The feeling of the TENS unit's adhesive pads being stuck to the Engineer's bicep (the organic remnants of it, at least) was a strange one. It wasn't a sensation that the man could really focus on, though not with the pain shooting up the length of his limb.
"Alright," Engel started, once the pads were in place, safely atop a layer of conductive gel. "I'm going to start out on a pulse of low amplitude und frequency. I will titrate ze dose, as it were just let me know if you feel any discomfort."
The Texan gave a little nod in response. He would have been lying if he'd claimed he wasn't at least a little nervous about the procedure. At least he could draw some comfort from the fact that it was something new that might actually work. He tried not to get his hopes up too high, though. Instead, he just gave a little nod, and silently watched as the device was switched on.
There was nothing, at first nothing but the near-crippling pain that Benjamin had been in for nearly an hour. He shook his head at the doctor, who jotted something down before starting to slowly turn up the dial on the amplitude. The Engineer did finally feel something, though a faint, warm tingling that started at the electrodes and spread over his skin in slow pulses.
Engel must have noticed a change in his expression, because he asked, "everyzhing alright, Herr?"
"Yeah," the redhead replied somewhat hesitantly. "I mean
s'doin' somethin'," he added. It was only at the doctor's behest that he rested his head back on the recovery bed pillow, and at least tried to relax.
In all his fiddling with the dials, Engel finally seemed to find a line any more started to become too intense, any less was teasingly almost right. Once the Medic was certain that he had found the ideal setting the one that caused his patient to finally give a sigh of relief, and genuinely start to relax he jotted down the magic numbers he had discovered.
Each pulse seemed to lessen the pain just a little more, until it had gone from 'unbearable' to merely 'awful.' Still it was better than any other doctor had managed to do for the Engineer. They had all wound up throwing in the towel and sedating him to wait out the pain in a mental haze.
"Thanks, Doc," the Texan said with a small, tired sigh before letting his eyes fall shut. He quickly opened them again, though.
"Herr, if it isn't imposing," the German began, "I am terribly curious as to how you managed to attach zhat prosthetic on your own. At least, I can't imagine it vould have been easy to find a doctor to aid you in such an endeavor."
Benjamin couldn't go to a doctor for this. Ever since the man had had his arm amputated, doctors had failed him at every turn. An appendage that was no longer attached to his body was causing him near constant pain a fact which he had to lie about to Annabelle's face almost every day. He could barely even keep up with her, anymore. She had been remarkably accepting of his condition, thank God, but she was a young, energetic child who wanted to run around and play.
The Texan's left arm worked well enough better than most people's, he guessed but it still wasn't a substitute for having the use of both limbs.
His work had suffered tremendously. It was difficult, nigh on impossible, to do repair work with the use of only one arm. That hardly mattered, though; barely anyone in town brought anything in for him to work on, anymore. Benjamin may not have been prosecuted, or been forced to go before a Loyalty Committee, but word had still gotten around town. Nobody wanted to entrust their car or even their icebox to a 'Commie' nobody wanted their friends or neighbors to think they associated with one, either.
It was difficult to hold his baby boy and even harder to play with his daughter. More than once, she had tried to toss something to him a ball, or a stuffed animal and he wound up momentarily confused when the object sailed past, and there was no impact against his right palm. She would smile and say it was okay, but Ben could tell that she was getting frustrated.
He had to do something.
The man started to pull what strings he could to get every book, magazine, and journal that was relevant to the project he was going to undertake. He still had a few friends in universities around the state old professors, mostly who weren't keen on the 'Red paranoia', and were at least willing to send him things in the mail. More than once, packages had arrived which had clearly been cut open and then taped shut, again. The contents were still there, though apparently medical journals weren't considered 'seditious material'.
Steel, rubber, and plastic were very easy to procure, given Benjamin's profession. The titanium, however, had to be discreetly purchased from one of the man's old chemistry professors. It had taken a rather sum to put the metal in his hands, but it would, he was sure, be worth it.
Given his recent operation, the redhead had a rather easy time stockpiling other materials that he would need. The hospital and pharmacy had seen to it that he had plenty of antiseptic, bandages, and painkillers. Getting his hands on a few ampoules of Novocain and some clean syringes had been a simple matter of complaining to the pharmacist about some very localized post-operative pain.
It was almost a year after his surgery before Benjamin had finally managed to get together all the materials and have them shaped and ready for assembly. Once everything was ready, the most difficult part was convincing Madeline that he would be alright at the house by himself while she took the kids to visit her parents in Dallas.
