Author Topic: Chapter 10  (Read 9758 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 10
« on: June 10, 2022, 02:58:44 AM »
Chapter 10

Finally, Vicky was back in her own room.

Sure, it was a converted prison cell in one of the abandoned wings of Archcrest, but it was hers. There was a small TV, an internet hookup that she'd rigged on day one, and a mattress that was definitely more comfortable than the slot on the wall. It wasn't exactly fine living, but it worked for her. She had even taken a hacksaw and cut the bars to the next cell, doubling her space. It required her to step carefully in some places, but it was worth it.

This room had been part of a temporary holding area before they'd come here, and they certainly had no use of it now. Amir had one like it just down the hall, and they both had access to a somewhat decent bathroom and kitchen formerly used by the guards. Tom did a lot of traveling, so he had opted to rent a room at a bed and breakfast about a mile down the road. It meant he had to be isolated and screened for security reasons every time he got back to Archcrest, but it still seemed to be the best way.

Vicky smiled at remembering how her dad had taken the news she was moving into one of the cells. "I always wondered if my daughter would end up in prison with her wild ways," he'd joked upon hearing it.

It had been over two weeks now since the surgery, and Amir had finally allowed her out of that ridiculous room. And into this slightly less ridiculous one, apparently. At least it was hers, though. Relaxing a bit, she sat down in the lazy-boy she'd bought in the nearby town.

The implant still felt weird, just sitting there imbedded in her skull. The pain had mostly faded, and there hadn't been any other big symptoms from the surgery. But it was there, silently influencing her decisions.

It was small, only about one by one-half inch, but the plate on top was solid metal. Being metal, it got cold faster, too. It was still pretty early in the year, and got chilly, despite being this far south. Vicky would have to be careful to keep her head well covered, until her hair grew out again.

Vicky had wanted to test the implant right away, and Amir reluctantly agreed as long as she didn't do anything to tire herself out. They had brought in inmates and technicians and food suppliers, who she attempted to insult. In most cases, the implant stopped her dead in her tracks, but not the people she knew well. It seemed Amir's instinct had been right.

Physical tests were much easier to understand. She couldn't hit anyone, with an open palm or a clenched fist. Or kick anyone. Physical violence was officially off the table, which was good news for Tom and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

That still worried her. The BOP had been pushing for the details of her surgery for this whole time. Vicky had agreed to share the results of the surgery only, not wanting to risk giving them any information that they might use to make their own implant. Even before the BT102, they'd bungled handling of inmates for a long time.

Actually, she hadn't named this implant herself. The BT102 was a designation given by Etani- she'd had nothing to do with that name- but this was a bit more important. In a way, she felt maternal about it. She'd made it, perfected it, and was currently carrying it inside her body. Vicky didn't know if she ever wanted to be a mother, but so far this implant was as close as she'd gotten to a child.

The implant was based on her subconscious understanding of right and wrong. Or of wrong, anyway. It upheld her views, based on recent tests, regardless of circumstance. So far. It was hard to test whether she could hit someone in self-defense, since she'd been lucky and never been in that situation yet.

Tom seemed to think the implant used her conscience as a guide. Could she call it Jiminy Cricket? She'd loved that movie as a kid. Of course it was actually about child-freaking-trafficking of all things, but she'd been too young to understand that.

No, maybe she could call her own device that, but it was likely now that eventually there would be more implants made and installed. They would have to have a name that was more.. streamlined, and less obscure.

Then it came to her. It was a code. In each case, it enforced peoples' code of behavior. It was simple, straightforward, and easy to remember. This was her code. Soon there would be others like it, but this one was hers.

Smiling, Vicky got up and made her way to the kitchen down the hall. Inventiveness when it came to design and circuitry had always come easy to her, but it was rare that she could be clever when it came to names.

There wasn't much food in the fridge right now, but Vicky wasn't after anything specific. She snatched a TV dinner and put it in the microwave, and then poured herself a glass of cheap red wine. She lifted the glass-

Wait. Where was she? Oh, right. The kitchen.

Her implant had triggered. Her code.

Frowning, Vicky looked around. She was alone in there- Amir was still in the archive room. He'd taken over her duties backing up the information until she was up to it again. There was no one else living in this wing right now. She couldn't have made any decisions that affected anyone else, good or bad. Why had her code gone off?

The microwave alarm went off, and she put the wine down to open it. Could that be it? The wine? That didn't make sense, though. She'd never been a wine snob or anything, but drinking a glass or so with dinner was quite common for her. Her dad enjoyed the occasional beer. Neither had ever drunk to excess, with the exception of the occasional party back in college or high school.

Cautiously, Vicky took a sip-

Again, she found herself having to remember what was going on. It was the wine! But why?

