Passion Procedure: Close Encounters of the Medical Kind

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Doctor Harrington F. Tracy straightened his square shoulders and let the glance of his steel-blue eyes play like a searchlight over the group of nurses who had been gossiping like a charm of magpies, but were now huddled in bashful silence around a surgical utensil-trolley.

“Come on … we haven’t got all day, you know!” – his voice sounded like a Dakota passing over at three hundred feet. “Where’s today’s head nurse?”

It was too much for one of the ladies. She fainted and was quickly carried out of the theatre by her giggling colleagues. At that very moment, the swinging doors were thrown asunder to reveal the angular features of Gruelda Fisticuff.

She spotted Doctor Tracy who was still waiting for an answer, arms akimbo and impatiently drumming his fingers. She made a beeline for him in a brisk pace.

“Doctor? Gruelda Q. Fisticuff, HEAD nurse.”

She straightened her back, grabbed and shook the hand that he had just started to extend. They stood there like frozen while their eyes exchanged tiny lightning bolts. The watching nurses reported later that Dr. Tracy and head nurse Fisticuff each had the other one’s hand in a vice-like grip, not wanting to be the first one to give in. In any case: after several very long seconds they let go simultaneously, turned and walked towards the group of nurses.

“All right. Status?” Dr. Tracy’s dark-brown bass reverberated through the operating theatre.

“Buhudin, Yasmina. The renowned violin player.” Gruelda replied with military curtness and disciplined efficiency.

“Status?”

“Bilateral quadrilaesion. Left hand.”

Tracy froze and produced a short hissing sound, his left brow raised in 007-fashion. Nobody had ever successfully treated a bilateral quadrilaesion – and to top it off, it concerned Buhudin, of all people, who would never play even a single note again in case he should fail.

Head nurse Gruelda glanced sideways at Tracy, whose chiselled features revealed nothing of the thoughts that flashed past the branching probabilities in his mind like greased lightning, weighing them against one another.

“Doctor …?” she probed carefully, just as Tracy arrived at the conclusion that, deeply hidden between the thousands of ways in which it could fail, there was one possibility that offered a ghost of a chance.

He nodded and turned around slowly, just as the group of giggling nurses who had carried their idolatry-stricken colleague away returned, accompanied by a student nurse to replace the pair of missing hands.

She blushed as soon as she caught sight of Dr. Tracy. “But …. but … isn’t that …”, she stuttered.

“Yes. That’s Doctor Tracy”, whipped Gruelda’s nasal voice. “He’s going to operate on Ms. Buhudin.”

The future nurse, who went by the name Hilda, nodded shyly and looked at her white slippers.

“Well ladies, shall we proceed, now that the formalities have been settled satisfactorily?”

Dr. Tracy, his hands resting palm-down on his hips in the manner of a scoutmaster addressing his troupe, briefly let his gaze rest on everyone in turn.

“Yes, Doctor.”

“Certainly.”

“Of course.”

“Capital. I assume that the relevant blood values of our Patient have already been tested, O-two-subintolerance, rhaâh-rhaâh-factors?”

Dr. Tracy, now with his arms akimbo again, held his head tilted upwards as if he was studying the ceiling, in the way people standing in a crowded elevator are wont to do.

There was the brief sound of paper forms rustling.

“Er… yes.”

“… have the exformalities been properly institiated and are the fixation triangles securely locked?”

A little squeaky sound suggested that there was indeed a wing nut that required a few more turns.

“Done. Everything’s secure.”

“… has the patient been hooked up to the Perpetuator?”

Silence. The nurses all looked at one another, and then they all turned towards Tracy. “Er, we thought that you might want to do that yourself …”

Without a word, Tracy walked towards the recess in the wall where the Perpetuator was parked. Moving quickly, he loosened the clasps and pulled the heavy machine on its squeaky caster wheels towards the operating table.

“Would one of you be so kind as to fetch me an extension cord, please?”

