Ladies and gentlemen, chapter 14! Now and then I reflect on how far this story has come (and how much it's flooded the literature section of the message boards) and I think I must be insane for writing this much just from a slightly stocky Gali picture... but I'm having fun writing, so what the heck. Enjoy!
“Can we do anything?” Hahli wondered.
“There’s a lot that needs to be done… but yes, I think we can fix him.” Gali said somberly.
“How?” I asked.
Gali sighed. “Well, we should probably start with the most dangerous thing…”
“The leg?” I mean, it was the most severely damaged part of his body… on the surface.
“The leg is bad, but it won’t kill him,” the Toa of Water asserted. “He’d be better off if we looked at his pump first.”
“What’s wrong with it?” Hahli asked.
“Look at his heartlight,” Gali instructed, “then compare it to yours, or mine.” That we did; our heartlights all had a steady, bright beat, though Gali’s was noticeably quicker than Hahli’s or mine, but Kopaka’s was nowhere near as bright, and it seemed to hiccup… a lot. “His heart pump is damaged somehow,” Gali concluded; “it’s not keeping up a strong or steady flow.” She turned to Hahli. “You said we still had painkillers?”
“Uhm, yes…” Hahli sorted through a few bottles before coming up with one that contained a few green, speckled pills, which she handed to Gali.
“Hmm…” the elder Toa inspected the bottle’s worn-down label. “They’ll take the edge off, but I fear that we’ll need something stronger.”
“I think that’s all we have,” Hahli replied.
“We’re about to do surgery here, Hahli!” Gali replied, suddenly agitated. “I’d rather not have him wake up in the middle of it!”
“Surgery?” I wasn’t too keen on the idea of doing that in a guest room with only outdated medicine to work with.
“Yes! We’ll need a knive, a stitching kit, a toolbox…” Gali hurriedly counted off on her fingers.
“What’s all this about?” a voice came from the doorway. I turned to see Jaller standing there. Unlike the Toa of Water, he definitely was in full combat gear, and had changed very little from that picture. “Hahli, what’s going on?” he demanded. “I come home to find Macku frantically going through the cabinets, and now you’ve occupied a guest room…” then he noticed me. “And who are you?”
“Jaller!” Gali greeted him before I could reply, clearly taking the Toa of Fire by surprise with her presence. “Good thing you’re here: we need your help.”
“You’re up here too!? Help? With what?” Jaller entered the room, only to see Kopaka on the bed. Suffice to say he wasn’t much good at concealing his feelings on the mounting number of surprises. “I-is that… Is that Kopaka?” he asked. Hahli nodded. “What happened to him!?” Jaller looked to each of us for answers.
“Not important,” Gali said. “What is important is that we’re going to fix him.”
“So this is what it takes to get you out of the basement…” Jaller mumbled, still not really believing what he was seeing. “Fine then. You said I could help?”
“You could start by finding a toolbox,” Gali replied. “We’ll be doing surgery.”
“By Mata Nui, I hope this goes well…” Jaller moved out, presumably to retrieve the tools.
“How can I help?” I inquired.
Gali thought for a moment. “We’ll need to keep him out during the procedure… can you use Psionics to keep him asleep?”
“Uhm… I can give him pleasant dreams, maybe…” I wasn’t too sure. “Anything beyond that would be stabbing in the dark at mind control, and I’m not really comfortable with that.”
“Well, keep an eye on what he’s thinking,” Gali said as she created some water in her hand and used it to maneuver one of the pain killer pills down Kopaka’s throat. “That should help with any chance of pain signals waking him up… but if you could try to block out pain it would help a lot.”
“I think he does that rather well himelf,” I joked half-heartedly, “but I can do it.”
So I prepared to try and isolate Kopaka’s mind from... well, his body. It’s tricky, you see, because much of what I can actually ‘see,’ if you can call it that, is the mind reacting to what the body sends it… and I basically was trying to cut some of the signals by putting up a psionic barrier. There was no telling how that would alter Kopaka’s experience, though in theory it should’ve made the whole procedure like a peaceful night’s sleep to him. Meanwhile, Gali instructed Hahli to go find her Akaku Nuva, the knife, and the sowing kit from earlier, while she and I busied ourselves with removing Kopaka’s chestplate. When Hahli returned with the mask, Gali used it to inspect the insides of his body more closely; she wasn’t much thrilled at what she saw, but before she could explain what concerned her, Jaller arrived with a pretty expansive set of tools.
