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Chapter 9


Chapter 9

Actually it took a few days before everything was ready. Once Tom was sure why the BOP was having cold feet about their arrangement, he was able to extend the deadline.

He helped Vicky arrange a living will, not something usually associated with people in their early thirties, and set up a Do Not Resuscitate order on her behalf. He did so reluctantly though, still hoping there might be another way. Her earlier points were all valid- she was the best person for the job, and it was basically now or never- but Tom did take some time to put out feelers for other people who might volunteer in her place. He even reached out to his old Private Investigator and had him look around.

As it turned out there were a few people in the area who were suffering terminal conditions and therefore might be willing, but they were all in pretty bad shape. It was doubtful any would survive the surgery. There wasn't enough time to widen the net, so Tom reluctantly admitted he would just have to resign himself to Vicky's decision.

Amir spent the time getting his equipment in place and prepared. He called one of his old friends to help, and even brought out some tools from med school to practice for the main event. In theory, the surgery looked straightforward. Rather than removing a brain tumor which could be very difficult to do safely, they just had to insert the lines from the implant into two specific locations near the top of her head. There were minimal complications, or so Tom kept telling himself.

He had a shock when he saw Vicky on the morning of the big day, though. She had shaved her head bald, with Amir's assistance. It wasn't strictly necessary, as only the area above the implant needed to be hairless, but Vicky had just shrugged and said she'd rather be completely bald than just partially.

All or nothing, just like her decision to start this whole project. That was so her.

Tom had insisted on watching the surgery, although Amir had warned him to stay in the observation room. He and his assistant, a friend from med school named Devin Chen, got to work. Chen sedated Vicky- thankfully this wasn't one of those brain surgeries that required the patient to be awake- and Amir reached for a scalpel.

Abruptly Tom realized he wasn't alone in the observation room. Sergeant Greaves was there too, along with Perkins and Hodgson. Two of their inmates.

Tom was about to object, but something stopped him. It was clear all three of them were here for the same reason he was. They cared about Vicky. Both inmates were the best-behaved of the whole group, and Vicky had spent a lot of time with them during the questionnaires and perceptual tests for the MEGs. Besides, despite his obvious concern for Vicky, Greaves was staying behind them and to the side. It was clearly in case they tried anything stupid. He had the situation under control.

Watching Amir cut into her skin and fold it back was disturbing enough, but when he brought out a surgical saw, Tom had to look away. He thought he'd had a pretty strong stomach. Back in college, he'd taken a few hits during the protests he'd joined. He'd even been beaten pretty badly once, but he'd never broken any bones. To just see Vicky's skull cut open like that was a truly visceral experience. As important as it was to be there for her, no matter what happened, and to see the surgery for himself, Tom doubted he'd be able to sleep well for the next week or so.

Both inmates looked a bit sick as well, and even Greaves looked grimmer than usual.

The whole thing took about three hours from start to finish. When Amir finally leaned back looking fatigued, and Chen started wrapping her head in gauze, Tom felt drained as well. He exchanged relieved smiles and handshakes with the other three, before Greaves escorted the inmates out.

They had just turned the corner on their little project. Or perhaps more to the point, they'd gone off the edge of the map. Only time would tell what wonders or monsters might be waiting for them out here.


Tom was just finishing up Devin Chen's payment paperwork when he got a text from Amir. It was just two words: she's awake.

He hurried down the hallway towards the new OR and recovery room next to it, wondering briefly if Chen would be interested in staying on as a permanent staff member. If the surgery had worked as intended, they'd probably need new surgeons familiar with the process in the near future. If it didn't, he added grimly to himself, they might need Chen to help remove the implant.

There she was on her newish hospital bed, looking groggy but definitely awake. Amir was next to her checking her vitals, but he looked optimistic. "Hey," she said after focusing her gaze on Tom for a few moments.

"Hey yourself. How do you feel?"

She grimaced and pulled herself up a bit in her bed. "Like someone just cut a hole in my head and stuffed a chunk of metal in there."

Tom and Amir exchanged a relieved look. At least her wit didn't seem to be affected.

"How long will she be stuck here, you think?" He asked Amir.

"A few days just to be sure. The usual recovery time for brain surgery is four to eight weeks, but the procedure was pretty much ideal. A few weeks and she'll be back to work, I'm sure."


"How long until we can start testing the implant, though? Steven Perry at the BOP is breathing down my neck for results. I've got to show him something soon."

Amir hesitated. "As long as I can monitor the tests and they aren't too strenuous, maybe a day or two? It depends on exactly how well the implant is interfacing with her brain tissue. If there are any-"


Startled, Tom looked back down at her, and saw more than a little indignation on her face. "Sorry," he said after a moment, and Amir echoed his statement.

Vicky grunted. "Being a female engineer gets me ignored enough already. Being in a hospital bed seems to make it a hundred times worse. Come closer, would you?" She beckoned him over.

Still feeling a bit chagrined, Tom obeyed. From her bed, Vicky raised her right arm, but then dropped it back down. Her whole stance changed, from alert to relaxed, and she leaned back against her pillow again for a second. Then she shook her head for a bit. "Whoa. That's a real trip."

"What is?" Tom asked, glancing at Amir in concern.

"I just tested my implant. I tried to slap you, and it stopped me. How far did I get, anyway?"

Feeling a little surreal, Tom gestured to her side. "You raised your arm is all. Nothing more."

"At least we know the implant's working as intended, at least for now," Amir put in.

Tom thought back on the initial description she'd given him about the implant. It was attached to the part of the brain that controlled decision-making, so it could 'keep watch' on every action the patient tried to make. If she were to try to do something she knew was wrong- like slapping him, for example- it would trigger an electrochemical spike in her brain, which would trigger the implant, which would stop her.

