Beginnings of the Naval Wonder

"Mr. and Mrs. Bates?"

There was the small commotion of two people rising and gathering their things.

"This way please."

Mr. and Mrs. bates gladly followed the orderly out of the chaos of the hospital's patient waiting area and into the privacy of a small examining room. The orderly was stout and cordial and obviously tired.

Once they were situated they were told the doctor would be with them shortly. Mrs. Bates was still inconsolable.

Eventually, the doctor entered, closing the door behind him. His expression appeared somber.

"The good news is that we were able to save your son. The bad news is that... we were forced to amputate."

"Am... amputate?"

Mrs. Bates burst into tears.

"My baby! Oh, my precious baby!" Mrs. Bates wailed, "How will he ever live a normal life?"

"It's alright! It's alright! " the doctor reassured them. "We expect him to make a full recovery."

Mr. Bates began a violent tremor in his lower lip, which quickly spread to his whole frame, and then he was blubbering so as to put Mrs. Bates to shame.

"There, there" the doctor said, patting them on the shoulder, "I know just what will make you feel better."

He left the room to the tune of great heaving sobs, and returned sporting a big grin and two giant red lollipops.

* * *
In the end, the doctor's prognostications turned out to be true. Bridger Bates was out of the hospital within the week, and back at a school in two. He was well, and smiling, and seemed to get on much better than Mr. and Mrs. Bates, although they too eventually warmed to the child's condition, and began to think that things might not be so bad afterall.

"So, what's it like?"

Bridger was busy forming the keep of an elaborate sandcastle, which he imagined to house a race of friendly sand people who ate only algebra teachers. The address came from the freckled face of one Joanna Perkins.

"What's what like?"

"Having your belly button amputated."

Bridger began searching for twigs with which to build his portcullis.

"Oh, it's not that bad. I can't do all the things I used to do. Leastwise, not the things that require a belly button. But I don't have to clean it anymore, so that's a plus. And I got to eat ice cream for a whole week when I came home."

The other kids on the playground were clearly impressed.

"But I'm getting a new one."

There were immediately gasps of disbelief.

"A new one?"

"Is that possible?"

"A new bellybutton?"

"Will it go where they old one went?"

"How do they attach it?"

"When are you getting it?"

Bridger began digging a moat.

"Tomorrow. I have an appointment to see the doctor. It's not a real bellybutton, just a prosthetic one. But the doctor says that it will work the same. Mostly."

The news spread like wildfire. Boys made way for him in the hallway. Girls shyly averted their eyes. This was significant. This was monumental. This was the most interesting thing to happen since Samantha Puddings had lost three of her teeth at the same time.

The next few days the school yard was full of apprehension. When at last Bridger returned, there was only sheer-unadulterated awe reflected in the faces of those who saw him. Somehow he seemed more confident, more purposed, more awesome. This time, no one asked questions. They waited expectantly.

All except Victor Brassario.

Victor was the classic brute, an oversized bumpkin with a distinct sense that if he wasn't throwing his fist at something, he just wasn't making a contribution. And he didn't much care for upstarts like Bridger being doused with sudden awe and popularity. It would be Victor's job to set everything back in its proper place.

With a thuggish jaunt, he approached, stopping with his nose just inches from Bridger's face.

"I don't care if you have new belly button," said Victor, "You are still a mega-doofus. " And with that, he cocked his fist to lay Bridger out with a fantastic punch.

The onlookers flinched. Some covered their eyes. Others ran to go get a teacher. The next few seconds were not looking so good for Bridger.

Suddenly, Victor was tackled by two brawny men in suits, who immediately began to pommel him with their fists. Everyone was quite surprised, except for Bridger.

"My belly button is a very expensive government prototype," Bridger explained, "Those guys make sure it doesn't get muffed up any."

There was a general round of approval at this development, although the students were disappointed that Bridger had not actually used his new bellybutton to defeat the bully. As the school bell rang the crowds grudgingly dissolved, ambling back into the interior buildings to begin classes.

Bridger, however, thrust up his arms, and hurled himself into the sky, flying off into the city. The two men in suits jumped into a rocket powered scooter to follow him.