Sleeping Giants Page 24

—No. That it’s you sitting by my bed. Not my family, not my friends—not that I have many—not Kara or Rose, you. Mr. Warm and Fuzzy. It’s like waking up from a coma and having the cashier at the grocery store at your bedside. No offence.

—None taken.

—I guess that’s what they meant when they said to be nice to people. No tears for the narcissistic Québécois.

—I doubt that people would be lining up by the hundreds but, in the interest of fairness, no one knows where you are.

—You know, I get that you don’t want to tell people your name, but wouldn’t it be easier to make one up? Something cool, Charlie, M., anything. Then again, maybe you’re better off without one. “What’s in a name?” he said.

—So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title…

—An educated man? Somehow, you didn’t strike me as the literary type.

—English literature. Magna cum laude.

—Oh! Please, do tell!

—I think not. But if it makes you feel special, the president does not know this much about me. Did you know we are only missing three pieces? We found both of the small thigh pieces in China, about ten miles from each other. We should have the other parts soon. We have covered about 80 percent of the globe.

—Good for you. I just hope they’re on land.

—What do you mean?

—Well, 70 percent of the planet is covered by water. When you’re done surveying every continent, you’ll have gone through about 30 percent of the Earth’s surface.

—Dr. Franklin believes that…

—I know what Rose said. She thinks they desperately want us to find these things. But did you notice we keep finding them in the middle of nowhere? We got almost half of them in the United States. Do you know what was in the U.S. three thousand years ago? Not much. The Arctic isn’t the most convenient place to look for things either.

—If I did not know you better, I would be tempted to call you a pessimist, Mr. Couture. Let us worry about that. You concentrate on getting back on two feet.

—Funny. An hour from now, I won’t have any feet to get back on. I just need to figure out how to work a wheelchair. It can’t be that hard. I’ve seen some really stupid people in wheelchairs. And I’ll worry about whatever I want. I think I have plenty of time to do that. I always wanted to learn Cantonese. I just never found the time.

—I want you to listen to me very carefully. No one will take your legs. You may not believe in fate, but there is a reason the robot chose you. It is what you were meant to do. It will take some time, but you will get back into that sphere and make that robot walk. You will make us all proud. And you need to get back to Chief Resnik.

—Where do you get this stuff? They’ll still take my legs, but that was a nice speech. And you know as well as I do Kara and I are over.

—I do not think she is the type of person who would abandon you because of a handicap.

—I know that. She’s loyal as a dog…that doesn’t sound so nice when you say it out loud. Anyway, that’s my point. She’d be with me for all the wrong reasons. She’d be unhappy, but she’d stick around out of some twisted, misplaced sense of duty.

—What makes you think she would be unhappy?

—They’re cutting my legs. I won’t be able to walk. I won’t be able to stand, to get food out of the top shelf. I’ll need help taking a bath. I’ll probably soil myself. I’m already cynical, I don’t think this will suddenly turn me into a ray of sunshine. I wouldn’t wanna live with me. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, especially Kara. She should be with someone she can be proud of. Last thing she needs is changing diapers.

—Did you know that Ken Mattingly never contracted the measles? He did fly to the moon on Apollo XVI, and later took part in two space-shuttle missions. No one will take your legs, Mr. Couture. I give you my word.

FILE NO. 121


Location: Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), New York, NY

—How is Mr. Couture doing?

—His femur, tibia, and fibula are broken in several places on both legs. He has no patella to speak of, on either leg. His knees have just been obliterated. There’s nothing but small fragments piercing through his flesh like shrapnel. To put it mildly, his legs are gone.

—He is under the impression that you will cut them away.

—He’s right. They’re prepping the OR as we speak. We’ll take him upstairs as soon as we’re done here. We’ll cut his legs about midway to the knee. There should be enough left to attach prosthetics if we’re lucky. It will take some time, but most patients in his situation eventually learn to walk again. I know it sounds terrible right now, but you have to believe me when I tell you, this is what’s best for him.

—That is more or less what he told me. I am sorry to tell you that an amputation is out of the question.

—I don’t want to be rude, but this really isn’t up to you.

—How I wish that were true. Unfortunately, there are a great many things that fall under my responsibility and this happens to be one of them.

I can see your mouth opening slightly, which would suggest that you are waiting for the first opportunity to interrupt me, so I will save you the time and give you the only justification you are going to get.

That man is in a unique position to do something remarkably important for this country, if not for mankind. More to the point, he is the only one who can, and he needs his legs to do it. I apologize if this is more succinct than what you were hoping for, but it will have to do under the circumstances.

—You can’t…

—Please do not interrupt. I understand you are in a position of authority and the nature of your work probably makes you unaccustomed to being contradicted. But if what I have been told is true, we do not have a lot of time before sepsis sets in, so I hope you will forgive me for being blunt.

If you insist on pursuing this course of action, these two men will escort you out of the building and drive you away. I do not want you to think I am threatening you. You will not be killed, and no one will inflict physical pain upon you. You will, however, wake up in a strange room and never see the outside of it for the remainder of your life.

I just want you to have all the facts so you can make an informed decision. Unfortunately, you will need to make that decision in the next thirty seconds.

—I don’t know how I’m supposed to answer that.

—You do not have to answer. You just have to do exactly as I say. I was told you are the best at what you do. That is why we flew him here. That is why we chose you. It will take me about ten minutes to get someone almost as good to replace you, but I really hate having to settle for second best.

—You don’t understand. I can’t salvage any of the bones—not me, not anyone else. It’s not a matter of will, and threatening me won’t change anything. I can’t “wish” his bones back together. And I can’t just make him new legs out of thin air.

—Sure you can. You wrote several papers on titanium implants and you have the highest success rate in titanium total hip replacements. You may or may not lack some of the mechanical engineering skills to create implants of this size, but we can remedy the situation with one phone call. I believe you already have all the equipment you need, but if you require anything else, I will have it flown here within the hour.

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