By Rob Onofrey
Now that he only had his left arm, the lab coat felt strange on Dr. Martin Voltala. The right sleeve hung empty beside him as he leaned on a wooden cane and held his eyes closed. He stood next to his colleague, Dr. Thomas Melker, in front of a large steel door in their private laboratory.
This was Dr. Voltala’s first day back at the lab since the car accident that took his arm. He had been away from their research for two years–one year to heal his legs with surgery and rest and one year of physical therapy to be able to walk again. His wife pleaded with him to try a prosthesis, but he’d always refuse, saying the inconvenience of not having the arm was the perfect punishment for losing it in the first place.
“Okay, open your eyes,” Dr. Melker said.
Dr. Voltala opened them and raised an eyebrow at the door.
“I had a walk-in refrigerator attached to the back of the lab.”
Dr. Voltala’s eyebrow didn’t lower. This wasn’t the biggest surprise of his first day back to work, however. It was his partner’s appearance.
When he arrived at the laboratory, he expected to see the young Dr. Melker’s usual crew cut and morose demeanor, but his hair was wild–long and tangled. Dark bags hung under his widened, bloodshot eyes. He jumped up from a microscope when he heard Dr. Voltala walk in, stopped him at the entrance, and ushered him to the new door.
“And why do we need a refrigerator?”
“For the growing and maturing processes.”
“Dr. Melker, I believe we had a conversation when you came to visit me at the hospital. You were to continue our research, not begin something new.”
“This isn’t new. It’s just another direction.” Dr. Melker opened the sealed door and gestured for Dr. Voltala to enter first, which he did while shaking his head.
Their breaths appeared in puffs before them. The refrigerator was much larger than Dr. Voltala had expected; it was like another, smaller laboratory. Steel tables holding equipment and scribbled-on notepads took up half of it. An enclosed glass tank that almost reached the top of the refrigerated cube took up the other.
The tank was filled with a translucent pink liquid that seemed to glow underneath the bright blacklights that hung above it. Inside, completely submerged, were four fully grown right arms. One swam, flapping and wiggling its hands, fingers, and wrists to get around. A couple of them wrestled each other. The other crawled along the bottom by balancing on the tip of its shoulder and the palmside of its bent-wristed fist, elbow pointing up. It slid its fist where it wanted to go until the arm was completely extended and then dragged the tip of its shoulder back toward its fist until, once again, its elbow pointed up. It did this over and over again, inching its way around. Dr. Voltala approached the tank, his face curled in horror.
Dr. Melker looked at him with a smile. “Well?”
“What is this?” Dr. Voltala said, still staring at the creatures.
“For the past two years, I’ve been working on giving you your arm back. Research and experiments day and night.”
“Are they alive?”
“Very much so. I grew them to the size specifications of your remaining arm.”
“And how is this another direction of our previous research?”
“Each one was injected with your serum.”
Dr. Voltala straightened up and turned to Dr. Melker. “They’re reading our minds?”
“Well not mine, you have to be right next to them.”
He stepped away from the tank. “And what is the purpose of that?”
“Before one has been surgically attached to you, it will be trained to obey you. It will respond to your every whim. It’ll be like you never lost it.”
Dr. Voltala shook his head. “This is insane!“ He limped out of the refrigerator, his cane tapping the floor beneath him. He sat down in one of the lab chairs and ran his hand through his grey hair.
Dr. Melker followed him out. His smile had faded and his eyes had narrowed. “What’s wrong?”
“I will not allow you to attach one of those things to me. If they are alive as you claim, it would be like sewing a wild animal onto me. I don’t know how you did this, but it’s dangerous, and you need to destroy it.”
“As I said, it will be trained. It’ll be more like sewing a Seeing Eye dog onto you. They’re trained to be eyes. The arm will be trained to be an arm.”
“And how do you know this training will work?”
“Because I’ve already trained one. Follow me.” Dr. Melker walked to his office door and entered. Dr. Voltala felt sick, but he had to see what was in there.
Every inch of wall space in Dr. Melker’s office was covered in research material yellowed by pipe smoke. Research notes and sketches of the grotesque growing process and its essential equipment took up most of it. One wall had photos of Dr. Voltala’s remaining arm while he was in the hospital. He was sleeping underneath heavy pain medication when Dr. Melker took the pictures and made the measurements.
A small tank sat on Dr. Melker’s desk with an arm lying on the bottom, extended and not moving in the glowing pink liquid. Dr. Melker sat down at the desk and set his right arm on it, against the tank’s glass. He wiggled his fingers and bent his wrist back and forth. The creature in the tank made every move his right arm made at the same time he made it.
“See? This didn’t take long to do. I already have a tank next to your desk. All we have to do is transfer this specimen to your office and work with it every day until it has adapted to you. Then we just attach it, and you’ll have a brand new, perfectly trained arm.” He flexed his bicep, but the arm in the tank didn’t. He pressed a red button on the lid. It buzzed and the creature jolted from the electricity. “When it doesn’t do what you want it to do you punish it. Tell it that if it doesn’t want to be hurt again, it must anticipate every muscle and joint movement that you want it to make for you.” He flexed his bicep again and so did the creature, trembling from the shock. “I’ve made it understand that it’s an arm and its purpose is to be an arm. After only a month and a couple thousand shocks it has started to do almost every single thing my right arm does.”
