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The 13th Operation

by Swapna Kishore

Dr. North’s voice reached me as I lay flat on the operating table, eyes closed. “Is the First Lady sedated?”

The impatient edge in his voice alarmed me; I expanded my senses to absorb everything around me though I lay unmoving, apparently unconscious. I knew North was a competent surgeon but he had never bothered to hide his disapproval of what he considered a frivolous cosmetic surgery. A contrast to the grandfatherly Dr. Bartleby, the gullible dear, who had performed all my twelve previous operations.

The squeaky voice of the anesthesiologist, Gary, came a few seconds later. “Fully. She can’t feel a thing.”

Steps moving away, sounds of equipment trolleys being rolled, switched on, tested. The ‘Check’, the ‘Okay.’ All professional as usual. I wondered how Gary would react do if he knew that my mind was alert, that it had remained alert during the previous operations despite sedation, and that I could hear them and feel things. But then, why would they suspect anything so drastic? They thought I was just a normal human being. Everyone did.

Then cold metal touched my skin, probably probes from the monitoring equipment.

The operation that would transform me was about to start.

No, North was speaking again. “Kid in Burns Ward needs an urgent skin transplant, and I’m stuck with this floozy’s stupid cosmetic surgery.” North’s hostility had been obvious even when I consulted him, but I couldn’t have postponed the operation; the timing was as critical as the exact incision needed. But surely whatever he felt, he was a professional; he’d do a perfect job on my face. One tiny mistake could ruin me.

“It’s her thirteenth plastic surgery,” Gary said. “And this equipment’s overkill.”

I was alarmed. Gary had assisted Bartleby in the earlier operations; I considered him competent but timid, easily bullied by authority. Did he, too, resent me?

After a short, harsh laugh, North’s voice became clear again. “She’s obsessed with her face. She spent hours explaining exactly what she wants with this operation. Unless we kill her by mistake.”

Was this some form of gallows humor? I hadn’t heard such talk during Bartleby’s operations. Was this just North’s way of talking, or did he plan to deliberately mess up my face?

Too late. I couldn’t stop the operation without revealing my cyborg nature. And that would bring all the plans to a halt. No, I had to let these men continue. This operation was too important. Of course these men did not know that. Even Martin, my lovable husband, President of the most powerful nation in the world, considered them indulgences of a vain, shallow woman. I once almost told Martin about the visions that instructed me to get these so-called cosmetic operations, but I knew he’d laugh. He never noticed how, after each small surface operation to change my nose or chin, I changed at a deeper level too, in my capacities and attitude. I now asked more questions, read more, knew more.

The last twelve operations had initiated most of the mission-specific circuits my Makers had built in me. I knew this thirteenth operation would complete my transformation and reveal the grand pattern. But no one else did.

“Thought imager’s blank.” Gary’s voice startled me with its edge of concern. “Check the leads.”

A thought imager for a cosmetic surgery? Martin must have insisted on state-of-art equipment. Had I known, I would have researched about sedation and thought imagers. Perhaps I shouldn’t have blanked the probed part of my mind when they sedated me.

Fighting back my growing uncertainty, I waited till they adjusted the probes on my skull. Then I started forming images. First, a hand placed on Martin’s shoulder, every fiber of his coat visible. Switch to a lipstick tube being twisted open, a glistening red. Switched again, this time to an arc of TV cameras and microphones, as though I was addressing a press conference. I kept the images flowing, reducing them, making them more diffuse, hoping they were consistent with a sedated patient.

I must have done it right, because North said, “Pretty shallow, isn’t she? Anyway, let’s hurry so I can move on to that burns ward case.”

A snip on my face. Something thin and flexible crept inside. More snips, brushing, moving, adjustments — each surface change triggering corresponding changes deep inside me, switches turning on and bringing me closer to the marvelous nature coded by my Makers. Soon my true mission would be revealed.

I often speculated about my mission. After the last operation, my craving for knowledge became phenomenal. I accessed files on every subject and wormed information from Martin on every major decision. I was shocked to see the miserable state of Earth. My Makers, they-who-observed-all-worlds, knew how to balance Earth’s ecology and reduce conflicts between nations, amongst cultures and peoples. They would intervene using me. Today’s operation would tell me what I must do.

The sensations under my skin ceased. North said, “Micro-incision sealed. Taper off sedation.”


Suddenly, I was in my body and outside it. I saw myself on the table, eyes closed. Gary adjusted the drip. North made notes. More images flooded me. There was a city under fog, a mushroom cloud over it and dark shapes running. A tall structure crumbled; things fell. Building fragments? Machinery? Furniture? Persons? Then I saw faces: screaming faces, sad faces, dead faces. Something must be done. Fast. Finally, all images vanished and my hand, slim and white, rested over a darker, masculine hand.

Through Martin, I could end all these problems.

There was a gasp. Gary leaned forward, sweating profusely. His hand hovered over a switch I didn’t recognize. I had forgotten to filter out those images — did they form on his monitor? And that switch...

I blanked my mind immediately. Gary could not pull the plug now! He was a doctor, not a murderer. But suppose he thought these depressing thoughts meant that I was sinking? If he passed a jolt through me, my programming would be ruined.

Imagining a kiss from Martin was difficult with my mind so overwhelmed, but I managed. My expanded consciousness watched Gary wipe his forehead and release his breath.

When the sedation was officially over and I sat up, Gary was still pale. Maybe he was pondering over what he had seen. Still, he’d need time to gather courage and approach someone high enough in the hierarchy. Besides, what could he say?

Anyway, I’d make Martin press that red button within an hour.

Copyright © 2007 by Swapna Kishore

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