The Device: Part 1

[Editor's Note: This is the beginning of a new fictitious series by DewNo. If you're not sure where it's going, stay tuned for future installments. If you don't know who DewNo is, then you missed his excellent two-parter on Manu and Borges: The Infinite Chase. You can find it here and here. The recap of last night's non-game against the Portland Trailblazers will be posted around noon central time. - jrw]

"How strange it is to be anything at all"
--Neutral Milk Hotel

Tim dribble-drobbled the ball into nowhere. Another turnover. Another missed opportunity.

"What a shame," Tim thought, "but history tells us that the lateral dribble-drobble is the first thing to go for big men."

Even for a smart player like Tim Duncan, age took its toll quickly on the body. But he did somewhat well, all considering, he supposed. "Heh," Tim laughed, not amused about the turnover, but amused at himself for making such a simple mistake. Tim resolved to himself not to make the same mistake again, to trust his more well-dribbled teammates next time. As he was deciding all of this, he heard a little bird from the sidelines.

"Tim, you've got to do better next time, or we'll trade you for Methuselah and cash considerations! We need some younger legs. Heh heh ha!" Sean Elliott - whose career had been ended swiftly by injuries and health concerns, took a detached amusement to the problem of age.

"What team does he play for?" Tim deadpanned, and Sean was caught off guard before meeting Tim's smile. But the moment passed, and Tim - flanked by his less famous teammate Manu Ginobili - watched an opponent dribble-drobble towards him. With expertise and careful judgment, Tim put his hand towards his opponent as a cursory (though psychologically precise) test of the opponent's reaction time. Unfortunately, as he did so, so did Manu, and Tim felt something crack in his teammate's hand.

"Whoops," Tim said, as he got the trainers over to his anguished friend Manu.

A tornado of light began. Something smashed into Tim Duncan, knocking him out. When he awoke the arena was indoors. He took no note of it.

This Manu Ginobili was in the back of an ambulance with some broken bones, and from the stereo of the ambulance this Manu heard the crisp acoustic guitar of an indie band. Manu heard that line and thought that American culture - for all its guns and machismo and swagger - could be as docile and as yearning as a patient in an ambulance. And Manu knew why: Even the great individuals were not immune from death and decay and loss, and they were not to know when death would take them. At first longevity might have something to do with power and greatness, but after about 90 years the statistics of lifespan are fully in the driver's seat and you are nowhere but the backseat, lying on a bed with wheels that roll a little and an IV that pumps saline or whatever into your arm and the only thing keeping you in place is a thin rope or two and the utmost care of the paramedics driving and monitoring you.

In this state of mind, Manu was wheeled into the hospital and taken to the top floor. He felt them marking on his head and talking about oxygenation and as a dark mask was placed over his nose and mouth, Manu found that a pool of numbness was spreading from behind the mask onto his consciousness entire, like a bowl of gravy whisked by a muscular chef.

"Why hello, Manu! How delightful of you to rejoin us! This is planet Earth! How are you?" Manu instinctively opened his eyes to unbearable brightness and then to the sight of a familiar doctor.

"Where am I, doctor? I mean, in the hospital, I know that. But where? And why?"

"It's nice to see that you're so aware. Why, you're in the hospital, Manu. You're in intensive care but that's just a precautionary measure. You should be fine."

"What is it I'm recovering from? I don't remember an injury."

"When you were double-teaming a player, both trying for a steal, Tim Duncan put his hand out at the same time that you put your head out in a perpendicular angle. As you may remember, Tim was wearing some heavy protection for his hands, and Tim's reaction time simply isn't what it was. So he's been a little bit careless on occasion with his swinging, boxing-glove-like hands. You suffered a fairly standard concussion similar to that of a boxer getting hit in the back of the head."

Manu shook his head both in astonishment and to see if he could feel any lingering pain. He couldn't, but being untrained medically, Manu began to wonder if he was supposed to feel lingering pain and got worried anyway. The doctor had seen this before and reassured Manu. "The blow wasn't life-threatening, and we're fairly convinced that there's no serious damage. On the other hand, you had some internal bleeding and so we had to do a minor procedure."

"Like what?" Manu asked immediately.

"Well, it's called trepanation. But you're probably better off not knowing what that is."

"Oh, alright," Manu said, noting to himself that in the war for personal enlightenment it's sometimes best to choose your battles. "So when can I go home, doctor?"

"In a few days, Manu. But you won't be playing for awhile. You know Coach Popovich and how-"

"Of course," Manu knew his coach well, and one thing he never had to worry about was his coach giving him too many minutes, especially after injury.

As they spoke another light-storm was brewing on the other side of San Antonio. Every day for twenty years in apparently random urban areas, a pyrotechnic tornado would drop and blow sand and obscuring dust would fly all around the city and the minds of the people in the path of the storm would grow scattered. The cars in the area would all stop in their tracks, a new safety feature designed in response. People would go to sleep or fugue and when they'd wake up, some of them would report having been someone different before the light-storm. And their friends - some of whom'd had the same experience years before - would laugh and shake their heads and show their confused friend exhaustive proof that they were who their friends said they were. And when the afflicted searched his or her memory, they'd remember their "new" friends' names and all was fine in a while except for a little bit of lingering doubt. But what fantastic dreams they'd report in that state! Patriarchs would remember lives as beggars and in the streets the beggars would report the kingly prominence they'd attained before the latest storm.

As the news on the monitor turned its characteristic shade of gray that meant a light storm and its transverse interference, Manu and the doctor sighed and resumed their conversation with a certain darkness, knowing they might have to comfort kith and kin in the morning.

"So... do you have any questions about the surgery, Manu?"

"Well, just one, doctor. You've been with the Spurs for a long time, and so have I. Can I ask you something that might be unsettling?"

"What do you want to know?"

"Is The Device real?"

"How could you have found that out, Manu? That's the most closely-guarded secret in our entire organization."

"That's strange to hear, doctor."

"Why, Manu?"

"Because you just told me it exists."

The doctor was unimpressed by the chicanery of action-movie dialogue. "It's in your skull, Manu. We installed it when we did the trepanation."

"Oh."

"Yeah."

"Hmm... maybe you should tell me what trepanation is, then, Doctor."

"Yeah."

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