They had barely made it down the street when the man had started to sanitize his tools drills, pliers, vice grips, scalpels, and a slightly modified reciprocating saw. All he needed to do was install the titanium base plate its circuit boards were already wired in all of the contacts had been tested, retested, and tested again, and all of the moving parts were functioning. He had gone over the motions a thousand times. Everything was working, and Benjamin was scared as hell.
He knew he had reason to be, too. There were countless things that could go wrong, no matter how well prepared he was, and he was a doctor but not a medical doctor.
The Novocain and an ample supply of ice packs went a surprisingly long way in numbing the remnants of Benjamin's right arm. It was almost frighteningly easy to cut and peel away the skin to lay bare the underlying tissue. To the credit of his surgeons, they had cut the muscles and tendons he would need very cleanly, and the blood vessels had long since been closed off he just had to avoid cutting or tearing them. The redhead had to move quickly, though; the surgical tubing further up his arm could only remain in place so long before it started to cause damage of its own, and the effects of Novocain and ice could only penetrate so deep.
The man had broken into a sweat and had tears in his eyes when he started attaching the moving titanium rods, pins, and clamps to the ends of what muscles and tendons remained. He had to hold his breath and fight back a sharp wave of nausea as a long titanium screw was placed to marry the base plate to the sawed-off end of his humerus.
Benjamin was both terrified and relieved to undo his makeshift tourniquet. No blood started gushing, or even dripping, from his arm, though. It was all the man could do to wrap the bandages around his arm and swallow a couple of painkillers before simply passing out.
He could only hope that this would work and console himself with the knowledge that he had done the best he could.
"Did th'best I could, Doc," the Engineer murmured with a small, exhausted sigh, "at th'time, at least."
The doctor gave a small chuckle at that a somewhat fond sound that did not at all match the cold lack of expression on his face. "All zhings considered," he started, "it's very impressive. After all, it's vorking und, you're still alive after
"About a year, now," the Texan stated. His voice was considerably less strained than it had been, before, and the pain the pain was still there, but it was something he could almost ignore.
"Get some rest, Herr Wallace," the Medic said, leaving the TENS unit on the table and, for the moment, switched on.
Benjamin heaved a sigh of relief, and offered the German a little nod, letting his eyelids slide shut, and trying to get settled in. "Thanks, Doc," he half-whispered. "Means th'world t'me."
"Benjamin, this meant the world to me."
He hated to see Madeline so upset especially over this matter. At least Annabelle and Jonathan were out of the room, and hopefully wouldn't hear.
"Don't you 'now darlin'' me, Benjamin," Madeline continued. "After all that happened after all we've been through after you promised
" after he had promised to call it quits with making, instead of just fixing.
The redhead just remained quiet for the moment remained sitting across the dining room table. He couldn't stop himself from clasping his hands on the table. Really, it was hard to get over the fact that he even could clasp his hands, again that he had two hands with which to do so.
"Take the glove off," Madeline started, giving a little sigh. "Please."
Benjamin gave a small, hesitant nod at that. He had put the leather glove on for a reason it gave, for the most part, the appearance of a normal hand. It also helped cushion, to some degree, the feeling of the steel it was concealing. Nevertheless, the glove came off.
His wife just stared for a long moment before saying, "and the rest?"
That just made the redhead hesitate, again but he bit back a sigh, and unbuttoned his shirt before shrugging it off, revealing not just the entirety of his self-made prosthetic, but the leather harness lying over his undershirt. He had initially felt rather proud of his work, but with the way Madeline was looking at him, he mostly just felt self-conscious. The fact that she kept hesitating to reach out and touch his hand at all didn't make him feel any better.
"Can you even feel that?" she asked when she finally did rest her hand gingerly on his.
Benjamin heaved a sigh and shook his head just a little before saying, "no. Not really." He wished he could, but the pressure plates he had installed in the device needed a little more force exerted on them before they would register anything. He had gotten some feedback in a test where he had squeezed his artificial limb with his left hand but a hand lightly resting there did absolutely nothing.
"I can't quite hold a Styrofoam cup without at least dentin' it a little," the redhead started, quietly, "I ain't accidentally broken any glasses yet, though." No, their glassware was perfectly safe. The pressure plates under the rubber pads at his fingertips were more sensitive and, any resistance to his grip provided a much more tangible pull and pressure on his remaining muscles and tendons, comparatively faint though it was. He had done a great deal of planning and testing to make sure there would be no accidents hell, he could hold a fresh egg without cracking it (though the brooding hens hadn't been happy with him raiding the nests).
