Author Topic: Chapter 12  (Read 9782 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 12
« on: June 10, 2022, 02:58:26 AM »
Chapter 12

The MEG data center was mostly empty when Tom arrived. Kyle nodded at him on his way out, and Amir was in the far corner looking at one of the computer displays.

His back was to the door and he was wearing headphones. As Tom approached, he could hear Amir humming under his breath. He tapped Amir on the shoulder.

“Hey,” he said, removing the headphones.

Tom handed him the files on the three new subjects. “Hey. Here are the files you wanted.” He looked around briefly, through the window into the MEG exercise yard. There were a bunch of inmates out there still wearing the nightmarish-looking headgear, but some hadn’t been fitted for one yet, or were taking a break from them. “Are your new guys out there right now?”

Amir shook his head. “They’re with Dr. Shalmers getting their brains picked for psych data. He says it’ll take a few days. I think he’s still sore he didn’t get a chance to shrink Vicky’s head before she got the code.”

“I still don’t get why all those interviews are necessary,” Tom said offhandedly. “I mean Vicky never went through anything like that, and she’s doing fine. At least from what I can tell.”

“You know how I feel about psychiatrists personally, but I’m glad he’s doing them,” Amir said thoughtfully. “Vicky’s procedure was practically an emergency. We only did it because it was either that or get shut down completely. Actually, I think we got very lucky with her. For all we knew, the code might have caused serious psychological problems. With these new folks we have more time, and can afford to be more careful.”

He leaned back from the desk for a moment. “I mean think about it. Every person’s mind works a little bit differently. For Vicky, her sense of right and wrong has been driving her for a long time now, so having that sense be suddenly enforced wasn’t that much of a change. Her conscious idea of what was the right thing to do already matched her subconscious version pretty closely. But what if these men have never really thought about what they’re doing or why? If their conscious understanding of right and wrong is undeveloped, or worse, warped by upbringing or trauma, having a code could be a nightmare for them. It might be constantly going off on them, for reasons they couldn’t understand!”

That was a troubling thought. Tom watched the exercise yard in silence for a few moments, as Amir went back to studying the files. Belatedly, he realized Amir had started humming again. His headphones were still resting on the table.

“Would you cut that out?”

Amir looked at him in confusion, and Tom sighed. “The humming.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

After a few seconds, Tom couldn’t help himself. “And wipe that grin off your face, would you? You’re not the first person to fall in love, you know.”

At that, Amir paused, and his eyes narrowed. “What are you talking about?”

“You and Vicky, genius. It’s obvious to anyone who knows you. Hell, even Max commented on it.” Tom did little to hide the light-hearted scorn in his voice.

“Well, I suppose it would be naïve to think it would stay secret,” Amir admitted. "I don't want to oversell it. I don’t know if it’s love, but I am happy. We both are.”

Tom scoffed. His own romantic endeavors had never been very successful. "Who really knows what love is, anyway? I’m happy for you. Just try to keep from getting distracted by it, ok?” He tapped on the computer screen. “What you’re doing is kind of important. Oh, Vicky said you’re flying back to Israel tomorrow. Is everything all right?”

“Yeah, I’ve just got some family things to take care of back home,” Amir said in a more somber tone. “It should only take a week or so. It’s a pity that I’ll miss the surgeries, but the new surgeons coming in will have my notes, and Devin can advise them. They’ll do fine.”

“No, they won’t,” Tom said firmly. “We’re delaying the surgeries until you’re back. I’m sure they’re all competent, but you’re the only person who’s actually done this procedure so far. I can’t think of anyone more qualified.”

Amir looked a little embarrassed at that, but nodded after a moment. “Won’t Steven Perry and Oliver Corey have something to say about that? I mean, do you have the authority to just delay the procedures like that?”

“Not officially, but then none of this is really official,” Tom said confidently. “They know that you’re our best chance at duplicating your earlier success, so I’m sure they’ll agree. Besides, I wasn’t planning on telling them about your trip until after you’d left.”

Amir chuckled.

Peripherally, Tom was aware of someone else approaching them from the far door. It was Dr. Shalmers. “Hey, Doc. How go the interviews?”

“Straightforward enough,” the heavyset, bearded man put in. “Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Is Miss Brandt around here somewhere?”

“No, she’s over in the ‘prison’ wing, talking to some of the inmates from her previous experiment. Why?”

“Well, it’s nothing concrete yet, but I’m getting some unexpected variations in the answers from my three interviewees. I might need more time than I originally estimated before declaring them fit for the procedure. I was hoping to talk to Miss Brandt as well, to try and get a baseline comparison.”

Tom looked over at Amir with amusement. “Looks like you’re in luck, Doc. We just decided to delay for a few days. Looks like you’ll get that extra time, and you won’t even need to beg for it.”

Shalmers didn’t look amused.

“Just out of curiosity,” Amir put in, possibly trying to lighten the mood. “What if you need more time than that? What if the day comes and one or more of your patients aren’t fit?”

