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The lights were far too bright.  They were painfully bright, even, and Fleischer had to close his eyes not even a second after he'd opened them.  He heard what seemed to be voices – or one voice, at least.  It took him awhile to finally start to focus in on the sound.

"Doctor Fleischer?"  It was Davis – or, it sounded like him, at least.  "Doctor Fleischer, can you hear me?"

Fleischer gave a small, unhappy groan in reply.  He felt exhausted, and sore, and when he tried to flex his jaw, he could also feel what might be wads of gauze wedged between his back teeth.  He must have made a displeased sound or face, because the rather subtle action got Isaac's attention.

"Sorry about that," the older man said.  "We didn't want you to bite your tongue while you were out.  Could you open your eyes, please?"

There was a long pause before the Medic complied.  Even then, he winced a little at the light.  His eyes, however, adjusted surprisingly quickly when he actually kept them open.  His vision was, in fact, even sharper than it had been when he had passed out in the shower.  He could make out tiny droplets of water in the air – raining down on him, in fact.  It felt nice on his skin.  He could gather from the feeling of where water was not on skin, however, that he had at least been afforded a pair of boxers.

Fleischer tried to speak – to ask where he was, and what had happened.  The gauze, however, muffled his voice.  Some movement did draw his attention to the older doctor, seated next to where he was lying.

"Here, let me get that," Davis said with a faint smile.  He grabbed a pair of long, thin metal tweezers, and it was only after a bit of coaxing that he got the Medic to grudgingly open his mouth enough for him to use them.

If nothing else, Fleischer was grateful that the older doctor was at least very careful in pulling the gauze free.  He gave a little cough, and pressed his tongue against the roof of his mouth and immediately noticed that his tongue felt… odd.  The backs of his teeth felt normal, at least, until he moved his tongue enough to feel the sharp points they tapered to.

"I hope," Isaac started, making a brief note on his clipboard, "that you are feeling better?"

Fleischer said nothing, trying, and failing, to sit up.  His wrists and ankles were bound to the table.  It was a shame, really – all he wanted to do was curl up and hide.  He was tired, and sore, and hungry, and he didn't know what was going on.  He was terrified.

"I apologize for your current accommodations," the older doctor said.  "Alterations are being made to your room.  I trust you will find it a lot more comfortable once they are finished.  Your-"

"Let me go," Fleischer interrupted.  His voice was a great deal shakier than he'd hoped, and speaking made his throat hurt.

Davis's own voice was remarkably calm and patient as he said, "please, Doctor Fleischer, let me finish.  Your body is in a very delicate state right now, and you need to be closely monitored, especially the functioning of your internal organs."

Fleischer tried to look down at himself, but a strap over his forehead prevented it.  He weakly tried to pull against it, anyway – he couldn't, after all, turn his eyes enough to get a good look.

"Don't worry, Doctor Fleischer," Isaac started, smiling again.  "Thus far any cosmetic changes are minor.  Once you're stabilized, we can start fine-tuning, and any changes in physical appearance can be, at the very least, greatly reduced."  He paused for a moment, glancing away from the Medic just long enough to take another note on his clipboard.  "Being stuck in here is rather unpleasant business, I know," he continued.  "Usually we'd keep you sedated, but, your body is rather sensitive to drugs at this time.  Hopefully it won't take much longer, though – I could put on a record for you, if you'd like."

"What did you do to me?" Fleischer asked, his voice little more than a panicked whisper.  Tears stung at his eyes and they were blinked away by – by something – not his eyelids.  They were clear, and blinked the wrong direction, and he was sure he caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a few blood vessels.  They – whatever they were – vanished as quickly as they had appeared.

Doctor Davis just gave another warm, relaxed smile.  He was tense, though – tense and excited.  It was barely enough to notice, but, there nonetheless.  "We are improving you, Doctor Fleischer.  There was nothing wrong with you, by any means.  Quite the opposite, you are a remarkably healthy and resilient individual; a survivor, like I said."

