by Judy (Wishes)
Elizabeth had been given a hot bath and warm liquids and was now covered with
two blankets. Her lips had lost their blue tinge, and she had finally stopped
shivering. Dr. Durvich had instructed Caroline to take the subject's temperature
every hour and to have her paged if it hadn't risen
to normal by the end of shift. Caroline looked at the readout and decided that .2 of a degree wasn't worth disturbing a doctor. She checked her watch as she recorded the reading in Elizabeth's chart. Where was her relief anyway?
"How are you feeling?" she asked the other woman.
"All right." She tried to shift in the bed but couldn't move very far. "Sometimes I dream about sleeping on my back or side."
Caroline realized that this was as close to a complaint as she had heard her
make. She wanted to say something about how someday things would be better,
but remembered that subjects weren't to be encouraged to think about the future.
For them, there was only now and following orders. "I'm
going to check on my relief." When she approached the control station, Jeannie was talking to a tall black man. Frank, the night tech-in-charge. Both of them faced Caroline when she approached, but Jeannie ducked, pretending to hide.
"What's up with whats-her-name?" Caroline asked. "She's over a half-hour late, and I'm on my own time now."
"Sweetie, Karen just called," Jeannie answered. "You know she went home sick this morning. Now she says it's this bug that's going around, and she can't make it in tonight."
"Well, is someone else coming in?"
Frank spoke up. "We've gone through everyone we can think of. They're
already working or just can't come in. We even called that guy Doo, Jeannie's
friend." He looked at Jeannie, who covered her cheeks, pretending to blush.
"No answer. I don't like having males in charge of
female subjects anyway, not on my shift."
"Oh, Doo's okay," Jeannie put in. "And he doesn't need to force
a patient to get what he needs." As both Caroline and Frank looked at her
significantly, she added, "I don't mean me. We're just buddies, and only
here at work. But Doo is popular with the ladies. Why do you think he's
always finding excuses to wander all over the facility? Anywhere you go, you're likely to see that yellow jacket and Doo inside it flirting with some tech or attendant."
"Don't forget the nurses," Caroline amended. "Over at the hospital, the female nurses request him to pick up medicines and supplies for Yellow Unit."
"Well, his charm's lost on me," Frank stated. "I know, it's a girl thing. Anyway, he didn't answer his phone or his page, so he must be gettin' busy tonight." He gazed down at the little tech.
"So you want me to stay." It was a statement, not a question.
"We hate to ask you, kid," Jeannie said. "I would stay if I could, but I've already done a full shift, too, and I'm on duty tomorrow."
Caroline sighed, acknowledging the inevitability of her answer. "And tomorrow is my day off. Which I'll now spend sleeping."
"It's extra money," Frank offered. "Your hourly plus the double-shift bonus."
"Yeah, I hear you." But she knew she always needed every cent she could get, just to make ends meet. "Okay, I'll stay, but I can't guarantee I'll stay awake."
Jeannie smiled and started around the counter, ready to leave before anything else came up. Frank asked Caroline, "Is your charge a good sleeper?"
"Yeah. She had a busy day, and she's already half-asleep. Why?"
"I don't usually allow this, but, since you're taking a double shift, get a blanket and pillow from the supply room. You can doze in your chair as long as you get everything done that's ordered in her chart. Fair enough?"
She wanted to ask why what's-her-name got away with leaving all the chart orders for her, but just smiled and said, "Fair enough."
She doubted that she would be able to sleep on duty, but brought a blanket
and pillow back to the room with her anyway. Elizabeth's eyes were closed, and
she was breathing deeply and steadily. Caroline stood for a moment and studied
her face. So calm and beautiful, the planes of her face smooth and strong. She
wondered how someone who looked like this and who had started
life as a doctor's daughter ended up here, in this bed, her freedom gone. Drugs? The wrong lover? She didn't believe that story about writing anti-government articles. Sure, you got in trouble for that probably, but not this kind of trouble. Then she shrugged and went to settle in her chair. She put the pillow between her head and the chair back and snuggled in the blanket. Although she wouldn't sleep, she might as well be comfortable....
She was standing by a broad river on a flat plain. Her side of the river was
beautiful, with tall, fernlike trees, soft grass, and a multitude of flowers,
pink, yellow, blue. . . . A group of women approached her, one carrying a jeweled
goblet. They wore white gowns, sheer and flowing.
Angels, she thought. This is heaven, and those are angels. The women greeted her, but they called her a strange name, not Caroline. The one with the goblet knelt and dipped it into the clear water of the river. Then she held it out. "The water of Lethe," she said. "Drink before your journey."
Caroline took the goblet and tasted it. Sweet, unlike water, more like wine.
