Deliverance from Evil
Tulsa, Oklahoma, Greater Texas
Wes Evans sat behind a glass-topped desk that fairly dwarfed him.
His office was full of large furniture, but it wasn’t a large room. The four framed degrees behind him were aligned vertically to squeeze a painting on either side of them. The leather armchair Mike sat in legitimately swallowed him and filled more than a quarter of the floor space left by the desk and credenza. He was pretty sure the chair was real leather. Even the green glass shaded lamp on Evans’s desk was oversized. It was as if everything had been chosen specifically to emphasize how squat the good doctor was. A thick little man in a cramped overstuffed world. As if Evans was the only thing proportional to the room itself, and everything else in the room belonged in a larger world.
The doctor sat, steepled hands in powder blue nitrile exam gloves, index fingers together against his nose, peering over them, elbows barely reaching the arms of his chair. Mike wasn’t sure his elbows actually reached the arms. Evans may have been just holding them there.
“Firstly and foremostly,” Evans said relaxing his posture and leaning forward to his desk, “I want to thank you for making the trip down here to Tulsa.” The trip you paid for, Mike thought before reciprocating the thanks effluently.
Dr. Evans was a squat man, and he was a-bristle. His hair was slicked backed, but his mustache and eyebrows, his side burns were like hackles, quills almost, framing his thick face. His mustache almost effectively hid his thin upper lip, which, with his thick bottom lip, turned into a smile, creasing his face heavily.
He wore Apple iGlasses: prescription, and from the magnification of his pupils when he looked down, Mike assumed they were seamless bifocals that obviously doubled as mpd displays. They were iGlasses, weren’t they?
He could be watching movies and it’d look no different to Mike. He could be surfing the web. Could be a whole speech written out playing across them. Could be the squat doctor in the office with Mike was some random guy who the real Evans wanted Mike to believe was Evans, but the real Evans was reading the fake Evans a script on the other side of those lenses just to fool Mike. Could be Mike was paranoid, too. Could be, he was bored.
Waiting for three hours wasn’t his idea of entertaining. And now, he had to listen to this prickly cherub tell him again what had been droned into his head by every pamphlet and display that could be mustered in northern Greater Texas (between the airport, of course the ads were targeted, and the facility’s aDrive): that the Evans Clinic was a state of the art clinic founded to ensure the furtherance of human medical science and mental stability while providing the best genetic opportunities to its clients… and so on and so on.
Mike had figured that “marriage counseling” was being used loosely from the outset. He’d decided that the place was most likely a fertility clinic, which provided some marriage counseling as part of the fertility treatment. Red Staters made a big deal about “natural born” citizens as opposed to in vitro. Mike was familiar enough with the phenomenon. At least here, he’d be helping whole families and not condemning other kids to his own childhood. He was, of course, condemning them to some form of childhood. To life. But if these people had made up their minds, who was he to stand in their way. Even if “not standing in their way” was making them live each other’s experience.
He figured all this before spending the rest of the ride ignoring the screens and looking out the window of the aDrive. They were on the industrial side of town. What passed for one in Oklahoma. The facility’s immediate area consisted more than a few empty lots, a derelict factory, “wonderbread,” a broken old sign said, over another that only said “–tess.” warehouses empty of anything but dust, and a landfill. Around this island of industry, a sea of suburbia had been utterly abandoned. Swaths of it were burned out. Other swaths were burning. The people had left. To the Metroplex seeking the shimmering lifestyle that the Dallas Fort Worth area projected, the free economy and easy wealth of Texas, itself, obviously the apple of Greater Texas’s eye. The shining light on the hill to borrow an idea from history. Otherwise, the people had moved out on the land, though in Oklahoma that took a certain kind of person. Many of those kinds of people had migrated north to the states collectively known as Libertania. Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Nebraska, parts of eastern Washington and Oregon, parts of Minnesota and Iowa that didn’t go with the NCS and parts of Kansas that didn’t go with Greater Texas, and the parts of Missouri that didn’t go with Tentucky, GT or NCS, all sent delegates to a convention in Linocln. There the states compiled a libertarian constitution. It took them four years to hash it out, and in the end the document they ratified precluded its states form levying any form of taxation, instituting any form of industrial or commercial regulation. It required each citizen own at least one long rifle and be willing to respond to calls for militia should he need ever arise, with the tacit assumption that such need would never arise. Ratification came with fanfare and fireworks. The intellectuals at the center of the document touted it as the New Consitution of Liberty in America, saying that it was a new precedent in the history of the freedom of humanity. The media on the right ate it up. Hailed Libertania as the final actualization of the dream of the founders.