Fleischer said nothing.  His mind was racing and so, if the beeping of a nearby EKG was any indication, was his heart.  He forced himself to breathe a little slower, as difficult as that was.  All he was capable of doing, however, was waiting for Isaac to continue.

He did continue, too, his voice still at least mostly calm.  "The human body is so frail as it is, and I'm afraid that genetics didn't deal me a winning hand," he said, gesturing to his leg with a somewhat sad half-smile.  "We'd be extinct without our big brains," Isaac stated.  "What else do we have?  We have no sharp teeth, or claws, or venom.  Our strength and even our senses are paltry in comparison to many of the lower life forms.  We're finally in a position to make some improvements – something more controlled and more immediate than selective breeding could ever manage."

Silence was all that Fleischer offered in return.  He still didn't fully understand what his reason was for being there.  Oh, there were a number of extremely unpleasant implications, but there wasn't any single one that he could focus on or pin down – and he wasn't sure he wanted to.

"You have made remarkable progress," Isaac stated with no small measure of pride – pride that seemed to be directed at the Medic.  "I know things are very difficult now, but, you've long since survived what we've estimated to be the riskiest part of the procedure."

"What do you mean?" Fleischer finally asked, as much as it made his throat ache to talk.

"The infusion," Isaac said.  "Between a course of drugs and a few minor alterations to your Respawn data, your immune system was quite thoroughly suppressed.  Don't worry, we had it working again very promptly – after making a few changes.  It would have been very inconvenient for us and very unpleasant for you if your body had tried to reject itself."

"'Itself'..?" Fleischer finally managed, his voice wavering.  Not a graft, or a transplant, but, 'itself'.

The older man gave a small, indulgent smile at that.  "Yes, itself.  I'm not a butcher, Doctor Fleischer – cutting and stitching and replacing is so inexact.  The goals of transplants and grafts are lofty, and admirable, but, they aren't meant to last.  They never fully integrate into a new body; they are a placeholder for something better."

The Medic continued to say nothing.  The truth was he could barely even think, let alone speak.  He just closed his eyes tightly, again, and tried to hold back another sob, and wound up starting, just a little, when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

"We'll be taking blood samples from time to time," Isaac stated.  "The trend, as of now, is that you are slowly stabilizing.  Once it's prudent to do so, we will return you to your room.  Hopefully, it will only be a couple of hours or so."  The older man paused for a moment before adding, "I know it would be difficult for you to do so, but I would still recommend getting some sleep.  You need it."

Fleischer knew he needed sleep – and, badly.  He could barely doze off most nights and – and how many of those times where he'd slipped off quickly had he just been drugged?  They couldn't have possibly just gotten him from the shower to – to wherever he was now – without drugging him, could they?  He wanted to know, and he didn't.  He knew he needed to sleep – wanted to get some rest – but, it wasn't safe to do so.  

Then again, when would it be safe?  The only answer Fleischer could come up with was 'never'.  The League wouldn't let him go free.  He had been confined to his room.  Nobody would even explain what exactly was being done to him, or why.

He was helpless – utterly helpless to do anything other than sit and stew and wait in confusion and terror.  Any choices he was offered were honored, but insignificant.  Any modicum of trust he'd desperately felt for anyone had been misplaced.  He almost wondered if, perhaps, he was still dead, and this was some sort of special, karmic hell.

Fleischer tried, finally, to at least get a look around the room.  The strap over his forehead, however, ensured that he was only afforded a view of the lights, and the ceiling tile.  He could hear people talking – only small talk, though, nothing that would reveal what was going on.  There was also the steady, if accelerated, beeping of the EKG, and pages turning as someone flipped through a book, or files, or something.

