‘But Daniel didn’t feel like he belonged anywhere. He came alone, he sat alone and he stayed alone.’
‘The Story of My Heart’
By Josué Ramos
Taken from Steam Punk Writers Around the World
Published by Luna Press
He could see him inside the casket, defenceless and dead, and couldn’t force himself to stand closer. He wanted to touch him. But he kept his hands in his pocket, ashamed.
“We’re going to incinerate him in an hour,” the employee mumbled without looking up, his eyes hidden by his hat.
“Can you give me a few minutes alone with him, please?”
“Sure, of course. All the time you need. Are you family?”
“I’m his father.”
Daniel Beltran felt dizzy to be surrounded by so many people, so much excitement and so much joy. He hadn’t known his class would be so big. Slouched in a corner, keeping the still-shut door in sight, he couldn’t stop his legs from trembling.
The courtyard was divided into circles of chatting friends – they all seemed to know each other – and only a few, like him, waited alone.
The groups that were the biggest, noisiest and most sure of themselves belonged to the sons of noble families. Daniel recognized at least one royal Borbon among them. Those families dominated Spain’s colonies across the galaxy, maintained contact with the Empire and made sure everyone paid their taxes to the metropoli and kept quiet. Less conspicuous were the nouveau riche: young men from families made wealthy by business. Finally, more discreet but much more numerous, other young students: middle class or working class, the ones who yearned to find their way into important circles one way or another.
But Daniel didn’t feel like he belonged anywhere. He came alone, he sat alone and he stayed alone. He told himself he must do what his father wanted for his career and attend every class during the seven years that the studies would last until he earned a medical degree, but he felt he would never fit into the system. And although he hoped no one would notice him during those seven years, peace only lasted seven weeks. The other students spotted him soon enough. He was too evidently different to avoid indiscreet questions. It didn’t take long before everyone was watching him. And he didn’t have to wait for jokes to be told behind his back.
But it was in one of Dr. Mendoza’s classes, Non-invasive Transplant Surgery, when things really got difficult.
Dr. Mendoza was recounting the history of modern transplants one more time while Daniel pretended to be interested and tried to hide the fact that everything he heard made him sick. Mendoza began by talking about the scientific advances and surgical techniques developed in England and France at the end of the nineteenth century. Later, thanks to everything that had been learned about medicine toward the world wars, he said, transplant applications led to cosmetic surgery in peacetime and, by the mid-twentieth century, everyone could get transplants for anything.
Mendoza himself had gotten his teaching post thanks to his eyes, extracted from a black slave with exceptional vision. Now he had eyes that let him observe every detail during class – and during exams – although he had needed to pay a little bit more since that man was said to see better than anyone when he was working in the mines in almost complete darkness. And Mendoza had no regrets. Besides, while he’d had to tighten his belt a bit, he’d taken advantage of the chance to recover twenty percent of the expense by selling his original eyes in an auction house. He never failed to repeat that story again and again.
“Why don’t you ask us this on the exam, eagle eyes?” a boy shouted from the back of the hall. “We’d all pass with flying colours since we’ve heard it so many times.”
“Silence please,” was all the doctor said, raising his perfect writer’s hands.
Daniel wondered if they were original. The professor had never talked about them, only about his eyes.
“If it wasn’t for scientific advances, you wouldn’t be here. Your father would never have amassed the fortune that lets you study medicine.”
“My father never worked in transplants. He had a mining business.”
“I’m afraid you’re wrong, Mr. Martinez. The human body tends to deteriorate and is always subject to some sort of failure. Always.
We may be nobles or plebeians, rich or poor, Spaniards or slaves, but we all live subject to that. We overcome it thanks to transplants. Your father benefitted from them by selling the most healthy slaves that worked in his mines as if they were gold. And the income from those sales allowed him to increase his profits every year, right? All due to transplant science. To the production and sale of material for transplants.”
“You’re really lucky, Martinez,” a Borbon said, laughing. “If it wasn’t for decolouration techniques so the donor skin adapts to the buyer skin, no one would ever buy anything from your old man.”
“Now you see how important these scientific advances are in your lives, gentlemen,” the professor continued as everyone laughed. “They do more than you think. And, thanks to them, we can correct our defects or change whatever we need to be happier with ourselves.”
“Not always, from what I can see.” Another boy laughed, looking at Daniel. “Mr. Chocolate there seems to be completely original.”
Daniel shrank in his seat, flushed, his head about to explode.
“What are you talking about, son?” the professor asked, surprised. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that Mr. Beltran has been healthy and happy with himself since the day he was born. At least it looks that way.”
“And from what it looks like, he must’ve been born in the jungle…”
The whole class laughed, egged on by those two perfect boys. They looked a lot alike even though they weren’t related: blond, blue eyes, implanted chins because theirs had been too weak, the same nose, eyes, skin, eyebrows, hands… And the most perfect bodies ever seen. Daniel had wondered more than once if anything was still theirs within the artificial shells formed around their tiny brains.
Dr. Mendoza raised both hands again, trying to calm everyone down as he walked toward Daniel’s desk.
“Is that true, Beltran? You’ve never had an operation?”
“Never, Doctor,” he murmured, wishing the earth would swallow him up.
“Never? Problems with money, perhaps?”
“No, Doctor,” was all he said.
“Mr. Beltran, pay no attention to them. They’re just talking foolishly. But I would appreciate it if you came to my office after classes are over, please, if you don’t mind.”
Daniel nodded and couldn’t pay attention for the rest of the day.
He was lost in thought until he heard the siren that marked the end of classes, when he headed toward Dr. Mendoza’s office.
Steam Punk Writers Around the World is published by Luna Press, priced £11.99