I have a new collection of poetry and short stories coming out later in the year, and as Life’s Rich Tapestry is now one year old, I thought I would share some stories from the collection over the next few weeks. This story was inspired by the photo prompt as part of a challenge curated by author D.Wallace Peach on her blog: Myths of the Mirror
Pixabay image by Brigitte Werner
The Enhancement Project
They had been working through the night to save his life. The atmosphere in the operating theatre was one of frenzied concentration, with only clipped instructions from the lead surgeon as he worked to stem the bleeding. Scrub nurses moved around the three doctors in an orchestrated dance, slapping instruments into waiting hands, or wiping a brow of its sweat.
Doctor Shanda Graham watched from the gallery and clenched her hands in front of her. If she was religious she would have prayed, but all she could do was focus on the skill and experience of the surgeons working on the man on the table. His enhanced body armour had protected him from the blast on his right side and his robotic arm was undamaged. However, he had extensive and catastrophic injuries to the left side of his head that had likely caused severe brain damage.
Shanda had been part of the cyborg project for the last five years, designing and implementing the enhancements to the selected participants of the project. All were members of elite military units who had been severely injured in combat, and following the world war of 2080, there had been no shortage of applicants. They were men and women ideal for the task, being physically and mentally honed for war, and now for the protection of the survivors from remaining external threats and those closer to home.
Solar power had been installed across the city rooftops in 2050 and with foresight the governing body had stockpiled medicines and other essential staples in the years leading up to the final conflict. However, strict rationing was in place and this had created a criminal element that was determined to take control of the dwindling supplies. Unlike the rest of the population, striving to survive peacefully, they were unwilling to participate in the projects that brought water and food to the 50,000 inhabitants of the city; taking what they needed with violence instead.
The streets of the city were unsafe to wander, as roaming gangs preyed on anyone careless enough to be caught out after dark. During the day, the ringleaders and their followers, barricaded themselves into the high rise office blocks, vacated when the world markets crashed, and financial institutions ceased to exist overnight.
To counter this threat to the lives of the people in their care, the city elders had formed a civilian militia from adults over the age of sixteen who were not employed in other essential work. Each unit was commanded by a six man team from the Cyborg regiment who undertook the training needed for the militia to be effective. This strategy had been partially successful, as even the feral gangs feared the enhanced capabilities of the Cyborgs.
However, the battles for the streets were fierce, especially as the gangs had obtained discarded weapons in the early days following the war, when the city was in chaos.
Until tonight the governing body had thought that they were making progress in clearing the city of this threat to peace. The present riot had begun outside one of the food growing centres that had been established in all the former green areas of the city. Heavy metal fencing and guard towers protected each unit, and the thousands of citizens who would arrive each morning to work the fields and water processing plants above the aquifer deep underground. Workers were unpaid but had identification chips in their arms that entitled them to enough food for themselves and their families.
As the gangs were not eligible for the chips, and the water and food they guaranteed, attacks in the green zones were frequent and often bloody. As work in the processing plants went on day and night, citizens were at increased risk coming and going from work, and cyborg units were stepped up to protect the perimeters of the compounds and in the main streets.
The commander of the cyborg regiment was Colonel Brandon Saks, and he had been the first of the enhanced humans that the implementation team had transformed. He had been a special forces major, on the front line with his team in the final battles of the war. Severely injured, he lost not only his right arm, but also a considerable amount of his rib cage. Robotic prosthetics had already been employed for over fifty years, with military personnel acting as guinea pigs. The advancements in that time had been extraordinary, and confidence was high that continuing the project would save the lives of experienced soldiers who would be needed to survive post war.
As one of the senior surgeons undertaking the ambitious project, Shanda had focused her attention on the progress of the first of their participants; the handsome and stoic Major Saks. This led to a closeness that was not permitted, as fraternisation with patients was strictly forbidden. Over the many months that he was in recovery and re-training, they had fallen in love. They had to keep it secret even when he moved into his role as head of the militia, as technically he was still a participant of the project under her continued care. Five years later they still only met infrequently when their duties permitted, in safe houses dotted around the city.