Greater Texas found itself under new scrutiny on its own governance, which it had hyped as the “most free” in the states. It still relied on property taxes to fund itself, well, and corruption obviously. Its lack of regulation and income tax was its main draw to industry and commerce, so Libertania’s extreme stance put Greater Texas at threat. Either Greater Texas would match Libertania’s constitution, or, as it actually did, it would undermine Libertania from the beginning in order to prove itself the as free as a state could be while still maintaining order. So, the Texans began a covert media operation, casting Libertania as unsafe, a new wild west, full of bandits and quack surgeons. Some of the content they spread wasn’t necessarily bad, it was just geared to draw people who thought of themselves as outlaws, rather than corporate interests who might want to take advantage of the economic policies Libertania had to offer. The Libertanians did the work of spreading the content themselves. So the corporations used Libertanian addresses, but no facilities showed up. There was no influx of workers. There was an exodus, in fact, of people who preffered the security of living under the protection of a USJFCOM contract, which, without taxes, Libertanian states had no way of paying for.
The states of Libertania had never been the most populous in the union, and with the diaspora, and no influx from incoming corporations, their populations were thinned further. Native American tribes in reservations began expanding the limits of the land in their control. Within six months, in 2029, most of the western Dakotas were under either Pine Ridge, Standing Rock or Cheyenne River control. The Navajo had been the defacto state in their region of Arizona and New Mexico as both those states dissolved, with the cities holding on, finding affiliation with each other, but weakening slowly. Greater Texas surreptitiously armed and sent tribes, making treaties with them to not harass them in their conquest of land in Libertania. All the while, the far right politicians in GT were pushing for an Israel style wall and ethnic cleansing.
When the Tribes had gone, most either to join the Dakotas or to join the Navajo, a lot of Oklahomans, a lot of Texans and Red Staters, too, thought the return of the reservation lands would mean a boon for the state. But what they discovered, especially in cities like Tulsa, which had been surrounded on three sides by reservations, was that when the reservations went, so did most of the city. Many moved south, to the Metroplex or to Sandbag City, as New Orleans had come to be known. There were still walled strongholds. People kept moving into more densely packed areas. It was the only way that the HOAs could afford the peaceFs and Fire Brigades. They had to have high enough populations to keep the fees as low as possible.
So first everything north of 244 was sacrificed. Then everything north of 66. Then everything north of 64. Some of the neighborhoods had walled up and tried to hold on. The aDrive drove through Mid Tulsa’s smoking remains. After having to hole up, with infrastructure falling of and not being able to work remote, the residents hadn’t been able to continue paying their fire insurance. Instead, they’d moved to South Hills, where, at least for now, they could work again and contribute to the HOAs insurance policies.
Now, Mid Tulsa was empty. Not like derelict spaces Mike had seen in the City.
Here there were no bands of people squatting. No evidence of slauggers, even. Behind everything to the north, the black smoke of fires raging through abandoned suburbs hung motionless in the sky.
This was dereliction.
Until Wes Evans Clinic of Medical Science. Then it was a gleaming emblem of what box buildings could achieve. Which admittedly wasn’t much, but it wasn’t derelict. There were aDrives and a few droneplats parked in front. The shrubs around were stunted but green. The grass was fake. Across the road, the grass was tall and real. And a dingy brown. It filled an empty warehouse lot, lined by fences thick with stunted brown shrubs, a washed out echo of the fake grass and stunted green shrubs by the clinic.
The clinic wasn’t only the one building, though. Behind the first box there was a complex of them, a campus of slab buildings bustling with people coming and going from one modular concrete building to another on canopied walkways. No attempt to beautify the buildings had been made beyond the fake grass and the few shrubs that someone must water.
Mike had hoped that the austerity of the buildings’ exteriors indicated that they were entirely given over to function inside. Efficient and gleaming. He hadn’t been disappointed on that account. Others, perhaps, but not that one.