Then she heard shouts and laughter and looked across the river. Three men were
hauling on a rope, pulling something out of the water. "I wonder what that
is?" She had no more said the words than she was standing
beside them on the other side of the river. The men frightened her. They wore rags of clothing, and their faces looked blasted with evil, their eyes dark and sunken, mouths pulled back in something more like rigor than grins. But they paid her no attention, continuing to pull on the rope and
yelling to whatever was on the end of it. Then that object surfaced, and Caroline saw that there was a body at the end of the rope.
The men stayed back from the river and pulled the body completely onto the bank before they approached it. It was the body of a drowned woman, and it lay face down, long and lifeless, also wearing rags for clothing, its pale skin covered with deep wounds, from which no blood issued. The men surrounded the body, but seemed cautious about approaching it. Finally, one pulled his foot back and kicked it in the side with all his strength. The thing moaned. All the men laughed, and he kicked it again, this time in the head.
"Stop!" Caroline cried. "She's alive."
She started forward, and the men finally looked at her. They laughed and mocked her. "Alive! She's alive! I don't think so."
The one who had been doing the kicking spoke, his voice strained and croaking,
as if something was wrong with his throat. "You? You don't belong here.
Get back on your side of the river." He turned his back on her and ordered
one of his companions, "Get the boat. We'll take her out
for another swim."
Caroline couldn't stand to touch him, but she came within a few inches of his face. "I said to stop this. You have no right!"
"We have every right," he croaked. "We're just following orders.
We're her punishers. Who better than us, right boys? Her 'innocent' victims."
The others nodded, still showing their malicious grins. "We were assigned
to make her suffer. Best duty the place has to offer. Now that she's
leaving, this is our last chance, and we're not going to let it go to waste."
He kicked the body again, this time hard enough to roll it over. Without thinking, Caroline threw the goblet at him, striking him in the face. Wiping at the liquid, he screamed as if burned and staggered back a pace. He recovered and started toward her, but then suddenly he and the others were gone.
Caroline felt a hand on her shoulder. "I told them to make her drink from Lethe," a voice said. "The rest they came up with themselves."
She turned to see a man, tall and broad, dressed in black leather and armor. Under his arm was a helmet, also black, and, for some reason, she found it hard to look upon. She looked at his face instead and found it calm and not unkind. "What is this place? Who are you?"
"Ah, you've already drunk of the river." His face remained solemn. "You're about to get what you wanted. As I've warned you, you will now live a different life. In time, as all do, you'll return here. My judgement then will be based on this new life only."
She listened but had no idea of what he meant. New life? Judgement?
He stood over the woman who lay on the river bank. "The same is true for her." Caroline stood beside him and looked down. Then he waved his hand, and the woman was gone.
"Where did she go? What did you do?"
"She's gone to a new life, little one." Then he did smile, a small smile that seemed tinged with sadness. "You had better hurry. Time passes differently up there. She's already almost a decade ahead of you." Then he held his hand above her own head. . . .
"No! I don't want to go!"
Caroline realized she was standing, a blanket clutched tightly to her chest.
"Caroline. You had a nightmare."
She looked in the direction of the voice. Elizabeth. She lay on the bed, awake, face serious. "You were screaming. Are you all right?"
"It was just a dream?"
Caroline took a shuddering breath. "I've had that dream since I was a little girl, but never like this time."
"Do you want to tell me about it?"
Automatically, Caroline shook her head. Then she realized that she did. Not
tell Elizabeth particularly, just someone who wouldn't make fun of her. Or make
it a joke to tell someone else. She lay the blanket in the chair and walked
over to the bed. She hesitated, then sat gingerly on the edge.
She looked into Elizabeth's clear blue eyes, then looked away before speaking. "It was the dream about the Black Knight."
"Yes. That's what I call him. He's all dressed in black armor, and he's
holding one of those helmets, you know, with a visor, like knights wear."
She realized that she had fallen into talking about the nightmare as she had
when she was little and tried to describe it to her mother. "I'm in a
strange place by a river. There are other women there and some scary men. They're hurting one of the women. Then the Black Knight shows up."
"Does he frighten you, too?"
"No. I don't know if he's good, but he's not bad, not like the other men." She felt herself breathing more rapidly just thinking about them, and she consciously slowed her breaths. "He warns me."
"He says he's going to judge me. And the other woman."
Not answering, Caroline forced herself to look at this woman's face. Whenever she had dreamed of the Black Knight before, she had not looked down on the drowned woman's face. This time she had. And the face was Elizabeth's.
Determined not to relieve night shift any earlier than she had to, Caroline stepped out of the elevator exactly on time. Jeannie was already at the control station, and she greeted her cheerfully, "Hi, sweetie. How was the day off?"
"I don't know," she answered, "I slept through it." But then, Jeannie's look was so sympathetic, she had to smile. "It was okay, just went by too fast." She started past the station, but Jeannie motioned her to stop and come over.
