Silver Lungs: Drinker Besser
“Lupo’s men have gone too far!” My father shouted as two rusty doors were pried open. Two crowbars tore into the crusting supports of an old door. I was on the gurney rolled into the safe house. A rusty and deteriorating shamble of metal we called The Clinic. Father's men informed him of the safe house during our dangerous flight from the damaged steel
My mother and father carried my frail form into the rusty and dank room from the gurney. I was lying upon brown and crimson flakes that flew away with the motions in the stale room.
I had my mom’s hair, a mutation from too many years in the mines below the city. As thick as wire and very durable, it was also magenta in color. The nobility of the city saw it as a sign of poverty and disguises so Father was the face of the family. A fine mustache and a top hat had him proper but he disregarded all forms of composure.
It was my skin that blew around with the slightest breeze. It shredded off from my neck like dandruff, ash falling from a forest fire, or foul snow blowing around the room in a nightmarish dead blizzard.
No blood splatter or spurting despite what tore me open, just a dry husk from the nose to the sternum. Now I had a hole in my neck. A peach on the outside, orange and pink with life, love, and sweetness. Dry and dust on the inside with fire and charring seared flesh.
My ribs were in ten-thousand pieces, my jugular was a canyon and my jaw can’t even be recovered.
I was struggling over a painkiller as well. I wasn’t sure if the pain killer was even doing anything. The nerves were probably as dead as my throat. But it did feel like a dream. That I could reward the painkiller for thankfully.
What happened again?
I saw my arm moving on its own. It was dangling around me but I couldn’t feel it. Like pins and needles but they were everywhere. That’s right, I opened my eyes finally.
I shuddered... Then heaved. Then came the spasms.
It was misty when I...
“Sir, she’s awake, she’s going into shock!” A man called out. I knew that voice.
“No! Dear God, please no! where is Besser!” My farther shouted.
Wait. There was steam, there was steel. Dad’s mill. I was... I fell.
I see across the bolt lined walls of the steel box they had me in. No, not a box, just a rusting metal room. This room was not pleasant to say the least. Long scratches tore into the walls. Obviously an extremely sharp contraption mounted to someone’s hand must have awoken during an operation. With a visible saw in the corner and a splatter of blood on the ceiling, this was the lair of an animator, both the greatest and most terrible minds to inhabit the streets of New Florence.
Animator? Why would Father need an animator? Oh dear God, how much of me is left?
I heard my father, Isiah Fair, he was talking with someone again. I caught ear of winding gears and metallic scrapes. It feels like a metal spider was crawling down a hallway outside. He arrived into my room with a great grin and a diabolical enthusiasm. I saw no teeth but he was seething with something unworldly.
Like the ancient Hephaestus he was a master of forging, but foul and hideous.
“Mr. Fair, greetings, you have called and I have come forth. My payment must be in full immediately.” Said Drinker Besser with the ragged and high pitch crackle of sorts from his mask. Drinker Besser, a short and feeble man of advanced years. “Clearly this commission is worthy, indeed. Very worthy of an animator like myself. So much so I will only require seventy-five percent payment. She is a much smaller canvas, I won’t need half as much gold or a quarter of the required silver.”
I was convulsing from trauma and any other symptom you could imagine started to show up after what occurred. If I understood what was happening it might have been worse.
An odd mask was grafted to the Animator’s head with a mixture of restraints and metal welded to a back brace. He was hanging limply from four mechanical legs that sprouted from his shoulders and carried him. Exposed muscles were visible along his back. A see-through coating had replaced any of his skin that wasn’t already metal.
The back brace was integrated with his spine and his entire torso was gone and replaced with strange technology. A metallic rib cage vibrated in his chest. This man was a technological terror. Life and death surrounded him like a plague. Saws stood still from tendrils extruding from his body on cables and his mechanical exoskeleton resembles bones. Bleached metal beams and a potent chemical smell sprayed from him constantly. My suspicion was that he used pesticide to keep the flies from the flesh and blood he left in his wake.
His eyes were surrounded with glass and rotation lenses with metal frames of gold and steel. He didn’t even have eyes per say; just two glass orbs confined by machines with two lights on full blast from inside his head.