It was a busy place, and apparently Dr. Wes Evans was a busy man. Who could pay for your plane flight and a forty-five minute ride in by luxury aDrive, so that you arrived exactly when he specified, and would then make you wait three hours. Drumming his talking points into your head the whole time, no matter where you found yourself, Mike remembered thinking to himself as he took a leak into a troth john looking straight into another vidscreen of Wes Evans™ smiling face telling him that a strong marriage was a marriage with children, with Family. Mike could hear the capital. Thanks for that.
But here he finally was in Dr. Evans office, sitting across from him, and it felt like exactly same Wes Evans presentation he had watched in the aDrive, in the waiting room and in the bathroom. Except Evans seemed taller on the vidscreen. Less distended.
Mike would have wondered if Evans was a projection, except they had shaken hands when he’d entered the room. Evans had introduced himself as he had turned to a sink behind his desk and absent-mindedly washed his gloved hands. A few things had struck Mike as odd.
“I know our facilities are probably outdated to a technician from Pastion Industries,” Evans began .
“Oh no, uh,” Mike interrupted the doctor to assure him. “What I’ve seen in your facility has been impressive. You must have great backing.” None of that was a lie. They must have had ridiculous backing. Before he’d been directed to Evans’s office, Mike had seen pieces of equipment that they had salivated over at Pastion, unable to argue the allocation of funds that direction in good faith while their business floundered. Two nurses(? Mike was still kind of confused about that) rolled the tech passed him in reception. A Microneural Robotic Transcranial Doppler Engram Scanner and a Kiron Magnanodisc Neural Manipulator. It was a nice parade. Obviously for Mike’s benefit. It wasn’t like they didn’t know what they had.
“Hah, we do well enough, I suppose.” Evans preened. “This has been more a labor of love than a profit-gaining venture, but we’ve been lucky. I’ve been lucky.” Sigh. “And our efforts here have been rewarded. We have some patrons who believe in our vision.”
Mike almost had to literally bite his tongue to keep from asking what exactly that vision was. Evans would tell him what Evans wanted him to know. Leave it there. Mike’d gotten himself into this. All he had to do were these four jobs, and he was back in the city living it up until the money ran out. He could make 40k last a year or two. Maybe.
Even at that, it was obviously too good to be true. But Mike had that gene that always snaps at financial windfall ideas, no matter how hare-brained. He’d invested his whole life in becoming a specialist in an industry that was pretty much a fad. So, who, really, was surprised he was here?
“I’m sure you’ve made yourself a mint working in the memory capture business, but forty thousand workhours for a couple weeks work is a windfall to anyone these days.” Evans paused. Mike recognized a cue when he saw one.
“Oh, yes, uh, it’s more than generous. Memcapping four couples? What exactly do you have in mind?”
“Well, actually, we haven’t chosen the four couples yet. We were hoping you could help us with that, and while all the bureaucracy around that happened, we hoped that you might, well, brush our team up on some of the finer points of the engram sequencing procedures.”
“That wasn’t what we’d discussed, but, given how reasonable you’ve been so far,” Mike began.
“My rationality won’t leave me when think of your compensation in regard to this endeavor either, let me assure you. Let’s say for every two-hour class you give our staff, we’ll pay you another thousand workhours.”
“Let’s say that. Sounds like a very reasonable thing to say.”
“I knew I’d like you,” Evans gave Mike an oily smile. “Have you been given a tour of the facilities yet?”
“Haven’t.” As you damn well know, Mike thought. Keeping Mike waiting for three hours, immediately talking about how much Mike stood to make. Rub it all in my face, its fine, Mike thought. I’m too dimwitted to notice.
“Well, we’ll have to see that it’s arranged. We’re all very interested in what suggestions you might have on how we’re running things here.”
“Of course, uh.”
“Feel free to use sir. We stick to some of the older ways around here. Red state and all.”
“Other than myself you will work directly for Dr. Pattison. He’s the head of surgery and psychiatry. If you need to talk to anyone, his door is always open. When he’s not in surgery, obviously. That wouldn’t be hygienic. He’s a good man, been with us two years now, which is about as long as anyone here. There’s Briggs and Cutler. You’ll meet Bonnie and Ruth. And Daisy, of course.”
“Actually, I was wondering about that.”
“Yes, sir. The nurses.”
