“There’s no such thing as a simple surgery.”
Hold, as it turned out, was not the only one among us who liked to lecture. That was fine, given the circumstances. More info was good, and between each fistful of strawberries, Corn was happy to provide us with as much as he was able to.
“In day to day life, people like to throw out terms like routine procedure; those don’t exist, not really. Obviously there are a great number of commonly performed surgical operations — people are always going to need appendectomies and knee replacements — but the idea that there are any surgeries so simple as to not carry any risk is a product of fiction. Whenever you decide to put a person under and mess around with the inside of their body, danger is always a factor.”
He stuffed another big strawberry inside of his mouth, slicing it in half with his back teeth once and swallowing the two parts whole. He did chew as he ate, but very sparingly, and the mental image of Hold or Joyo having to heave him up for the Heimlich had popped into my head more than a couple times throughout the meal. When he had still been on the little ones, I could’ve sworn that I’d seen him down a few without biting at all; the real greatest mystery of the night might’ve been how he’d managed to make it so far into dinner without choking to death.
“There are minimally invasive surgeries, and we’re close to the point where we soon truly might be able to say non-invasive, considering new advancements in biotech- but we aren’t there yet. And because all surgeries are invasive — as in, a literal invasion of the human body — significant risk continues to exist. Young, healthy people can and do die after procedures as normal as tonsillectomies, because complications are real and frequent and dangerous. Whenever a surgery can be reasonably avoided, most good doctors will try to.”
He yawned, using the opportunity to grab another enormous strawberry and pop it inside his mouth. It took three bites, which tied for the record.
“Infections, shock, rapid blood hemorrhages, pulmonary embolisms, wound dehiscence, and plain old medical error, just to name some of the fun things that can go horribly, horribly wrong. You might have heard jokes about doctors accidentally leaving scalpels or medical equipment inside patients before sowing them back up, but that’s a real thing that actually happens with some regularity. Sounds silly, but with hundreds of tiny pieces of medical equipment being used and passed around during any given procedure, that shouldn’t be a big surprise.”
I saw Quote wince.
Corn looked around the table, and I saw him briefly gnaw on his lip, making a face that suggested that he realized he’d let his preamble go on for slightly too long.
I could relate.
“…However, complications relating to anesthesia are comparatively very rare. Stuff happens relating to that arena too, of course — allergic reactions and problems with older patients especially — but it’s a rare occasion to die because of problems directly relating to surgical anesthesia in particular. And when it does happen, it’s almost always because of individual error or misinformation.”
Another strawberry, and a loud sigh from ZB.
“As a whole, all of medicine is a very messy and unclear science. That’s a given, considering the inherent complexity involved in trying to deal with the human body, but anesthesia as a sub-field could be said to be much more stable and settled than much of the rest of it. That’s not to say that there isn’t a whole world of advancements left to make, but we-”
“Get to the fucking point,” said ZB.
Corn gave an awkward smile, showing teeth. They were stained red.
“…The reason for all that, anyway, is that anesthesiology is much more precise and exact than almost anything else that can be done in medicine. When I ready a patient for a surgery, regardless of whether its general or regional, there are many factors that need to be accounted for in order to provide treatment: height, weight, sex, age, medical history, you know. But if I’m truthfully given that information and have the correct background to interpret it, there isn’t anything stopping me from applying a block or administering the right amount of propofol or whatever derivative we need to be using instead. When administered by a competent expert who has been adequately informed, anesthesiology is staggeringly safe. It requires an extremely delicate and continuously monitored balance by staff, but it’s safe.”
Claim held up a finger to signal for Corn to pause, writing something down.
ISN’T THAT WHAT KILLED MJ?
“It is, yes. But he was abusing it as a sleep aid. It’s a very common general anesthetic — probably the most common, as a matter of fact — but not one intended for much use outside the OR. Again, it’s extremely safe, but only when administered in the correct dosages and intervals. That’s a large part of the reason Sludge is so ridiculously impossible. There are very safe and effective drugs that can put people to sleep as quickly as the gamemakers say Sludge can, but the idea that we’d all share the same exact proper dosage is so implausible that it borders on the supernatural. What might serve as a safe dose for me or Hold would likely outright kill Lu or Strait. Unless magic suddenly becomes real, an effective and fast-acting anesthetic that’s impossible to overdose on isn’t happening anytime in the next few centuries.”