“I will pay when we have time! Lets get to work quickly.” Mr. Fair says, my father is fuming like a hot kettle under raging coals. Within, he boils, pops, cracks, and snaps, a metaphorical reflection of how I must have been inside the furnace. Two gears on his artificial jaw made sparks as he gnashed. He did that when he was angry, and my father had a temper with fools. Father did not tolerate fools.
Drinker Besser was not a fool though, he was something else entirely. Deranged? Yes, but oddly brilliant.
My father chewed up a smoke and spat it on the ground. It burst into flames on the floor.
“I am a Prosthesis Animator, your subject will live, but I require payment now to get the precious metals in to the canvas, if I save it but you refuse to pay: I lose my trade. This is not stable work Mr. Fair. This artistic career is always fraught with trial and difficulty. My practice requires material that will not poison the canvas. It is very pure materials that I need. Gold and silver upfront with plenty of steel.” The old man’s teeth moved like piano keys within his mask as it opened and revealed vertical lips opening from right and left instead of up and down.
“We will need new replacement lungs, a great deal of silver, and no small amount of steel, and gold. And you may count yourself blessed, I have the correct apparatus for a female frame to suit your daughter and you own a metal refinery and steel manufacturing establishment. You are in luck again, not only will she recover but she’ll thrive. I have already acquired a working replacement for her lungs.”
“Fantastic, doctor, moving on, when can you begin? We are short on time if we are to save her. She’s hanging on by a thread. Can you just start your work quickly? I’ll give you everything.”
“Believe me, she would not have a womanly torso or waist if the frame did not replace her ribs to secure her artificial lungs, blood would circulate poorly, and her bones will buckle with time, but more importantly, we would have to use glass to keep her organs in place, a disgusting technique, and a dangerous one, but one that would work to keep her alive. Nothing worse than having to stare at food floating through the intestines. Unless she would prefer otherwise.”
“Oh lord that is disturbing…” My father gagged at the thought of his daughter’s organs exposed and moving in fluid. “I don’t think she would want to live out the rest of her like in a glass bowl.”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter, she will live Mr. Fair. I’d say even your daughter would beg for death if I had to stoop to such Neanderthal methods, don't worry. I assure you, only the stupid hack artist slop doctors proudly own titles of ‘contemporary.’ Using glass... unimaginative louts! Even my back here is a translucent bio-adhesive. Clear glue to replace skin, works like a charm.
"My daughter would not want translucent skin either Besser."
"Oh, well then, that's disappointing but Ill honor that. For the record, contemporary is a sensitive word you know. It neither reinforces art work or tears it down. It just pseudo-classifies it."
“Mr. Drinker Besser!” My father urged him.
“I can turn your daughter into a work of wonders and technological miracles or I can make her an abomination because I rushed art and called ugly beautiful. You cannot rush art Mr. Fair! You cannot... well, I have dabbled with fresco. It was such fun!”
The iron hook snapped, the force whipped me. The white-hot hook hissed as it carved my neck out. I heard screaming, screaming and tears. But it was just the water moving through the hot pipes and the vapors hissing through a valve. My harness snapped like the hook of its chain swinging back at me in recoil. An explosion after I fell, then chaos and blindness as I fell into the furnace.
I rolled off my scaffolding. I was gasping for air. Then I fell, the entrance to the coal chute loomed towards me. They turned the machine off moments after and it wasn’t hot enough to incinerate me, but hot enough to sear my wounds. As I blacked out, the air crawled into the hole in my throat and into my lungs. With had no way to stop it now, the factory’s main furnace became very intimate with me. It was warm and it was very dark except for the glow from red coals the glow that grew towards me and tore my throat apart with my blood sizzling on the steel.
My traumatic lapse ended with the doctor out of his conversation. Sudden flashbacks, spacing out, losing consciousness, those are signs of nearing death, or oxygen deprivation if I’m not mistaken. At this point they were almost the same thing. My machine must need some maintenance. The circulating air was getting weaker.
“You are not a cheap man, despite your excessive earnings, I must have misjudged you Mr. Fair. Your name sake suits you. I shall accept your patronage as your client. Is the canvas ready?” He whirled his saws with an electric squeal and several of his ribs popped out of place and splintered.
“My daughter is not a tapestry, Prosthesis Animator! She is supposed to be living and breathing. But she won’t be doing anything in a few seconds.” My father rushed to my defense as my vision was clouded.