"You don't need to stop at the room. It's covered, and you've got an appointment. What you been up to, girl?"
"What do you mean?" Caroline asked but immediately thought of the incident in the Cold Water Lab.
"Dr. Stephens left a message with Frank. He wants to see you a half hour after start of shift. That man is here day and night. Doesn't he ever sleep?"
"Oh. I'll check on Elizabeth and. . . ."
"Leave her alone. You go in there, you'll get started on something and
then be late." Jeannie checked her watch. "Supervisor sent Doo up
when I said I needed someone to cover. He's been in there about fifteen minutes;
let him take care of the morning orders. He ought to do a little work
after not answering his beeper the other night."
"Doo? Did he get in trouble for that?"
"Did you ever know Doo to get in trouble for anything?" She shook her head and smiled knowingly. "Doo has the run of the place, and he's the only person who isn't afraid of the Supervisor."
Caroline leaned against the station, enjoying this rare opportunity for girl talk. "How do you suppose he gets away with so much?"
Although there was no one in the hall, Jeannie lowered her voice even more. "Since he's your friend, too, I'll tell you. But you have to promise not to tell anyone else."
"Okay." Caroline leaned closer.
"One time, when I was at his apartment, I found something." At Caroline's raised eyebrows, she added, "Okay, we had a thing going for a while. It didn't last. We soon figured out we were better friends than lovers. You know?"
Betraying her inexperience, Caroline answered, "Not really."
"Well, take it from me, it happens." She beamed at the younger woman. "Anyway, Doo was taking a shower, and I thought I would help him out by cleaning up some of the mess. You seen how he keeps his place?"
"Oh, okay, just asking. I picked up some clothes from his desk, and there
was a file folder under it. I'm the curious type, and I opened it. When I saw
what was in it, I closed it real fast and put the pants and shirt back on top
of it." She paused, and Caroline wondered if she was having second
thoughts about sharing this information.
"What was it?"
Jeannie glanced at the door of Elizabeth's room and dropped her voice even farther, so she was whispering now. "The top page had the Supervisor's name written on it. And then it listed her salary and all of her expenses. It listed her car payment, her rent, her kid's private school tuition . . . ."
"The Supervisor has a kid?"
"Yeah. Musta bought him," she answered. "But the point is that her expenses were more than double her salary."
"Maybe she's in debt."
"No, that's just it. Not only was she spending all that money, she had thousands more in a bank. I guess she's figured out a way to make a lot more out of her position than a paycheck."
Caroline thought for a minute before she spoke. "Something that's against the rules."
"Or even illegal. Selling supplies or drugs, something like that."
"And Doo found out." Caroline didn't know how she felt about this. "And he's using the information against the Supervisor. Holding it over her head."
Jeannie nodded. "That's why he can do whatever he wants and never get into trouble. Look at it this way, kid, one of our own is finally getting over on an administrator." She checked her watch. "Hey, you better get downstairs. You don't want to be late for your appointment. Hope it's good news."
Caroline nodded. She did, too.
When Caroline entered the genetics lab, Dr. Stephens's office door was open. He was sitting at his desk and waved her in. "Good morning, Caroline. Prompt, even a little early. That's good."
"Good morning, sir." Caroline seated herself and sat erect, hands folded in her lap.
"I know we both have busy days ahead, so I won't waste time. I told you that I was thinking about taking on a tech as my full-time assistant."
"I've decided to do it," he informed her. "Would you be interested in the position?"
She tried to slowly release her breath before answering. "Yes, sir, I would."
"Good." He opened a folder that was on the desk in front of him. Caroline recognized it as a personnel file. Hers?
"I have a few questions I want to ask before offering you the position." He paged through the file and found the paper he wanted to refer to. "It says here that you don't have any relatives. Is that orrect?"
"Yes, sir, at least none that I know about. My father may still be living, but I haven't heard from him since I was a small child. My mother died a year ago."
"Lung cancer, yes," he said. "A smoker. On this question about whether she had an arrest record, you've marked yes. She wasn't involved in the tobacco riots, was she?"
"No, sir. She worked in a cigarette factory, but she had been laid off long before the riots." Caroline remembered that cigarettes had been only one of her mother's many addictions.
"She never took part in any anti-government activity." In her mind, Caroline said goodbye to any chance for advancement at the facility. "The arrests were for prostitution."
"I see." He closed the file. "Thank you for your honesty." He stood up, and Caroline followed suit, hoping her disappointment didn't show too clearly. "Now, would you like to see where you'll be working?"
"Yes, sir. You mean I have the job?"
"Of course. I already knew all about your mother's profession. I just wanted to see if you would tell the truth." He gave her a fatherly pat on the back. "You're a fine girl. I'll be glad to have you on my team."
Caroline followed him to the elevator, trying to control the big smile that wanted to form. "When will I start? The new job, I mean."