Three nurses ran off in different directions, while Gruelda helped Dr. Tracy manoeuvre the Perpetuator in position. Together the checked the machine’s state:

“Endoplasm.”

“Ninety two.”

“Globine-exchange reagent?”

“More than half left.”

“Petiteline?”

“Three dashes below mid-level.”

“Hmm. Let’s fill her up.”

Gruelda gestured towards the nurse standing closest, who ran off on the double.

Then she stooped and pulled something resembling a vacuum-cleaner hose out of the machine, on the end of which she attached a helmet.

She then carefully slid the helmet on the patient’s head.

Tracy nodded at her professionally, and gently squeezed her healthy hand: “Good afternoon, ma’m. Please relax. Everything’s under control.”

The violinist smiled faintly while the nurses exchanged breathless glances: Dr. Tracy seemed to ignore everything they had been taught about bedside manners, but it was magic nonetheless.

He turned towards the Perpetuator, where Gruelda was pouring a yellowish-green liquid into a funnel stuck on top of the machine. It made a odd voracious, bubbling sound.

“Now where’s that extension cord?” Tracy looked up from the dials and controls he had been expertly fine-tuning.

As he spoke, three panting nurses, each holding a reel, came stumbling in.

“Well well well … one would have sufficed, you know …”, Tracy muttered on a fatherly tone, as he accepted one of the proffered reels.

He unreeled it and connected the Perpetuator’s plug to the cord. But as he took the cord’s plug in his hand he suddenly froze. Sudden as a crash-gybe, he turned towards Gruelda: “Damn and blast! Where’s the anaesthetist?”

Everyone looked equally started, but Gruelda trotted towards the medical emergency phone on the wall as if on a punitive expedition, sniffing indignantly. She picked up the receiver, snapped a few angry lines, listened, and threw it down with a growl.

“Great. Just great … Bumpkins ill, Hamstrong St. John’s on kittyleave, and I don’t want to talk about the rest.”

“… so …?” Tracy inquired, still holding the extension cord.

“They’re sending that Jack-Pudding.”

And indeed, the operating theatre’s swinging doors opened and the lanky stature of Dr. Jacquard “Mouldy Jack” Pudding, the most vapid anaesthetist of the county, sauntered in.

He had yellowish teeth and many a pimple adorned his unwholesome complexion. He had a baseball cap pushed backwards over his greasy hair.

“So the rest’s scrimshanking again eh? Eheheh … snoÔortt …!”
His snorting sounded particularly unsavoury.

“Hi, Doc!” He winked at Dr. Tracy.

“Doc-Tor Pudding!” Gruelda’s eyes were squinted to piercing pinpoints. “Would you be so kind to tend to the Perpetuator?”

Dr. Pudding, ignoring her, sauntered to the operating table. “Aha… a real VIP, I see ….snÛRrftt …” and then turned to the nurses who all looked as if he had offered them a plate of stir-fried liquorice in fermented mustard sauce.

He took his baseball cap and made a reverence in mock-courtesy: “Doctor Jacquard Pudding, standing by to serve you – but you may call me ‘Jack-Pudding’ … just like everyone else, ehehehe!”

“Doctor Pudding!!!” Gruelda snapped at him, “the Perpetuator – NOW!”

He pressed his cap back on his skull,  shambled towards the machine, took the extension cord from Tracy and connected it to a wall socket. Then he pored over the Perpetuator’s controls, producing a disgusting snort every few seconds: “snortssnurfftsnfifft

Tracy and Gruelda exchanged a frowning glance, and then Gruelda nodded, grabbed something green from a drawer, and both took up positions on either side of Dr. Pudding. Tracy quickly took Dr. Worst’s arms in the hold, while Gruelda pulled an anti-contamination mask (a kind of gas mask with a virus filter, meant to keep someone from spreading viruses and the like) over his head, tugged the straps fast and fixed them.

