Underneath Stainless Steel

Submitted into Contest #200 in response to: Write a story that includes the line “my lips are sealed.”... view prompt

1 comment

Science Fiction Crime People of Color

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

I limp into the cybernetic specialist’s office half an hour before my appointment. The white waiting room had mold seeping in from the ceiling corners, one flickering light drawing my attention toward it. “Have a seat, he’ll be right with you,” waves the receptionist with her aluminum arm. I eye her fingers as she types impossibly fast, hoping that the doctor was responsible for her upgrades. The pile of outdated magazines next to my crusty seat made me question my sanity coming here. The fact that this place had the only cybernetics doctor in the area who still took hard cash was the only reason I was here. At least, the only reason other than the pain in my misshapen knees.

           “Come with me to my back office,” he said with a smile, not even greeting me or introducing himself. By the time I’m leaning back in his long office chair, I resigned myself to calling him just Doc. The plan was to keep things impersonal.

           “So, tell me why you want your legs replaced,” Doc questions, leaning forward with an eager smile. No desk was between us. He was uncomfortably close as he swivels his stool to see me eye to eye.

           “I- I’m clearly limping,” I stutter, confused as to why he should care.

           He chuckles and watches the confusion on my face with amusement. “So, tell me, why are you limping then?”

           Something about his persistent attitude, the strange smile, or maybe his vaguely European accent breaks down my plan to keep things impersonal. I decide to toss him a detail. “Got into a fight a few years ago. Left my legs worse for the wear.”

           He leans back and laughs. “I’d hate to see what the other guy looked like!”

           My memory drags the taste of blood back into my mouth. The sound of the police baton crashing against my face. Against my knees. Against Wilson.

           I grit my teeth. “Can we get started?”

           Doc’s smile is still undisturbed. He studies me up and down, eyes like a cat. “You do understand, you’ll be losing part of yourself permanently. This also won’t fix any… underlying issues you might have.”

           I reach into my pockets, grabbing a wad of cash, and shove it in Doc’s face. “Not interested in your therapy talk, just do it.” And so, he didn’t say another word to me until well after the buzzsaw cut through the bone and the welding flame attached the new legs.

           “Please do consult with a more traditional doctor if you have any lingering pains,” Doc said with his damned coy smile on his face, counting my crumpled bills. I struggle to walk out of there but was determined to not return.

           But it took me only a month before I found myself strutting back through that door thirty minutes early again. The powerful metal sings as the coils and pistons drive me forward. I don’t bother greeting the receptionist this time, my mind already focusing on ignoring Doc’s banter.

           “You aren’t content with what I’ve given you already?” he taunts in his office.

           I refuse to give him the satisfaction of eye contact. “Skin. Just weld plates over my arms and torso to make me bulletproof.”

           Again with the stupid laugh. “Oh, a little trouble with the law perhaps?” He sees right through me as I clench the arms on the chair.

           Three bullets. They pulled me and Wilson aside for no reason and said we were “loitering.” Then suddenly we matched the descriptions of wanted thieves. Of course, we didn’t actually, we were just teenagers procrastinating going home after school. But that didn’t stop… One in his back. One in his arm. One in his lung. And no apology.

           “Just make me as close to bulletproof as you can.”

           Doc leaned forward, breath smelling like mint. “Oh, I might as well give you fully robotic arms at that point.” Now a grin prances across his face. “And of course, you’ll still be liable to certain injuries. Don’t come back to me crying.”

           Another wad of crumpled bill thrown at his face. Another session of burning flesh searing my nose, teeth grinding against the gag, tears almost evaporating as they roll down my cheeks.

           Two weeks later and I slam the rusted door open. Doc is waiting for me at reception. The fact that he knew I’d be thirty minutes early again pisses me off.

           “We really should make these sessions weekly, Mr. Miller,” he laughed as he leads me with open arms to his office. “What ails you this time?”

           “Is it really that hard to just do the operations I pay you for, no questions asked?” My fists are clenched, the bolts straining against the inhuman pressure I’m applying.