"How about tomorrow?" he asked as the elevator descended one floor. "This is Frank's last day, so I need someone immediately."
"Tomorrow? Is Elizabeth going to be reassigned?" she asked. She had never known a special duty patient to be switched from one day shift tech to another.
"Elizabeth will be leaving tomorrow." Caroline wanted to question him further, but the elevator stopped. and they stepped together into a hallway Caroline had never visited. Ahead were double doors below a sign that said Dissection Suite. "This is where my real work takes place."
"Not in the genetics lab?" she asked.
"That's really Dr. Leonusco's department," he informed her. "He's
the genius with the superelectron microscope and with the tiniest parts of the
human genetic code. My job is putting together what he discovers with what really
goes on in the human body. Figuring out how the genes are expressed. And how
to predict what effect certain combinations of genes will have." He pushed
open one of the doors and motioned for her to precede him. Inside was what appeared
to be a completely equipped
operating room. "Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Only part of it," she admitted.
"Part of it is a good start," he assured her. He led her to the operating
table that seemed to be in the exact center of the room. "This is where
I unravel the mysteries, Caroline, where I figure out how nature takes the messages
of the human genetic code and arranges them to produce superior
qualities in actual organisms. This is where I've come within reaching distance of finding out how to produce those superior qualities, strength, endurance, intelligence, obedience, all present in one organism."
"You mean make better babies?"
"Better babies? Yes, better babies." He chuckled. "You've cut to the heart of the matter. Better babies, ones that won't be prone to diseases of the mind or body, that won't suffer from addictions or commit crimes, that will live long and happy lives."
"You're really learning how to do that?"
"Yes, the work Dr. Leonusco does and what I do here, when combined, will enable us to do just that." He paused, and then seemed to come to a decision. "Caroline, have you ever heard of a story called Frankenstein?"
"Yes, wasn't that a monster?"
"Frankenstein was a doctor. He tried to make a superior being and ended up making a monster."
"Do you know the lesson of that story?"
She hadn't read the story but remember an old-fashioned videodisc by that name, one that was shown to them in school. "Something about not messing with nature?"
He shook his head. "That's what most people think, but they're wrong. Frankenstein's idea was fine. But where he went wrong was using the wrong material. He tried to make a superior human being by using defective material. The brain of the monster was the brain of a criminal."
Caroline didn't know what to say, so she was silent.
"We work on the cellular and subcellular level, but the principle is the same. You can't produce strength if you use material that is weak. You can't produce intelligence if you use material that is stupid. And you certainly can't produce respect for authority if you use material that is criminal." He was looking around the room as he talked, and Caroline had the feeling he wasn't really talking to her anymore.
"Dr. Stephens?" Caroline saw Frank walking through a door on the other side of the suite. The doctor didn't respond immediately, seemingly lost in his own thoughts. "Dr. Stephens, I have everything ready for tomorrow's procedure."
The doctor shook his head, as if clearing it. "What? Oh, Frank. I didn't know you were here already. I guess you're eager to finish up and get on to your new job."
Caroline thought Frank looked doubtful, but he said, "Yes, sir."
Dr. Stephens explained to Caroline, "Frank is leaving us to work at MONCUS. Seems like that place is always stealing our best people. Guess the district can afford better pay, right, Frank?"
"I guess so."
"Before you leave for the day, stop by my office. Now I want you to show Caroline around, give her some idea of her duties. Will you do that?"
"Of course." Frank walked over and held the door for Dr. Stephens. "Goodbye, Caroline," the doctor said, "Welcome to the team."
Caroline started to say goodbye, but he was gone. She turned to the big tech. "So you're leaving here to go to MONCUS?"
"Yeah." He sighed. "Dr. Stephens got me the job."
"Oh, I didn't know. I thought. . . ."
He cut her off. "It's not because he doesn't like my work. He hasn't been happy with some of the material we've been getting. Or the condition it's in when it comes."
"Material?" Caroline asked, remembering how Dr. Stephens had used the term.
"You know, subjects. We call them material once they've been dedicated to the genetics project. Dr. Stephens wants to make sure we get the best subjects and that they aren't ruined before they get here."
Caroline remembered Elizabeth's battered condition when she had arrived in Emergency. No, that couldn't be related to what Frank was saying.
Frank ordered curtly, "Come over to the table. I'll show you what you need to do."
Frank spent a few minutes explaining the various instruments and the procedures
followed in the suite. He also explained how tissue samples would be preserved
and stored. Caroline concentrated, but she didn't see how she could get everything
straight from this one time through. "How can
I remember all this?" she asked. "I've already forgotten the names of half the instruments."
"Dr. Stephens is pretty patient," he told her, "especially when you're new, so if you forget something, just ask him. This is like an orientation. He'll train you as the procedure goes along."
"Isn't there a resident or nurse to assist him?"