The sound of a door opening and someone entering the room gained Fleischer's immediate attention.  The man – and he knew that's what the visitor was, somehow – exchanged a quick greeting with Isaac.  They didn't say much of consequence before they both started to approach the table, one of them carrying something heavy that jangled a little as they walked.  Whatever it was, it was placed on some surface not far from his head, which quickly had Fleischer's heart going faster, again. Isaac stepped into view, but his guest remained out of sight.  The object the man had brought with him must have been a case, given the sound of metal latches being opened.

"Doctor Fleischer," Isaac started, a warm, genial smile forming on his face, "this is Doctor Kelly.  He's our resident ophthalmologist – he's going to run just a few brief tests to assess your vision.  I realize you're in a somewhat awkward position for this, but, I know you'll perform to the best of your abilities, so, the results shouldn't be too skewed."

Doctor Kelly was nervous.  Fleischer could tell before the man even stepped into view.  When he did, though, it was immediately apparent that Kelly was considerably younger than Isaac was, and the man spent what felt like a very long moment just staring down at him.

Isaac gave the man a somewhat pointed look, for that.  "Doctor, if you would be so kind," he said, his voice calm, and quiet, and, somehow, demanding.  

It did snap the ophthalmologist out of his less-than-professional focus on Fleischer.  "Right," he said, "sorry.  It is going to be a little awkward like this," he continued, glancing to Isaac, just out of sight, "with him in this position, I mean.  I can't do a full exam, but, a basic assessment should be of at least some help."

The all-too-familiar eye charts were brought out and stuck to the overhead lights.  The lights were dimmed for the time being, at least, so that Fleischer could stand to look in their general direction for any length of time.  It was standard fare – rows of numbers and letters in decreasing size from top to bottom.  They were all painfully easy to read.  Even the smallest rows were sharp and clear enough that each digit was simple to distinguish.

Doctor Kelly kept looking at him, though – staring in what seemed to be nervous fascination.  "His results have improved fifty percent since his entry exam," he stated, apparently addressing Isaac, rather than his patient – despite where he was still looking.  He picked up an ophthalmoscope, then, and leaned in far too close for Fleischer's liking.  Then again, eye exams always wound up with another doctor far too close for the man's liking.  It didn't help that the light seemed so much brighter than it usually did.

"Pupil response is normal…" Kelly said, trailing off a moment and frowning, just a little, before adding, "I think.  I can't make out any blood vessels – but, I can't get a good angle with the light, the tapetum lucidum keeps blocking my view."

Fleischer frowned at that.  That particular piece of anatomy didn't exist in humans.  Either Kelly was a very bad eye doctor, or far more had changed than his teeth and nails.  He was still frowning just a little when Kelly moved to his other eye and, really, the man was still far, far too close for his liking, and he was obviously nervous and the whole situation, really, was putting the Medic on edge.

Doctor Kelly must not have been able to get a good look, because he wound up using his gloved thumb and forefinger to try to gently pry his eyelids open a little further.  No sooner had that contact been made than that transparent thing slid over Fleischer's eye.  It seemed to startle both men equally, though.

"Ah… a functional nictitating membrane," the man said, with equal parts fascination and surprise.  He took a moment to apparently study it before adding, "could you open it?  It's going to obstruct my view a little, otherwise."

There was a part of Fleischer that would have delighted in closing his eyes altogether just to spite the man.  He thought better of it, though – he was strapped to a table and, really, there was nothing keeping either of the other doctors from just making him open his eyes.  Try as he might, though, he found it very difficult to get that membrane to move, at all.  

Doctor Kelly gave a thoughtful hum at that.  "I'm going to have to move it – don't worry, I'll be very careful."

No sooner had the gloved tip of a finger lightly touched against that transparent eyelid than Fleischer bared his teeth and let out a low, rattling growl.  It was an almost entirely inhuman sound – one that caused the other doctor to jerk his hand back with a little gasp.  Fleischer could tell it had frightened the man – it had frightened him, too.

"Just give him a moment," Isaac said, still off somewhere, out of sight.  "There's no need to rush."