From that point on, the operation was in full gear. Gali used a knife to carefully cut through muscle strands that enveloped the chest, laying bare the core structure beneath; a mesh cage that contained and protected the vital organs. Worryingly, the mesh already looked like it had taken a lot of hits and had been shoddily repaired more than once. Wire cutters from Jaller’s kit made opening it up a quick job, but all of us except Gali were staggered when we saw inside… much of the cavity was filled with the air exchangers, but these were deeply scarred and had clearly sustained multiple cutting and stabbing wounds.
“We’ll have to stitch those up too…” Gali noted. However, the most shocking was the state of the pump, located in the center of the chest right behind where the heartlight was before we pulled it aside with the mesh. It was in bad shape; the housing was cracked, though thankfully nothing appeared to be leaking out, and it had a large dent on one side. It produced an ominous rattling sound, as though something inside was constantly banging against the bent housing.
“How’d it get cracked like that?” Hahli asked.
“The cold…” Jaller observed, “it makes metal brittle. The pump housing got too cold, then something hit it hard… producing the dent and the cracks.”
“Too cold for a Toa of Ice?” I found that hard to believe.
“He can deal with it better than we can,” Gali explained, “but he is far from invulnerable. There’s also a lot of dirt in his system.”
“So… his heart’s smashed and his blood’s dirty…” I concluded.
“I can deal with the blood,” Gali said. “Water cleanses… but the state of the pump is another matter, which is why you’re here.” She pointed at Jaller. “Fire welds.”
“Woah!” Jaller reacted. “Fixing Tahu’s armor, fine, but I’m not heating a running heart pump close to melting point. It’d kill him!”
“I can’t very well take it out for you,” Gali countered, increasingly frustrated, “and if we don’t fix that dent and the cracks, this thing’ll soon stop on its own! Of course, then you can take your sweet time fixing it up, except WE WON’T HAVE A TOA LEFT TO PUT IT IN!” Her heartlight flashed bright… the stress of the situation, coupled with these outbursts, were not doing her already taxed body any favors.
“Okay, okay!” Jaller raised his hands. “I’ll do it, but you’ll have to guarantee it’s safe first.”
“Thank you.” Gali was still on edge. She took a few deep breaths, then set about explaining: “Blood’s mostly liquid protodermis. Hahli can keep it flowing through there no matter what you do, and it’ll take care of the cooling, as long as we don’t have the pump too hot for too long. It won’t be comfortable for Kopaka, but that’s what she’s here for.” She nodded to me.
“I’m on it,” I assured him. “I’m Lis, by the way.”
“Please, Jaller,” Hahli pleaded.
“Fine…” Jaller sighed. “If we’re all so intent on doing this, I suppose we’d better get to it.”
For the next three hours, Hahli and Jaller were a team in sync, surprisingly. Jaller carefully repeated a process of finding a crack, heating the area around it until the metal turned red, and then lightly hammering it closed, while Hahli kept up blood pressure on the inside to keep the pump itself clear. The large dent was handled that way as well; heated until the metal was soft enough to manipulate, after which both Hahli and Gali carefully pressed the blood against it on the inside to push out and restore the area to its original shape. The operation was difficult because they had to shape the flow to pressure that one area of the housing without allowing it to slow down too much; the latter option would’ve stopped the pump completely, which would’ve been catastrophic. On the plus side, once the dent was (mostly) gone, the ominous rattling sound stopped.
By the end, the pump looked far from new, but it was a great improvement, and when we temporarily closed the mesh and re-connected the heartlight, it already displayed a much more consistent beat than the day before, though still a weak one. However, by that point we were all well exhausted.
“You need me to weld the mesh closed as well?” Jaller asked, not sounding excited about the prospect. “We’ve passed midnight here, and I don’t have much left in me.”
“Neither do I…” Hahli admitted.
“The imminent danger has been averted,” Gali concluded. “We’ll have to work on the air exchangers, but not tonight.” She turned to me: “You can stop now, too.”
“Are you sure?” I was still blocking pain signals left and right. “His chest is still open, and his body doesn’t like that.”
“It’ll hurt him,” Gali took out another pain killer pill and gently washed it down Kopaka’s throat, “but you need the break.”
“Okay then…” I broke off contact. I would’ve gone for hours longer if needed, but now that I wasn’t focusing on Kopaka anymore, I realized just how taxing an activity it was; I was exhausted, too. Now that we had all disengaged for the moment, we could at last breathe a sigh of relief. Yes, Kopaka’s chest was still open, and nothing’d been done about the air exchangers, but the most imminent problem had been apparently solved.
“Thanks for helping me press out that dent,” Hahli turned to Gali.
“It would have been nice if you’d jumped in a little more often,” Jaller commented to the older Toa. He had a point: apart from when they were working out the big dent, Gali had mostly sat by and offered occasional advice. “Why didn’t you?”