A loud Indignant puffing, tooting and unintelligible mumbling was heard, emanated from the dangling filter at the end of the mask’s rubber trunk; but Gruelda merely pointed at the table of Hygiene Regulations on the wall. She picked up the grubby cap between index finger and thumb, sprayed it royally with Bacill-o-Kill and handed it back to Dr. Pudding. After some hesitation he put it on top of the expressionless gas mask. He returned to his task looking like a Mad Max extra, uttering rubbery-squeaky mumbles interspersed with an occasional honk.

After all the preparations were done, Dr. Tracy spoke into the microphone of the log-recorder: “Time … ten hours, fifteen minutes CET. Patient Y. I. Buhudin with a bilateral quadrilaesion, left hand, prepared,  pre-medicated and wrapped in green sheets. Levels, readings, O-two sub-intolerance, metraversal pinch – OK, all within limits. We’re going to begin the procedure … I repeat that: we’re going to begin the procedure.”

He put the mike down. “Dr. Pudding, please initiate … everyone, hands off the patient!”

Snufft Toot!” Dr. Pudding answered.

The Perpetuator hummed, and a light blue halo spread via the hose to the helmet on the violinist’s head and enveloped her whole body. The hum’s pitch rose and the sound eventually died away to be replaced by a regular “hocka-pff-tschic-pff-hocka-pff-tschic-pff” rhythm. The blue glow faded.

“Schnûrft shloop-TOOT squeak snsfÂfft pfeffjent pfleetft pfoot“, it sounded from Dr. Pudding’s mask.

“I beg your pardon?”

“He’s saying that the initiation is complete”, Gruelda translated.

“OK. Everyone to their ambulant position… we’ve got work to do.”

Professional routine took over as the nurses went to tend to their Scalpariums, Preventiotrons, Iodine-o-Matics, Adhesives- and Bandaging-Chests, Tongs & Pliers-Tabernaculums and the like, while Gruelda climbed on her Head-nurse tennis-referee-chair armed with clipboard, stopwatch and megaphone.

Tracy looked up at her, hands in latex gloves and his mouth behind a surgical mask, as she made a quick note on the clipboard.

“All hands ready?” Gruelda croaked through the megaphone, “… all-riiiight … wait for it…!”

She quickly put her referee-whistle to her lips, pressed a button on her wrist-watch and blew the start signal: “FFRRRIIIIIIIIII!”

“Scalpel.”

“Please, here you are, doctor.”

*hocka-pff-tschic-pff-hocka-pff-tsschic-pff*

“Absorb here please.”

“Epidermal thread, number seven, and a number three needle.”

squeak pffft-tffoot snôrfft squeak

“Localisation lamp here please … and where’s the clip-on infrared filter for my spectacles?”

*eep-eep-eep-eepeepp* *clips*

Everyone was so engrossed in their work and strained whether or not Dr. Tracy could do this impossible job, that no one noticed how the blue sky, visible through the large skylight, was occluded by a large round shadow. Whatever it was seemed to produce a curious sound, a kind of modulated musical hum that grew louder every second.

“Is the Perpetuator OK?” Tracy shouted to Dr. Pudding, who had also noticed the sound. He pushed some buttons on the machine, but it made no difference. He turned around quickly, and produced “pffOOt sffêff squeak-eek phôrphOOtt” through the filter on the end of the wildly swaying rubber trunk.

At the same moment there was the sound of breaking glass and the operating theatre’s lights flickered and then went out while lumps of chalk and mortar came raining down.

The room was suddenly filled with screaming, cursing and honking; people ran across the room in panic, wildly mowing their arms.

For a moment it looked as if complete chaos was imminent, but then Tracy’s sonorous voice rose like a tight formation of Constellations above the mayhem:

“Please remain calm…!! Get the equipment … you two! Push Ms. Buhudin over there … and you, help Dr. Pudding to keep the Perpe- where the hell did that jack-pudding go? Never mind … you there, take care that the Perpetuator remains connected to Ms Buhudin! Push it along with the operating table … be careful!”