Corn ate another strawberry, Strait awkwardly scratching the back of his neck.
Lu didn’t seem as bothered by the comment, her bright smile continuing unheeded. I hadn’t noticed her doing it up until that point, but her eyes from time to time would roll back up as far as she could make them, showing almost all white for several seconds before coming back down as if nothing had happened. It was… unsettling, especially given the juxtaposition with her otherwise childish demeanor and gleeful expression, but if anyone else was seeing it they weren’t commenting.
It was noticeable, so I probably wasn’t being unreasonable in guessing that she’d been doing it during the time when I was out, and that everyone else had already gotten used to it. I wasn’t sure how they had.
Tourettes, maybe? That seemed like a decent explanation, but the tic was infrequent and irregular, happening maybe every minute or so and not consistently. I had taken a few long looks at her around the time of the vote and when we were reading the rules, and I’d never caught her doing it then.
I didn’t know much about Tourettes or similar conditions, that being said. Was there a set length for how long someone had between tics? Could that length differ? I honestly didn’t have a clue.
(One of the most annoying aspects of the game, I was beginning to discover, was the fact that I couldn’t look up the answers to any random questions I wanted to know as they popped up. As I was discovering, I wasn’t just dependent on the Internet for an income; it might as well have been my second brain in terms of how much I relied on it for information. Hopefully the aforementioned Computer Room would have a WiFi signal…)
“Even ignoring that, drugs that work as fast as Sludge do exist, but only intravenously. Skin contact and digestion are much slower ways of administering medicine; even if you dipped both your arms in a vat of liquid cyanide, it’d probably take longer than thirty seconds for it to kill you. The dualistic nature of Sludge is just as improbable, as well. All medicine works in degrees; there’s no way you could have some magic universal dosage amount that suddenly makes a drug go from completely ineffective to one-hundred percent potent. It just doesn’t make sense.”
On the face of things, what Corn was saying fit together. I didn’t need a full medical lecture to suspect the impossibility of a drug like Sludge existing (although it was nice to get as a bonus). I couldn’t lend it absolute credibility, as was my rule, but I was damn sure of the truth of his explanation.
Or I would’ve been, anyway. Good-sounding scientific explanations from experts were high up on the list of sources that I naturally gave intellectual credence, but I’d also gotten Sludged myself, and that fact seemed to supersede it.
I didn’t think that personal testimony was anything close to ironclad (a weird mindset for a person literally playing a real life courtroom murder mystery simulator) but I had to lend my own experiences some credit. My skin had been exposed to Sludge — and nothing else, at least as far as I had reason to suspect — and it knocked me out in less than a minute. That history didn’t jive with what he was saying.
“Okay,” said Caroline. “I figured. But then how do we explain what happened to By?”
“I have two theories,” replied Cornea.
I got the sense that Caroline had set up that question with the intention of trying to answer it herself, but she’d paused for just long enough for Cornea to actually jump in with a response. She didn’t protest it, remaining calm and composed as he went ahead with his explanation.
“Firstly, the vitamin D shots.”
No freaking way.
Prior to the start of the game — both immediately before they put me under and during some of the many cell phone talks I’d been made to have with various producers and managers — my health had been a frequent topic of concern. Not that mine was at all worrisome. I wasn’t crazy athletic, but I had never once gotten sick as an adult (despite occasional online claims to the contrary), and I didn’t have any allergies or similar concerns that I could’ve imagined affecting my ability to participate.
What they’d been worried about, they said, was my health during the game, along with everyone else’s. They’d asked me a lot of questions about my personal medical history, which had been annoying, but did help to reassure me that much more that I hadn’t been signing up for an actual death game. Not absolutely, obviously… but still, it made me feel better.