Drinker Besser walked towards my frail form. Walked was not entirely accurate, he lurked and lurched in hazardous steps from his razor claws protruding from the stumps of his legs and his back. While a contraption on his back spun, gears moved with the tick of a clock keeping rhythm. His entire torso swung open like double doors upon me. A wardrobe full of limbs and fangs as his ribs formed a maw and exploded open. Thousands of tiny claws and saws begin to pour out and over me propping me in a posture while washing and sterilizing my wounds. Snipping and trimming the dead flesh.
“Humans are art Mr. Fair. And of course, Mrs Fair, if you can hear me.” My mother walked into the room outside mine, she couldn’t stand the site.
“We are made in forms more complicated than any machine we could devise. Our purpose, our forms, and our blueprints... Breath taking. Just like your own wounds I see. We can fix this easily.” He said as half his claws pulled back into his frame.
“You, daughter or Mr. Fair, are a blank canvas, the silver I bring is my brush and the saws are scalpels. Cutters are sheers to trim, the torches and fire are to temper, the acids and tonic are the paint. I am crafting something beautiful, possibly a cruel design, maybe I’ll fancy an efficient model, state of the art, I’m not into contemporary. But I have been awaiting a master-piece. How would you enjoy that, being a master piece? A unique work never achieved before. I saw it in your eyes even though you might not be aware, you push the walls that surround you down. Let’s do just that.”
Mr. Fair entered a fuming rage, “I don’t care about your devilish, thoughts just get her breathing off the respirator if you can even stop going on about art and these threats of cutting my daughter to shreds.” My father shouted again. Having to hold back his desire to shoot the Animator between the eyes.
“You do not understand the number of incisions needed. Let’s take this operation to the levels of Michelangelo, you will rival David. Aphrodite herself will curse your beauty and Mars will fall before your might.” My doctor ranted longer still.
Drinker Besser powers up his arsenal. “Auditory command link... Testing, forty-degree rotation...Excellent: Claw one, command: administer vial A. Claw two, command: activate electric scalpel A. Cross cut torso and prepare blood.”
“Note: Canvas, damaged from exposure to fire, will have to moisten... canvas can be moistened with fresh blood in the veins and plasma in the tissue. Canvas will require female frame immediately. Prepare cardiac battery, we’ll want her asleep as well so prepare medical anesthesia. Good night Signora.”
“Note B: Canvas cannot remove anesthesia from body without proper filtration. Will need to improvise.”
Whatever he gave me almost worked perfectly. I’m not asleep. A saw ran straight up my chest, a slight splatter sprayed out but I felt nothing. The man reached inside of me and began to cut and attach pipes and tubes all over me. Then it was dim and foreboding. Something about getting carved up and feeling nothing gives this a dream like quality. Except for a voice and a single bulb giving everything a silhouette.
“Charlotte, what a lovely work, I see your eyes are your father’s, and you carry his brow. Oh, a miracle you are. But your hair, that’s your mothers isn’t it. Magenta, a rare trait, clearly chemical mutation from the lower city levels. Must be a native. The pollution back in the day did that. I’ve never seen a patient made into a canvas so young.”
A drill dived into my side. My entire chest was open now and my ribs were being held on a claw attached to his back. He waved them in front of me.
“See these?” His own frail hands lower two embroidered orbs. Silver was carved and swirling across the surface. The pattern felt like it was moving. Then it did. It gave a little pump. “We can unplug the steel lung now, we have a silver pair for you. You see, when I’m called it’s some older man begging for more life, but a young gal, hardly in your twenties, possibly ready to marry, perhaps not, oh, you are a miracle. I live for your breed and your model, top of the line, fresh in life and ready to take the world for what it can offer. Only the finest of canvas for my work.”
He worked through the night. His body probably didn’t even need sleep. Just a new set of batteries I guess.
“Command: Prepare frame, estimated time, thirty seconds. Lower the steel and silver compound, frame is ready, detach throat seal.”