Gruelda shoo’d the rest of the panicking staff away from the collapsed skylight where ever more glass and mortar was coming down, just in time before a large portion of the ceiling collapsed. The strange musical sound immediately grew a lot louder; it was evidently produced by a large round object that was coming down together with the ceiling. When the dust had settled somewhat, it turned out that the object in case was a flying saucer.

The pitch of the sound quickly fell and a reverberating silence filled the room, only punctuated by the Perpetuator’s hocka-pfft-tschic-pfft-hocka-pff-tschack-pff running on on its builtin emergency battery as if nothing had happened, and a few small bits of chalk that bounced off the flying saucer with an shy pingg, as if they were embarrassed about the earlier racket.

Gruelda, seething with indignation, surveyed the scene with her arms akimbo and tapping her right foot, as if expecting an explanation for this enormous impertinence. And indeed, a little hatch opened in the saucer with a timid squeaking sound. A ladder was pushed out and manoeuvred cautiously to the floor, and then a round shape appeared in the open hatch. Using its spindly limbs – six altogether – it climbed down to the floor of the operating theatre.

The creature looked like a green easter egg decorated with a band of purple dots around its middle that could have been eyes or mere decoration.

When it stepped from the ladder, Dr. Tracy lost his temper. He was livid because all this had interfered with his Hippocratic Oath, and the fact that he had been on the verge of reaching the pinnacle of his career didn’t improve his mood at all. Fuming and steaming like a locomotive he sprinted towards the alien easter-egg with the intent of sending it flying through the hole in the roof with a hell of a rugby penalty kick.

But he never got that far: a second easter egg that had appeared in the hatch-opening aimed something from which sprang a zig-zagging discharge that hit Tracy, flooring him. The nurses, Gruelda included, screamed with fright and drew together more closely. The second easter egg – this one yellow with orange dots – quickly descended the ladder, followed by a third, a fourth and a fifth; all different in colour. They had a brief look at Tracy, who was lying there, apparently unconscious. With remarkable speed and routine suggesting that this was a fairly common situation, they gently lifted his head to push a cushion under it and spread a polka-dotted magenta plaid over him.

Then one of them put a box on the floor from which a creaking voice sounded:

“Whoops. Krraxoopzoop. click crackle Accept crixclickry crackle out apologies, Earthlings. Earthlings! Do not fear our entintions … intentions … matovations … zàstovječecui … not. Goto one. Crackle. Let us twist ah gain come on! Woooeeitt, crackle Please, take me two crackle to your one crackle repeat, I reapeat. Glub gorgle clôck … C’mon baby, you know you’ll like it …. Whoohoo.”

The Earthlings in question stood rooted to the floor. The situation was so hugely absurd that they could not think straight: those easter eggs looked quite harmless, even silly. But Dr. Tracy who was lying there on the floor wasn’t particularly funny, even now they could see that his face bore a most joyful, even ecstatic expression.

The blue-with-red-dots alien was busy working the controls on the communication device with four of his six limbs, while the others formed a half circle around him where every egg was hooked up to its neighbour with two limbs so that the result resembled one of those bracelets made from coloured pebbles and iron wire that one finds on fairs where they are sold by purple-robed, abundantly-bejewelled new-age-ladies of a certain age.

It did make quite a difference though, because now things were a lot more intelligible than before:

“Greetings, oh Earthlings specialised in the noble art of maintaining and repairing individuals of your species! Crackle! We are sorry to have been forced to park your chef mechanic in happy-puppy-land because of his reckless impulse of a moment ago! Crackle! Crackle! We are also sorry to have damaged your architectural … workshop in our attempt to land our craft! We will compensate the damage as stipulated in the ‘Galactic Act For Settling Unintentional Damage Resulting From Landing Attempts In Sectors Not Yet Subject to Customary Marking and Signalling of Landing Areas’, as referred to in the ‘General Provisions regarding *crackle* Interplanetary Traffic Movements’, version two-eight-three, signed by the required majority of all parties involved on the occasion of the ‘Statutory Plenary Alignment of Formal Interaction on behalf of the Syndicate of United Civilised and Semi-civilised Beings’, whose member planets, -planetoids, —autonomously-orbiting-housing projects, —Dyson Spheres or other dwelling-places, in mutual consul-“

“Hey!” Gruelda interrupted the avalanche of formalities. She had gathered her courage and stood there, hands on her hips, facing the aliens who had shut op timidly.

