a few months."
Dr. Soren turned the final light down, then opened the door and led Leo back out.
"Why do you have a room like that?" Leo asked, amazement draining back to the weary tension he had been wearing.
"Because I intend to hold the occasional private meeting here, where it may be useful to deliver a personal explanation of my involvement."
"Involvement in what?"
"There are five full transfers, including myself. Two men, one woman." Dr. Soren led Leo into a back sitting room. The room was minimalist and oddly comforting in its Danish squareness, partly because the far wall was entirely glass and looked out over a fantastic terrace and garden maze. "Now, we are ready to produce our first production prototype, if you will. That will change everything. Leo, I am broken. The only thing that exists in me that I was born with is my brain and part of my spinal column. Everything else is a machine. Everything has been manufactured to a design that iterated up from the torment of being literally preserved floating in a jar with no body. But I am somehow fixed as well, like the evil, the stain in me, was erased as my body died. And now, I am refined away from torture and mutilation and vengeance and narcissistic obsession. I have always had a need to form things to the way I see fit. That almost killed Kenneth Waleman, but yet, I have become someone who is so different that we mended our wounds together."
Leo sat down on the sofa adjacent to the windows and looked out, away from the jackal. Dr. Soren went up close to it and continued talking when Leo made no sound.
"I have suffered enough for what I did. You have suffered as well. You have lived through having your mother killed and your body burnt to cinders at your hands and feet, through having your arms cut off, then your legs, then all four replaced, then your tail, then the terror of the infectious malpractice that left you neutered for years as you went through the most formative pubescent years of your life."
Leo could not comprehend the sheer horror of what Dr. Soren was saying. The words simply rang around the room, arranging themselves into blocks of dissociated thought like so many pieces of cubist furniture.
"And now, you are complete. I am complete. Everyone should be complete. Everyone will be complete. Everyone _has to be_ complete. I have to get my fingers into everyone and everything. I have to mold the world to what is inside of my head. I directed all of that desperation into a ridiculous, petty, biological squabble that almost cost an innocent brilliant man his life. Now, refined, remanufactured, reworked, I direct that to building a world where those who are free to mold their selves can learn, and live, and grow."
"Is that a speech you give?" Leo asked, voice still warbled with confused hurt.
"Perhaps it will be," the jackal sighed.
"You said there were five full transfers. But you named two men and one woman, and then yourself. That's four. I'm not an idiot," Leo said, staring at Dr. Soren's ghostly reflection in the window. The misty spring day had become the low glow of twilight and sent the jackal's form back as an apparition standing over the far wood of the property.
"Neither am I. There is a fifth. There is a first for everything. Someone was the first to make love. Someone was the first to kill someone else. Someone was the first hybrid. Someone was the first to receive cybernetic implants. I was the first to be made into a full transfer. And, someone was the first to have their species changed."
Leo deflated, simply because his suspicion was confirmed. "Baxter."
"Baxter was so obsessed with being a dog that it destroyed his life. He was institutionalized to prevent him from hurting himself. He wanted to be a dog, and every day of his life was torment as he was very clearly human and not a dog. One of my peripheral colleagues, at AnimaLogic, pondered whether you could change someone's physical design, as opposed to merely reconstructing them. The answer is a resounding, horizon-destroying yes, and that answer is sleeping in his crate on his favorite blanket right now, or I would bring him out again."