"Koller, where exactly is that going to go?"
There's no hiding the nervousness in Adam's voice as he eyes the modified power drill in the engineer's hand, honing in on the shining microdisc now fitted to the bit. In response he gets a casual shrug, Koller shuffling his stool a little closer as he leans in to work on Adam seated in the chair.
"Relax, Jensen. This isn't going anywhere. It's just a magneto-drill; will let me get some of the bolts unscrewed from your chest." He gives the disc a spin, lowering it to one of the metal rivets below Adam's exposed collarbone and lets the magnet latch on. "This is the thing I have to probe with." With his free hand, Koller nudges the engineering stethoscope he's wearing draped around his neck as though he's an actual bonafide doctor, and Adam grunts warily.
The drill whirs again, and Adam tenses as he feels one of the bolts securing the framework in his chest loosening. Glancing down, he watches as Koller pulls the drill away, bolt attached, to leave a raw, pinkish hole in the skin. Blood trickles out in a feeble ooze, swiftly caught by a wad of gauze.
"Don't worry about that," Koller continues, unconcerned. "It's like a piercing, sometimes it can bleed."
"Piercings aren't mean to bleed."
"Well, this one goes a little deeper than usual." He puts the mechanics stethoscope on and taps the tip of the wand-like probe with an augmented finger. "You still doing okay? How are those painkillers working for you?"
Chin resting on his clavicle, Adam sees the rawness of the hole as a pink blur at the edge of his vision, and looks away again. He's never considered himself squeamish, but he isn't sure he wants to watch this. "I'm fine. Can we just get this over with?"
"Okay, you're the boss."
Prompting just a twinge of pain, the metal rod slides into the gap, penetrating deep as Koller explores the structures inside Adam's chest and concentrates on the sounds made by the running augs. Within a few seconds, he's found what he's looking for.
"Ah, I can hear the problem. It's this one here. Take a deep breath and hold it."
The breath doesn't come easy, but Adam does what he's told, averting his gaze from Koller's face to stare at the dismembered aug arms hanging from the ceiling, and then back again when he realises he'd rather have some indication of what's going on. The bioengineer is frowning slightly.
"Okay, breathe out and in again."
Adam does. As it has been for the days leading up to him coming here, his chest feels hot and tight.
"The filter on your rebreather needs changing," Koller quickly concludes. "What the hell have you done to it, Jensen? Sounds like you've got that much shit built up in there it's a wonder you're still breathing at all."
Adam scowls back, feeling another prickle of discomfort as Koller pulls the probe out and wipes off the blood. "Yeah, well I was told by Sarif the filter should last five years. Didn't exactly come with a warranty."
"Five years, sure, if you don't abuse it. You smoke too much, Jensen. The system's good for filtering out toxins but it's not made to break down tar." He pulls the eartips from his ears and then, on a whim, turns to offer them to Jensen. "You wanna hear how badly you've fucked it?"
Adam's eyes turn in the direction of the instrument, and narrow. "I'm good, thanks. Just tell me you can replace it?"
"Sure, I've got the parts. But promise me you'll take better care of the next one."
"Yeah, yeah. Cut down on the smokes. I got it, Koller."
The tech pushes his stool back and stands to begin gathering more equipment. "Well, at least you'll be glad to know you can be awake for this. I remember you saying how much you hate being unconscious."
Both Adam's eyebrows suddenly jump a little higher. "Awake?"
"It's a little hard to get you breathing anaesthetic gases when it's your breathing apparatus I'm working on. But don't worry, numbing spray to the back of the throat, and I can get my gear down there without you feeling a thing."
"You're saying you're going to have to shove stuff down my throat?"
With a firm look, Koller collects the replacement filter and assorted equipment on a tray and crosses back to him. "Yes, Jensen, I can either push some microsurgery cables down your windpipe to get the old filter out, or I can crack your sternum to dismantle your rebreather entirely. Which would you prefer?"
Adam purses his lips, narrows his eyes, and then grunts. "Alright, fine. You just don't have to look so excited about."
"Always a pleasure to work on Sarif tech," Koller says with a shrug, and puts his tray down on the nearby table before pulling up the stool to sit even closer. "Pity you don't treat it with the respect it deserves. But fine, I'll stop lecturing you now. Open up." He's picked up some spider gag-like contraption that Jensen can't decide if it belongs to a dentist's surgery or a BDSM dungeon, and is currently holding it hovering in front of Adam's mouth.
Adam eyes it warily. "Koller…"
"This won't hurt unless you make it, Jensen."
"You've sterilised that, right?"
"Of course." Koller rolls his eyes. "Come on, the sooner you let me get started the sooner this is over."
Adam grits his teeth, and then grudgingly opens his mouth to let Koller slip the device in. It doesn't quite hurt, but he feels the discomfort as the metal struts slide between his teeth and ratchet his jaw open. Surgical steel tangs sharp and cool on his tongue.
"There, that's not so bad, is it?" Koller mutters, and with a glare, Adam opens a channel on his infolink and lets the connection flicker to life.
"Fuck you, Koller."
Momentarily surprised, Koller blinks. Then his mouth twitches and he seems to be fighting back a chuckle. "Oh, so you think you can complain that way instead? Well, when I get these past your vocal chords you won't be able to subvocalise either." He holds up a bundle of thick cables in his two-fingered hand that has Adam suddenly worrying about a choking hazard, and then in his other hand he raises the bottle of anaesthetic spray. "Head back and hold your breath. You'll thank me for not getting this on your tongue."
Jensen does as he's asked, though it's a fight not to squirm as Koller gets closer than is reasonably comfortable to direct the nozzle to the back of his throat. The coolness hits in a sudden burst and Adam feels his chest constrict as he suppresses the urge to cough.
"Just relax," Koller continues. "This really doesn't have to be so bad if you don't try to fight me."
"You going to talk throughout the whole thing?"
"What, would you rather not know what I'm doing?"
Adam keeps his head tilted back, but in the lower half of his vision augmented eyes track Koller's movements with the cables: two have small mechanical claws attached to the ends, one terminates in a plastic dome that looks to house an LED, while one, best as Jensen can tell, is hollow.
"So, these are to get the filter out, this is for the camera so I can see what I'm doing, and this is just to keep your airway open," Koller explains, screwing the other ends of two of the cables into ports in the vacant spaces between the fingers of his right hand. At his command, he lets the claws close and release a few times to demonstrate. "I have complete control. Really straightforward procedure. I've done stuff like it to myself."
"Please just get on with it, Koller." The back of Adam's throat has rapidly turned almost completely numb, like there's a shapeless lacuna just above his larynx where his lungs are supposed to connect with his nose and mouth. Combined with the existing difficulty breathing, it isn't a pleasant feeling.
"Alright, alright. This shouldn't take long, but one thing you really don't want is for me to rush."
Koller leans in again, and Adam suddenly the feels the brush of dark curls falling onto his cheek and hot breath on his chin as the mechanic gets close enough to peer to the back of his mouth. "Don't move," Koller warns, the bundle of cables passing Adam's lips. "And try not to swallow. The stiller you are, the smoother this goes down."
Thick tubes of plastic insulation slide across Jensen's tongue, niggling faintly at his dulled gag reflex as they pass his soft palate, and then plunge into the blank space where he can feel nothing at all.