“Their uniform is set by the state board in Oklahoma. It’s supposed to be a board, but Lee Sylvester has filled it with yes votes, people who depend on him so much he got them to vote for R-num. And why did he do it? He was getting back at an ex. And now all Registered Nurses have to wear, well, you’ve seen it.”
“They can’t just wear scrubs? The state sends people to check?”
“All medical facilities in the state have CC lines that go to the statehouse. They say they’re always checking them, but really, you’ve got to assume that Lee’s watching his ex. So, yes, we have to follow the policy, no matter how ridiculous it is. We are here at the pleasure of the state.”
“So the uniform is really cut off jeans and crop top shirts?”
“Under lab coats, yes, it is.” Evans spread his gloved hands, in a gesture of futility. “I know you’re from the City, and I would understand if this lack of respect for women couldn’t be countenanced, but I hope it won’t be something that stops you from joining our research team.” The doctor paused. “Will it?”
“Uh, no?” Mike answered. “I don’t think so. The law could change any day right?”
“It’s a possibility. There’s been some backlash against Sylvester. Only time will tell.” Evans nodded a moment as if to some thought or other in his head that he hadn’t shared.
“Do you have any hardware installed? iPlant? Android?”
“No. Never been under the knife.”
“Is that a principle of yours?”
“More of a phobia,” Mike laughed, instantly wondering if he had given more away than he should.
“Any dietary restriction or allergies, chronic illnesses, mental illness, or a family history of. You get it. Anything that we should be aware of before you join us here?”
“I sup. No chronic illness. My family history is somewhat of a question. On my mother’s side, they’re strange. Lots of little neuroses like most people, some illusions of grandeur, at times, like most people, but otherwise nothing to speak of. My father’s side is entirely questions.”
“Ah. Well. I’m sorry if I’m bringing up a sore subject,” Evans smiled benignly. “You didn’t know him?”
“I… no,” Mike hesitated. “To be frank, I’m not sure my father ever existed.”
Evans forehead screwed with concern. He was looking at Mike as if he might need help.
“My mother sent out for a Jagger Kit, you know? Off TV.”
“I didn’t think those worked. They only put enough live gametes in the mixture to avoid being sued for false advertising.”
“Yeah, well. That may have been a source of my mother’s illusions of grandeur.”
“And so when you say you aren’t sure your father ever existed, you mean that the sperm cell you came from was engineered,” Evans said with a look of comisseration.
“Pretty much,” Mike responded, nodding slowly.
“And with the kind of work that Gates Genetic did on those Jagger Kits, there’s no telling what you could be susceptible to.”
“I had a genetic work up done in the City. At Prescogene.” Evans nodded with approval. “They said that they didn’t seen any indicators of genetic infirmity.”
“Very good. I’m glad you took that step. If they had found something, you would be able to take Gates Genetic to court for millions. In a few different jurisdictions.” Evans sat back in his seat. “I think that covers us. If you don’t have any questions, I’ve got the standard contract and NDA pulled up on this tablet.” Evans handed Mike a screen with paperwork up.
“This is a contract with Prescogene.”
“Yes. We’re a subsidiary. Well, kind of a joint venture.”
“What interest do they have in this?”
“We’re developing cutting edge procedures here. Of course Prescogene wants to invest. He wants to reap the benfit of our research. It’s nothing new. If it weren’t Prescogene it’d be Pfizer/Johnson and Johnson, or god forbid, Gates Genetic.”
Mike looked the document over. Opening each term and skimming it before minimizing them all and signing the bottom of the document, pressing a thumbprint and giving the tablet’s camera an iris scan. The contract itself was run-of-the-mill, but the NDA was pretty severe in its terms. Mike hesitated. Evans saw him.
“Yeah, it’s pretty strict. I hesitated to sign it, myself.”
Mike scribbled across the screen with his fingertip, pressed his right thumb on the circle that asked for it and let the camera scan his eye again.
Evans nodded. “Good man. Now that you’ve signed the NDA, how do you feel about orgies?”
“Wha—” Mike looked like a deer in headlights. Utterly lost.
Evans guffawed loud. “That’s a joke. A little non disclosure humor.”
Mike worked up a forced chuckle. “Right.”
“You should see the nurses when I make that joke!”
Mike tried his best not to betray his shock. You’ve signed your name? Awesome, welcome to a hostile work environment. HAHA, its all a gag, a discomfiting, horrible, loaded gag. Wow. And right after the signature was down. Mike was looking at Evans a little differently.
