By Alexis A Hunter
Artwork by Jose Baetas.
Soon no one would stand between Donovan and Tricia, but for the moment, Dr. Liam Burke occupied that space. He dropped a hand on both their shoulders, beaming toward the friends, family and loved ones gathered together in this glistening church, this metallic temple of abandoned faith.
Liam inhaled slowly through his nose. He attempted to calm the fizzling pit in his stomach. His pulse tapped an excited rhythm in the throbbing vein in his temple. He never tired of this ceremony. Wiping the smile from his face, he adopted a grave expression and tone.
"We are fragments."
A chorus of sighs and silent nods rippled through the sanctuary. Their numbers were rising. More and more couples were 'joined'. Although there were always "Fragments" at these weddings, their judgment seemed less harsh, their horror less pervasive.
"Donovan Richards is a fragment." He touched the groom's shoulder. "Tricia Nielson is a fragment." He touched the bride's shoulder, her bare skin warm under his fingers. "These two Fragments that stand before you are incomplete. As are we all. In the days which we now dwell, under the reign of science and knowledge, we have no God. No gods. No faith and no purpose."
He paused. He didn't force the ache that scribbled itself across his features; it came from the chasm inside him. His lips trembled at the memories of so many marriages failed, broken, a trail of hearts that couldn't complete him.
"But no more." Resolution filled his voice as it boomed through the far corners of the chamber. Tricia shivered under his hand.
"Today, we join these Fragments. Today, we give them purpose. For in our soul-mates, we find the completion we seek. To love, to marry in conventional terms -- it is not enough."
Bobbling heads scattered throughout the congregation. Husbands and wives, wives and wives, husbands and husbands all clapped. His hand to hers. Her hand to his. Joined. A thrill shivered up Liam's spine. His work seemed almost at its apex. He had truly made a difference in the lives of the Joined that populated the crowd.
"Today, we gather to unite Donovan and Tricia. Fusing their bodies into one, we will solidify their bond. Every man loves himself -- and how can you cease to love a part of your body? So we prevent the destruction of division, of divorce. We make their bond eternal. If they so wish?"
With that, he turned the couple in towards him. Tears filled their eyes as they nodded. "We wish, Doctor. Join us."
"So let it be done."
With his pronouncement, a few white-clad assistants ushered the bride and groom into separate chambers at the sides of the room to strip out of their wedding clothes and into dressing gowns. A flurry of activity occupied the church's front as twin-operating tables were rolled out, heart monitors and IV drips set into place. A prerecorded set of music played through the speakers, triumphant tones in the likes of the ancient Ride of the Valkyries.
Dr. Liam Burke stood tall, arms folded across his chest and chin jutted up. As his gaze once more skimmed the crowd, he caught a flash of movement in the back. A camera crew crept into the auditorium, camera already rolling.
Liam's hands fell to his sides. He felt the color draining from his face, but struggled to regain his composure. He didn't speak out against the camera. It was too late now. Liam's gaze fell to his left -- to the emptiness on his left.
Tonight, they'd circulate another clip and voice-over about how the great doctor of the Church of the Blessed Joined stood alone to join yet another couple, while he himself remained incomplete. Some would denounce him as a hypocritical cult leader; others would claim he couldn't find someone willing to marry him and join him in his "maniacal beliefs".
His gaze skimmed the crowd. That horrible chasm in his gut yawned open, awakened by the reminder of his incompleteness. A few Fragments dwelt in the crowd -- a whole section of them had been quarantined to the back left of the church. They didn't know the bride or groom. They were fanatics. Men and women who showered him with marriage proposals and proclamations of love. They waved cheerily under his scrutiny, each one eager to be the Fragment he chose. But their blind fanaticism and the weakness of their minds pushed him away. Some days, he preferred the death threats that cropped up in his email.
Just as the bride and groom emerged from their dressing chambers, Liam caught sight of a woman in the front row to his right. Her smooth olive skin and dark hair echoed Donovan's own appearance and Liam realized then that she was his sister. She sat with her arms folded over her chest. One eyebrow quirked toward her hairline. Her face was absent of disgust or horror, absent of fanaticism and glee. She seemed to disapprove, but quietly. Even from the six foot distance between them, Liam could tell her hands were very nice -- long and elegant -- and good hands were very important for his line of work.
