It was time.

He dropped his chin and peered around the waiting room: queer gold filigree against merlot wallpaper, all the furniture had ridged backs of highly polished wood. The legs too, they were carved into organic shapes.

Three sets of French doors opened the wall at intervals across from him and showed him a broad deck with a wooded scene beyond. Some men stood out there smoking, and Borland's hand instinctively reached into his jacket for his flask

Then he stopped.

He wasn't drunk now. It was early enough that he'd managed to get to the clinic without needing a drink. And that was one of the requirements. But they didn't say anything about after the operation. His flask was just a sampler. He had two bottles hidden in his bags.

For later.

You need the surgery.

He was tired of getting old.

They said he'd be at the Shomberg Clinic for six days minimum with time off between the surgeries. He'd be cooperative, but knew there was time to bend the rules.

Too crowded here.

He was always nervous in crowds. And with Variant Effect on the riseO

The nurse returned to the doorway and called another name. She waited, and then called the name twice more. The assembled guests shifted uncomfortably.

The nurse glanced back at her e-board and left the room.

Borland noticed a gorgeous young brunette on a couch who was either accompanying a male relative, or was about to make some surgeon's day.

There has to be an upside for them…

'Joe Borland?' The nurse's voice echoed through the waiting area and Borland looked over to see the woman scanning faces.

He waved to catch her attention, stood up, then winced as he grabbed his bags and followed her.


The nurse ordered Borland to wait in a narrow hallway crowded by a long line of chairs. A pre-op doctor would soon go over the basics with him. Most of the seats were taken by people chattering nervously or tapping on their palm-coms. He avoided inclusion by dropping into the nearest chair and sinking into himself. He lowered his eyelids to half-mast and crossed his forearms over his gut.

He hoped this posture would convince people he was dead, or at least asleep. So long as they understood that he was not open to interaction.

Not long after, the frowning old man from the waiting room stumped into the hallway and jammed himself into the last empty chair on Borland's left. The old man's plastic bag rattled.

The two men grumbled simultaneously.

And time passed.

The four doors across from them opened occasionally as patients were summoned. Then more waiting.

One stifling hour later, a man in a suit with thick glasses, bald crown and bluish jowls opened one of the doors. He held up an e-board and read Borland's name.

About goddamn time…

Borland followed him into a crappy office that looked like something you'd see in a low-budget movie.

Or like the Salvation Army had furnished the dump.

The doctor's expression was frozen in place. Oh he fake smiled once, but that was it. The man looked bored, distracted-like he was remembering another time and place. Borland was forced to repeat himself whenever he asked a question or answered one. The doctor had an accent…Eastern Europe? He had to be 35.

But the man's disinterest was soon getting under Borland's skin.

' I saved the world once, you know…'

He muttered this under his breath, but the doctor wasn't listening. The man sat at his desk across from Borland, scrolling around on his e-reader like he didn't care.

Borland froze.

A kinderkid? It's possible!

Then Borland realized he might have been studying the man too closely, but the doctor just glanced at him from time to time, looked up from his file to ask a question without focusing his eyes on anything.

What's his problem?

Borland wondered if the Shomberg Clinic had received the Variant Effect Alert bulletin that HQ was sending out to all health care providers and hospitals. That was bound to rattle anyone holding a doctor's license.

Maybe he was afraid of Borland. Especially with the doctor's age being what it was: did he think his patient was cooking the Variant molecule? Or was he afraid that the new hybrid in the bulletin might set off his own inner beast?

Borland shook his head and took a deep breath.

'I know too much,' Borland mumbled matter-of-factly.

The doctor looked up then, asked more questions about Borland's health: Do you take any medication? When was your last physical? Do you have any allergies?

After much repetition, Borland managed to provide answers and clear up a few questions of his own, or at least as much as he wanted to know. He'd didn't care for the play by play.

Cut. Snip. Whatever.

That was when the doctor slipped in a bulletin of his own-how the Shomberg treatment stood up so well to scrutiny because it depended on the patients being awake during the procedure and did not involve dangerous anesthetics or lengthy recovery times

Borland's mouth dropped open.

'What?' he asked.

'Drop your pants please.' The doctor circled his desk and pulled a short stool over as Borland got to his feet.

The doctor sat and pointed at Borland's groin. ' And underwear.'

'I'll be awake for the surgery?' Borland grabbed at his belt.

'Pardon me?' the doctor asked, slipping on a pair of vinyl gloves. He peered up over his glasses as Borland repeated the question, and then answered: 'Oh, yes. It simplifies everything. People do not realize how risky anesthetic can be during a procedure and post-operatively.'

'But-I'll be awake when you do it?' Borland asked again, lowering his pants and underwear.

' I won't be doing it.' The doctor contemplated Borland's hairy crotch and swollen belly.

'You really should have lost some weight,' he sighed, looking up, sheathed fingers reaching out and abstractedly manipulating Borland's testicles. 'We shouldn't even operate.'

'I lost 15 pounds…' Borland grumbled defensively, feeling his face flush unexpectedly when the doctor told him to turn his head and cough.

'Not enough,' the doctor replied, shaking his head, his gaze shifting up to Borland's navel. He stared at the swollen lump of flesh that protruded. Then he reached out and forcefully pushed it in.

'Hey!' Borland gasped, coughed and stepped back. He almost lost his footing when his pants tightened around his ankles, but he caught himself against his chair.

'You could lose 30 more.' The doctor grabbed his e-board from a short side table and tapped something on the virtual keys.

'Inguinal hernias, left and right,' he said, checking something off on the cartoon abdomen displayed on the e-reader's color screen.

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