“Then I won’t sign off on the procedure,” Shalmers said bluntly. “The Bureau of Prisons can proceed without my approval, but they’ll get sued back into the stone age if they try. I won’t be pressured or rushed in my analysis. Unlike some people who call themselves professionals.”

Wow, this guy was a man after Amir’s own heart, Tom reflected for a moment. He was about to say as much, before realizing Shalmers had been looking right at Amir when he’d said that last part. His expression wasn’t one of idle chatter or disinterest. There was hostility there, and it was directed at Amir.

To his credit, Amir kept a straight face. “If you have something to say to me, say it.”

“All right. You’re a disgrace to the medical profession. You performed an experimental medical procedure on a vulnerable, desperate patient, without any thought of the legal or ethical consequences. You’re lucky Miss Brandt didn’t end up brain dead, or tortured by the implant.”

He took a moment, apparently collecting his thoughts. “I didn’t know about this procedure before Mr. Penderton hired me, but if I had, I would have wanted to be here all the more. Just to make sure you wouldn’t do something that reckless a second time. Not without a proper assessment done first. As far as I’m concerned you may be more of a threat to those inmates than they are to each other!”

Both Amir and Tom were stunned by the outburst. Tom had interviewed Shalmers personally, and had no idea about any of this. It said good things about him that ethics were his driving principle. He might have even made a good candidate for a code himself, if he’d been in prison. “Do you want me to take this?” He asked after a bit.

Amir shook his head. “Nah, I got it.” He smiled over at Shalmers briefly. “I admire your dedication to your patients, Doctor. Just as I am dedicated to Vicky. I’ve known her a long time, and this project is worth more to her than her life or her sanity. She proved that when she insisted on being the first. I'm quite certain that if I had refused, she would have found someone else to do it. Some back-alley former medical professional who neither knew her nor cared about her. Even if she did get the same degree of skill from whoever did it, she would have had to recover alone.”

That did sound right. If Amir had said no, Tom was sure that Vicky wouldn’t have just given up. She would have gone looking elsewhere. Her guilt over the BT102 and her determination to make it right would have demanded it.

Amir sighed. “If someone insists on diving off a cliff into dangerous waters, a professional can stand back and watch it happen, clucking his tongue at how unwise it is. If a friend is doing the diving, their friends will jump alongside them. And hopefully keep them from drowning at the bottom.”

“Thank you for your professional opinion, Doctor Shalmers,” Tom put in quickly, once he was reasonably sure Amir was done. He gently herded the man back towards the door. “It’s duly noted. I trust that your distaste for our resident neurosurgeon won’t affect your assessment of the three new candidates in any way.”

“You can count on it,” Shalmers said stiffly, giving one last look in Amir’s direction before leaving.

Tom sighed. He didn’t disagree with Shalmers entirely. The man’s attitude was valuable. It just felt like Tom was doing a juggling act right now, and Shalmers had just thrown his ego into the loop as one more thing to keep in the air.

-.-

Late during the next day, Tom was helping Vicky fit one of the newly cast MEGs onto one of her inmate friends, when she got a call. Her expression brightened noticeably upon looking at the phone, and Tom smiled sideways.

"Hey, Amir," she answered, but her eyebrows furrowed right away. She paused and looked up at Tom. "Yeah, he's here."

After a moment, she put the phone down and hit the speaker. Immediately a cacophony of noise erupted from it: a mixture of sirens and voices in the background. "Can you hear me?" Amir's voice added in.

"Yeah, we can," Tom responded immediately. "Are you all right? Where are you?"

"I'm on the tarmac in an airport in Tel Aviv. And I'm fine, mostly. There was a problem with the landing gear just after we touched down here. The wheels on the left side failed, and the plane kinda flopped down on its side. We had to do a belly landing. It mangled our left wing and shook us all up a bit."

"My God," Vicky said breathlessly. "Is everyone ok?"

"No one was killed as far as I've heard, but a bunch of us smacked our heads on the side of the plane when it happened. I've got a very colorful bruise forming already. Can't wait to explain that to my parents, too."

"Are you sure you're fine?" Tom asked anxiously. He'd never been in a plane crash, thankfully, but the idea scared him every time he got up there. Still, there were far worse times to crash than just after touchdown.

"I will be," the tiny voice reassured them. "I just wanted to let you know what had happened before you saw it on the news. Listen, I gotta go. They're taking us all inside now." The sirens got a little louder on his end.

"Be safe," Vicky said quickly, just before the line went dead.

Tom squeezed her shoulder comfortingly for a second. "Statistically, it's still the safest way to travel," he reminded her.

"Yeah, except when it isn't," she retorted.

It wasn't until much later in the evening that the most important news update came in. Vicky was asleep by then, but Tom was in his improvised office doing paperwork.

"It has now been confirmed that the malfunction onboard flight BC1447 has left at least one passenger dead, from injuries sustained when the landing gear collapsed," Tom listened to it idly. "The passenger died from a cerebral hemorrhage. He has been identified as Amir Hoberman, son of wealthy industrialist Tobias Hoberman."
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 04:00:58 AM by Daen »