Evans leaned back in his seat, his girth still shaking with laughter.
“Now, Mr. Doyle, we can have the financial side of this handled directly with your bank, if you have account and routing numbers, et cetera, or we can just go through your CitySpace account.”
That gave Mike a little pause. Did he have his account and routing number? Why hadn’t he thought about having those ready when he came for this? He’d been avoiding his bank’s pings so hard he’d blanked his mind from even thinking about it. Sure. Who cared why he hadn’t thought of it? He hadn’t. And now, this job was going to show up on his citizenship. There would be no hiding it. From Pastion or from City authorities. Well, Fuck. He could open his phone to get the numbers, but he was pretty sure if he did that, his phone would be an open book to Evans and whoever else wanted a peek. Fuck. Well. Pennies and pounds, etc.
“Yeah, my CitySpace account will work.”
“What is it?”
“001Mac M-A-C Doyle01. All one word, so 001MacDoyle01”
“Alright. First of your name, huh? Not bad in that city.”
Mike answered with a positive monosyllable.
“Alright. Looks like that… checks… out. Not a bad capture.”
“Thank you,” Mike answered expressionlessly. He wasn’t sure just how bad that turn of events was. He wasn’t sure just how fucked he should feel. Or if maybe he should just buy in. Commit. To whatever the fuck this was going to be. No. He was here or a trial basis, that was it. Even if the City hit him with massive “windfall taxes.” He didn’t want to get stuck in a Red State again.
“Now, we might have a few more specific questions for you, Mr Doyle. And I’m jumping right in, but I’ve never sat down with someone from Pastion, so you’ll have to forgive me. You guys have been setting the bar so damn high, it’s been amazing to see what you’ve done there over the last decade.”
“I’ve only been there four years. Since 2030.”
“And directly under Simon Petro, isn’t that right?”
“Yes. In fact I took their masters at Tech and went directly into a position in his team.”
“What’s he like?” Evans asked. “You hear so much about him.”
“He’s only a few years older than me. I’m not sure how he developed the engram sequencing tech at twenty—”
“You’re telling me! And he pioneered it, what, a year after Simoninski and Hart published the Engramic Neurons and Synaptic Connections.” Evans rattled off the title of the paper that had made engrams real science. Mike had referenced that paper in almost every paper he wrote at Tech. He wasn’t sure he would ever have seen the applicative possibilities that the paper presented. Not like Petro did, immediately.
“The man is a veritable genius,” Mike agreed.
“Geniuses aren’t always the easiest to work with though, huh?” That was enough of a cliché to be harmless, but it seemed to come from a place of experience to Mike. A place of bitterness. Not intense, like he bile that Mike himself spewed forth on occasion, but Mike was sure there was something there. And with that certainty, he felt like he had an idea of what Evans wanted to hear.
“You’ve got that right,” Mike said with a laugh. “I mean, he can be demanding and all, but I worked with people who were just as demanding but had a lot less to show for it. No, in that area he was pretty much what you would expect. But, he took his milk with a touch of coffee in it, literally.”
“I kid you not. A full cup of milk topped with a splash of coffee.”
“What is he afraid of caffeine or something?”
“Not in the least. Takes caffeine pills, in fact. He’s more afraid of duocane, honestly.”
“Wild.” Evans shook his head.
“He uses Prescogene on his hands to.”
“The Anti-Aging lotion, of course.” What else did Prescogene produce? “But he’s so young!”
“He has a thing about his hands. They look like a kid’s. Like the size of an adult’s, but the smoothness of a child’s. Even with knuckle dimples.”
“You’re kidding me!”
“I’m dead serious.”
“Incredible,” Evans was shaking his head again. “Now, you work under him; do you ever work directly with him?”
“I have on a few projects. Retrieving engrams from combat veterans without triggering memory issues.”
“What kind of memory issues where you dealing with?”
“Well, a few of the veterans were SEALs.”
“Ah. Classified engrams.”
“Yup. And with USJFCOM, you don’t really fuck with that. They say classified, you stay well away.”
“Then you also have traumas. You don’t want any recrudescence where that’s involved, so, it can be very delicate work.”
“And you were chosen by Petro to assist in that work?”
