CAN’T DO IT • by Tom Hadrava

I take the body out of the freezer – the middle part, stalk-like and twisted, is very brittle, so careful, there, Mike – and put the amazing body on the steel autopsy desk. The protective suit is heavy and ultra-uncomfortable. When I breathe out too much, the plexiglass visor gets misty. The scalpel feels cold even through the triplicate latex gloves.

Cameras watch me with hungry, ink-black eyes. The label under each lens, Department of Xenotaxonomy and Comparative Xenobiology, is unnecessarily large and obtrusive, still very fresh.

I cannot say I am ready. This is supposed be the chance of a lifetime but I find myself struggling to continue.

Can we start?

The huge microphone above my head seems to be watching, too. How many people are going to hear my words, just now? And then a million times in the future?

First cut. How are we with the suction, ready?

I pause in the middle of the motion I have done a million times before, my index finger trembling as a tiny butterfly wing, and stare. I stare at it.

They cannot be grasped, touched, comprehended.

Our language drops dead to the ground when faced with such a challenge. What can I say? What tools of language are at my disposal? All the pseudo-, quasi-, alter- and meta-s, all the semi- or half-, all the -likes. Not efficient, not sufficient. New comparisons and descriptions need to be created. Later on, much later, I will try. In the morning shower, during a not-so-funny comedy, while driving.

The sense tentacles as soft as a crystal breeze. The shape perhaps similar to erratic square waves. The surface like a comfortably unpleasant gravel rug. There is a sort of shell, covered in colours we have no names for. Shallow sapphired, semi-rich yellowhite. Lightepid blackness. An ultraviolet carnival on the front face plate. The smell of neck bulbs maybe described as burnt hyacinth raspberries. The consistency of some outer organs like a fossilized custard.

I move my hands away, then back. The voice of my colleague is miles away.

The scientific part of me starts to sound the alarm. I feel strange and powerless. Is it something in the air? Have they tested the odour, the evaporations? Could there be any radiation? But I know the answer. Everything is triple tested. Safe.

This is not about physics or chemistry. Human reason is suddenly put to a crash test and in doing so pulverized by our experience. The realm of ideas is bound by the earthly pull as is the material world.

My mouth goes dry and I can feel the hairs on my nape go up. I put down my tools and years of practice and research, years of dreams and hopes, and walk away.

I can’t do it, boss. I am not the first and perhaps not the last to say this.

I  know it’s a chance of a lifetime. But… let someone else do it.

Mike is behind me, doing the same thing, leaving the bright air-conditioned unit, swollen in the white suit as an oversized grub, with his hands up in a gesture of defeat.

Can’t do it. We cannot cut them to pieces. Not them.

We can just wonder. And hold the memory in our heads till the end of our days.


Tom Hadrava is an aspiring Czech writer based in Prague, Czech Republic, Europe, teaching English and constantly trying to transform his mental imagery into words. His fiction has appeared in the XB-1 magazine, a Czech science-fiction magazine, and some anthologies coming from Czech speculative fiction writing competitions. He likes jogging, trying different kinds of tea and playing invisible drums (lots of cymbals included, of course). He lives in a cosy flat with his charming wife and a “curious and even curiouser” baby son.


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