Author Topic: Chapter 4  (Read 1468 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 4
« on: June 10, 2022, 12:59:33 AM »
Chapter 4

Amir watched with fascination as Tina finagled the information from the truck driver. Even though she was on the phone, and even though she wasn't a part of Etani's corporate structure, she was friendly, she was disarming.. and she was effective.

It seemed she had been right. The driver hadn't been told the details of the box he'd mailed, so he obviously didn't know it was meant to be a secret. Tina convinced him that there had been a mixup at the office, and she just needed to confirm the address he had used, to make sure it was right. A minute or two later, she handed Amir a scrap of paper with an address on it, and called Vicky again using the burner.

While she updated Vicky, Amir looked up the address, and felt a sense of gloom settle over him. "It's a prison," he said despondently.

"What?" Tina was at his side in a moment, and then grimaced. "I thought that address looked familiar. That's no ordinary prison. It's Bellstock Penitentiary!"

Amir gave her a curious look, and she explained. "In 2005 a Supreme Court ruling cut down on the number of federal supermax prisons. Most facilities were ordered to downgrade their security measure to meet standard security for normal prisons. Unfortunately, the ruling didn't really have any teeth. A lot of places kept almost all of the little boxes they stick people in for 23 hours a day. Bellstock is one of them. It is a supermax, if not in name. A buddy of mine at the Crime desk has done multiple stories based on what goes on in there."

"Oh, God!" Vicky's voice filtered up through the phone.

Amir felt a stab of concern. "Vicky? Are you all right?" Images of Etani security people colluding with supermax prison officials hauling her off into the night flashed through his head.

"What? Oh. Yeah, I'm fine," she said after a moment, and he let out a relieved breath. "I'm looking at the altered BT102 schematics that Andrew sent me. I designed the circuitry for pain management in extremities. It was meant to cut off nerve impulses for a few hours, to help patients sleep. That explains why each BT102 has a radio receiver. Basically, you'd turn on a remote, and your aching arm or leg would just fall asleep, and you wouldn't feel the pain for a while. But what if they were redesigned for.. prison control?"

A moment of silence reigned over the three of them. Amir didn't really follow at first, but it dawned on him soon enough. "Are you saying they use these things to shut off prisoner nerve impulses? Remotely?"

"Yes, but I doubt it's placed in a shoulder or a hip for extremities. More likely it's placed in the neck, so they can disable a prisoner with the push of a button." Vicky sounded ill just describing it.

"Wow," Tina said, sounding stunned. "That's human rights abuse right there. My paper's Legal department would have a field day with this. Illegal experimentation would just be the tip of the iceberg- anyone involved in this would be culpable!"

"We don't have any proof," Amir reminded her hastily. "We don't even know for sure there were BT102s in that package. If you want to write a story, or we want to press criminal charges, we're gonna need a lot more to go on."

Without even noticing at first, Amir realized they had slipped back into the same dynamic they'd had during their college days. Vicky followed her sense of responsibility and justice, which led her into the activist fray, Tina used her ambition and skills to get the word out to the world, and Amir was the voice of moderation as he tried to keep them from taking it too far. They all had the same goals: helping people who needed it, and holding the corrupt and powerful responsible for the lives they'd ruined.

The only difference was that Tom wasn't here to be the voice and face of their efforts.

Well, they had to do without him. "Vicky, to be effective on prisoners, the BT102 would have to be connected to what, exactly? The spine between the C4 and C5 vertebrae?"

"That sounds right," Vicky answered after a moment. "That way they could shut down all voluntary functions instantly. But it's worse than that. I didn't know what the capacitor was for, but now I think it's meant to hurt the prisoners! It charges up with bioelectricity- my design was meant to be powered by the body's own electrical current- and then discharges on command. They've turned my work into a damn shock collar!"

Her tone had morphed from sadness and disgust into something much darker. A cold rage which Amir could understand completely.

The placement of the implants did give them an opportunity, though. "Even if the surgeries were performed three weeks ago, there will be six inmates at Bellstock walking around with a visible surgical scar on the side of their necks. That itself could be used as evidence. Against the prison staff at least, if not the Etani people too!"

"I might be able to find out who they are," Tina put in thoughtfully. This is most likely just a test case; otherwise why would they stop at just six? They'd want to see if these implants were effective, and cost-efficient. That means they'd probably use them on the most disruptive, the most expensive inmates. That gives me a place to start." She looked up at Amir. "If you saw these inmates, could you identify them by the scars? I mean as opposed to some scar they picked up in a fight somewhere."

"Probably," Amir said hesitantly. "If you can get me pictures, I might be able to help you sort through them."

Tina shook her head. "Any pictures of these inmates would have been taken when they were admitted: months or years ago. No, what I have in mind is a little more.. direct."


A trip to Bellstock Penitentiary had not been what Amir had expected.

Thankfully he was just there as a visitor, but Amir hated prisons in general. The very idea of caging people up like this- even people who were a direct threat to others and needed to be kept out of society- was an affront to basic decency. He'd objected when Tina suggested it, but he was the only realistic choice to go.

"You know what to look for," Tina had said implacably, after doing some research and finding out who the most likely surgery patients had been. "Vicky has to be kept as far away from this story as possible, and I wouldn't be able to tell an incision from a different kind of scar. Besides, I've got more evidence to dig up over at Etani's manufacturing division. Hopefully there will be records there of who received the BT102s, and how high up in the prison it goes. Maybe the warden himself is involved."

Trying not to look nervous as he filled out the paperwork, Amir took in the surroundings of the visitor waiting area. There was a good number of people there: mostly women with older children at their sides. How many of the prisoners had family who couldn't- or wouldn't- come to visit them? Amir didn't get along with his parents, but he was still glad they were around. Half a world away in Israel, perhaps, but at least he could go visit them if he wanted.