“I was, that was two years ago now. He directed me and I was the hands on the instruments.”
“I bet you learned a lot.”
“I did. There were little nuances to navigating the brain chemistry that his years of experience had taught him.”
“And that he taught you.”
“Exactly. Exactly. I can’t tell you how excited to have you here. You’re the perfect person to bounce ideas off of. We haven’t had an engram specialist here since… Hell, we’ve never had one your caliber.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Pshaw! None of that! No need for modesty here!”
Mike was confused. He hadn’t been modest.
“No! You are the outcome of genetics and hard work and you deserve the recognition you’ve earned. And with that recognition, there comes a weight to your opinion. People will seek it out. People will have questions to ask of you, because of your success. Because of what you have accomplished and what you have learned in doing so. Questions about the nature of success and perseverance themselves, but also questions about the science of engrams, how people remember things, the nature of consciousness. So many questions people may ask.”
Here Dr Evans paused a moment. Like he was thinking about what he was going to say next. Mike was ready to move on to the tour of the facility, but he didn’t want to press his new boss. Instead, Evans continued:
“Recently there has been some interest in the question of the purely theoretic possibility of engram sequencing being reversed?”
Did he really just ask that? Out loud?
“Uh, yes, that is an interesting question, sir.”
Holy fuck, Mike’s mind was reeling. Wheels just spinning. No traction. He had to get through this.
Before he’d come to Tulsa, Oklahoma, Greater Texas, he had considered all the ways he could think of that this interview, this position could go wrong. He had thought at worst he would have to deal with some kind of eugenics clinic testing gene therapies on minorities or trying to create the prefect white race. Bad enough, right? But now this fucking mad man in front of him was hinting at implanting memories.
When a person experienced someone else’s memories they were conscious of it. There was never any confusion about whether that had been something that happened in your life. Or there usually wasn’t, that was one reason for such deep psych screens before customers were approved for procedures. But you paid for the experience and remembered it as something you paid for. Reversing the engram sequence was something altogether different. Illegal most places. Censurable throughout the industry wherever you were.
It wasn’t about censure or legality, though; it was about irrevocably changing the world.
This was Thanos or something, Sauron, Darth Vader offering him 40,000 workhours to join the dark side. Hoooo haaaaa— open Pandora’s Box for me, Mac— hoooo, haaaa— and I shall make you master of the universe— hooo haaaa. Mac, I am your father.
If Mike broke that seal… who was he kidding, someone somewhere in Shanghai or Durango had to have already implanted memories. In Chiba or Tel Aviv. There were so many places working on these technologies at break neck speed. Legalities and industry conventions couldn’t hold back the flow of progress. Despite all the lofty ideals around CRIPR, how long had it taken gene therapists to edit the human genome’s germline directly? A year after they figured out how? Less?
Even if Mike did this he wouldn’t be the first.
Did that matter?
Of course not. Well. Maybe.
Mike didn’t want his name in the history books as the guy who ushered in the age of no one knowing if they really were who they thought they were. Philosophically, perhaps this wasn’t a huge change, people seemed to go through life with little self-examination as it was, but, no, not even close. This was something decidedly else. And who the fuck was this guy Evans, who wanted to control people so badly he wanted to implant memories in them. This little bristling man.
The doctor waved his hand and said, “Obviously, just a theoretical question, but I always marvel at the possibilities afforded us but our exploration of science, especially brain chemistry.”
His powderless powder blue hands steepled again in front of his face.
“It’s a map of the human psyche, of what we are, and the possibilities of augmenting it are absolutely endless. Imagine, we could make people virtuoso musicians overnight. We could teach people languages, sciences, hell, we could teach them to be technicians on their own home batteries and power supplies. And that’s only dealing with people who already enjoy mental health. For those who don’t,” he spread his hands out, “imagine what good we could do.”
Mike was speechless.
Evans didn’t seem to mind; he went on.
“Neglected children can have memories of loving homes, vacations with family.” Mike wasn’t sure if could conceive of a worse idea. Giving hurt children memories of families they didn’t have could only confuse an already battered emotional response. But anything to justify what it was that Evans wanted to do. “Grieving mothers can have one last memory with their child.”
“Now, there, you’re talking about fabricating memories?” Mike asked. “Creating engrams and then implanting them? That’s not the same as just implanting.”