"No, just one tech. Dr. Stephens doesn't want a lot of people in here.
He likes to work alone." Frank pointed to a small machine at one end of
the table. "There's one more thing I want to show you. This is the most
high-tech piece of equipment in the facility. The surgeons at the hospital
probably just wish they had something like this."
"What is it?"
"It's a phorohydroquadrilizer.
He smiled for the first time. "A PHQ machine. You hook the dissection
subject up to this, no more complicated than putting in a couple of IV's, and
place this mask over the face. Then the PHQ automatically monitors the blood,
supplies the correct amounts of anesthetic, oxygen, muscle
relaxants, anything else that is needed." He patted the machine proudly and looked as if he were going to miss it.
Caroline blinked and felt the blood leave her own face. "Are you all right?" the other tech asked. "Oh, great. Don't tell me you're squeamish. You'll be a hell of a lot of good in here if you are."
She took a deep breath and steadied herself. "No, I'm fine. I don't know what was wrong with me. I'm not squeamish. Not at all."
Back on Blue Unit, Caroline pushed lightly on the room door, but stopped when she heard voices, hushed but urgent.
"I'm going to tell her." Elizabeth's.
"No, you're not. You're going to keep this to yourself." Doo? "If you know what's good for you."
"Threats. Violence. That's what it always comes down to."
"Maybe 'cause that's what it always takes."
The voices stopped, and Caroline made a show of bustling into the room as if
she had been hurrying. Doo, who had been sitting on the edge of Elizabeth's
bed, jumped up. He smiled broadly. "So, been down to see the great man?
Did he want to commend you for your bandaging skills? Or call
you on the tile for using too many clean sheets and hospital gowns?"
"Nothing that important," she answered. She looked at the breakfast tray, which lay, untouched, on the bedside table.
Doo followed her gaze. "I tried to feed her, but she wouldn't eat. Tried
to claim you let her feed herself." He spoke to Caroline, but his eyes
were on Elizabeth. "I knew she was lying. Good old
just-following-procedures Caroline wouldn't break the rules like that. One thing I've learned since I've worked here is not to trust these people. You can't believe anything they say." No longer smiling, he turned on his heel and left the room.
Caroline picked up the tray, preparing to dispose of it. "This food is cold. I'll get you another tray if you want it."
"I'm sorry I told him that."
"Don't worry about it. Doo's my friend. He won't get me into trouble."
She watched as a tear slid down Elizabeth's cheek, then another. Setting the
tray down, Caroline sat where Doo had been and, with the side of her hand, gently
brushed away the moisture. "Elizabeth? What's wrong?" As
the dark-haired woman continued to silently cry, Caroline took the napkin that had come with the meal-pack and dried the tears as they fell. "Did he do something to you? Elizabeth? I overheard him telling you not to tell, threatening you. What did he do?"
"Nothing." Caroline didn't believe her but didn't know what to do.
Doo was her friend, had helped her through the first rough months on Yellow
Unit, had shown her the ropes. His humor had gotten her past the horror she
had felt at first. . . . This woman was just a subject, nothing to her
really. Looking down at Elizabeth, recognizing her beauty, she could understand how Doo, who was, after all, just a man, could have been tempted.
"Caroline? I want to ask you something."
"I'll see that Doo is never left with you again."
"No, it's not about that." She took a shaky breath. "Don't come to work tomorrow."
"What?" Thinking back to her conversations with Dr. Stephens and with Frank, Caroline felt her own breath catch. "Why would you ask something like that?"
"Something is going to happen." Elizabeth tried to sit up and was stopped by her restraints. Frustration and annoyance crossed her face. She made herself relax and lie quietly. "It may not be safe here."
"What are you talking about? Not safe? For whom?"
"I can't say anything else," Elizabeth answered. "I shouldn't tell you this much. But sometimes you've been kind to me; you're different from most of the others, not completely lost. Just don't come to work tomorrow, and you'll be fine."
Caroline picked up the tray. "I'm going to dispose of this and get you another. If you don't eat, your blood work won't come out right. Then I'll check today's schedule and take you to the exercise room. Where did you go yesterday?"
Elizabeth's eyes were dry and as clear as ever. "The genetics project. Dr. Leonusco. He said that's the only place I would go from now on."
Caroline nodded, sure of the truth of that statement. "I'll check anyway." She walked out the door, then found herself leaning against it.
The next morning, arriving even earlier than usual, Caroline decided to stop
first in the dissection suite. Having thought about her visit the day before,
she knew she had jumped to the wrong conclusion. As she stepped out of the elevator,
Doo was just coming through the swinging
doors. He didn't look pleased to see her. "Jeannie told me you requested that I stay out of Elizabeth's room."
"I figured she would tell you. Just not this soon."
"That kind of thing doesn't do much for my reputation, you know." His manner was casual, but there was anger in his voice.
