Rod, Rex and Rhoda
by Bob Brill
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After Rod gets partially blended with his dog, Rex, as the result of a transporter malfunction, he learns that transporters can be misused to commit murder, produce hybrid beings and create human clones. When the beautiful Rhoda Vane entices Rod to help her expose the giant Rumex Pharmaceutical Corporation, Rod, Rex and Rhoda get mixed up in a transporter-load of trouble. In the process they become bonded in more ways than one.
Hybrid. Hybrid? No, that’s not it. Sounds like hybrid. Hydrant? No, can’t be. Hydra, that’s the word. Hydra. But not the hydra of Greek mythology with five or nine or a hundred heads. Cut off one and two more take its place. Not that. Nor the hydra pasted on the bowl of night with all the other myths and legends.
Something’s wrong. Can’t think straight, yet wild new jack-in-the-box thoughts are springing loose, just can’t catch them by the tail. Hydra, hydra. Fresh water invertebrate. Class Hydrozoa. Order Hydroida. Family Hydridae. How do I know that? Expanded mind, but muddled, befuddled. Stepped into the transporter with my good dog Rex, go button pressed, never got to San Diego. Where am I now? Oh my god. Victim of transporter malfunction, me. Odds one in five million. Scrambled brains.
Hydra regeneration. That’s what I’m reaching for. Abraham Trembley. Eighteenth-century dude. Cut hydra every which way. Little beastie grows new parts. Cut in half, each half makes new hydra. He enlightened the age of enlightenment by cutting up invertebrates. Taught his colleagues about regeneration. Push hydra through a fine cloth, all its little cells come unglued, each swimming on its own, till somehow they come together to form a new hydra. Or is it the old hydra, all cells back where they were? Like transporter technology. Break you down, ship your atoms, put you back together. Except when something goes wrong. Me, wrong reconstruction. Me, not me now. Who then?
I do not know, but I seem to be free at last of that tiresome first person pronoun, the eternal I, me and mine, mine, mine. I, or rather he, can now live the life of another, wear his clothes, drink his whiskey, enjoy his wife. No longer a slave to his neuroses, his arthritis, or his trick knee. No bosses, no taxes. No memos, no faxes. He refers to himself now in the third person, like some royal snob. The Prince will see you now, says the Prince. He will make his rounds, tasting the joys and sorrows of others, pitying mere mortals who can only look out of their own eyes to see a world filtered through their own brains, limping in their own decaying bodies toward their inconspicuous deaths.
How are you today, my Lord? He will say he has a slight nasal congestion, but otherwise never better. And when he tires of being Sir Roderick, he will morph to plain Jack, the journeyman joiner, plying his trade in return for his evening meal and lodgings. The innkeeper’s daughter comes to his bed in the night. So does crafty Jack amuse himself.
He wakes in a hospital, surrounded by doctors filling out forms. Name? Sir Roderick Blasingame. Occupation? Sorting through the puzzle pieces of his existence. Oh learned gentlemen, do you think he can be cured? He hopes not. He is content to be all that he is. He is everyone but himself. He is you and you and you. He is you, Doctor One, with your antiseptic mouth spray, your charming wife, two darling children, boredom without end. He is you, Doctor Two, the gay bachelor, gay in every sense of the word, investing in high-risk stocks and hang gliding for the adrenaline rush. He is also you, Doctor Three, with unrestricted access to feel-good drugs and the nurses who share your bounty.
I discover myself enclosed in a tight-fitting skin. Perfect boundary between all that’s inside, the me part, and everything and everybody outside, the them part. Clever design. Perfect fit. I can look eye to eye with you and still know where I end and you begin. I relish the I, that delicious pronoun, yummy like my childhood chocolate-covered raspberry ice cream on a stick. Dolores on the sled wrapping her arms around me as we plummet downhill with a dazzling sun embroidering colored diamonds on the snow. Precious memories, mine all mine, packed away in my skull with the rest. All inside the boundary layer, safe from intruders.
So where have you been, Sir Roderick? Inside out, upside down, lost in a third person mindscape till hydra-like regeneration brought me home to myself. Those smart cells resorting themselves till I returned. Suddenly searchlights fan out to illuminate my reconstituted mind. That was no accident. That was attempted murder. Would have been murder in fact had not my lovely DNA rallied to restore me.
The question now before the house is who would have, could have, done the deed? Let me think on it. Who knew I was transporting to San Diego? Who wanted to stop me?
And what happened to Rex, my beautiful pug? Is he as scrambled as I? That sweet pup with a face only another pug could love, except that everyone loves that pug ugly face, especially me. I wonder could ... I mean, why do I run in circles and paw the ground? Looking for a buried bone? This could be serious, Rex, old pal. I never should have asked you to step into that transporter. Or me either. We’ve really bonded now.
Whenever the mind fog lifts enough to afford a clear view, I find myself looking from my hospital bed at mute, blind styrofoam ceiling panels and a pale frosted window that never smiles. A red fire extinguisher in the corner is my only anchor to reality.
The name that flashes across my mind in Broadway lights is Sir Roderick Blasingame. What was his motive? Jealous of my success? My winning smile? The reward awaiting me in San Diego? Which was what? That was another me and why I stepped into that transporter is just so much shredder confetti, along with all my stock of tattered memories.
My skin-tight barrier flexes, no longer separating me from others, but encompassing them, all of them, so that I disappear to become he or she or it, just another one of them, or two of them, or more of them. Parry and Thrust, the two duelists, both of them me, the two lovers entwined, both of them me, two armies sweeping toward each other across no-man’s-land, and no man there but me, replicated a thousand-fold like reflections in the shards of a shattered mirror.
I chase Roderick Blasingame through snaking moon-washed alleys, down endless corridors of slamming doors, sloshing knee-deep in shark-infested sewers. As I reach the dock he pulls away in his speedboat, cackling at my distress. He leads me out on bare girders of skyscraper construction. Just as I lunge for his coattails, he leaps to another girder. I slip and tumble down through a nest of steel beams to land with a shock on my hospital bed. I feel like a demented pug chasing my tiny tail, a game I never can win.
Regeneration must still be in process, in fact, it may have shifted into reverse, inside down and upside out, for it seems to me now that Roderick Blasingame is one of my pseudonyms, the name I use when engaged in secret romantic exploits in San Diego.
As I lie in my hospital bed I recall that total regeneration is the mysterious province of lower life forms like hydra and sponges. Best we humans can do is heal cuts and bruises. Has anyone ever regrown so much as a lost pinky? What do you think, Rex, my friend? Is there hope for us?
Now my skin tightens to define something less than me, a kernel, a nugget of what I used to be, with only Rex for company, inextricably entwined as we are. We know doggy pleasures sieved through human neurons, doggy fear, doggy devotion. Barking mad, we howl at the full moon, and when the moon is dark, we lie in our hospital bed and growl at anyone who approaches.
Copyright © 2010 by Bob Brill