As she thought about his smile and touch, Shanda buried her head in her hands, knowing with his head injuries he would be lucky to wake up, let alone have his memories intact.She stood, resting her hands on the glass of the gallery, looking down into the operating theatre, to see the lead surgeon stand back from the table and turn away. Brandon was alive, but Shanda could see that he now carried a great deal more metal on his left side, reaching from his chin to his forehead. Clearly there had been no way to reconstruct his face and skull with organic material. It was now a question of time and healing, and they would not know the extent of the brain damage until they woke him from an induced coma.
She walked passed the staff in the dimly lit corridor to the intensive care unit, nodding at the doctor in charge, approaching the raised bed where Brandon lay attached to tubes and monitors. They would expect her to be there, having been part of the team that had completed the original enhancement and worked with him so closely; she sat on a stool and reached out to hold his remaining hand.
The battle to rid the city of the feral gangs raged for the next four weeks. Fuelled by anger, the militia and their cyborg commanders were driven to succeed in honour of their fallen commander. Their orders were not to kill unless unavoidable, but to expel those who had committed violence outside the city walls; to fend for themselves in the wastelands. In some cases however, when brought before the magistrates, younger men and women, who had not participated in the violence of the insurrection, were given the option to join the militia or the food plant workers.
In the intensive care unit, Colonel Saks was considered healed enough to be brought out of his coma and to have his brain damage assessed. Shanda had been at his bedside every minute she was not working, and there were knowing looks between the medical staff at this devotion. But she didn’t care. It was time that everyone knew how she felt about this handsome and extraordinary man, and she would bear the consequences.
She stood in the corner of the room as the surgeon checked the new enhancements one more time for infection or instability. Satisfied he motioned for the sedation to be lightened and watched the monitors as his patient resurfaced into the world again. Shanda closed her eyes and held her breath, convinced that the man she loved was gone from her completely.
Then she heard a sound, and looked up to see that the surgeon had turned to look at her, as had all the medical staff. He was smiling and as her eyes moved to the man lying in the bed; she could see him looking at her, saw his lips moving, and above the rapid beating of her heart, heard him say her name.
©Sally Cronin 2019
About Life’s RichTapestry: Woven in Words.
Life’s Rich Tapestry is a collection of verse, microfiction and short stories that explore many aspects of our human nature and the wonders of the natural world. Reflections on our earliest beginnings and what is yet to come, with characters as diverse as a French speaking elephant and a cyborg warrior.
Finding the right number of syllables for a Haiku, Tanka, Etheree or Cinquain focuses the mind; as does 99 word microfiction, bringing a different level of intensity to storytelling. You will find stories about the past, the present and the future told in 17 syllables to 2,000 words, all celebrating life.
This book is also recognition of the value to a writer, of being part of a generous and inspiring blogging community, where writing challenges encourage us to explore new styles and genres.
John Maberry – 31st October 2020 – Reviews of five books we recommend.
My review of Sally Cronin’s Life’s Rich Tapestry: Woven in Words, is short. We will add a few lines from the book after the review, for your consideration.
The book lives up to its title–indeed, Sally Cronin has woven a rich tapestry of life in words of many kinds. A variety of poetry–in forms unfamiliar in name to me, microfiction and short stories. What’s more, the graphic imagery of the short poems is inspiring to a person like me who has never really found poetry either appealing or easily understood. This time, for a change, the words grabbed me. I found meaningful passages that could be useful as well in prose writing as in poetry. Examples I must return to in settings or other places where showing and not telling is essential.
The microfiction and short stories were equally compelling. [As noted in the promo for the book coming up next from Eagle Peak Press, we will consider a combination of ingredients as Sally Cronin did—and more in this book]. She is a writer worth reading.
Here a poetry excerpt (not necessarily representative of the content of the whole):
“Memories are sharp
and as clear as the blue sky
smiles etched on my heart.”
Or consider this brief excerpt from the intro to a short story titled, “The Junkyard Dog.”
“Charlie was a junkyard dog and had the scars to prove it. He was head of security of this fenced off mass of scrap metal, dotted with mounds of old tyres he called home, and he took his job very seriously.”
A selection of other books