Author Topic: Chapter 6  (Read 10680 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 6
« on: June 10, 2022, 02:59:16 AM »
Chapter 6

With the clink of two glasses filled with cheap wine, Vicky and Amir got down to their celebratory meal. He was right, too. Vicky had always enjoyed traditional Israeli food, and Amir was a pretty good cook.

She was finally able to relax, too. For weeks now, there had been an ever-tightening knot of muscles in her back, from her work anxieties. Sure, the story hadn't come out the way Tina had planned, but it was out there now. Vicky could stop being afraid of retribution at work.

Ever since the Bellstock riot last week, the government investigation had continued. They'd discovered the link between Bellstock and Etani pretty quickly, and four of Vicky's co-workers and superiors had been arrested. They hadn't approached her yet though, so Vicky assumed her role in all of this was either unimportant enough to skip over, or it had not been noticed at all.

Still, some anxiety remained. She had something to tell Amir, and wasn't sure how he'd react.

After the meal was over, Vicky got started. "So, I've been thinking about what Tina told us. And about the other BT102s out there, in government hands. She was right: even if word gets out, and the others are found and destroyed, there's nothing stopping the government or armed forces from just making more and using them. Nothing except me, that is."

Amir gave his typical 'I-don't-know-what-to-say' look. "What.. exactly do you think you can do to stop it?"

"The only thing anyone can do to change someone's behavior these days. You give them a better option and then badger them into using it. Or in this case an easier option."

Before he could inquire again, Vicky went on. "What if I was able to design an implant that could do what the BT102 did, but didn't hurt anyone, and didn't have to be triggered remotely? In fact, it couldn't be triggered remotely at all. It would be self-contained and operate on its own, just like a pacemaker."

"Pacemakers handle an autonomic function in the body," Amir said skeptically. "If you want to design an implant that can handle a voluntary function, it would have to be able to think for itself, like some kind of artificial intelligence. We're decades away from a practical AI, maybe centuries!"

"I know," Vicky admitted. "I'm just spitballing here, but what if we don't need an AI to regulate this new implant? What if we use the brain itself as a regulation system?"

Amir was quiet for a few moments, and Vicky held her breath. The only reason she was telling him about all this was because she needed his help. His background in neuroscience would be essential if this harebrained idea of hers stood any chance.

"We still don't know nearly enough about how the brain works to make a device like this practical. We'd need to gather that data ourselves, in a controlled environment."

Vicky nodded slowly. "Which is why I'm quitting my job at Etani."

Again, Amir went quiet, but this time from shock. "Vicky, I know you feel responsible for the BT102, but it wasn't your fault. The people who perpetrated that experiment will be found out, and all the higher-ups in Etani who knew about it will be arrested. You don't need to quit just to work on this new project of yours. In fact, you'll need money for the materials. Even if you're just studying your own brain for now."

"This isn't just a side project, Amir," Vicky said gravely. "When I saw the news about the Bellstock riot, I knew it was at least partially my fault. I got into implant technology in the first place to make peoples' lives better! If I stay at Etani, or any other biotech firm, I'll have to keep working to advance their products, and their agendas. I won't risk that again."

She looked away, a bit embarrassed. "I know it probably doesn't make much sense to you, but this is something I've been thinking about ever since I first found out my work was being misused. From here on out, I have to be in control of my own efforts. If that means coming up with my own company and my own products, or even if it means working totally alone, I'll do it."


They threw around a few more ideas of what this new effort of hers would look like, as they washed up the dishes and set them away. Vicky made sure to be clear: this was something she was going to do, come hell or high water. By the time Amir's door buzzed at them, they were back in the living room.

Vicky looked over at Amir. "Did Tom tell you why he was dropping by?"

"No," Amir said, rising and heading over to the door. "He just wanted to be sure that you'd be here, and said he wanted to speak to both of us together."

Speaking of which, Vicky would be headed back home tomorrow. If she was serious about this new endeavor of hers, she'd have to find a cheaper place to live while she worked at it.

Vicky's eyes drifted over to the newspaper on the table. "Neither of our names ended up in the paper, but maybe he found out somehow. Could he be here about Bellstock?"

"I doubt it. Whatever it is, it must be important. Pennsylvania is a long drive from here." Amir pressed the buzzer.

Vicky snorted. "Maybe one of his new friends lent him a private jet. Whatever it is, we'll find out soon enough."

When Amir opened the door, Tom stepped inside hesitantly, looking a little relieved. He was carrying a brown backpack. "Thank you both for seeing me this late."

Vicky still felt a few reservations, but Amir smiled warmly at him and beckoned him into the living room. "Why wouldn't we? We're old friends, and as far as I'm concerned, it's been too long."

Vicky smiled too, but more at Amir than Tom. For as long as she'd known him, Amir had been blessed with a forgiving nature. Despite his parental troubles, he didn't seem to hold onto any grudges, ever. The world needed more people like him.

