Author Topic: Part 2, Chapter 7  (Read 1445 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 2, Chapter 7
« on: June 10, 2022, 12:59:08 AM »
Part 2

Chapter 7

It was already after ten AM when they arrived, but the inside of the building was still dark. The gates were all open for them at least, but electricity had been cut off years ago, so there were no lights to speak of. Tom and Vicky pulled out flashlights and swept the room.

Vicky shook her head. "Not good."

"You're wrong, Vic. It's perfect!" Tom said happily, moving forward into the dimness. He located the winch on the far wall, which was thankfully not electric, and pulled on it hard. The metal slats covering the windows far above slowly ground open, and light flooded into the yard.

Revealing exactly what Vicky had expected: a real fixer-upper of a prison.

She gave Tom another beleaguered look, and he just shrugged in response. "I know, but we can't exactly shop around for a better prison, can we? If we can get this one up to code within a couple of weeks, I've been assured we can start forwarding inmates here."

It was certainly large enough to hold everyone they'd enlisted in their brain-mapping project. Vicky estimated that they might be able to maintain this place with as few as thirty guards, given how many prisoners had volunteered so far.

The kitchen and pantry were picked clean, of course. The last private prison company to have worked here was no exception to any other business. Like any corporation, they'd cut corners all over the place to turn a profit, and when the time had come to abandon this place, they'd taken everything not nailed down and a bunch of stuff that had been.

These last few years had been a real eye-opener for Vicky, and from what she could tell, for Tom and Amir as well. Before Bellstock, she'd never thought that much about prisons or how prisoners were treated. The idea that social creatures like humans could be locked away for decades at a time, spending at most an hour a day outside their little boxes, had been a shock. No wonder they'd gotten so many volunteers that they'd had to pick and choose.

In one of Tom's more inventive ideas to get subjects for their brain-mapping efforts, he had made a deal with Oliver Corey, one of the supervisors working for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He'd offered to start a private prison company like the others, but one that was effectively nonprofit. That meant better care for the prisoners, and a good PR example for Corey to point to when human rights activists started nosing around his work. After Bellstock, he'd certainly needed one. In exchange, Corey had allowed Tom to reach out to prisoners all over the country and offer a sort of sanctuary within his new company.

Vicky had insisted on nonviolent offenders first, to get a baseline reading for their scans, and the others had agreed. Basically, people who were in danger of being killed by other prisoners could agree to transfer to Tom's company, BPH Corrections. Vicky still didn't know how she felt about that, given how easily she'd been manipulated by her bosses back at Etani Tech, but Tom was quite clear about this. Unless they wanted to apply for government jobs and work their way into the BOP the slow way, their only option was to start their own company. BPH was actually a combination of their last initials: for all their initiative, it seemed that none of them had a gift for naming things.

"Hello?" A voice echoed down one of the corridors outside the empty prison block, and Vicky pointed her flashlight that way. It was Amir, making his way carefully through the darkness. Vicky lit up his path for him, and he was next to them a minute later.

"Sorry I'm late," he pocketed his phone. "Kyle was having trouble with one of the MEGs, and I had to talk him through adjusting it."

"Is there a mechanical fault?" Vicky said with some concern. MEGs, or magnetoencephalography helmets, had to be very precisely calibrated for the person wearing them. It had taken her a lot of time and effort miniaturizing the design so people could actually walk around wearing a MEG, instead of being hooked up to a wall like some kind of torture victim.

Amir shook his head. "He was just having difficulty getting a clear reading off of one of the inmates. It was just a misaligned lead."

Vicky felt a little relieved. They had twenty volunteers now, two technicians including Kyle, and four guards to help keep them safe. They had leased a portion of a prison back in Illinois, but their lease was up in a month, so they'd have to move here. She would have to build a few dozen more MEGs, too, for all the new volunteers who would join them. Assuming they got this place in working order, that was.

The MEGs were kind of like portable miracles unto themselves, too. Even five years ago they would have seemed like science fiction, but to have a noninvasive way to measure brain responses was exactly what they needed to make this plan work. Unfortunately they were also difficult to build, uncomfortable to wear, tricky to calibrate to each person's head shape and spine strength, and worst of all, expensive.

Speaking of which.. "I don't know, Tom," Vicky felt herself say as they stood back in the cell block, looking around. "I'm gonna have to build at least a dozen EM coils just for this room alone, and maybe twenty more for the cells themselves and the kitchen facilities. Even with the low cost of leasing this place, can we afford all that?"

Tom grimaced. "It'll be tight for sure, but I don't see that we have any other options. You both said we need more data, from a wider range of people. That means a bigger facility like this one. As for the money, if you're considering my other suggestion-"

"I still don't think it's worth it," Vicky insisted. "There have to be other options."

"What's he talking about?" Amir put in, looking a little concerned.

Vicky hesitated. It wasn't exactly a secret, but the idea was controversial, at least in her mind. After a moment she gestured at Tom to explain, and went back to scanning the room for places she could put an EM coil.

Tom turned to face him. "When Etani Tech went belly up, they lost their claim on most of the patents they'd been using, including Vicky's circuit designs. They never actually bought those designs from her in the first place- it was more like they were renting her work. But now that they're out of the picture, she could sell them to other corporations, for a surprising amount actually."

"Would it let us get this place up and running?"

Tom paused. "Between the stipend we get from the BOP, the out-of-pocket costs I can cover, and the estimated price Vicky would get for her patents.. I'd say we could run this place for ten months, maybe eleven. I might be able to stretch that a bit, depending on who's interested in buying." He glanced over at her. "Look, I know you have concerns about people misusing your designs again, but the only other option is filing for a good old-fashioned research grant."

"No," Vicky said firmly.

"Absolutely not," Amir said at the same time, and they looked at each other in surprise, before Vicky explained.

"The moment we ask for money from official sources, we lose control over the direction of our work. They could sideline us completely in favor of more products for their own goals. We have to stay independent for as long as we can."

Tom just looked at her mildly for a few more seconds, and she finally nodded. "Ok. I'll look over the offers you've had so far. Hopefully we can find some group that doesn't seem totally soulless."

Tom nodded and pulled out his phone to make the appropriate appointments, and Vicky couldn't help but admire his reliability. It had been over a year now since he'd bared his soul to them back in Amir's old apartment. Tom had been in charge of everything around him for a long time before that- it couldn't have been easy for him to be a follower instead of a leader. Still, he had made that promise and held to it against all odds. If Amir was the brains of their little triumvirate, and she was the engineering muscles to get things done, Tom had pretty much become the heart.

Looking back at the prison yard outside, Vicky felt her spirit wilt a little. No matter how hard she'd worked since starting down this path, it all paled in comparison to what they still had to do. Even with Tom and Amir working next to her day after day, and the help from the people they'd hired for their fake little company, it still felt like they were climbing a cliff with no summit in sight.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 02:22:52 AM by Daen »