Then she thought back to her last physical, the year before. Her doctor had been complimentary, mostly, but he did have concerns about her liver function. He'd recommended she give up even casual drinking. Did harming herself count?

There was a way to test it. Hesitantly, Vicky went over to the notice board and pulled one of the tacks from it. Setting her jaw, she drove it into her finger and pulled it out again. A small bead of blood formed, and she sucked on it briefly.

So the code didn't stop her from self-harm. Or perhaps a pinprick wasn't enough, just like insulting Amir hadn't triggered it.

Then it came to her, just like the name for the code. Self-harm, or suicide for that matter, didn't just harm one person. It also harmed everyone who loved them! It was possible that deep down, she felt drinking was a risk to her health, and the code stopped it not because it hurt her, but because it would hurt her father! Or Amir, or Tom, or Max, or Kyle, or any of the others who had worked with her.

Whoa, that was messed up!

Troubled and excited at the same time, Vicky got back to her meal and poured herself a glass of water this time. They definitely needed that psychiatrist Amir had suggested. This was some pretty deep stuff.

-.-

“Are you sure about this?” Tom asked again, looking around nervously at the other intake prisoners. “These are actual inmates this time around. None of them are your carefully vetted test subjects. Who knows what could happen?” Ever since she’d proposed this idea Tom had been against it. She was allowed to take chances with her research, sure, but this was the second time she was recklessly risking her own life!

“For the last time, yes,” Vicky said stubbornly. “Look, we’ve gone as far as we can with testing my code in controlled conditions. This is the next step. We have to subject me to real prison conditions, with real prisoners, to measure just how effective it will be in real life! So stop being so overprotective and let me in there.”

Sighing, Joe stepped aside and let her through into the waiting area. It was useless arguing with her when she got like this- all he could do was stay nearby and hope everything worked out.

The prison experiment had been her idea initially, but Amir and Greaves had helped her iron out many of the details. The newest batch of inmates brought into Archcrest were female- bringing their total inmates up to one hundred and four by now. One quarter of Archcrest was still devoted to the MEG area, so they’d opened up a new wing for this test. No MEGs, no EM coils, no special conditions of any kind. This part of the prison was exactly that, including real prisoners. Some were incarcerated on drug charges, some for violent crimes, some for fraud- it was a cross-section of the female inmate population of America. As far as they were concerned, this was a temporary arrangement. They were only here for a few months before being transferred to other prisons, because Archcrest had the room, but was still being upgraded for more people.

Of course they’d had to hire more guards, too. Vicky had insisted that Greaves be in charge of that process, which actually made Tom feel better. Greaves had proven he knew what he was doing, and despite the added responsibility still seemed well in charge of the situation. The guards were also in the dark about the true nature of this experiment, and the old man had asked that everyone else keep it that way. The Archcrest wing dedicated to the MEGs was strictly off-limits.

Tom didn’t know much about the intake process for new inmates, but what he’d read didn’t sound pleasant. A physical examination done by a prison nurse was required, and delousing was customary as well. At least that wouldn’t be a problem for Vicky. Her hair had just started to come back, but the plate on top of her head was clearly visible. Tom hoped that it would make her look intimidating, and any troublemakers in there with her would stay away.

“She’s gonna be fine,” Amir said to the right, causing Tom to twitch in surprise. When had he arrived?

“I know that,” he growled in response. They were in the security office, looking at the cameras that had been installed in the new wing. Forty-eight women stood there, side by side, as one of the new officers that Greaves had hired and promoted lectured them about the new facility. The wing had been sealed off, but still the guards and Greaves were outnumbered in there about ten to one. Vicky had insisted on that, too. It had to be as close to real life prison conditions as possible.

“Vicky’s already dealt with violent prisoners before, remember? She can handle this.”

“A black eye is one thing,” Tom protested, and gestured at the camera. “For all we know, these people know how to make shivs! The next time we see her could be in a body bag!”

Amir just let the silence go on for a bit. They both knew she could handle herself well, and despite Amir’s confident words, they were both worried anyway.

“You have to admire her bravery,” Tom finally admitted, and Amir nodded. “I mean, I actually considered being next in line for one of those implants. Or codes, I guess. It’s a pretty cool name. But testing it like this, in actual prison conditions? I’m not sure I could do that. Someone will eventually have to, though, and in a male prison.”

Amir gave him a sideways look. “Has your guy at the BOP insisted on that already?”

“No, Steven’s content with what I’ve sent him so far, but he’ll eventually want us to give him data from another, uh, coded subject.” He let that term roll around in his mind a bit. It sounded right. “Frankly, I don’t think he ever expected the code to work at all. He was probably betting on the surgery being for nothing, and this whole place being shut down by now. Still, he recognizes the possibilities, so he went to bat for us with his superiors. We’ve got our chance. Now we just have to make sure it’s not wasted.”