           Doc folds his hands and crosses his legs, continuing his charade of being a compassionate listener. “Most people don’t want to see me more than once. And yet, you find some relief in our constant appointments. Care to explain what’s on the agenda today and why?”

           I hesitate this time because I know it sounds stupid. “I… I’ve seen other people with masks. Robotic voices. Filters for clean air. All of that jazz. Give me one.”

           He looks deeply surprised, yet amused at this request, eyebrows rushing to the top of his forehead. “And these people, they’re okay with no longer eating traditional food? You’d like a diet of vitamin and IV fluids via needles instead? Just for a stylish mask?”

           “Nothing good to eat anyway,” I lied, throwing more money at him. I could tell he didn’t believe me, but I wasn’t about to describe my mother’s screams as I came home that night. How I lost Wilson. How I stumbled across the floor on broken legs and wailed like a baby in her arms. How I lose sleep at night hearing my cries replay over and over again. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I begged to her for forgiveness through the tears.

           I never wanted to hear my voice again.

           And so, he gave up on talking, taking my money. He clamps my head in a harness, no gag this time for the pain. He brings the blowtorch close and like that, my lips are sealed, ready for the mask.

           I’m back to limping a week later, throwing myself into the office, clutching the doorknob for support. I look at the shocked receptionist as blood pools on the floor. This time I’m an hour late. Doc comes out and sees the sorry mess in front of him. No smile this time. But he still picks me up, carrying the pile of stainless steel and flesh that I had become to his office.

           I lean back against the chair, panting through my new air filter over my mouth and nose. The bullets had managed to find my upper thighs and the side of my head to strike. I struggle to pull the bloody bills out of my pocket. Doc looks at me with a hint of disappointment swimming deep in his eyes.

           “Carson Miller.” He spoke leaning back, once again eyeing me from head to toe. “You think I wouldn’t recognize you on the news at this point? Multiple bank robberies. Even more cops assaulted. I suppose that’s how you’ve been paying for all of this?”

           I don’t have it in me to argue. This is the end of the line. I just wanted one more procedure.

           “But… I must say, I do feel a touch of pride seeing my handiwork responsible for tearing state-issued prosthetics limb from limb.” I turn to see the coy smile on Doc’s face again. He takes the money from me as usual, but I haven’t said a word this time. As he straightens the bills, he looks at me for the first time with concern. “Just, do us both a favor and tell me the truth this time.”

           I accept my fate and revisit my mother.

           The voice that leaves me is one my mother never heard, and one I'm still not used to hearing. It stays monotone as I speak to Doc, eyes closed facing the ceiling. “My mother… she mourned for Wilson with me. Told me that’s exactly how I lost my dad. Mistaken identity, cops racially profiled him. But… she didn’t stay sad for long. Wilson was her baby. I was the troublemaker. So, she blamed me for his death. He should’ve been home on time that night. He had a future. I was deadweight. And… it didn’t take long before she stopped holding me when I cried. Those same hands that wiped away my tears… ended up hitting me. Again and again. Yelling and blaming me with each strike. I crumpled to the floor each time, accepting my fate.”

           I open my eyes and look at Doc. His hands are still folded on top of his crossed knees. The light above us makes his eyes shimmer. He remains seated for an eternity before he asks me, “So how can I help?”

           I hear the sound of a teardrop hitting the chair. I didn’t even realize I was crying. But with the voice Doc gave me, I asked, “Can you remove the part of my brain that feels pain? The one that’s making me cry right now?”

           He stands up and walks to my side. He brushes my tears away with his hand before gently touching the side of my head where the cops had just shot at me. He then picks up my metal hand, almost falling apart from the fight I was just in.

           “My dear Carson,” he whispered. “I wish you had said all this from the start.” He leans in and holds my head, blood dripping onto his white coat. I beg the tears to stop as I start to feel lighter, the sound of sirens growing muted with each passing second.

May 30, 2023 22:59

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

1 comment

Julie Grenness
04:25 Jun 08, 2023

Good write, great build up of tension and drama. Nice touch of intrigue at the end. This author has build an evocative word picture, keeping the reader in suspense. The use of imagery was effective and well chosen. I hope you keep on writing. Cheers.


Show 0 replies

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.