"I don't really know where to begin," Tom said, surprising Vicky a bit. He'd always been a polished speechwriter in her experience. "I guess it all boils down to last week. I had a long conversation with a friend.. and then I had the chance to ruin that friend's reputation, and bolster my own in the process. Before that conversation, I wouldn't have even hesitated to do it. It would have been easy- a political maneuver with a lot of reward and a very low cost. But what we talked about, or what was said to me.. really stuck with me."

At Amir's gesture, Tom took a seat across from them and took the glass of water offered to him. He looked haggard- or perhaps haunted. It was as if Vicky was seeing him, for real this time, for the first time in years.

Giving him a grateful look, Tom gulped down a mouthful, and then continued. "As I am now, I came this close to ruining a friend's reputation! If I actually gain real power, what might I do next, without thought or hesitation? Killing people, and telling myself it's in the name of law and order, or national security? Starting wars, and deluding myself into thinking it has nothing to do with my own economic interest? I.. can't see any end to this path that doesn't turn me into some kind of soulless void!"

His voice hardened, and he looked between them. "I can't be this person anymore. I never should have been him in the first place. The kind of person who's so focused on obtaining and maintaining power.. that he's long since stopped using it to help people! I've lost my way, and I need help to find my path again. I need your help."

Shocked at this outpouring from him, Vicky exchanged a glance with Amir. "Of course we want to help, but what exactly do you want us to do?"

At that, Tom smiled ever so faintly. "I don't know what form my life will take if you do help me. Back in college, I was in charge of our activism most of the time. I was in front, facing the cameras and waving the signs, but I was also in the back giving orders and organizing the others. I knew who I was back then, and I liked who I was! All I know for sure is, I can't be in charge again. I failed then, and I can't risk doing it again."

Vicky couldn't help but think of her own decision to alter her life. The similarities were striking, but for all she knew this was just Tom having a bad day. "Tom, you have a whole life back in Pennsylvania. Even if we did start up some kind of.. activist organization here, eventually that life would call you back. Your campaign, your donors, your parents, would pressure you to come back."

Tom laughed out loud. "Well, you're dead right about that, which is why I burned my bridges before coming out here." He reached into his backpack and pulled out a newspaper, handing it to her.

Vicky spread it out on the table, and Amir looked over her shoulder. It was a local Pennsylvania paper, and unremarkable at first glance. At the bottom of the front page though, was printed, "Senate primary candidate Penderton drops out of race."

She couldn't believe what she was reading at first. Skimming the article quickly, Vicky confirmed it, and then looked up at Tom incredulously. "Whoa. Your parents must have flipped when they found out about this."

"Yeah, they're not speaking to me. They might get over it eventually, but I knew you'd need proof that I meant what I'm saying. I have a clean slate now, sort of. I'm just lucky I never got married- and believe me, my parents had plans for me in that area, too. I didn't leave a wife or kids behind this way."

For perhaps the dozenth time in the last few weeks, Vicky didn't know what to think. She was actually starting to get used to that feeling by now. Either Tom had gone completely insane, or he really did mean it. How often did anyone in public life ever give up everything***ch6 10:20*** and go live a life dedicated to helping others? Or rather, how often did they do that consistently and not end up drifting back into their old patterns? He was right- he did need them, at least to keep him on this new path he'd chosen.

It was like the Bible parable she'd read as a kid: the rich man coming to Jesus and asking what he could do to gain eternal life. When told that he would have to give up his riches, the young man couldn't do it, and had to walk away. Had Tom just contradicted that parable with his own life?

The parallels between her situation and his were also staggering. They'd both just decided to throw away their old lives and start anew. Vicky had never thought of herself as particularly religious, but the degree of coincidence here was hard to deny. It wasn't something she could just ignore.

"I'll help you, Tom," she said abruptly, and he gave an audible sigh. "You're in luck, actually. I'm kind of reinventing myself too right now. I'm starting a new.. project I guess you'd call it. I won't ask you to be a part of it if you don't want to, but it would give you something to do. I could also use someone with your people skills, contacts, and sadly, money."

Tom looked a little worried about that last bit, but he nodded firmly. "Count me in. I'll help however I can. As long as you're there to keep me in line, that's all I need." He quirked a smile. "I suppose I need to live a simple life as well. Minimal expenses, basic nutrition, that sort of thing."

"That is how most people do it," Vicky agreed.

They were silent for a few seconds, and then Vicky remembered. Apparently Tom thought about it at the same time, and they both looked at Amir. "Amir, I'm sorry," Vicky said quickly. "I didn't mean to put any pressure on you at all. You have a life here, and it's very different from mine and Tom's. You don't need to-"

Amir raised a hand to quiet her. "I know, I know. Part of me wants to join up just to see where it goes, and another part of me is all nostalgic and wants that old feeling we had back again. The truth is, I would have joined you anyway. It all boils down to motivations. I only got into medicine to help people, and you both need my help. It's that simple."

The three of them spent the next few hours planning, joking, and catching up. Tom's relief was clear, and he was light-hearted through the whole thing. Amir was apprehensive by comparison, probably thinking how his schooling and career would be affected. Vicky was hopeful, actually. There was something precious in being in charge of your own fate, and she resolved to never stop valuing that.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 03:58:06 AM by Daen »