On the cameras the women were dismissed, and split up to head to their new rooms. There was little or no privacy, by design. Also the cameras only had limited scope, as was the case in many prisons. Vicky went offscreen, and Tom felt his anxiety spike again. “The prison shrink has arrived,” he said more to distract himself than any other reason. “Have you met him yet?”

“No, I’ve been too busy with real work.”

Tom gave him a surprised look, and Amir sighed. “I’ve never really liked psychiatrists, or psych in general as a field. I deal with biochemistry, neurobiology, and actual surgical procedures. They deal with feelings and fears and.. other unquantifiable things. I realize a lot of people think they’re necessary, but I’m just not one of them. They’re the cosmetics of the medical profession. Pretty, but not required.”

“Vicky insisted we bring one in. Apparently he could be useful in figuring out why her code goes off sometimes.”

“Well, I trust her judgement, and as long as we can afford it I have no objections. I’m sure not going to visit him as a patient, though.”

“Mr. Penderton? Dr. Hoberman?” Greaves’ voice came at them from behind. “Can I have a moment?”

They both turned to face him, and gave each other a wry look. “I think it’s time you called us by our first names. I’m pretty sure that’s what Vicky would want for all of us. Now, what can I do for you?”

Looking distinctly uncomfortable, Greaves, or Max as he should probably be called, pulled out a sheet of paper. “I needed to give you this.”

Tom took it and looked it over, before feeling a shock of surprise. “You’re resigning?”

“Not by choice,” he assured them quickly. “I like working here. It’s just I have a family situation, and need to get work up in New York state.” Max was practically wringing his hands, which was very out of character for him.

Amir examined the paper himself briefly. “Anything we can help with?”

“Not really, sir. Uh, Amir. It’s just, you know.. family.” He shrugged helplessly.

Tom nodded at that. “I understand. It’s just not good timing, that’s all. With the new prisoners and guards, the experiment that has to be kept secret from most of them, and the new shrink, we need you now more than ever. Are you sure we can’t help? What happened with your family anyway? If you want to talk about it, that is.”

Max hesitated, and then went on. “It’s my daughter, and her son. She lost her job last month, and couldn't find other work. She was paycheck-to-paycheck before, and is going to be evicted in ten days. If I got work up in New York, I’d be able to support them more easily. If it were anything else I might be able to stay, but family..”

“Is important. No, I understand completely,” Tom said reluctantly.

“Why not just bring them down here?” Amir asked after a moment. “I mean if she doesn’t have a job anymore, and she’s about to lose her apartment, what else does she have keeping her there? There’s plenty of room here in Archcrest, and I’m sure there are jobs to be had in town. Or she could work with us if she’s got skills that can help.”

“She’s a waitress,” Max clarified darkly. “Besides, this isn’t exactly a safe place for her or for Joey.”

“Actually, it might be worth considering,” Tom put in slowly. “I assume.. Joey’s father isn’t in the picture?”

Max shook his head. “He died in a car crash, four years ago.”

“Does she have any family or friends nearby who could take her in?”

“Not that I know of.”

Tom shrugged. “Then I hope she’ll at least consider moving here, long enough to see if there’s work in town anyway. Vicky’s room will be available for a while. It’s not exactly comfortable, but it’s safe enough. And if your daughter doesn’t want to stay here in Archcrest, which I totally understand, she can have my room at the Bed and Breakfast. It’s not like I spent much time there anyway.”

Max looked between them, as if he wasn’t sure if they were joking or not. To Tom and Amir, it was pretty clear this was the best option. It’s what Vicky would want for sure, and it would mean keeping Max around. “You’re still my bosses, though. This is a business, not a charity.”

Amir scoffed at that. “You may have noticed that we’re no ordinary business. Hell, we’re more like a family ourselves. As far as I’m concerned you’re part of that family, and so are your kid and grandkid.”

“He’s right. Besides, the key to starting any business is to have employees you can trust. I would hate to lose you, and you’ve already said you like working with us.” Tom gave it a moment. “I can’t tell you what to do, and if you really are leaving I’ll write you a killer recommendation. But please at least consider it. I believe it would be a good idea for all of us.”

Max nodded thoughtfully and returned to his duties. He left the resignation letter though.

Amir looked up at Tom with another sideways smile. “I’m proud of you.”

“For what?”

“Well, you agreed to follow Vicky’s instructions for your path in life, because you didn’t trust your own instincts not to pull you down again. But what you just did was anticipate Vicky’s instructions, and offer up an option we both knew she’d want to try. I’d say that’s progress.”

Tom shrugged again. “I wouldn’t read too much into it. I just don’t want to lose Max as an employee, that’s all. He’d be a nightmare to replace.”

“If you say so,” Amir said placidly, heading towards the door. Tom couldn’t see his face, but he could tell the smile was still there.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 03:59:59 AM by Daen »