Shanghai, China – April 2010
He really didn’t want to be at this international radiological congress, but his superiors had sent him to keep his eyes and ears open for any potential advances worthy of pursuing. He had endured the first two days well enough, but by the third, the agent’s patience was beginning to wear thin. He had totally exhausted his inventory of professional small talk, and frankly, his face ached from all the polite smiling.
Then, towards the end of the third day of sessions, he caught wind of a casual remark made by a retired Egyptian academic that was more than intriguing, something about an amputation that had been made with an industrial laser.
So the agent smoothly sought out the aforementioned academic, suggested that they have dinner together to discuss mutual interests in radiological interpretation, and that the agent’s home institution would be more than happy to cover the bill. Consequently, the invitation was heartily accepted, and the evening’s professional conversation went extremely well, especially after the second round of martinis.
As it turned out, this Egyptian academic, the former chair of the Radiological Sciences Department at the Cairo University Medical School, Professor Emeritus Dr. Ali Hassan, indeed was the one who had seen the radiographs of an extraordinary amputation, which had cleanly removed a right hand at mid-wrist. As the third martini was deftly applied, the former head of radiology waxed lyrical about the marvelously fused bone and astonishing precision of the hand’s removal, and the total lack of any evidence whatsoever that would have pointed to a mechanical amputation.
“My friend,” the retired professor embellished, “it must have been an accident involving a very powerful industrial laser, or a medical procedure using one, because I cannot think of any other kind of power that literally melts bone with such precision.”
Nodding, as if in deep thought, the agent then probed a little harder.
“But professor, where was this procedure undertaken?”
“I haven’t a clue,” the academic replied. “Must have been at either a European or American operating theatre. But…”
No longer pretending to hang onto the good professor’s every word, the agent pushed a little more.
“‘But’ what sir?”
Shaking his head and examining his hands, the professor said, “It was very strange, this amputation, as it was not a recent procedure. In fact, the area in question was well healed, callused, and fully calcified indicating that…, that it was an old wound. My colleague, who had brought this case to my attention, was very mysterious about the origin of the radiographs in question. Afterwards that troubled me.
“And there is more. I thought that I saw some very suspicious shadows in the radiographs themselves that my colleague never addressed nor asked me to comment upon.”
Now genuinely curious, the agent prodded yet again.
“What sort of shadows? Shadows from improper development? A miscalibrated x-ray machine perhaps?”
“No, no, I thought that too at first, but upon reflection, the shadows were too uniform to be produced by either of those issues.”
Now leaning forward across the remains of what had been a sumptuous dinner, the Egyptian stated in a horse whisper.
“The shadows looked to be bandages, as in mummy bandages. I well know that this sounds insane, but I have been reading x-rays for over fifty-five years.”
Deeply immersed in the fantastic possibilities of this radiological mystery, the agent then absent-mindedly asked.
“When did you last see these x-rays?”
“Some thirty years ago. Now do you have a better appreciation of my reticence regarding this subject?”