(That said, a shadowy killing organization would have also had a vested interest in making sure that I was fit to play; you probably didn’t want your death game contestants suddenly dying of something as lame and anticlimactic as basic illness. Where was the drama in that?)
One central concern and talking point had been vitamin D. Because of the prolonged effects of being indoors for three straight months, we’d been given vitamin D shots as a precaution- or what I thought were vitamin D shots at the time, at least. I’d never absolutely accepted that — heck, I’d joked with the lady giving me the shot about it actually being poison or something — but come on. That was too stupid of an explanation.
“I’m assuming it was the same for all of you, but I had to sign a extra paper before they gave it to me,” Cornea said. “It was short, and even at the time I noticed the specificity of the phrasing. They never particularized that it was just the vitamin D, if you recall. It said that you give them the right to administer to you…”
He paused, trying to recall the right wording.
“…With whatever shall be necessary in order to guarantee your health and participation during the game,” finished Polycarp.
“Exactly,” Cornea nodded. “It’s not inconceivable — and I say this all while speculating on a branch of medicine that is very far away from my area of expertise — that they actually injected us with a large amount of some type of durable, long-term nanobot. It could conceivably be made to carry a large amount of a strong, normal anesthetic inside of us for a long time, not being administered until we get hit by the Sludge, which serves either as some type of trigger or as an estimated marking point for the gamemakers.”
“A marking point?” asked Quote.
“That’s what I think is more plausible. We already know that they have world class quality cameras all over the place; I think there’s a good chance they might be using that to their advantage. They could keep track of where all the Sludge and players are in real time and remotely activate the hypothetical nanobots whenever players are exposed to what looks to be about two teaspoons of it. That makes the rule about it being exactly two teaspoons a lie, but reality television is known for fudging little things for the sake of convenience. With a careful system of monitoring, they could probably get it close enough to the point where it wouldn’t matter.”
“But they told us that it was just vitamin D,” I said. “Beyond that, all we were given before the game was the drug that put us to sleep during transport, unless…”
Before I finished the sentence, I realized what his answer would be. Caroline spoke up again first, wishing to reinvolve herself.
“That’s what they told us about, yes. But that might not have been everything. Since they had the contract, they could’ve given us more of whatever they wanted to while we were unconscious. It’s admittedly sketchy, but probably not illegal, as far as these things go.”
We heard a breathy noise from across the table, halfway between a gasp and a peep, like someone had started to form the first syllable of a shout and then had to stop.
The noise’s creator had been Claim. We all looked at him, and Zeezrom asked if he had something to contribute, but he shook his head. His posture had tensed up, shoulders straight and at full attention.
Breaking the silence, Caroline spoke up.
“We were informed in advance that the gamemakers would be actively trying to mislead us, and our main contracts were signed with that explicitly stated. Giving us an extra drug while unconscious doesn’t seem to go against that, especially if it’s one that can’t harm us physically and would be required for the game to function as normal.”
“Well, I’m not sure about that,” Cornea replied, Caroline once again looking like she’d meant to continue after her pause. “It’s a legal gray area. Most of the time, I don’t think you can sign a contract agreeing to forfeit your rights, and that probably wouldn’t change here. Administering drugs without a person’s consent or knowledge outside of the context of an emergency is a big no-no, and even with this being kind of a unique situation, I’m not so sure how far you could stretch the idea of that type of implied situational consent. I don’t know much about the law — and this is for entertainment, not medicine — so any comparison I could make to my normal workplace regulations aren’t going to be totally analogous. Still, it’s not as satisfactory of an explanation as I’d like.”
I saw Claim’s chest loosen up again, releasing a weak but audible sigh.
“It was your theory,” said Dot.
Cornea grinned, again showing off his crimson-colored teeth.
“I know, but it wasn’t my main theory. That one’s a lot simpler. You know, Occam’s Razor and all that.”
Dot rolled her eyes (coincidentally at the same time as Lu, for what were presumably different reasons).
“And what would that theory be?”
A fat finger stained with red stretched across the table, pointing at me.
“By’s a mole.”
“I’m not,” I instantly shot back. From beside me, ZB giggled.
“The lady doth-”