Caroline kept her own tone neutral. "I told you it didn't pay to get too friendly with subjects."
"You better tell yourself the same thing." He brushed past her and through the open elevator doors.
Shaking her head, Caroline entered the suite. Last night, thinking through the day's events, she had felt the need to come here, to see again the table, the instruments, that machine. . . .to figure out what it all really meant.
"Do I know how to pick conscientious helpers?" Caroline turned to see Dr. Stephens right behind her, his rubber-soled shoes making not even a squeak on the tiled floor.
"I just wanted to look around again," she explained, unable to come up with any other reason. "I'm sorry if I shouldn't be here."
"It's all right. I'm glad you're that interested." He looked around the room himself. "Sometimes I like to just come down here, too, when it's quiet like this, empty." He brought his attention back to his new assistant. "But I had a purpose for coming down here this time, and you're it."
"Yes, I told that annoying fellow who's always running around the facility to bring up some fresh scrubs. Some small ones." He chuckled as he looked down at her. "I wanted to see that he did. You would swim in Frank's. They should be in the supply room if he brought them."
"It's kind of you to think about something like that," Caroline commented. "I mean, you're busy and important, and I. . . ."
"And you have to stop being so modest." His expression turned serious. "You are now a member of my team, and soon you'll have the rating--and pay-- to go with it. Now let's go see if that fellow brought the scrubs."
"I'm sure he did," Caroline said. "I ran into him at the elevator."
"Well, good then. You go to the supply room and get a set of the new scrubs. You might as well start wearing them right now. There's a changing room that connects to both the supply room and the suite." He beamed down at her. "Show the world what team you're on now."
"Shouldn't I wait to change until I come back down?" she asked. "Won't I just have to change again before the. . . .the procedure?"
He shook his head. "We follow clean protocols, but not sterile, except for the gathering and preserving of samples, of course. Don't worry. I'll show you how that's done so the samples aren't contaminated."
"Yes, sir," Caroline said. "If you don't mind, I'll get the scrubs and change when I get to the unit." She checked her watch. "I better hurry, or I'll be late relieving night shift."
His tone was serious again. "I left orders for your charge last night: NPO after midnight. It's on the chart."
"Nothing by mouth. Yes, sir."
"And there are orders at the desk indicating that she'll be transferred to her new facility later this morning--and that you'll take her down for the transfer." He made sure she was looking him in the eye before he continued. "Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir. I think so." She kept her gaze as steady as his.
"Good." He patted her on the shoulder. "You'll do fine."
As soon as he was out the door, she hurried to the supply room. There were three stacks of scrubs, three different sizes. She took one of the packages of the small size and started for the door. Then, after a moment's hesitation, she came back and took a package with L clearly written on it with black laundry marker. In the elevator, she rolled one package around the other.
On Blue Unit, she waved at Jeannie, who was on the phone, and quickly pushed open the door to Elizabeth's room. The usual night shift tech was standing just inside, looking pointedly at her watch. Get stuffed, Caroline thought, but said, "Sorry. Dr. Stephens held me up."
"Oh." Having lost any steam for an argument, the tech pointed to
Elizabeth's chart at the end of her bed. "NPO. She's transferring out today."
She surprised Caroline by walking over to the bed, instead of bustling out of
the room. "I hope things go well for you at the new place.
You have some good luck coming. Goodbye."
"Thanks, Karen. Goodbye." The night tech patted Elizabeth's hand and then, with a quick nod to Caroline, she was out the door.
Caroline put the packages of scrubs on the end of the bed and made a show of reading Elizabeth's chart. Then she pulled the chair over so she could face the other woman as they talked. "Good morning, Elizabeth."
"When you were late, I hoped you had taken my advice." When Caroline feigned puzzlement, she added, "Not to come to work today."
"I couldn't stay home. I mean, it's a big day, isn't it?"
"What do you mean?"
"You're leaving, and I'm starting a new job."
Elizabeth looked surprised. "What new job? I figured you would just return to your old one when I was gone."
"I'm going to be Dr. Stephens's tech assistant." She waited for Elizabeth to speak, and when she didn't, added, "In the dissection suite. You know Dr. Stephens."
"Yes," she said. "I know him. And I've known of him even longer."
"What does that mean?"
Elizabeth shook her head and turned it so she looked at the wall instead of the smaller woman. It was the only freedom she had.
Firmly grasping her charge's face, Caroline took this freedom from her. "Look at me when I'm talking. I'm going to ask you some questions, and you better answer them truthfully. And no stubbornness. We don't have time for it, and I don't have the patience."
Blue eyes blazed; then the fire seemed to go out of them. Elizabeth nodded, and Caroline roughly released her hold.
"You told me you were a writer and that your only crime was criticizing the government. Is that the truth?"
