This week, we’re back in the thick of things with Disassembly Required. In part six of this serial story, Allen finally gets a last name, a crucial object from part one is remembered, and everything goes even more pear-shaped than Beatriz could imagine.
Disassembly Required, Part Six
Allen shut off her phone. She’d spent the last fifteen or so minutes composing countless angry messages to Beatriz, only to delete them and start over with a blank screen. But in the end, nothing was sent. Her silence still spoke volumes—or so she thought as she angled her way through the conference hall.
Her face burned. Beatriz had completely shut her out of their project, adjusted the machine without her knowledge or consent, and then brushed off her concerns as a manifestation of conference stress. Beatriz had been right from the first time they met, Allen thought. She really did not bring any joy to the world. Allen’s clenched jaw and unspoken torrent of insults were proof of that.
Allen walked past the bar, which was swamped by half-drunk doctoral candidates and research assistants. Normally, she would have joined them for a post-lunch drink and chat, but that would have been exactly what Beatriz wanted, and the younger scientist was not about to do that. Not even if the allure of a half-price gin and tonic pulled heavily at her gullet.
A visiting scholar from California was giving a presentation on the possibilities of using three-dimensional printing in hospital settings. As she walked into the room, Allen turned her phone on do-not-disturb. If Beatriz wanted to contact her she’d find another way.
Besides, what kind of trouble could Beatriz get into on her own, anyway?
The windows of Frank’s Dining were oily black blobs that grew and engulfed the parking lot like a sea of hot glass. The music from the jukebox screamed some classic song from the fifties over the roar of black thick liquid carrying off cars and flowing across the grass, ripping trees out at the roots.
A flash, and Beatriz was standing in rolling fog, so deep she could barely make out her own features, much less anything around her. Her pocket felt heavy. She pulled out a prescription bottle of pills, made out to patient Allen Schirra.
In her other hand was her phone. It buzzed, and the buzz rang so loud, so deep, as though it was coming from all directions. Beatriz cried out and dropped the phone. When it hit the ground, the buzzing stopped. The fog stopped. The world was clearer than it had ever been in her life.
Beatriz woke but did not open her eyes right away. Something mechanical beeped by her head. She assumed it was a piece of medical equipment, that she’d been sent to the hospital after – what was it that happened? – that’s right, being hit by a car in the parking lot.
Except, as she opened her eyes, she was not in a hospital room. She was in a bedroom, lying in a bed, covered by a large quilt, propped up against several very fluffy pillows. She heard bird song from the nearby opened window. A pitcher of water and an empty glass sat on the bedside table.
And next to the pitcher and the glass was a metal box with an opaque glass window. The metal was covered in painted circuitry. A small LED light, unlit, was the cherry on top. Roughly the size of an abridged dictionary, it was, for the moment, silent.
Beatriz knew what was inside, despite the smoky quality of the glass window. This was the ideal version of her machine. Except that she hadn’t built it yet.
Beatriz whipped her head around to see the source of the voice, a second later thinking that her neck didn’t hurt, why didn’t her neck hurt? A woman stood in the doorway. She looked older than Beatriz, with soft brown skin and long black hair that stretched down her back. She wore a flower-patterned spring dress that looked hand-sewn. She twisted a tea towel in her hands.
“It’s good to see you awake,” the woman continued. “You seemed so exhausted last night, we thought you’d be asleep all day.”
“Last night?” Fog was starting to roll back inside Beatriz’s head.
“I guess you don’t remember knocking on our front door last night, around midnight? You were soaked to the bone and cold to boot and carrying that metal box. You were very insistent that the box was okay. And then,” she added, more quietly, “you said that your friend needed to take her pills.”
“My friend…” Beatriz trailed off, before realizing who she meant. “Yes, my friend. She has a chronic condition. She should have her pills on her, though.” She remembered the pills rattling in her pocket, but that was a dream. Right? “I’m sorry, I’m still very confused…” She moved to get out of bed.
“Oh, don’t!” The woman was on her in a second, helping Beatriz move back into bed despite only moving a centimeter off the mattress. “Stay here and regain your strength. I’ll give you a moment to wake up more while I get some coffee from the kitchen. You’ve probably forgotten, but my name is Donya. My husband Anton should be back from the story before too long.”
“Okay…” Beatriz frowned. “Did I – did I come in by myself? Was there anyone else with me?”
Donya’s mouth twisted in an apology. “Sorry. It was just you.”
The moment Donya left, Beatriz sank back into the pillows. She had gone from being hit by a car to waking up in a stranger’s house and being told a story she didn’t remember. She looked down and saw clothes she didn’t recognize. The only thing that felt real was her own physical body, and even that was starting to feel dubiously placed.
She spied her jacket slung across the bed. What time was it? What day was it? She patted down her jacket pockets. Her phone was gone. In its place she found a bottle of pills. The bottle read Allen Schirra.
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