"Doesn't it hurt?" Madeline asked, her eyes drifting up to where the bandaging was still wrapped around her husband's bicep and the base plate.
"Still sore from uh
" Benjamin trailed off, trying to choose the word that would frighten his wife the least, "from putting it on. But, it's a lot less painful'n it was." His 'post-op' pain had been awful, but nothing he couldn't contend with, especially once he actually had the prosthetic attached to its base plate. His arm had stopped hurting, then that crushing feeling in a phantom limb had gone away with a speed that had surprised the man. It was more than he had ever expected, and that thought caused just a little smile to form on his face.
His wife, however, did not smile. "Benjamin," she started, "someone threw a brick through our front window
while the kids were in the living room. What are people going to do when they see when they see this?"
"I can remove it when we go out," the redhead insisted. "It comes off the base plate real easy, nobody'll ever know."
There wasn't a moment's hesitation before Madeline said, "the kids will know. I'll know."
Benjamin had hoped he would be able to win Madeline over that maybe he could get her to see the situation as something anything better than some sort of disaster. She kept bringing it back around to his promise, though a promise that he could never honestly deny that he'd broken. He had also, however, promised that he would do everything in his power to take care of the kids. He tried to explain that this would help matters that with the use of two hands he could go back to repairing cars, or at least play a game of catch when Jonathan was old enough to throw.
She said it wasn't enough. She said it was too risky that someone was going to find out that the loyalty committee was looming over him, again. And, what if it wasn't just him? What if they were both questioned? It wouldn't be much of a stretch from there to declare them unfit parents.
Especially, Benjamin thought, if his old employer found out and got involved. He had been so careful, though. There had been no mail, no mysterious calls just his inability to play with his kids, or finish even the most mundane tasks in a timely manner.
The more he insisted that things would work out, the more Madeline insisted that they wouldn't. For every reason that Benjamin came up with that this was a good thing, she came up with two more that it was bad, and why hadn't he told her before he had done this to himself?
"Because I was afraid," the redhead started, giving a hard swallow, "that you wouldn't approve." And he had been right damned right, she insisted, through the tears that were starting to streak her face, and each one that fell just made Benjamin feel guiltier.
"Benjamin, you're lucky you didn't die," Madeline stated. "What did you expect me to do if we came home from my mom and dad's, and you were layin' dead in the garage?"
"But, I wasn't," Benjamin insisted.
"Not this time, no," his wife retorted. "You were lucky nobody stays that kinda' lucky forever, and how long before you decide you want to make an improvement?"
"Darlin', s'fine just like this," the redhead insisted, gesturing to his arm his new arm.
"Right now it is," Madeline said with a small, tired sigh. "The second y'get your hands on somethin' better'n steel
what? You'll risk cuttin' on yourself again for an 'upgrade'?"
"It's quite an upgrade, Herr," Engel murmured as he inspected the prosthetic laid out on the workbench.
Benjamin had asked the Medic to come to the shop just to get a look at it, and felt a certain pride as it was inspected. It was quite the upgrade. No more surface plates made of steel just lightweight, carefully-shaped carbon-fiber. The underlying frame, instead of being heavy steel, was a mixture of titanium alloys and more carbon-fiber composites. It had all the strength of steel no more than steel without being nearly so heavy. It also freed up a hell of a lot of room.
"I see," the older man started, "zhat there is a new base plate, as vell." He picked up the object in question, and carefully inspected it.
Benjamin knew he was intrigued, though even if it didn't show on the man's face. "Yeah," he said with a little nod. "I had a lot of free space to upgrade electronics'n sensors. I had t'make a new base plate almost from th'ground up. Unfortunately, the old screw's gonna have to come out
" God, he wasn't looking forward to that. Putting it in had been bad enough but, it had certainly done its job admirably.
"Well," the doctor started, "it won't be ze most difficult operation I've ever done, but it will certainly be one of ze most interesting. Don't worry, that's a good zhing."
The Engineer worried a hell of a lot less than he had that night in the garage but, there was always the chance that something might go wrong. Nevertheless, he gave a little nod. At least this time the deed would be done in a sterile operating room, with proper equipment, and an actual medical doctor or, he hoped Engel had a real medical degree. It was hard to know, really, given the company's hiring procedures, and the fact that the man had been issued a gun that fired toxin-filled syringes.
"Well, Herr, whenever you're ready."
"Whenever you've got time, Doc." They all had a little extra time. McKinnon had indulged a little too heavily in his favorite scrumpy before the team's last skirmish and well it was amazing what an angry, black, one-eyed Scotsman could do with explosives when he was in the right state of mind. BLU was out two mercenaries maybe three; their Sniper had been hauled off the field still alive, but with a considerable amount of shrapnel in him.
