The Explosion That Killed Ben Lippincott
There are few things less pleasant than being pelted with the remains of another human being.
Lippencott was hunched over a few vials of something or other before the explosion. He was a deeply serious man and did not enjoy frivolity or even companionship in the lab. "Lipp's Corner" was in the far section of the biology floor, and it took weaving around several long tables to get to. One day many years ago, I was approaching him from behind and was about to ask him if he would join the rest of us for lunch when his head bolted up from its hunched position.
"Uh!" he said, and there was a tremendous explosion.
Lipp quite literally unraveled. Though they did find his legs still attached to his pelvis and his arms were almost unscathed in themselves, his head and torso were, well, untraceable.
They found pieces. All over. But the majority of the matter that made up the upper half of Benjamin Lippencott just wasn't accounted for.
Quite a bit of the pieces they did find ended up on me and one of the things that is less pleasant than being pelted with remains of another human being is having to wipe those remains out of your eyes. I am thankful that my mouth was closed.
There were questions later on, of course, as to what Lipp was cooking up in those vials of his. Though glass all over the lab was broken, the feds spent quite a bit of money attempting to reconstruct each broken beaker, test tube and vial. They're meticulous people, federal investigators, and eventually they decided that there was only one piece of glassware that couldn't be accounted for. Their report made a big deal about the fact that it was the one Lipp was using. Analyses of blood and other tissues taken off my person gave no spectacular or unusual results.
I, of course, underwent therapy. Though the cases where a man has been smeared all over another man are rare, there were a few precedents. There was even a therapist who specialized in the area, in a manner of speaking. He had made a career of counseling veterans who had seen friends killed, usually messily, before their eyes.
What we found was this: I was upset by the incident. I had nightmares for two or three weeks. Though Lipp wasn't what I would have called a friend, I had known him for over five years, and, yes, I was sorry he was dead. But we also found out that I have a highly analytic mind and that I'm able to take such things as the random probability of life. We found I was mentally healthy, considering the circumstances. We both thought it noted a humorous mention that I now favored glasses over contacts.
I last saw the psychiatrist about three months after the accident, and I only mention him at all because I quickly had a nagging suspicion I should have stayed with him longer. This little voice kept telling me I shouldn't bother going back, but I didn't know whether to listen to it. It, surprisingly enough, was Lipp's voice.
Lipp was never a man to waste words. He would often arrive in the morning, forgo coffee or a donut, and slouch over to his corner to begin work. We might exchange a few words as we passed in the halls or when he would turn down my invitations to lunch, and I knew his voice as well as I knew those of the rest of the guys. It was a low, growly voice, never happy to be called into service.
It was my first week back at the lab, and I was doing some virus isolation experiments, using dyes to trace various substances through the bloodstream. It's simpleminded, easy-to-goof work, and I was reaching for a small vial of dye when, over my shoulder, I heard someone say, "No, that one's fat soluble. You'll lose it."
I started and turned around, somehow almost sure I wouldn't find anybody there. That type of voice isn't common, and there was only one person I knew -- had known -- with it. It was Lipp's voice, giving me instructions, apparently from beyond the grave.
It was a little unsettling.
It was also a little frustrating. Hearing voices is a common psychiatric complaint, and many people spend their entire lives listening to these ethereal spirits. Socrates claimed to have a voice in his head, but he apparently had no trouble communicating with it. I, however, tried everything I could think of, with very little initial success.
At first I ignored it, hoping it was just a phantom memory of the explosion, but it corrected another three mistakes that day and I decided it was something that I was going to have to deal with.
Just figuring out how to attempt communication with a disembodied voice is a serious exercise. At first, I just tried thinking at it.
"Hellooo," I thought. "Lipp?" He hated being called Lipp and I thought that if anything was going to bring out some sort of schizophrenia, it would be anger.
I excused myself to the bathroom and, Lord help me, tried speaking out loud. It sounds ridiculously corny in retrospect, something out of a really bad TV movie.
"Hello," I said again. "Lippencott? You there?"
After fifteen minutes of talking to myself in the bathroom, I decided that an appointment with my ex-therapist might be a good thing to consider. That brought the voice back.
"Don't do that," it said.
I sighed. Not only did I have enough of a psychiatric problem that the voice of a dead co-worker was in my head, but that voice didn't want me to get it taken care of. I wondered if a mental disease could be self-defensive.
Normally, I would have finished out the day, gone home, made an appointment with the therapist for the next day, and gone to sleep. This is pretty straight thinking, but it didn't work out that way at all.
I was home, making dinner, when Lipp again reared what I suppose you could call his head.
"Get a pencil and paper," he commanded. "Quickly."
I sighed again. I wasn't too worried about Lipp's voice, or the fact that it was in my head. I had a certain degree of faith in the psychiatric profession and I had recently been through a traumatic experience; it was to be expected that I would have some sort of delayed reaction. My therapist would just comfort me through this and I would soon be better. A mental disturbance is nothing to worry about if you have confidence in your sanity.
"Quickly!" the voice hissed at me.
"Yeah, yeah," I said. "Gimme a sec." Apparently, my delayed traumatic reaction was a pushy one.
I moved the pot I was boiling spaghetti in to a cool burner and sat down at the table with a pencil and a piece of paper.
"Listen to what I say," said Lipp. "Don't ask questions."
He began talking, in that low, gruff voice of his, and I slowly transcribed what he said. He corrected my chemistry errors and once reminded me where the apostrophe goes in a possessive.
I have to admit, in the end I'm glad that I never made my appointment with my therapist. Lipp had an incredible mind and most of his time in the lab had been spent working on unofficial pet projects. The only reason he took the job at the lab at all was because he didn't have the equipment he needed at home.
Maybe some day we'll try to work out how smearing the majority of his brain on my face transferred his quiet, sulky consciousness into my head, but for now, we're ankle deep in other ideas.
Lipp was working on what he called a "friendly virus" to fight cancer when he died. It seems that he wasn't boiling the two components before mixing them, and that caused the explosion. It was a simple mistake, but it allowed me to be up on stage with him when we got the Nobel Prize for medicine. He, of course, wrote the speech.
Right now, we're working on a friendly virus to fight AIDS and it looks promising. I guess I'm now considered the foremost biochemist in the world, and that's why they allow me my eccentricities.
Lipp and I thought it would be a good idea to have someone stand behind me while we work.
Greg Knauss (email@example.com) is a computer programmer and the creator of An Entirely Other Day. He's also a frequent contributor to TeeVee.
InterText stories written by Greg Knauss: "The Talisman" (v1n1), "Schrödinger's Monkey" (v1n1), "New Orleans Wins the War" (v1n2), "The Explosion That Killed Ben Lippincott" (v1n2), "The Damnation of Richard Gillman" (v1n3), "Novalight" (v4n3).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 1, Number 2 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1991 Greg Knauss.