Bartlett Rebooted

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Here’s a short extract from one of the stories in my eBook (now selling at $2.99 on Smashwords).

Fnnnff

“What did he say?”

“It sounded like Fnnnff.”

Bartlett was lying on his back on a rough wooden table. He was buck naked, his eyes open, unblinking, staring at the ceiling. He was not breathing. His limbs were stiff as pokers, which was hardly surprising given that they were recovering from recent rigor mortis.

A box the size and shape of a shoebox sat perched on his chest. The box connected to an oxygen cylinder and wires from the box ran up Bartlett’s nostrils.

The professor made a slight adjustment to the oxygen release valve. “Ask him again, Smedley,” he said.

Smedley manoeuvred his huge bulk closer to the table. “Doctor Bartlett, what is your name?”

Gnnnnngh

“No, that’s not right.” The professor put his mouth to Bartlett’s ear and raised his voice. “Try again, Doctor. Your name is…?”

Nothing.

Cardew the postgrad sniggered. “I don’t think he heard you, Professor.”

A long slow tremor ran through Bartlett’s body, starting with his feet and moving up towards his chest.

“I think we need more water, Cardew.”

“Right you are, Professor,” said Cardew. He picked up a galvanised bucket and poured water over Bartlett’s legs and feet.

“Pour it on his head, you idiot, not his feet.”

“Give it here,” said Smedley. He snatched the bucket from Cardew’s grasp and emptied it over Bartlett’s head.

Shhhmoooooooo, Bartlett gurgled.

“That sounded better,” the professor shouted. “Say that again, Bartlett.”

Nnnnggrhh

The three academics retired to a corner of the laboratory and Cardew put the kettle on.

“It looks hopeless,” Cardew mumbled to Smedley, dropping three tea bags into the kettle.

The professor’s hearing was as sharp as any bat’s. “Nonsense, Cardew,” he said. “Have a little patience. It’s bound to take time.”

“It’s been a week already,” said Smedley.

“Six days, and he is talking.”

“He’s not making much sense.”

“His vocal chords could be damaged. We can’t be sure.”

Cardew adjusted his spectacles on his nose “And what of his brain, Professor?” he said, lifting the lid from the kettle and pouring in a quarter pint of milk.

“His brain is perfect, young man. You’ll see.”

“Yes, but we’ve run out of time.” Smedley produced a half-melted Mars bar from his pants pocket and began to unpeel it.

“We have the rest of today and tomorrow morning.”

“He’ll be here at ten,” said Smedley, licking his fingers.

“Well there you are, then. We have at least fifteen hours.”

Smedley bit his lip. “Is there no way you can postpone the visit? Maybe you could say you’ve caught something horrible – the plague, maybe, or a really bad head cold.”

The professor shook his head. “Not necessary. I’ve told you before, there’s no way the Military will pull the plug on this one, not now that the Secretary for Defense has got wind of it.”

When they had finished their tea, they returned to find Bartlett’s head turned to the left. As they approached, Bartlett fixed the wiry Cardew with a bird-like stare.

“Look, he’s moved his head!” the professor whispered.

“I think he’s taken a fancy to you, Cardew.” Smedley chuckled.

“I see what you mean,” said the professor. “Better fetch more water, and make it cold.”

Bartlett’s eyes followed Cardew’s lissom figure as he hurried from the room.

“Bartlett!” The professor shouted. He snapped his fingers. “I’m over here, Bartlett. Look at me, Bartlett. Do you know who I am?”

Gggggggrrrroooooooooo

“That’s right! Professor Gordon. Listen to this, Smedley! He said my name.”

Cardew came running back carrying half a bucket of water.

The professor waved his hands in front of Bartlett’s face. He snapped his fingers again, and shouted, “Bartlett, Bartlett. Look at me, Bartlett. WHO AM I?”

Ffnnnnfnngh

#

The man from the Pentagon arrived at nine o’clock on the dot. Cecil Footprint was on the wrong side of thirty but the right side of forty. His small snub nose and weak chin tucked in under his prominent brow suggested a face carved from a solid block of wood, like an African ceremonial mask. His clothing was remarkable only insofar as it was identical in every detail with what Bartlett, whom Smedley had dressed for the occasion, was wearing: a suit of worsted wool in charcoal gray, one of those shirts with red stripes and a white detachable collar, a red striped tie and sensible shoes.

Bartlett stood stiffly against the wall where Smedley and Cardew had put him.

“This is the, ah, subject?” Footprint said.

“This is Doctor Bartlett. Say hello to Mr. Footprint, Bartlett,” said the professor somewhat optimistically.

Bartlett’s unblinking eyes latched on to his visitor. He said nothing.

“As you can see,” said the professor, “he is well aware of your presence.”

“What’s that under his shirt, strapped to his chest?” Footprint said.

“That’s his life-support apparatus. It’s a small box full of electronic instruments that control the flow of oxygen to his brain.”

“Doesn’t the brain extract its oxygen from blood?”

“Normally, yes, but we use a different medium to carry oxygen to the brain.”

“And this contraption of yours does that?”

“Yes.”

“And the medium?”

“A special secret concoction of my own. It’s only a temporary fix, of course. The brain needs oxygenated blood to function properly.”

“Secret.” Footprint looked disappointed.

“Yes. Its patent is pending.”

Footprint scratched his head. “Can you get him to say something?”

“Yes, of course. Bartlett,” said the professor, “tell Mr. Footprint what you have been doing this morning.”

Bartlett said nothing.

“Try speaking to him yourself,” the professor suggested.

The man from the Pentagon took a cautious step forward. “Footprint,” he said, “Department of Science and Technology.” He raised a hand, palm forward. “I come in peace.”

“Take me to your leader,” muttered Smedley.

Bartlett said nothing. Then he winked.

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