“Because I’m going to be up all night keeping an eye on him and cleansing his blood,” Gali said.
“And how do you plan to do that?” Jaller said with a surprisingly cynical tone. “Put it through a sieve?”
“In a way,” Gali replied coldly.
“Well, I’ll let you get to sieving then.” Jaller got up.
“I’ll check in with you in the morning, okay?” Hahli told Gali, before yawning and getting up as well.
“Of course… good night.” Gali turned her attention back to Kopaka as Jaller and Hahli left the room.
“I can stay, if you need me…” I offered.
“Not as much as you need sleep right now,” Gali said quietly. “Go, get some rest. I’ll probably need your help again tomorrow.”
“Goodnight, then.” I got up and stepped out as well. Then I realized I should’ve probably asked Hahli about where I was expected to stay, or if I was going to stay the night at all. With all the chaos concerning Kopaka, I hadn’t really considered it, and I wanted to make sure it was okay with them first. Following her and Jaller, I got about halfway down the stairs when I heard them talking in the living room.
“What do you mean, routine?” Hahli asked.
“I mean that this has happened before.” Jaller said, sounding rather agitated. “It’s like this every time Tahu stops by, and I don’t like where it’s going.”
“But this time’s different,” Hahli argued. “For one, that isn’t Tahu lying up there!”
“An insignificant detail,” Jaller countered. “Things’ll play out the same as they always have.”
“Kopaka is dying!” Hahli exclaimed. “Don’t you see how much more important that is than Tahu’s little scratches? Gali knows that! This’ll be the time we’ve been waiting for!”
“The time you’ve been waiting for, and no it won’t!” Jaller argued. “Kopaka’ll wake up at the end of it, and he’ll be just like Tahu: he’ll point out the truth, she can’t take it, he leaves, and all the progress you say she’s making will be gone! Again!”
“Kopaka isn’t like that!” Hahli shot back. “He’s critical, maybe, but I told him not to bring it up and he promised!”
“He did? Really?” Jaller was skeptical.
“Okay, fine, I asked him and he nodded yes!” Hahli admitted. “But that’s a promise, and Kopaka takes those seriously!”
“You think you know him that well!?” Jaller shouted in an almost mocking tone. “Kopaka is worse than Tahu! Tahu at least cares; Kopaka’ll tell the truth and bugger the consequences! After all this, she’ll be back in our basement, more depressed than ever, and mindlessly making her way through mountains of food and programs that we have to pay for!”
“Kopaka won’t destroy her like that! And regardless, we owe her our lives, so have some respect!” Hahli pleaded.
“We’ve been respectful, we’ve been patient, we’ve tried to help, and nothing’s worked!” Jaller was sick and tired of it. “If it takes a dying Toa to get her out of that basement...” he sighed. “Kopaka is only going to be here for so long. She’ll slip away again afterwards regardless of what he does.”
“She’s stronger than that!” Hahli argued, “and besides, your attitude is doing nothing to help her!”
Neither of them noticed, but as they continued arguing in the living room, the front door opened and Hewkii stepped into the hallway. I quickly activated my Volitak to remain hidden in the stairway. Hewkii put aside the Kolhii stick he’d been carrying, stretched, then seemed to realize there was an argument going on… and his cheerful expression instantly turned sour. He made his way to the living room, but stopped at the doorway and just leant against the wall, watching the argument unfold.
“Neither is yours, or Macku’s for that matter,” Jaller pointed out to Hahli. “You’re not doing her any favors by ignoring the truth! She’s destroying herself, she doesn’t care anymore, and you’re letting her!”
“She does care!” Hahli was getting emotional. “Don’t you ever talk with her!? She’s embarrassed! She feels useless! She’s ashamed! And you know what!? It only keeps her trapped down there! She just needs something to properly get going again… this is it!”
“And what if it isn’t!?” Jaller shot back. “I’m not doing this anymore! I’m not letting you throw away your income and your life just to keep her around and pity her!”
“That’s not your decision to make!” Hahli reminded him. “How I spend my earnings is none of your business!”
Hewkii cleared his throat and stepped forward. “Okay, that’s enough! Cut it out, cut it out…”
author's note: The argument between Jaller and Hahli was probably the toughest conversation that I've written so far; I wanted to show that they still clearly care for each other (in fact, I'd ship them), but the issue of Gali staying with them has been a dividing point for some time, and Kopaka's appearance only makes it worse. Gali's outbursts before the surgery probably didn't help matters...
I'll post more chapters as I finish them. Enjoy!