"Yes." Caroline thought she was going to leave it at that, but then
she went on. "It was more than criticism. I had been on the government's
bad side for a long time because of that. As my father and mother were. What
finally got me arrested was starting a series of articles exposing a secret
government project, one that was clearly illegal."
"You said you were arrested for contempt."
"I was hauled into court after the first article was printed. The judge
said that I had breached national security and ordered me to reveal my sources.
I refused, and I was charged with contempt." Elizabeth's voice was flat.
"I was jailed and, for a while, she hauled me back before her
every week or two and, when I still wouldn't tell, sent me back to my cell. The last time she called me before her, she said that I was obviously suffering from a mental disorder. She sent me for ninety days of observation, and I've been in one institution or another for the last two years."
"I think I was sent there to prepare me for this place, to make sure my attitude would be meek enough."
"What was the government project you wrote about?"
"I think you're familiar with it," Elizabeth said. "It's called the Human Genetics Coding Project."
"You wrote about this place, about Blue Unit?"
"This is supposed to be a private research facility, but it's financed
by the government." Her voice became clipped and precise, as if she were
dictating a report or article. "Its purpose is to do research that will
further the aims of the government, specifically creating a citizenry that
is more productive and easier to govern. Early human research focused on criminals, addicts, and the insane, on the traits the government wanted to eliminate. That's one reason subjects from the prisons and sanitariums were the first people used."
"When Dr. Stephens was put in charge, he decided that the project was set up backwards. Instead of focusing on the unwanted traits, the research should explore the desirable characteristics."
Caroline had recently heard what those were, so she supplied them. "Strength, endurance, intelligence and obedience." As she said them, she realized that the woman on the bed possessed at least three out of the four.
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow, but continued. "To explore those traits, Stephens needed people who possessed them--and few of the unwanted ones."
"He didn't want to use criminals and people with mental diseases," Caroline said. "If you want a superior product, you need to use superior materials."
"But what about the other research labs and the other two units? They don't have anything to do with producing a certain type of person."
"Right again. The other labs are a blind, so that staff and people looking
at the amounts of money budgeted won't think the Genetics Coding Project is
so important. They're all legitimate areas of research, things that would benefit
people, but they've become perverted by the use of involuntary
subjects and no need to worry about the harm caused by their experiments."
"Like the Cold Water Lab," Caroline said. "I can see how the
experiments would help us figure out how to prevent drownings, like when a plane
crashes or a ship goes down. But the only reason Dr. Durvich was so careful
not to cause permanent damage to you was because of Dr. Stephens's
"Right. Imagine how many people have probably suffered permanent brain damage because she left them under water a few seconds too long."
"Or died because of the hypothermia." Caroline shuddered over her role in that experiment and quickly turned off that line of thought. "What about the other units? Are they just cover for this one?"
"No," Elizabeth said, "Each of them serves a real purpose. Green Unit holds the patients who are subjects in long-term experiments, some related to the genetics project, some not."
"And Yellow Unit, where I've worked for two years?"
"Yellow Unit stores the debris of Blue Unit, those too damaged or damaged in such ways that they can't be used in long-term experiments or placed in other institutions."
"Why don't they just get rid of them?" Caroline asked, fully realizing the coldness of the question.
"Even for this place, too many deaths might cause suspicion, get the staff talking. You know how rumors can spread." Elizabeth looked Caroline squarely in the eye. "I don't imagine more than a half-dozen people know the truth about the deaths that occur, even the ones that are acknowledged."
"Like Paul's." She wasn't sure whether Elizabeth knew who Paul was, so she added, "He was a healthy young subject who died suddenly. Dr. Stephens said it was a stroke."
"The other deaths are somehow covered up through 'transfers' to other institutions, except that the receiving facilities aren't told a transfer is being made and so aren't surprised when no one arrives."
Caroline swallowed hard.
"Yeah, I kind of guessed," Elizabeth said and managed a weak smile.
Caroline walked around the bed, releasing each of the restraints and helped Elizabeth sit up. She sat down again so that she faced the other woman directly, their knees touching. "Why did you tell me not to come to work today?"
Elizabeth looked down at her hands. "That isn't my secret to tell."
"If I'm going to help you, I have to know."
Elizabeth raised her eyes. She asked quietly, "Help me?"
"Yes, I'm going to help you." Until she said it, she hadn't been sure.
She thought Elizabeth was still going to refuse, but then she said, "There's going to be an explosion, and this part of the facility will be destroyed."
"An explosion? A bomb?"
"I think so. It's supposed to take out Blue Unit, and the floor just under this one."
"The dissection lab. And the stored tissue samples," Caroline supplied. "What about the people who are here, the staff and subjects?"
"No one is supposed to be hurt," Elizabeth answered. "I'm against the violence, you have to believe that, but the group that's doing this doesn't think there's any other way. I didn't want you to come in case something went wrong."
