By John M. Burt
There were five clerks standing over Miss Krempe looking stricken, eyes wide, hands trembling. Remembering the lesson in Lay Resuscitation that Mr. Day had insisted everyone at the Sun attend, Locke dove toward Miss Krempe, shoving a clerk aside. He felt at her neck for a pulse and didn’t find one. He took hold of her shoulder and hip and gently rolled her onto her back. He didn’t remember to support her head until it lolled and bumped loudly on the floor. Locke winced but finished turning her onto her back. He bent over her, his ear to her nose, his fingers to her throat. No pulse, no respiration.
He looked up at the clerks. He pointed at a blond man.
“You. Go get the rescue heart.”
His finger swiveled toward a dark-skinned clerk.
“You. Get a doctor.”
Locke knelt beside Miss Krempe and tore open her bodice – there was no time for niceties. He exposed the area of her chest just below the ribs, thankful that she wore no corset. He probed until his fingers located a lump which he thought must be her motionless heart. The blond clerk stood by holding a white box with a large red Valentine heart painted on it. Locke opened the box and pulled out a large glass jar. He unlatched the wire bail that held the glass lid in place and lifted out the rescue heart. Incorruptant dripping onto his hands, Locke took hold of the pair of steel bevel points at the ends of foot-long blood vessels, took aim at the spot he had located, and jabbed them home beneath her breastbone.
Locke was surprised at how quickly he’d done it, without any hesitation, even though he’d never done it before, and even though the Lay Resuscitation master had stressed that once the tubes went in, the victim’s life was totally dependent on the rescue heart. The heart which had stopped now had sharp objects plunged through its walls. It would need to be mended at least, more likely replaced. It felt as though he had successfully penetrated her heart with both tubes, but he’d never actually done it before.
After kneading the rescue heart a few times, he felt a gratifying throb as it began to beat on its own. He watched it pulsate until he was confident that it was indeed pumping blood, and that the sites where he had penetrated her chest were not leaking very much. Then he moved to Krempe’s head. He pressed on her forehead with one hand and gripped her chin with the other as he’d been taught, pinched her nostrils shut and after a moment’s hesitation covered her mouth with his and blew.
He turned his head and saw her chest sink a gratifying inch or two as the breath rushed past his ear. Okay, he wasn’t inflating her stomach or rupturing her eardrums or whatever it was happened when you blew into the mouth the wrong way. He gave her another breath and saw her chest fall again – and the backup heart cease to pulsate.
Locke reached over and tried to massage the rescue heart back into life, but with that awkward reach, and trying to work the heart one-handed, he could see it wasn’t working. Locke reluctantly moved away from Krempe’s head, grabbed the heart and squeezed it with both hands until it began pumping on its own again.
Locke moved back to Krempe’s head and resumed inflating her lungs. When he saw the heart begin to stop again, he looked up at the gathered crowd and saw the blond clerk who had brought the heart.
“Would you please kneel down here –”
Locke almost laughed as the entire group knelt together. Were they expecting him to lead them in prayer? He pointed directly at the blond clerk.
“You. Take that heart in both hands,” he said in a voice he hadn’t known he could muster. “Make sure it goes on pumping.”
The clerk obeyed.
As Locke lifted his mouth from Krempe’s and watched her chest fall once more, he noticed the blonde clerk handing the heart over to another. As the new heart man began working the heart with his hands, the blonde shook his head.
“The heart keeps on stopping, and I haven’t seen any sign of life from Miss Krempe. I don’t think there’s any point in—”
“We will continue until we are relieved!”
Locke honestly did not recognize the voice as his own. It sounded more like some barrel-chested actor portraying the hero in a stage melodrama.
A dozen breaths later, Krempe coughed and began breathing on her own. Finally feeling able to relax for a moment, Locke sat back and looked up. He saw Dr. Carradine looming over him.
Locke quailed instantly, feeling as though he were a child who had been caught going through his aunt’s underwear drawer. He backed away from Krempe rapidly.
“Uhhh.... Doctor, I, er, didn’t see you. I....”
“I didn’t interfere because you were doing a fine job. There was nothing I could do other than interrupt the care you were giving her.”
Carradine clapped Locke on the shoulder as he knelt beside Miss Krempe.
“But now it’s time for me to attend to the patient. Thank you, Locke.”
Locke noted with a corner of his mind that by leaving off any honorific, Dr. Carradine had paid him the compliment of addressing him the way he would have a fellow physician.
As he walked away, it occurred to Locke just how extraordinary the entire scene had been.
He had been told in the Lay Resuscitation class that the person in charge of a resuscitation was whoever reacted to it first. He had never pictured himself in that role, but it had been thrust upon him when he saw that no-one else was acting.
“Don’t leave just yet, if you please, Locke,” came Dr. Carradine’s voice from behind him. Locke stopped as though he’d come to the end of his leash. A leash around his heart, it would seem, given the way his chest suddenly constricted. Grimly, he went and stood to one side while Carradine continued to work on the still and silent woman on the floor.
A pair of hoovers in white coats and caps politely shouldered past Locke. One of them carried a long bundle which they unrolled on the floor next to Miss Krempe, and when Carradine nodded and moved back, they gently took hold of her and lifted her onto the stretcher. The rescue heart went right on beating on her chest, the long aorta stiffening and slackening with each pulsation. As the hoovers carried Miss Krempe to a waiting wagon to convey her to a hospital, Dr. Carradine clapped Locke on the shoulder and said, “Thank you for staying, Locke. I wanted to issue you an invitation.
“There is a tradition in my club, the Osiris, of considering the leader at a Lay Resuscitation an honorary vitalogist for the day, and an honorary Osirian. I would be very pleased if you would honor me by joining me for supper at the Osiris Club, with a fine entertainment after.”
They agreed to meet at Carradine’s clinic at five, when he would be leaving for the day, and walk the four blocks to the Osiris Club. Locke set off then for his scheduled meeting with Dr. Genessier.
The sign above Genessier’s door on Hudson Square said it was an “Operatory” rather than, as Carradine’s brass plaque said, a “Laboratorium”. To Locke, it looked more like a “shop”, which Locke could never have said of Carradine’s. Genessier himself was also more like a shopkeeper -- a tailor who stitched flesh rather than gabardine, one might say. He did not build hoovers, but “reconditioned” them. An owner whose hoover was failing, or a broker who had bought a lot and found one of the hoovers defective, would bring the creature to Genessier, who would restore it to serviceable condition.
Genessier was modest and unaffected, and cheerfully volunteered that he had been interested to meet with Locke because he remembered what he referred to as “the Great Moon Hoax”. As he talked with Locke, he worked on a bucket of hands, removing broken bones and torn muscles, turning twenty damaged hands into a dozen which were fit for use.
Locke was well used to either cheerfully and unabashedly answering or else politely deflecting questions about his Moon articles, depending on the circumstances. In this case, he couldn’t afford to spend time reminiscing about his glory days as a fiction writer -- he had a real story to get.
“It sounds almost as though the elixir itself were alive.”
“Almost, yes, but it’s clear that there isn’t any sort of microbial life in it. You can dehydrate elixir and reduce it to crystalline salts, then dissolve those crystals in broth and the broth will turn into elixir in a day or so.
“So, there you have it,” Genessier said definitively. “The elixir vitae is merely a sort of self-replicating crystal, far removed from any sort of vital force.”