He wasn't supposed to, but Benjamin silently hoped that the other team's Medic had managed to patch the sharpshooter up. His conscience was hurting enough, already especially knowing that it was his sentry gun that had wound up, however unintentionally, chasing the small pack of BLUs right into the trap that McKinnon had placed.
"I can have everyzhing prepped and ready by tomorrow morning," the Medic stated, before starting towards the shop door. He only paused in the doorway long enough to add, "zhat means, of course, that you will have to abstain from supper," before walking out.
Benjamin Wallace was apparently going to abstain from supper. The meatloaf he'd made was getting cold, and the mashed potatoes were mostly just being pushed around by his fork. That was fine, he supposed a pan of meatloaf that wound up being a meal for one meant plenty of leftovers.
It felt strange eating at the table by himself. Madeline and the kids had left that morning, though, to go to Dallas. They were going to stay with her parents for 'the foreseeable future.'
Signing the divorce papers had been painful for both of them. They were both upset leading up to that morning vulnerable, even. He had the feeling that Madeline's mother had exploited that to pressure her into taking full custody. The woman had never liked him, especially after he'd been arrested for supposed treason. If she had her way, Madeline probably never would have even dated, let alone gotten married.
Agnes had looked as though she could have strung him up right then and there when she had shown up that morning to help her daughter pack. She was even more wound up when she found out that he hadn't started to help her pack, already.
He had tried, though. Madeline had refused had asked him to get some rest before her mother arrived. Benjamin had insisted that she needed the rest more, and then they went round and round until he finally threw in the towel. He didn't want the marriage to end with an argument.
Once the woman had shown up at the house, though, things had quickly gone downhill. There was no yelling, no no thrown punches (no matter how tempted Benjamin had been) but Agnes's underhanded comments were offered up in just the right manner to go over the kids' heads, and stab straight into him. Madeline hadn't said anything about it, though Ben could tell that she really wanted to.
There had never really been any way to appease Agnes. Every time the woman had come to visit, there was every subtle indication in her mannerisms, tone, and expression that she didn't think Ben was doing well enough for her daughter. There was nothing to be done for it, though he could only give all he had, and he already was. Taking care of the family was easy getting along with her was not.
She even found a reason to criticize the way he was carrying things out to her car. The redhead had needed to remove his prosthetic before the woman arrived, and hauling things from the house to the car without it wasn't impossible but, it was difficult.
Madeline was standing there when he walked back inside, and offered him just a small, weak smile. "Why don't y'take a rest," she offered. "You ought to go see the kids. I know it's a little late, but Jonathan's got a birthday present for you."
Benjamin tried to protest at least in order to continue helping but was promptly shooed into the house. He managed to muster up a smile, at least, before walking into the kids' room. Annabelle was sitting on the edge of her bed next to her brother whose entire head had nearly disappeared under a wide-brimmed black cowboy hat. It was a rather comical sight when he turned his head to face the sound of the door opening, and his father couldn't resist giving just a faint chuckle.
"I think that might be just a little too big for you, pardner," he said, delicately plucking it up off of the boy's head. Jonathan apparently thought this was hilarious, and broke down into a fit of giggles. It was infectious, really, and Benjamin actually managed to smile just a little more as he sat on the bed next to the boy and his sister, putting the hat on his own head. Perfect fit and a Stetson, to boot; he'd always wanted one. Of course he appreciated the gift, but there were more pressing matters at hand. Jonathan was young enough that the gravity of the situation wouldn't weigh on him not like it would weigh on his sister.
"You alright, princess?" he asked as he looked to Annabelle. The look on her face said 'no', and he hated to see that. Things certainly didn't get any better when she fell against his side and started sniffling.
Ben put his arm around her, of course, and rubbed her back a little before extending his reach to hug Jonathan as well. The boy wasn't upset saw no reason to be but it did make his father feel better.
Benjamin and his wife had tried explaining to their daughter the best they could why they were why they were going their separate ways. He'd never imagined he would face such tough questions from a seven year old; 'why are you getting divorced?' 'do you not love us anymore?' 'if you do love us, then why are we leaving?'
It was the last question that kept chasing its tail inside of Benjamin's head as he continued pushing his mashed potatoes around. They had long since gone cold, of course. Ben usually loved good mashed potatoes, but, given his mood, they hadn't looked appetizing to begin with. Yes, he would definitely be abstaining from dinner.