Dr. Voltala shook his head. “You’ve created living beings for the purpose of beating them into submission? I’m not having this in my laboratory!”
Dr. Melker slammed his fist down onto the desk as the creature slammed its fist onto the bottom of the tank. Dr. Voltala jumped. “Damn it! Don’t you realize what this means? Not only do you get your arm back, but we can also do this with every single part of the human body! Any part can be designed, grown, injected with the serum, and trained to be whatever they’re meant to be. This is a scientific breakthrough! Can’t you see that? We can sell this! We’ll be pioneers in intelligent prosthetics! Nobody has to know about the training method. We ship them trained to obey whomever it’s attached to. InstaLimb! Get back that special part of you! It’s not magic, it’s InstaLimb!” He and the arm in the tank gave Dr. Voltala a thumbs-up.
Dr. Voltala looked into Dr. Melker’s crazed eyes. “No. You have no surgical experience. You’re not getting near me with a scalpel.”
“I’ve done the research and have had plenty of practice on cadavers. You have nothing to worry about.”
“Nothing to worry about? You have no idea if one of those things will stay tame. It might try to hurt me, or, God forbid, somebody else. And I absolutely refuse to torture a living creature, no matter how unnatural it may be, for my own benefit!” Dr. Volta’s ears reddened like they always did when he was angry. “Destroy what you’ve done or I’ll do it for you.”
Dr. Melker sighed. “Dr. Voltala, this is not what was supposed to happen. You were supposed to come in, see what I’ve done for you, and not be able to wait for the surgery. But now I’m the one who can’t wait. You will be anesthetized and I will perform it tonight. You will see that it’s so much better than the alternative.”
Dr. Voltala scoffed. “You do not have my permission. You will not perform the surgery. I’m calling Dr. Ramirez at Stork Hill. Something’s wrong with your mind.” He caned his way out of the office, the empty sleeve swaying with his motion. Dr. Melker pulled a loaded syringe out of his lab coat pocket, strode behind Dr. Voltala, and injected it into his neck.
Dr. Voltala continued to walk, but staggered. Dr. Melker caught him as he lost consciousness and dragged him to one of the laboratory’s observation tables. He retrieved the arm from the tank in his office and set it on a tray before removing Dr. Voltala’s clothes and using a penlight to check his pupils. He pulled latex gloves onto his shaking hands.
Dr. Voltala awoke on the table in heavy breaths. The laboratory was dark, lit only by the glow of transforming colors coming from the lab computers’ screensavers. He looked down and saw the creature attached to him with perfect stitches on the shoulder. He felt something that reminded him of pain, but it was dulled by a morphine drip. His breathing became heavier. The attached arm began to move its fingers. He gasped as it lifted its hand toward his neck and choked him. He couldn’t make a sound. He couldn’t breathe. The grip tightened.
He told it in his mind that he needed it to stop choking him. That everything would be okay. That he didn’t want to hurt it. That he would detach it as soon as he could get away from the one that did this to them.
The hand released him and swung its index finger to the refrigerator door. Dr. Voltala didn’t want it to kill him, and he didn’t know how to kill it, so he got up and looked around. The odor of pipe smoke seeped underneath Dr. Melker’s closed office door. He grabbed onto the wheeled IV stand he was attached to and leaned on it while sneaking to the refrigerator.
They entered. The finger pointed at the tank. Dr. Voltala and the creature approached the other arms as they swam and wrestled and crawled. But they all stopped and turned their hands to the attached arm when the two got close. They began tapping on the inside of the glass with their index fingers in unison, faster and faster until the attached arm’s hand grabbed the top of the IV stand and yanked it out of Dr. Voltala’s grip, down onto the tank. It crashed through the glass sending shards, liquid, and the arms to the floor.
The creatures grabbed shards of glass and slashed and stabbed Dr. Voltala’s feet and ankles. He screamed, falling into the pink liquid that flooded the refrigerator. They continued stabbing all over his legs as he wailed and screamed in pain and terror.
Dr. Melker threw the door open and recoiled at the sight. Two of the arms inched toward him with their weapons, daring him to get near. The attached arm grabbed a large shard from the floor and raised it–pink liquid dripped off the sharp point–before bringing it down into Dr. Voltala’s heart.
“Stop!” Dr. Melker yelled. Dr. Voltala’s wails and screams stopped and his eyes went blank. The attached arm began using its shard to cut through the stitches that bound it as the other arms sprung out at Dr. Melker and slashed at his ankles. He dodged them and ran out of the refrigerator, toward his office. He got a short distance before slipping on his wet shoes and falling hard, hitting his head on the edge of a table.
The arms crawled out toward his unconscious body, leaving a trail of blood and pink liquid behind them in their inching. The screensaver reflections warped shapes and colors on their skin as they climbed on top of him in the dark room.
He began to stir as one of them grabbed the penlight out of his pocket, clicked it on, and pointed it at his neck. Another brought its glass shard to the illuminated throat. And sliced it.