“Well, we’ve already had some success in creating engram sequences with the Megalith. The question now is only implantation, and I think once we iron a few ideas out, nothing would stand in our way. Theoretically speaking of course.”
“Yes.” Pressing a button on his glass top desk. “Agatha, Mr. Doyle and I are going to tour the Megalith facilities.”
“Make sure Dr. Pattison is on hand to greet us. I think he’ll enjoy Mr. Doyle.”
Wes Evans’s height barely changed when he stood up from his high backed chair. He walked around his desk for a minute while Mike stood and prepared to follow Evans when he made it around.
They had to use the canopied walkways to another building toward the back of the facility. Everyone they passed greeted Dr Evans. They looked surprised to see him for the most part, which meant the deference of their greetings was often belied by the expression that quickly passed over their faces before they recovered themselves. One of the nurses that Mike recognized as being the one who had pushed the Doppler, she had her hair in twin poofy pigtails, gave Evans a look of something akin to disgust, if not quite that severe. Evans smiled and nodded at her as if he didn’t notice.
Evans stopped only once, for a bald, labcoated man who he introduced to Mike as Cutler.
“Cutler, I’d like to introduce you to the newest member of the team, our engram specialist, Mr. Doyle.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Doyle. I’ve been hearing a lot about you. Pastion, wasn’t it? I’m from the City myself.”
“Really? What area?”
“Oh, well, not the City. Milford, actually. Connecticut. Right there on the sound.”
“Right! I had some friends from out in White Plains.”
“I didn’t realize the clinics on the Coast require such draconian health regulations.”
“Oh,” Mike was reminded of his shorn head for the first time since arriving, “I’m not a clinician.”
Cutler’s face grew a little puzzled. “Right.” He dragged the word out a moment longer than he should have. “Well, it’s great to have you with us, Mr. Doyle.”
“Please, call me Mike.”
Mike smiled. “Mr. Doyle’s fine.”
“Jagger, Mr Doyle. We should get to know each other over a bite to eat.”
“Well, I sup, so…” Mike trailed off.
“Ah-ah, Mr Doyle. We’re not supposed to get to know each other yet, but I guess since you can’t get a bite to eat, we’ll make it a drink? There’s a great little bar in building four. You’ll love it.”
“Yes, yes, very good, and you should take Briggs and Pattison, too,” Evans chimed in.
“Not if we want to get any serious drinking done,” Cutler laughed as if there were a joke there. Mike was lost. Evans didn’t seem to be in on it, and it wasn’t the kind of joke to make in front of the owner of the facility.
“Sorry. Just haven’t seen anyone from the City in so long. Where’d you get your degree Mr. Doyle?”
Mike looked at Evans. Was this normal?
“Uh, I did my graduate work with the Pastion Institute at Texas Tech.”
“Bayer-Halliburton Pharmasource Industries and the Greater State of Texas Technological University.”
“Oh. I thought… Sorry. I don’t know what I thought.”
“Oh, I got my degree in New Haven.”
“Yeah. University of New Haven. Good school.”
Mike didn’t like Cutler. He was glad to end the pleasantries and move on, committing only to “a drink sometime.”
He and Evans continued along the gangway until it came to a building clearly marked as Building Six.
“I hadn’t noticed the building numbers until Cutler mentioned them. I assume we came from Building One?”
“We did.” Evans answered, opening the door and letting Mike in. “Building one is mostly offices, with some laboratories and show rooms. That kind of stuff. Building two is housing for clients. Building three, housing for staff.” The two of them walked down an LED lit hallway. “Four, well, Cutler told you, it’s mostly mess, with a nice canteen and a bar. In Five there’s a lounge no one ever uses, and the commissary, a kind of general store, as well as our electronics guru, Bonnie. Here we are,” Evans said as they came to an unmarked door. “We’ll talk about all that later. Now, enjoy,” Evans eyes lit up as he opened the door for Mike.
The Megalith was not an ill-fitting name. The thing looked like it was out of an anime. A bed lay inside a massive MRI rig with a Doppler transcranial ultrasound, an anesthetic rig, some memcap probes, wires all neatly bound running down the side of the bed. There was a hole in the head-cradle, where the cervical vertebrae meet the skull. What looked like a needle sat poised in the hole.