He felt a lot of things, right then, and not one of them was 'hungry'. He felt tense, and nauseous, and terrified, and lost, and, more than anything, he felt tired.
He felt more tired with every breath he took, and the Engineer was fairly certain that it had more to do with the anesthetic than anything else. It was proper anesthetic, too not some Novocain and a few ice packs. What a relief. He had a (probably) real doctor, too, and that was another vast improvement on the redhead's attempt at self-surgery.
How strange. Last time Benjamin had started to black out like this, he'd woken up missing one arm. Now, he expected to wake up with a new one. He was fading fast, too; the beeping of the heart monitor was distant and hazy, same as the Medic's voice, calmly telling him to breathe normally.
'Normal' wasn't a word that could be used to describe his home, now not unless a pseudo-military base housing eight other mercenaries, each crazier than the last, could be considered 'normal'. Then again, Benjamin's life hadn't been normal since he had taken that job with the DoD , let alone had his arm taken, and decided to make a new one. He believed, in a way, that meant he fit right in at the base. It was slowly growing on him, really, and he supposed that in time he might actually start to see it as a home. It was certainly more of a home than Grape Creek had been in the last several months.
Nobody there questioned his career choice, or knew (or, perhaps, cared) that he had been branded as a 'Communist traitor.' Very seldom was he bothered in the shop, and he was given materials to work with that the DoD had only just started to toy with. Nobody complained about him using those materials to create things, either so long as they served the base, somehow.
Most of the other mercenaries were like him, too. Sokov, their Heavy Weapons Specialist, was running from the Soviet regime Benjamin could relate to that. McKinnon was running from boredom and society's legal restrictions on the use of explosives for entertainment. Their Scout was running faster than others, perhaps from a broken home.
Alright, the Pyro just seemed to be there because they liked to set things on fire, and their Sniper had openly and shamelessly admitted that he was a 'big game hunter' looking for more excitement and a bigger paycheck. The Spy, as far as Benjamin could tell, was exactly that that might have just been another disguise in his arsenal, though. And, 'Sarge'? Well, okay, he was running to the opportunity to be given military-grade weapons, and finish what he'd 'started with the goddamn Nazis.'
Benjamin doubted the man had ever set foot in Germany, though he was more than a little off his rocker; perhaps he was running from an intrepid bunch of social workers. The man was filled with an amazingly strong, and disturbingly familiar patriotic zeal, and at first, the Engineer had expected him to blow their Medic's head off in the middle of the mess hall.
The doctor had a way with people, though. His face was a frozen mask, and his eyes were always cold but he always had the right tone and right things to say to get Sarge to peacefully back out of any of his rants. Everyone had theories on the Medic; why he was there, if he was a real doctor, his employment history. He was like a suit of armor, though an impenetrable cover that only vaguely outlined what was underneath. All the suits of armor that Benjamin had ever seen had been empty, though; the doctor often seemed the same. Then again, perhaps he was an even better actor than their Spy it was impossible to tell.
Benjamin, though he knew he'd been running from an empty home with too many memories that were, now, more painful than comforting. Things had gotten worse when he'd tried to pull money from his bank account, something he could send to Madeline and the kids, only to discover that his former employers had seen to it to freeze his assets.
He had expected the police to arrest him for another 'investigation' as he left the bank, or to tail him home and arrest him there. There were no police waiting for him at home, though; just a letter. It was the first thing to come through the mail in months that hadn't been cut open and at least partially redacted.
It was a job offer one for a position that, eerily enough, seemed almost tailor-made for his circumstances. He would get to fix things make things work with the most advanced materials there were to offer. They didn't care about any criminal records, or investigations. They didn't care about his past, at all, barring his education and abilities. They did, however, offer to go over the Department of Defense to unfreeze his assets and, on top of that, offer a paycheck bigger than anything his former employers had ever given him.
He'd have more than enough money to send both kids to college and set Madeline up for life in less than a year. All he had to do was survive that long.
For the moment, however, he had nothing to worry about. He had just to fall asleep, and let the Medic do the work that no other doctor had been willing or able to. It was a comfort that for the first time in a long time, when he woke up
things would be better.
So, this is like a side story that takes place during 'First do no harm'?
I'd like to think his Ex (or at least his kids) will try and get back in touch with him sometime later.
Sadly I somehow don't see that happening.
PLEASE tell me there is going to be more!
I'd like to think his Ex (or at least his kids) will try and get back in touch with him sometime later.
Sadly I somehow don't see that happening.
PLEASE tell me there is going to be more!