It did take a few moments for Fleischer to calm down just a little – enough, at least, for his eye to be looked at.  He couldn't help but notice that Doctor Kelly was a lot more tentative about it than he had been the last time.  He had mixed feelings about the exam being over, though.  Doctor Kelly felt nonthreatening in a way that Isaac couldn't seem to manage.  Fleischer could actually feel himself tense up just a little when the man left.

"I am sorry about that," Isaac said, stepping back into view with his ever-present clipboard in his hands, and a small, apologetic smile on his face.  "Doctor Kelly is very good, but, his timing tends to be a little sporadic on occasion.  Now, is there anything we can get you that would help you sleep?  The saline drip seems to be keeping you hydrated, but, there must be something else…"

Fleischer knew what would have helped him sleep – an ounce of safety, or even the hope of safety.  He wound up just turning his eyes away from the older man, at least as much as he could.  He wanted nothing to do with him – nothing to do with any of this, whatever 'this' was.

"We could get you some music to listen to." Isaac suggested.  "We can get a record player – some headphones.  Something quiet, maybe, like Mozart, or Chopin?"

"Chopin," Fleischer finally said in reply, giving a hard swallow after he did so.  Chopin was his favorite – had been for as long as he could remember.  He didn't like the idea of not being able to hear what was going on around him – but, he also didn't like the idea of being able to hear what was going on around him.  He quickly reminded himself that it didn't matter – that he was only allowed to hear or see anything at the pleasure of his captors.  Then again, he was only allowed to even eat at their mercy.

Isaac offered a warm smile – an expression completely opposite of his patient's rather dark thoughts.  "Nurse Hayes will see to it that you're taken care of, then," he said, before once again stepping out of view.

Hayes wasn't long, either.  She was soon standing next to the table with a pair of headphones.  They were a lot less bulky than the ones Fleischer remembered having at Well for radio communications.  Hayes was careful about putting them on, making sure they were adjusted properly, and smiling faintly the whole time.

There was still something disarming about that smile, as much as Fleischer hated to admit it.  He said nothing, though – only offered a little nod when Hayes lifted one of the earpieces just enough to ask if he was comfortable.  The nod was a lie, of course, as much as he desperately wanted it to be the truth.  There was also a very stubborn part of him that refused to be easily swayed into sleeping.  He was too tired to listen to it for very long, though.  Sleeping was so much easier.

This story is actually a couple of years old. I was feeling very nostalgic and decided to pick it up and re-read it, and I wound up realizing that it had actually been very well-written. This was also my first real attempt at a horror/thriller piece. I'm posting on here, now, because along with being nostalgic, I would also appreciate any thoughts or critique on it. I wrote this not too long after I published Bedside Manner, and haven't really written up anything particularly longer than drabble, since.

Post-Modern Prometheus is a sort of alternative/hypothetical sequel to First Do No Harm… and Comorbidity…

If you want to delve into the back story, I would definitely recommend reading FDNH before Comorbidity. Both of those stories are relatively old, though, and I feel like I have improved my writing and characterization a great deal since then. As a result, if you do like Doctor Fleischer, or my writing in general (which, if you do, thank you very much - my main hope when I post my writing is that people will get some enjoyment out of it) then consider picking up my book, Bedside Manner, in paperback or on the Kindle…

Fair warning, though, this being a horror/thriller piece, expect some disturbing content, though I am not really prone to using a great deal of blood and/or gore.

As a final note, the thumbnail image is in the Public Domain, and was downloaded from Pixabay…

KlayBird Featured By Owner Sep 22, 2014
Ohhh yeaaahhhh!! Getting better as it goes and can't wait for more! Poor Fleischer though.... After reading the other stories then this side story, what all he's been through. *yikes!*. I hope he finds some kind of peace soon.
Of course freedom would be much better but there's nothing he can do till he heals and gets more info as to where he is and what is going on.
Tune in next time....
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