Which left an interesting question. "How exactly did it stop you? It looked like you almost fell asleep again for a split-second. I assume it doesn't shock you like the BT102 modifications did."

Vicky shook her head, and then winced, holding a hand up to her temple. "Can I get an aspirin or something?"

"Sorry, Vicky," Amir answered. "There's a risk of complications. You'll need to wait at least a day before I can give you normal pain meds."

"It's not a problem; I can deal. As for the implant, it does generate a shock, but it's less than a milliamp, so you can't even feel it. Because it's administered right to be brain though, it kinda.. resets you. You know that feeling you get sometimes when you're just waking up, and for a second you're not sure where you are until you remember?"

After a moment, Tom nodded vaguely.

"Well, that's called a fugue state. It's like a kind of waking dream. When my implant went off, it triggered that state in my brain, for just a second or two. It stopped me by forcing me to remember what I was doing and why."

Clearly there was a lot more to this implant's function than Tom had thought about before. He smiled, once again feeling a bit in awe of Vicky's skills. She'd only had a few days to put the implant together and test it.

"Let me try this," Vicky said suddenly, and turned to Amir. "I think you're an arrogant, self-important blowhard."

Not knowing quite what to do, Tom just stared at both of them for a second. Amir seemed to have a similar reaction- or lack of one.

"Ok, it seems that lying doesn't trigger the implant," Vicky added, looking a bit disappointed. "It's weird, because dad raised me with 'honesty is the best policy' being a pretty central part of my upbringing."

Tom was feeling surreal again about all this, but Amir seemed to be understanding what was going on. "Maybe the implant didn't go off because you knew I wouldn't believe you."

"That could be it." She looked over at Tom. "Could you go talk to Max for me? I need someone else to test myself against."

"Max? You mean Sergeant Greaves?"

Vicky gave him a look of exaggerated patience. "Yes, him. I need to talk to one of the new guards he's hired. I've never met either of them, so they can help test the implant."

Nodding, Tom left, and they continued talking in the background.

It didn't take him long to find one of them: Henry Rawlins, if Tom remembered correctly. He got permission from Greaves, and then brought Rawlins back to the recovery room.

"What's your name?" Vicky asked him immediately.

"CO Henry Rawlins, ma'am," he answered hesitantly.

"Well, Henry. I'm Vicky. And I think that your nose is-" she cut off mid-sentence, looking strangely relaxed again. After a second, she refocused on the room. "Wow. It looks like you were right, Amir." She glanced at the guard again. "Thank you, Henry. You can go now."

Tom nodded at him too. Looking deeply confused, Rawlins withdrew. Tom could sympathize.

"So I could lie to you because I knew you wouldn't believe it, but I couldn't lie to Henry because I don't know him, and therefore can't be sure."

"Seems that way," Amir agreed, "but there could be a number of other explanations. We are dealing with your subconscious here."

He paused for a moment, looking thoughtful. "Actually if this pans out, we might want to get a psychiatrist on our staff. Someone who could help us understand the interaction between the mind and the implant. Either way, we'll need to trigger your implant a bunch more times to figure out exactly where the limits are."

"How often does it go off?" Tom asked curiously. "How often can it go off?"

"I designed it to run on bioelectricity, just like the BT102. It'll never run out of power, not as long as I'm alive, anyway. It could trigger hundreds of times a day without ever wearing out." Vicky actually looked a bit smug about that.

"I don't mean to be a downer here," Tom went on, concerned about the growing excitement on both of their faces, "but if something goes wrong, is there a way to shut off the implant if necessary? Something less traumatic than ripping the whole thing out of your head, that is."

"Uh, yeah," Amir answered. "I'd want to sedate her just to be sure, but after that I'd just need to open up the top of the implant on her scalp."

"It's just a bit of circuitry up there," Vicky clarified. "If you cut the connections, the implant is dead. It's pretty simple."

"Good," Tom said with some relief. "I'm excited about the possibilities here too, but we can always build more implants. Your brain is one-of-a-kind."

Vicky smiled at that, and then put her hand to her temple again. "Let's expand testing. Can you get more people in here? We've worked together for a while, but I don't know much about Kyle's personal life. People I've only met once or twice, then? I can write up a list."

Amir raised both hands, before Tom could object. "Hold on a moment. You've just woken up out of surgery. You need time to rest, and to adjust to your new.. uh, reality."

"He's right, Vicky. I've got enough for my report to Steven Perry at the BOP. You have to take it easy for now. There will be plenty of time for more tests."

She eventually nodded, and Amir turned back as he and Tom left. "I can't believe I'm gonna say this, but try not to say or do anything you know is wrong, ok?"

Giving them an overly patient look, Vicky gestured an 'x' over her chest, and then leaned back to get more comfortable.

Once they were out of the room and down the hall a bit, Tom reached out to stop Amir. "So.. we're good so far, right?" He looked back at Vicky's room with some concern.

Amir nodded. "She's doing better than I thought. This is amazing stuff, too. I mean we planned on the implant being able to stop patients from being violent towards each other, but I was just focused on the biology of it. I never thought the implant might be able to stop someone from lying, too."

"You said the implant is connected to the part of the brain that controls decision making," Tom reasoned aloud. "So.. basically you've given her conscience, I guess, control over the rest of her?"

"Not exactly. Think of it more like veto power. The implant can stop her from taking actions- or speaking words I guess- that she knows are wrong, but it can't make her do anything. Her implant is more like a circuit breaker than anything else. It can only stop things- not start them."

He sighed, and looked down at his tablet. "This is gonna take months or years to analyze, but I'm very encouraged by how this is going so far. I gotta go input her vitals into the archives downstairs."

As Amir went off, Tom made his way to his makeshift office to write up his report to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. His preliminary report, that was. He'd have to be careful about how to word this one.


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