Caroline checked her watch. "I don't know exactly when you're being 'transferred,' but it has to be soon. I'm only going to ask one more question. About Doo. Did he hurt you? Did he rape or molest you?"
"Why was he in here so much? Did you know him before you came here?"
Elizabeth's lips formed a thin line.
"Tell me." Then more gently, "Please."
"Doo was one of the informants I was protecting. He felt he owed me something."
"What were you arguing about?" Then she understood. "The bomb?"
"Yes, when telling me what was going on here didn't end it, when he heard
what was happening to me, he joined a militant organization. Yesterday he warned
me about the bomb, said that the facility would be evacuated. He also said that
he would figure out a way to get me out of wherever I was
"What did you argue about?"
"My wanting to warn you." She dropped her eyes before saying, "He said that you were only looking out for yourself, that you couldn't be trusted."
Caroline rose and retrieved the packages from the end of the bed. She handed the larger pair of scrubs to Elizabeth. "Put these on. I'm getting you out of here. Then. . . .do you have someplace to go? I could take you to my rooming house, but that's the first place they'll look."
"I have friends who'll hide me if I can get to them," Elizabeth said. "They tried to talk me into going into hiding, even leaving the country, before I was arrested. But I wouldn't run, not me, I had faith in the system, knew that I was protected by the Constitution." She had her gown off and was slipping into the scrub pants and top. They were big on her, but the length of the sleeves and pants legs were about right. She snugged up the drawstring on the pants. "What about you? You can't come back here after helping me escape."
"Let's get you out of here now, and worry about that later, okay?"
There was a light knock on the door, and both women jumped. "Caroline, come out to the station. Now."
Caroline hurried out the door before Jeannie felt she had to come in. She needn't
have worried. Jeannie and what looked like all the Blue Unit techs were gathered
at the control station. When Caroline joined them, Jeannie spoke. "Dr.
Stephens just called up. We've had a bomb threat, the first one since we stopped
using four-legged subjects." There was nervous laughter from a couple of
the techs. "In the past, our policy has been to evacuate the facility whenever
we've received a threat. However, Dr. Stephens believes that just encourages
the pranksters and leads to a rash
of threats. So, we're going to stick tight. I was told to inform you, however, so, if we have to evacuate, you'll be prepared."
"How will we know?" a thin, blonde woman asked. "Will you have to come around to each room? Won't that take too long?"
"If Dr. Stephens decides we should leave the building, he'll call a code
red. As soon as you hear that, you and the subject in your charge will leave
the building immediately, using the stairs, not the elevator. You've all had
training in how to do this. Any other questions?" There weren't.
"All right. Go back to the rooms. Stay calm, but be prepared."
As the group started to disperse, Jeannie said, "Caroline, stay a minute please."
"Dr. Stephens said that Elizabeth's transfer would go on as planned. You're to take her down now. He said you would know where to take her."
"Oh, okay." She started back toward the room.
"You have to sign his order before you take her." She put a pen and a form on the counter. Caroline glanced at it. Order to transfer. She didn't recognize the name of the receiving institution.
"Where do I sign?"
"Here, right under Dr. Stephens's signature." Caroline hurriedly signed.
Jeannie held out a BeRt unit and holster. "You never picked this up this morning."
"Thanks." Caroline walked back to the room, trying not to run. Elizabeth
was back on the bed, covered by a sheet to her chin. She had put her hands and
feet through the restraints, although anyone but a casual observer would see
the cuffs weren't fastened. "Get up. We're getting out of
here," Caroline said. She ripped open the other package and, tearing off her blue jacket and her tech uniform, she hurriedly pulled on the green scrubs. "Wouldn't you know it? The only time I've gotten anything here that was a perfect fit. I'll get a chair." On the way to the supply room,
she strapped on the holster and inserted the BeRt.
When she returned, she motioned for Elizabeth to sit. "I'm going to put
the mobile restraints on, but they won't be fastened." She had gotten a
blanket from the supply room, which she used to cover her charge from feet to
neck. "When we get off the elevator on the ground floor, you'll be
staff. The pants are long enough that hopefully nobody will notice you don't have shoes."
"What's the hurry? Is the unit being evacuated?"
"No? What do you mean? Doo promised there would be a phone call at least an hour before the explosion. He said that the disaster plan showed it would take only 15 minutes to have everybody out."
"The phone call was made. Dr. Stephens told everybody to stay put unless he calls a code red."
Elizabeth started to get out of the chair. "But that's crazy! People are going to be killed!"
Caroline pushed her back down. "Am I going to have to restrain you for real? We have to get out of here!"
"But the other people. . . ."
"Dr. Stephens is in the dissection suite, and he just sent for you. When I don't deliver you, he's going to come looking. With or without a bomb, I figure our escape time is fast approaching zero."
"Then deliver me."
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