“Whaddyamean, happy-puppy-country? We need Dr. Tracy right now!”

Crackle. Er. Cough. Happy-puppy-land is an alternate reality to which a subject can be transported if in a state of temporary emotional instability. Subject is presently being cheered up by a large number of extremely happy puppies, accompanied by jubilant organ music. Crackle.”

“Whaat! Bring him back, you hear? We need him to – ” Gruelda’s brain laboured feverishly – ” … to complete the repair of one of the most skilled reproducers of sonic patterns that are of crucial importance for our well-being. There is a time limit within which this repair job must be completed, or else the warranty will expire!”

By the way they didn’t move at all, the decorative alien company managed to project a strong sense of indecisiveness. Gruelda still stood with her hands on her hips, tapping her foot ever more impatiently. After some hesitation, one of the Easter eggs aimed the happy-puppy-gun on Tracy again. There was a static crackle in the air, and Tracy blinked his eyes, rolled over on his back and sat up.

“Doctor Tracy!” Gruelda shouted, squatted down next to him and, in a professional reflex, measured his pulse and checked his blink- and follow-reflexes.

Tracy looked at her with eyes that still dwelled elsewhere.

“Ehehe!”, he chuckled at last.

“Doctor Tracy!” How Do You Feel? Do You Know Where You Are?” Gruelda addressed him in the slow and overly articulated tone of voice that people use when talking to what among politically-correct healthcare workers is known as ‘a person with possibilities’.

“Heh. Heheh!” Tracy said, unhelpfully.

Gruelda got up and turned towards the egg-shaped visitations from outer space: “Hey! You bunch of Toys-r-us yoyo pilots! What’s this with ” – she checked herself and started again: “Attention! I notice that subject is not functioning coherently enough to finish his task!”

“Crackle. Crack-ack-crackle. It is expected that subject will regain full cognitive abilities in about crackle wooooit crâckt one tenth of this planet’s rotational period. He will then … crackle … feel as energetic and … crackle … up-to-date as a small white meadow flower* and, as one of the expressions in your language claims, be capable of moving the sort of surface relief feature typical for your planet**, though we feel that this may be exaggerated. Crackle“, the box on the floor informed her.

________________________________________

(* as fresh as a daisy

** capable of moving a mountain)

________________________________________

With considerable effort, Gruelda managed to suppress the feelings of panic that she felt coming up several times while unraveling the curves and knots in the alien’s answer, but the true consequences of the whole only dawned on her only afterwards, with the dreadful inevitability of a pot of boiling milk.

“Two-and-a-half hours?” she exclaimed,

“Two and a half hour? You must be one sandwich short of a picknick, or what?”

“Crackle. We lack sufficient contextual data to be able to answer your last question. Can you define ‘picknick’ please?”

Gruelda forced her thoughts back in line with great effort. “This is not acceptable! We need Dr. Tracy NOW, including his cognitive facilities.”

“Eheheh. Hmm. Giggle. Hmmm, yeahyeahyeah …” Dr. Tracy said, apparently in an excellent mood.

“Crackle. Impossible. We are sorry, but complete return from happy-puppy-country cannot be quickened by any procedure known to us. As we stated before, we will compensate for any damage. Please contact our embassy on Alpha Centauri if there are any other questions. Please have a nice day.”