As it turned out there was a particularly violent group here in Bellstock, of six people from the same vicious criminal organization. They'd all been convicted of murder, manslaughter, and aggravated assault. Some of rape, and a great many lesser charges. Tina had been convinced that they were the most likely candidates.

Apparently they were causing a lot of problems for the guards here. They didn't have the numbers to control much of the inmate population, but were also so well-known as cold-blooded killers that most people steered clear of them. That gave them the freedom, such as it was, to focus their efforts on the guards themselves. In addition they were all lifers with very little to lose.

Then, apparently just a few weeks ago, the incident reports filed by the guards just stopped mentioning them. From what Tina had gathered, they'd become model prisoners, or at least quiet prisoners. Whether it was the BT102s or not, well.. that was why he was here.

After a few more hours, Amir was admitted to the visiting room. His inmate, a Cameron Buchanan, came out a few minutes later, and looked at him with obvious contempt.

Amir hid a grimace at that. From what Tina had gathered, Buchanan and the others were part of an extreme white supremacist hate group. Given Amir's nationality, it was only natural that Buchanan would hate him the moment they could see each other.

And Amir could see him. He was bald, and had plenty of tattoos on his head and neck, but there was also a scar, relatively fresh, and exactly where Vicky had said it would have to be: between his C4 and C5 vertebrae. If it wasn't a surgery incision, it was about as close a fake as it could be.

Their conversation was brief, as expected. Amir told the lie he'd come up with earlier: that he was a geneticist, and that Buchanan had a rare genetic trait that he wanted to study. Buchanan responded by insulting him and leaving.

As he made his way back to the waiting area, Amir felt a little disheartened. He'd grown up in Israel, just outside of Tel Aviv. He'd only come to the States for college, and that had been well after 9/11. Most people on the street barely gave him a second glance. Unfortunately from what he'd read, before that fateful day, the people who did care about race would have just been uncomfortable around him. Now they were much more likely to do what Buchanan had done. Or worse, what he probably wanted to do.

All because of the way Amir looked. Nothing more.

It was a long drive back to his apartment. Vicky would be waiting for his call, and Tina was probably done with.. whatever she'd been digging up over this time. Hopefully this would all be over soon.


Tina stared across the living room at Amir and Vicky, trying to marshal her thoughts.

"Thank you for coming all the way out here again, Vicky," she began hesitantly. "I know it's a risk to your job, but I figured you'd want to hear this in person. You too," she added in Amir's direction.

"Thanks to Vicky's tipoff, your confirmation, and what I've been able to dig up, we have enough for a story. I've already submitted it to my editor, and he's going over it. It should be in the papers as early as next week. When that happens, Bellstock's warden and about a dozen others will be arrested. Buchanan and the other five patients will be interviewed, and probably be able to cut a deal to get their sentences reduced in exchange for their silence. That's usually how prisoner mistreatment cases end up going."

She sighed. "That's the good news. The bad news is that I found out more than I can put in the story. I planted a bug in the Etani manufacturing director's office. According to his latest call, he was told to build a hundred more BT102s and ship them out by the end of the week. I couldn't find out where to, exactly, but it's someplace out of the country."

Vicky and Amir exchanged glances. "But when your story gets out, won't the police find out about this batch too? Whoever gets them will be arrested, too. Right?" Vicky sounded equal parts hopeful and despairing.

"Not if it's the US government that arranged the whole thing," Amir said after a moment, and Tina nodded. "If it's our own military using the things, probably on foreign detainees, they wouldn't have the same rights- or any rights at all. Look at what happened at Gitmo; this is no different."

"He's right. The technology you helped develop is out there now. It doesn't matter that using it is a violation of human rights, there are people who will use it anyway, in the name of national defense. I'll do everything I can to slow it down, but I'm sure I can't stop it." Tina reflected on the truth of those words for a second before continuing. "I.. thought you'd want to hear it from me, rather than from some random newscaster a few weeks from now."

Vicky just stared into space, at first. "This is all my fault. The prisoners, as vile as those six are, are suffering because of me. Detainees overseas will suffer because of me! It doesn't matter if they hate this country or not, they'll still be shock-collared by the BT102, and it'll be my fault!"

"You can't take this on yourself, Vic," Amir urged, and Tina smiled slightly at how quickly he came to her defense. "You said it yourself. They had the rest of the implant already completed. They were just waiting for your circuit design. If you hadn't given it to them, eventually someone else would have!"

"That doesn't make it right," Vicky insisted, now sounding angry, and Amir nodded understandingly.

"I need to head back up to Chicago tonight," Tina said quietly, trying not to be too intrusive on the moment they were having. "I'll talk to my editor and try to get this story some wide circulation. In the meantime, I suggest the two of you stay as far away from this mess as possible. My bug didn't pick up anything that suggested your bosses at Etani suspect you, Vicky, but that doesn't mean you're in the clear. Until the story comes out, just stay quiet. After that if the police track you down, you'll have to decide then if you want to go public with anything. I can advise you, if you want. Just give me a call if that should happen."

Vicky nodded, still looking grim, and Amir escorted Tina to the door. Tina got in her car and headed out, but she wasn't driving to Chicago yet.

Lying to her sources, and to her co-workers, was a professional necessity at times. She'd learned to do it without regret. After all if you live in a society where everyone lies, and you need to fit in if you want to get the truth out there, sometimes you need to lie as well. Deceiving her friends though.. that one stung a little. In truth, she didn't have enough for a story at all. Even with Amir's confirmation of the surgery, it would take a lot more to get eyes on Bellstock.

And more she could deliver.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 01:57:14 AM by Daen »