It was so cold I didn't need anesthesia. I slit the seal down its dappled chest, and I slit myself in the same place. I felt no pain, but I had to stop to catch my breath — I could feel that I was almost out of time. When I could fill my lungs again I reached into the seal and drew out its heart. It came away easily; it was a dark thing, warm and damp, like a baby animal. I opened the slit in my own chest and thrust the heart inside.
Success! The heart began to beat. I felt my own tired organ slow, then sink into its much-needed rest, and the new one kick, and stutter, and find its rhythm. I had always suspected that living flesh was far more complex and wonderful than medicine leads us to believe, and now I could feel that I'd been right. The seal heart had a new sound: a slow rumbling burr, long in the diastole, a sound of fur and fish and winters in dark water. A moment ago I had been dying; now I was a new kind of man.
I reached again into the body of the seal and drew its guts out so I could sew shut my wound. Then I looked down at my bare chest and saw the flesh stretched taut and unblemished across my sternum, just as it had always been. At first I panicked. I had been out on the blinding ice for so many days — was it possible that my eyes had begun to fail me? Worse yet, had my mind begun to go? Had I perhaps not performed the operation at all? Was I wandering alone with a failing heart and a failing brain in this most inhospitable of lands? But no, there beside me lay the seal, its chest open. And there inside me beat the miraculous thing, the life added to my life, whose measure I had just begun to take.
I stood, and for the first time in weeks — or months, which was it? — I did not have to fight for breath. I saw that here at the extreme edge of the world I had found a place where extreme things were possible, and there was no limit to what I could become.