The Compartment


          “And that will do it,” Tommy said as he made the final turns of the screwdriver into AJ’s new shoulder.

          “Thanks, Doc,” AJ said as he rotated his arm, presumably testing the durability of his new part.

          “No problem. But I don’t know how many times I have to tell you, don’t call me Doc. I’m not one, not anymore.”

          AJ simply shook his head in acknowledgment and began to make his way to the front door of the spacious living room. 

“Do me a favor, AJ, and stay away from that part of town.”

          “No offense, but, you know I can’t do that. My husband is over on that side of town with our son, and I will be damned if I don’t keep trying to find a way to see them…at least until I can sneak them out.”

          “I understand, but all this patchwork won’t last forever, you’ll need full facility renewal at some point, and you don’t qualify. They won’t let that happen.”   

          “I know.”

          “Just…be careful,” Tommy said.

          With that, AJ left, and Tommy let out a big sigh. He stood up from the side of his makeshift operating chair and grabbed the sanitizing spray. Even though he no longer held a title, he wanted to make sure nobody got sick from a dirty workstation. Tommy methodically wiped down the chair, making sure to cover every inch with sanitizer. He worked quickly, hoping he would be able to finish before his next appointment.

          Three knocks on the front door broke his concentration.

          “3?” Tommy said.

          “Invasion.” The voice on the opposite side of the door said.

          “2?” Tommy questioned.

          “Pluto.”

          “1?”

          “Revolt.”

          With that last correct answer, Tommy rose from his station to open the door.

          “Well, Hello, Julia,” Tommy said as he leaned in for a hug. In the days before the walls dropped from the sky, he would not have been so…familiar with his patients. Now, though, his patients were more like family. He cared. He had to. They were all in this together, and he hoped they would get out of it together.

          “So, you’re getting the signal concealer installed in your back?”

          “Yes, Tommy, I am. We need it now more than ever,” Julia said. Tommy could see a tear welling up in her eye.

          “What’s the matter, Julia?”

          “I lost Sam yesterday. We went to that old mall on 55th. The moment we got to the router and tried to rewire it, they ambushed us. I barely made it out.”

          “I’m so sorry. I know how much you loved each other,” Tommy said.

          He felt sad for her, and selfishly, he felt sorry for himself. Sam had been one of the most modified people in the community. He had analysis chips, metal-coated bones, and hacker fingers. These parts weren’t easy to come by, and now, they were lost to the invaders. He would never recover or be able to repurpose those parts.

          “Anywho, Tommy,” Julia began, “let’s get this thing installed so I can be back out in the field and maybe show those goddamn aliens something about human resilience.

          “Alright, just a reminder. As I am not a practiced or trained anesthesiologist, you will not be going under. This will be painful. Is that understood?”

          “Absolutely,” Julia said.

          Tommy motioned for Julia to lie down onto the couch that sat next to his surgery chair. He grabbed the scalpel and began to slice down the small of Julia’s back. Tommy could feel her tense up, though she didn’t make a sound. He then made another long incision along the initial cut, making the shape of a ‘T’ in her back. He pulled back the pieces of her skin that he cut and repeated the cut. This time he cut into her muscles. He then peeled her back muscles to the side, exposing the bone.

          He reached behind himself and grabbed the flexible aluminum plate. He slid it carefully between Julia’s skin and her bone. As it slid the plate into place, he heard a knock at the door.

          Tommy felt his heart skip a beat. It was not the time for another appointment. And if his next patient was here, they were early and would have to wait. So he quietly attempted to keep Julia quiet as she began to weep from the pain.

          “Just a little bit longer, Julia,” Tommy whispered. “I’m so sorry. I don’t have much medication that will help with the pain.”

          The knock came again. This time, more forcefully than before. Still, no requests or demands were made, which made Tommy all the more suspicious. If it were a regular customer of his, odds were that they would say something at the door. They would request to be let in or give a name or say their appointment time. They would say something, something to let Tommy know just what they wanted. Anyone who was coming here had to have known that Tommy’s operation was of the utmost secrecy.

          The knock came again, then again. This time, whoever was on the other side of the door filled the silence between the knocks with Tommy’s name. Whoever it was, knew him. They knew who he was. He wasn’t so sure they knew what he did, though.

          Tommy threaded the final stitch and ushered Julia into one of his secret basement compartments. He installed them when the invasion began in case of an emergency. It didn’t do him any good, though, having them there. After all, they hadn’t helped his wife survive. The hidden compartments didn’t save his daughter either. In fact, at that moment, Tommy couldn’t think of a single person these compartments had helped. And yet, foolishly, he ushered Julia into one of them as quickly as he could. He quickly walked back to the door and yelled out.

          “3?”

          “invasion,” an unfamiliar voice said on the other side of the thin wooden door.

          “2?”

          “Pluto,” the voice responded correctly.

          “1?”

          “Resistance,” The voice said.

          Tommy slowly reached toward an end table by the front door and pulled open the drawer as quietly as he could. He reached for his silver revolver and aimed it squarely at the front door of his home. Tommy centered his stance and firmly planted his feet. He pulled the trigger. Thin pieces of wood went flying. He heard a quiet groan from the other side of the door. Against his better judgment, he bent down just a bit and positioned his eye against the hole in the door to find out just who it was on the other side.

          Unsurprisingly, it was someone he did not know. It was one of the invaders. He had seen enough to know that they had come in a group of three. Alarmingly, the other two were in the process of fleeing the scene. The wounded one lay writhing on the ground. It’s tentacled legs flailing through the air as it struggled to contain its pain. It clutched at the site of the bullet wound with a two-fingered appendage.

          Eventually, even despite their behavioral differences, Tommy could see that it could no longer take the pain that Tommy inflicted. It screamed. Reinforcements arrived within moments of this hair-raising scream and began to rush the door. Tommy backed away and made way for his back door.

          “Stay!” he screamed, hoping Julia would get the message and remain safely in the compartment that saved no one. He sprinted through his kitchen and opened the door, only to find four of the invaders waiting for him with their strange, glowing weapons pointed at him. He shut the door as if that would stop them from entering.

          He re-entered the living room and headed upstairs. A place he had not been since the invaders murdered his wife and daughter. He stopped at the end of the hall, right next to his daughter, Leona’s room. It was either the window or her room. But he knew at that moment that there was no escaping these beings. His time had come. He backed up a few steps and got a running start. He jumped through the window, feeling the pieces of glass cut him, and he began his descent to the ground. He hoped he could land on his feet. Unfortunately for Tommy, this was no action movie. He was not the guy who could jump full speed out of a second-story window and escape with little to no injury. He landed and broke both of his kneecaps. He did not die. But he did suffer at the hands of the invaders, who swiftly scooped him up in the two-fingered appendages and carried him off. As he laid nearly limp in the hands of his captors, he thought of his wife, he thought of his daughter, and perhaps, most pressing at that moment, he thought of Julia. The invaders would be back to search, he presumed. He could only hope that in the tiny window of time before the invaders’ departure and their next arrival that Julia would make it out, that she would somehow escape their wrath. That somehow, the compartment that saved no one, would no longer live up to that reputation.

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