Liam shook himself from his reverie. He smiled at the congregation, spoke a few more words and then began the ceremony in earnest. Donovan and Tricia stretched out on the twin-operating tables. They lay side by side, heads turned to peer into each other's eyes. So much love was written in their faces. So much hope and life. Liam almost doubled over from the emptiness sucking at his insides.
Instead, he remained tall and straight. He scrubbed his arms and applied gloves, a face mask, and set to work.
The actual process of Joining would take six long hours. It used to take longer, but due to modern advancements in the medical field, Liam was able to hurry the process along a little. The couple were given minimal amounts of drugs -- just enough to numb most of their bodies without affecting their minds too much. The canned music played on, only barely drowning out their stifled moans and gasps.
Liam all but forgot about Donovan's sister as he focused on his work. He removed the groom's right arm and the bride's left. A few times they passed out, but mostly they kept awake, eyes locked on each other as they struggled through the pain. A sweaty film covered their all but naked bodies. Liam worked quicker -- fusing their now armless shoulders together. He worked down to their hips and fused those bones as well. He had learned a few hundred operations back to leave the couple with four legs. It helped with balance.
An additional bone, carefully designed and 3D printed, was inserted horizontally to connect their spines. For stability mostly. A few more quick tweaks and adjustments were made, but the procedure went pretty smoothly. No unexpected rises in blood-pressure, nobody flat-lined. He used a dermal iron to fuse their skin together all down the center and up the back. Finally, the Needle Bearer -- a boy of some six years old -- stepped forward and offered Liam a three inch long needle. He proceeded to consecrate it with a flame and then added a few stitched darts along the line where their skin connected -- his dark, hers light. These darts weren't strictly necessary, but he found great symbolism in that needle.
Finally, after six long hours of work, Liam straightened and addressed the crowd. "Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you Donovan and Tricia, newly and forever Joined."
The couple managed to sit up and wave weakly toward the congregation. A roar of approval sounded through the church. The bride and groom looked at each other, ran their fingers down their bare, connected stomach. The healing and adjustment period would take quite a while, but they were mostly sound. Still, Liam insisted they use a joint-wheelchair for now.
With that, the service ended.
Liam hurried down the aisle as people swooped towards the couple and others meandered toward the reception hall. Laying a hand on her arm, he just barely managed to stop Donovan's sister.
"Excuse me," he said, wiping sweat off his forehead. "You're Donovan's sister, right?"
Her dark eyes swept up and down his body, taking in the scarlet stains on his white coat. He blushed.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Miriam." He extended his hand for a shake, but she didn't accept it. "I was hoping we could talk for a bit."
She hesitated, pursed her lips and then shook her head. "I'm sorry, there's nothing I have to say to you."
Blinking, he cocked his head to the side in puzzlement. "Are you...mad at me?"
"No...not exactly. I just don't...this doesn't seem healthy for Don."
"It couldn't be more healthy!" Liam piped. "He's complete now, he's--"
She started to turn toward the door again. "I really don't need to hear your propaganda."
"Wait! Why are you being so cold?" Disappointment flickered through him, but finally she stopped and looked back at him.
"Why do you do this? Why aren't you tied up to someone, too? Is it a sick game?"
Her accusations nipped at his insides, but a smile played at his lips. Her fight and fire, her boldness caught him by surprise, but also felt quite refreshing. "I just haven't found the right person yet." He marked the sentence with a slight raise of the eyebrows, a hint, a question.
She shook her head. "Not interested, doc."
With that, she turned her back and exited. He watched her go, admired the confidence of her stride. He longed to feel her hips pulling his own into that easy saunter, longed for her fire to fill the void in his chest. He wanted her to make him no longer a fragment, but a whole being.
Liam spun toward the groom, hope filling the smile on his face. "Donovan, tell me about your sister..."