The Easter eggs, assuming that this had settled the current affairs in a satisfactory manner, picked up their speaker box and made themselves ready to board their vehicle.

But Gruelda yanked the ladder away and fumed: “Yeah, in your dreams – correction: you cannot leave! You have trespassed our Maintenance- and Repair Laws, specifically the articles concerning obstructing, hindering or complicating repairs, in case: articles fourteen, paragraph twenty-seven: ‘If any party, whether by intention, neglect, reprehensible technical problems or a lack of knowledge regarding local customs and / or situations, etcetera …” she took a deep breath and pointed accusingly at the flying saucer “…  disturbs, obstructs, hinders or complicates repairs in any way, this party should report immediately to the Chief Orderly Repairs and Maintenance and to remain available for any measures to be taken until further notice.”

Gruelda seemed to have grown several inches taller, and if Hergé would have drawn the aliens at that moment, they would have had a halo of sweat droplets around them.

Her voice was sonorous like a foghorn: “Nota Bene: Neglect to Confirm to this by leaving the Location, Town, Land or Planet in question without Explicit Prior Permission of the Chief Orderly Repairs and Maintenance is Punishable with a Jail Sentence of at least Four Years.”

It made quite an impression.

The creature who carried the speaker box timidly put it down again. 

Crackle. Glook. Crackle. Er. Our apologies. Crackle. It seems that we were insufficiently informed. *Woooit crackle* Where can we find the ‘Cheeforder Leerepairs’ you mentioned? Crackle.”

Gruelda pointed at herself (Hergé and Uderzo would have drawn those radial lines around her that suggest a shining charisma): “That would be me.

“Crackle. Greetings to you, oh Cheeforder Leerepairs! Herewith we report ourselves and will be available for Anymeasures to be taken until further notice!”

“It has been notified and recorded! Please wait; we will be back with you shortly.”

Gruelda turned around and, to her surprise, only Hilda the student nurse stood there, fidgeting with the buttons of her jacket.

“Where are the others? I saw that that jack-pudding hared away as soon as those clowns came through the roof, but what happened to the others?”

“Uhm, well, after we had pushed Ms Buhudin and the Perpetuator aside, some left to get help but they never came back. Then the rest went looking for them, but they haven’t come back yet either…”, she said with downcast eyes.

Gruelda looked on her digital head-nurse watch. “We have ten minutes before anexorasis starts in Ms. Buhudin’s tendons … ” she put a hand on Hilda’s shoulder. “I guess it’s down to the two of us, ehm …?”

“Hilda”, Hilda said. “I’ll do my very best, ma’m.”

“Please call me Gruelda … that saves time.”

She turned again towards the extraterrestrial chromatic aberration, that was busy keeping itself available in an unusually explicit fashion. “Attention! In which way do you acquire knowledge about our language?”

Crackle. Er. Crackle. Cough. We can register your thought processes. Disclaimer: here we restrict ourselves to what is strictly necessary for establishing communication, as laid down in the Information Insulation Protocols that that were established during the second Conference of –

“Attention. You have my explicit approval to read any information necessary to complete this repair job. We are operating under very strict time constraints. First, please read all information in Dr. Tracy’s brain concerning ‘bilateral quadrilaesion’ including any procedures required to correct this problem.”

Crackle. Brrridilipideep. Crackle. Information has been ingested.”

“Are you capable to read and interpret the images formed by my optical senses?”

“Crackle. Affirmative. Crackle.”

“Good. We will start. Hilda, please take your position at the other side of the operation table and keep all instruments within reach!”

(Epic music plays, camera moves to a low angle, etcetera)

“Aye, Gruelda!”

“Attention! Please take position on either side of this machine here! Read any information about subject ‘Perpetuator’ in Dr. Tracy’s brain!”

“Crackle. Brrridilipideep. Crackle.”