Mike was still looking at the Megalith when Evans presented the thin man in a white lab coat man standing at the machine’s side.
“Mr. Doyle, May I introduce you to Dr. Pattison, he’s playing first chair in this … concerto of ours.”
“I understand you’re in on loan from Pastion Industries,” Dr. Pattison said, offering his elbow. Mike tapped with his own, unsure what to make of the typical coastal greeting.
“Something like that,” Mike said with a smile.
“Well,” Pattison said, pushing his bottom lip up. “We’re very glad to have you here. We all look forward to working with you.”
Well, that felt canned. Mike gave him one of those irritatingly ingratiating server smiles.
“Thank you. The feeling is mutual,” He answered. “You’ve got some exciting work going on here. I’m very interested to know what the Megalith actually is.”
“Well,” Pattison hesitated as if he was searching for the right word. “It’s a bioprinter.”
“The needle,” Mike’s attention was all on the machine. Pattison was secondary.
“Precisely.” Pattison moved in closer. “The needle is the bioprinter itself. It can produce substances as small as 8.6 nanometers.” A pause. “Coherent substances.”
Mike gave Pattison an approving glance nodding his head a moment before turning his attention back to the machine. “And, the MRI is there to give you an image of your targets. With the Doppler ultra sound overlaid?”
“Again, you’ve hit the nail.” Pattison smiled, clapping Evans on the shoulder. “We were right to be excited about this guy, Wes!” That was overdone, but at least in part genuine, if Mike could gauge people at all, which what with working in service and brain chemistry, he could.
“I told you,” Evans answered with an eyebrow popping up. There was something behind that though, Mike was certain.
“What are the memcap probes for?” Mike inquired.
“To check our results,” Pattison answered.
“And those results so far?”
“Well, to be honest, they’ve been rather meager,” Evans answered this time. Pattison didn’t look too riled by the answer, but he didn’t like it.
“Have they?” Mike asked, his attention still on the machine.
Pattison answered this time, though only after he had waited long enough to know Evans wasn’t going to. “When we implant under sedation, we get a negative result: engrams don’t take, synapses generation is negligible, neurons just sit there until they wilt. Neurologically, we’ve had some better results with conscious clients. Of course, they then have the memory of the implanting. We tried to go in a remove the memory, but honestly, we’ve had trouble locating where the engram was encoded. So we’re at a bit of an impasse. We’ve recently acquired some new drugs we’re excited to try.”
“Yes, I can understand that,” Mike said. Illoppurtuned timing, perhaps. Honest, but illoppurtuned.
Now the question was when should Mike solve their problem. He’d struck upon a solution as soon as they’d given him the puzzle, but didn’t want to blurt it out. He needed to bide his time. He wasn’t sure exactly why, but he felt like it was the right thing to do. It was the wise course. Right. The solution, though, was simple enough. It was simple enough that Mike felt like anyone could stumble on it at any moment. Each moment that Mike didn’t claim the solution was a moment that some one else could. Still. He’d hold on to it a little while. If they were looking at more drugs, they’d keep themselves occupied with that.
“It’s an interesting collection of conundra.” Evans said.
After a moment Mike asked, “When do we get to work?”
“Haha, we’ve already got your lab coat.” Evans chortled.
A lab tech stepped up holding a white cotton lab coat, embroidered with only his last name: Doyle. Mike felt a surge of panic well up in his stomach, but he slid his arm into the coat regardless. Pennies and pounds, or something to that effect. He was right to be hesitant, and he could feel it right away. The coat was woven with silver nano conductors. His screen was vibrating silently in his pocket, telling him it was under attack. His firewalls should be enough to handle anything they could throw at them, though.
“Are there goggles I should have on?”
“Yes, yes, where are the goggles, Briggs?”
“Oh, yes, sir, right away sir.”
If Mike had an implanted screen, the coat would potentially pose an existential threat to him. It could be used for the same kind of control that implanted memories could. A version of it at least. The lining in the lab coat could potentially override his visual input, auditory.
Mike put on the goggles. Immediately, his life signs popped up on the lenses, along with an icon indicating that there hadn’t been a connection with his screen established.
Mike silently thanked whatever entity had tasked itself with protecting born assholes like him. In this case, it was himself three months earlier bored in his space beefing up his screen’s security to kill time.
Mike wasn’t sure he had the gist of that saying quite right.