“Dictation for Mr. Fair:
My work is done and your design is ready and returned to us, you can tell your Mrs. Fair, the project was a success, the silver lungs have returned the feature of breathing. The left hand, lower jaw and throat have been replaced. The rib cage was removed and replaced with organic friendly metal work, her body will look human and womanly as it was. But her left hand will need situational bionics. Her neck and mouth will need a mask or a cover to seal what the super-heated hook pulled off her. Out of courtesy, I have her fitted with a breathing mask to filter out what the lungs can’t and a state of the art (no pun intended) water coolant system to stop overheating. She will need to vent it and refill it at least once or twice a day.”
I felt my arm and my chest again. They resisted me. My leg tapped and the vibration went up my side through my waist and went null at my chest. Only then, with sudden revelation, a jolt flew from my heart expanding through my chest and throat until a massive wheeze escaped me. I made a fist but nothing else responded correctly.
It all came back to me. This was the family safehouse. The place we go to if we’re in danger or if there was a disaster.
I breathed and realized I couldn’t stop inhaling. Unending air. A torrent of energy and fuel for my body. Oxygen flowed through but the sensation of exhalation was no more.
It was gone but a little draft warmed my core. That was the ventilation heating my metal components.
I couldn’t exhale out. It was doing it automatically. My left hand moved to feel my face and only a metal plated stump fumbled like a club where my limb and mouth were once alive.
I saw them shortly after, Father and Mother. Father rushed from the door; his neat and well-trimmed face was unshaven and mother’s make up is destroyed from tears. Salt and moisture were press along every centimeter.
“Figlia, (daughter) Charlotte!” He holds my hand and kissed my wrist with tears and a heavy heart.
“Can we hold her?” My mother asked someone behind her.
“Oh course, but she is going to be much heavier than you remember. She had a full recovery.” Drinker Besser gave a bow. Father rose and embraces the man.
Awkwardly. He was covred in blood and smelt just like me. Lots of burnt flesh and molten metal. But Drinker gave him a firm handshake instead.
“It’s always hilarious. No pope or patron could ever kiss or raise their art from youth. I boost out of truth because animators are the greatest artists among men. Would you not agree Mr. and Mrs. Fair? As the original makers of this piece I think you might find my restoration very different from the original but improved in a few areas.”
“Whatever you ask I will give it freely, my land is yours, a room will be reserved for you at our stead. Steel, materials, yours!” Tears were already down my father’s cheeks; his stern and strong face was joyful and thankful. You could see the hope in his eyes.
“Praise the lord…” He held me close. “He is good and has blessed us.”
“Father, I remember! A saboteur, father. He broke a vent and leaked the heat from the main furnace!” I shout at the top of my silver lungs. No one moves, they just keep rejoicing and embracing in the moment. The panic welled up. I shake my hands but they work ever harder to go limp.
“My girl, can you speak to me?” Mother asked after a few minutes of me desperately moving my arms with my missing hand crashing short of objects. “My girl, let me hear you…”
I still reached for a pen beside a potted plant at my bed side with the missing hand. The limb grasped with no fingers. Mother’s rich, gutter mutation, magenta hair was spread across my own as she held me in her arms. “Isiah, she won’t talk.”
“What?” His joy hadn’t t left his face yet but it contorted now.
“Fear not, the voice was a portion of the masterpiece we have lost, at great pain, and at a cost I have acquired an artificial voice. It should fit directly into her neck. I have it right here.” He strode up and inserted a device from his sleeve into the hundreds of winding gears.
A series cries leak out and traveled through the halls of the rusty and grey hospital. My brain feels an instant migraine, a pounding of pulses. “Mother Father!”
“What is this?” Mother was frightful. “That’s not her voice.”
“He couldn’t replace her voice Thora. The heat destroyed it.”
Clamors rose from the halls outside. All heads turn and my own neck cracks and clatters with the motion of a thousand gears. The spinning noise of a thousand spiders weaving silk on crab legs like fall leaves, dried in the last fall sun.
“My Patron... those were gun shots.” The Prosthesis Animator announced.
“Father there was a saboteur!” I shouted, and my own ears rang. Much too loud. “At the factory, I was working the scaffolding, a man, Lupo’s man…” My voice was winded. But the air resumed.
“He tried to blow the hydraulics. The man wore a red band with a symbol of a moon and crowns, it was Lupo... Sabotage...” I said quieter. Exhaustion was still present after the operations. I felt heavier and I know what it was. I had silver and gold inside my chest. My neck was a clock, my face was plugged into a mask from the nose down. I really put on metal weight.