Almost immediately, one of the aliens reached for the controls and changed some settings. The previously choppy rhythm seemed to smooth and quicken: hocka-pfft-tschic-pfft-hockpff-tschicpff-hockpff-tschicff-hockapffta-tschicta-hockapffta-tschicta-hockapffta-tschicta

Gruelda took no notice. “Attention! Evaluate the current phase of the procedure from my visual input and available information!”

“Crackle! Wipe away excess blood and disinfect the area again.”

“Gauze.”

“Iodine-nebuliser.”

“Curved tongs number three.”

“Incisioning tweezers en coiled impalourion for upper-limb tendons, medium.”

“Crackle! In order to ensure balanced adhesion, the exlaterus tendon number seven annex pinky-flexor and crackle the second thumb flexor should be sutured three millimeters closer together than you seem to be planning to! Crackle! Attention! If you use subdermal thread number thirteen instead of epidermal thread number nine, chances of post-traumatic complications will be reduced from six to two percent!”

“Tendon-positioner and stitching needles number four, subdermal thread number thirteen please, and I’ll need a drop of Oloflex right here, Hilda. It’s in that chromed chest of drawers, third drawer from below, way at the back on the left side. The yellow-green bottle with the parrot-head.”

Hilda blinked her eyes during one of the rare moments that she wasn’t reaching for something or handing it to Gruelda. She pinched her arm: was it because she started imagining things for the excitement, or were Gruelda’s eyes really emitting light, just as with Dr. Tracy when he was really concentrated? She could almost see the light beams play over the operating table. For a brief moment, her thoughts wandered off to the evenings spent with other students, swooning over brilliant hero-surgeons like Doctor Tracy with a glass of white wine and rucola & goat cheese crackers. But Gruelda seemed to far surpass all the stories they had ever heard! How Gruelda had masterfully taken control of the situation and was now, incredible but true, busy saving the hand of one of the world’s most renowned musicians using knowledge transferred from Dr. Tracy by alien Easter Eggs. This was too tall a tale even measured by the standard of Hilda’s dreams – but that’s a story for another time.

But dream or no, barely five minutes later she heard:

“Crackle. That last tendon has been sutured correctly and within tolerances. This condition of ‘bilateral quadrilaesion’ seems to have been fully corrected now. Crackle. Are the Anymeasures that you referred to before been implemented in a satisfactory manner, so that we are no longer  required to remain available until further notice?”

Gruelda stood, her eyes closed, at the operation table where she had just neatly closed and sutured Ms. Buhudin’s hand.

“That is correct. You are free to leave. Thank you.”

“Crackle. Can we have our ladder back please?”

Gruelda en Hilda looked and another in the eye as the alien craft clumsily manoeuvred its way through the opening in the roof, breaking off more lumps of masonry.

Gruelda reached for the Perpetuator and switched it off, and then took the helmet of ms. Buhudin’s head. Slowly, they bent towards one another.

“You are my hero! That was … wonderful. Just wonderful!”, Hilda whispered.

“My lovely care bear … I couldn’t have done it without you!”

The wanted to kiss, but the masks were in the way; and they would have been disturbed anyhow by the missing personnel barging in with much unnecessary racket, including a wildly gesticulating, puffing and tooting Dr. Pudding and a handful of anxious-looking security guards armed with walkie-talkies.

. . .

A few months later, there was a wedding feast. It was the only private occasion ever on which Yasmina Buhudin gave a private recital: she played “Ernst’s Variations on ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ – a piece of which she admitted that she could not have played it properly before her operation, providing the uninvited music critic who was hiding in the rose bushes ample material for years of lyrical reflections to come.

And, as in any proper tale: they lived happily ever after, though it’s only fair to say that the bar of gold that came down on a parachute one day in Gruelda’s backyard with a note attached that read ‘Please accept this as compensation for the damage done to your architectural workshop’ did help considerably. Nonetheless, they operated many patients both together with Dr. Tracy and without him, after he decided to devote all his time to the Universal Happy Puppy Therapy Centre he founded. But that, too, is a wholly different tale.

*** THE END ***