Kahlid Vermani went from the hospital bed to the chair. It was made of cold metal and the arms were constricting his body. He was not fat. He had become large and rigid over the past months. He looked down at his hands. They too were larger than he remembered. He clenched his fists and looked up at the man he had come to know only as Doctor-Colonel.
“I ask you again Lieutenant Vermani. You had crossed the border to Afghanistan. What was your mission?”
Vermani looked at his superior. “I am a patient Doctor-Colonel. We both wear the same uniform. And I am an Iranian soldier as are you. You know of my mission. Why do you keep asking?”
“Do not answer me with a question. You were the only survivor in your unit. You know me from the past weeks of my examining your body. You know the General seated next to me from before your mission. We are on your side Lieutenant. Tell me again of your mission.”
Vermani felt the soreness on the top of his right thigh and remembered the surgery. A minor muscle biopsy they said–a small piece of tissue to find out why his muscles had grown so rapidly throughout his body. He massaged the sore area. “We were to recover bodies of Americans after the Helios Rain.”
“And what happened?” The Doctor-Colonel tapped the rubber reflex hammer on his desktop.
“We waited for the explosion of the Helios canister. We waited two hours past the detonation hour. The American patrol never came but the blast did. It was a bright light just as the sun was coming up. The rain showered down on us. I was soaked. It smelled like fresh paint. The sun came out within an hour and my clothes seemed on fire. My skin burned. I couldn’t breathe. Then blackness came. That’s all I remember.”
“Do you remember coming to this hospital?”
“No, sir. I do not.”
“How many men were in your unit for the mission?”
“How do you feel today? I mean how is your breathing, how does your skin feel? Are your muscles still sore? Are you hungry? Are you ready to go back to work?”
Vermani looked at the General and back to the Doctor-Colonel feeling pummeled by the questions. “I feel bored. My breathing is good. My skin and my muscles feel tight and sometimes they are sore but the pain goes away after I exercise or after the Jacuzzi bath. I am not unusually hungry anymore. I would like to see my family before I return to my unit.”
“You may see your family once I get a satisfactory muscle biopsy and we do more testing. The first surgery was not productive. As for your unit–the Helios Rain destroyed it. You will be trained for a special mission.” The Doctor-Colonel turned to the General.
“Lieutenant, the Helios canister bomb meant for the Americans detonated over your unit by accident. The American patrol never appeared and the helicopter infrared picked up your group instead.” The General paused and folded his hands. “Mistakes happen in war.”
“We are not officially at war with the United States.”
“Lieutenant, Iran is always at war with the United States.”
“What about my family? Do they know I am alive?”
The General stood up from the desk and walked to the chair. He placed his right hand on Vermani’s shoulder. “You have been reported missing. Once we complete our tests we will tell them of your survival and you may see them.”
Vermani looked up and grabbed the rails of the chair. “It is unfair to them and to me.” He tore the steel arms from the chair and stood up holding the curved metal struts in each hand. “Why can’t I be released now and see them?”
The General stood back. The Doctor-Colonel came forward next to the General and pointed to Vermani’s arms with his reflex hammer.
“Lieutenant Vermani, that is the reason,” the Doctor-Colonel said. “We must know what you are now capable of.”
“Young man, no one outside of this hospital must know of the change in your body.” The General took one of the heavy steel chair arms from him. “Your physical change is top secret.”
No more interrogation occurred and after a week of administrative processing Vermani reported for new orders. Lieutenant Vermani knocked on the door before entering. He had been given clearance to go directly to the Doctor-Colonel’s office without the hassle of seeing multiple layers of medical staff. He stood at attention. At six-foot-3-inches and 208 pounds, he presented a formidable figure in his khaki uniform. His green epaulets were studded with his gold lieutenant rank and a gold-braid aiguillette around his left shoulder completed his smart appearance. Vermani had a close shave but a shadow could still be seen on his dark Iranian skin. His hair was black and close-cropped. He waited for the Doctor-Colonel to speak.
“Relax Lieutenant Vermani. I have your medical records and your condition is good. We still have been unsuccessful at getting a muscle biopsy. I called you here to tell you of your first assignment.”
“Has my family been notified of my survival, Doctor-Colonel?”
“Yes, they have. They have been told you received some minor injury requiring medical recuperation. I have arranged for you to talk on the telephone with them. You are to tell them nothing of the mission or about the Helios rain.”
“When will I be able to see them?”
“After your next training you will be considered if you are ready for a brief meeting with your family. Here are your orders.”
Vermani read the pages while still standing. He wrinkled his brow and stared at his superior.
“I am to learn to speak English?”
“Yes. You are to learn the American language until you have little accent. When you have achieved sufficient ability, you may see your family. The sooner you achieve this the sooner you will see them.”
Vermani did not ponder the reason for learning the language. If speaking English would get him home he would learn it and master it rapidly. “The orders say to proceed immediately. Am I to go today?”
“A lorry is waiting for you at the reception entrance. You will be issued a sidearm and will be considered returned to active duty. You are again a soldier Lieutenant Vermani.”
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