Short Fiction for Guests of the WordFeeder
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Sometimes the best place to hide secrets is in
fiction that no one would ever believe.
“Wow,” Lynn sighed. “That …was delicious.” Still holding the stem of her glass, she watched the last drop of rosé forming in the bottom, the last drop she knew she would never drink because it can’t make it to the rim without leaning your head back too far for a place this classy. Setting the glass down slowly on the tablecloth, she leaned back in her chair, certain she couldn’t look better than in the perfect light of the small, expensive, but somehow unpretentious restaurant where she would eat whenever her date could afford it. “I like it when you visit,” she smiled across at the boy, now man she had met in college, rubbing his finger across his plate to pick up what was left if his key lime pie.
Sucking the last morsel, all he could do is laugh back at her and nod, taking a moment to regain his composure. “Tell me,” Emerson leaned forward on his elbows, “you’re not dating anyone, please.”
No reaction, just a smile.
“Okay, tell me you’re not dating anyone, even if it isn’t true.”
She shook her head slightly left to right.
“’No,’ you’re not dating anyone or ‘No,’ you won’t tell me?”
Lynn laughed out loud this time. “For the next 24 hours,” she answered slowing, making fun of him, “I’m all yours.” Somehow she managed to make the last word end in a kiss.
“M,” as she like to call him just sat there for a second, before yelling, “Check!!” without taking his eyes off her. It was way too loud, getting everyone’s attention, punctuated by Lynn laughing out loud, snorting a bit the way she did when something funny caught her by surprise.
“Yes, sir?” It was the waiter who materialized at their table.
“Here’s the thing,” M looked up at him feigning his most serious face. “Is that woman,” he nodded ever so slightly in her direction, “beautiful, or what?”
“Yes, Sir. Exceptionally beautiful,” he answered truthfully, but with a pronounced nervous hesitation in his voice.
“Well, she’s on the clock, if you get my drift…”
Lynn laughed, blushing while loving every second of it. “How,” she thought to herself, “did I ever let this guy get away?”
“I’ve only got her for,” he checked his watch, “another 23 hours and 56 minutes. Get my check her in under 10 seconds, and I’ll double your tip,” and he pressed the stopwatch button.
To both their surprise, the waiter reached toward his back, grabbed a leather check folder and virtually slammed it on the table.
“What?!” M had figured 10 seconds was pretty much impossible.
Lynn’s giggling was out of control.
“Did you set that up?”
“Thank you, Henry. Excellent service, as usual.”
“You’re welcome, Ms. Turner. Always a pleasure.”
“I told him when I made the reservation that you’d try to impress me,” she leaned forward, “but the doubling his tip part was all you.”
A few minutes later, at the hotel where M was staying two blocks away, the door to his room was still closing behind them when he grabbed and pulled her to him…
“You’re not going to turn on the lights?” she asked as if she didn’t get the point.
M was too busy pushing Lynn’s coat off her shoulders to answer. Besides, the lights from the neighboring buildings coming through the sheer curtains seemed perfect for what he had in mind. All he knew was that kissing her felt great, and he had work to do. Untucking and reaching under her blouse, M unhooked her bra. Reaching into his right pants pocket to take out a small, flat device, he rubbed it slowly up and across her back between her shoulders.
“What?” It was cool on her skin, and she instinctively pushed back, but not out of his grip.
“Shhhh,” he was relieved to see the green diode glowing on his device. “I just needed to make sure.”
“Sure of what?”
“Com’on. I’ll show you.”
“Aren’t we going to…” she tilted her head slightly, her eye brows rising to the question.
“Yeah, yeah, but first, I need to show you something.”
Wrapping her hands behind his neck, she kissed him, taking her time. “There. That’ll hold me for a few minutes. Now, show me what you got,” she pushed him back, “and tell me the real reason you called at the last minute to say you were desperate to see me.” The hint of frustration in her voice was the real thing. Emerson Henry – “Henry” was his last name. – had the potential to be a brilliant journalist, but couldn’t hold a steady job to save his life. Freelancing was more his style. Professionally and in his personal relationships, M had a short span of attention.
“Trust me. This’ll be worth it.”
Still working in the dark, M unlocked the hard metal case in which he kept his laptop, opened it up and went through a logon routine that included a forefinger scan. “A friend of mine, nobody you know, teaches at a medical school. One of his students was working on a cadaver, some homeless guy, and found something embedded in his back. …Get closer,” he reached under the seat of her wooded chair and pulled her toward him, “so you can see better.”
“Sounds spooky,” she joked, mocking him. “I’m getting a beer.” The wet bar was fully stocked.
“Hey. I’m not kidding. Get back here.”
“I’m coming, I’m coming.” An opened bottle of beer in each hand, “Thank goodness for screw top bottles,” she mumbled, kicking the door shut and handing one of them to M as she sat down, her beer in her right hand, her left arm on the back of M’s chair. “Ooo. Snuggling. I like snuggling.”
“Alright.” M moved his finger over the synapse pad. There, in the mostly dark of his hotel room, the two of them huddled around the small table, the colors coming from his screen seemed like a fireplace on a cold night in the forest. Far from it. “This first image is a segment of the back muscle… Notice how this section that didn’t absorb the dye they used like the surrounding tissue.”
“That’s not normal?”
“No. …God you smell great.”
“So what is it? Some kind of tumor?”
“No. …Here. This is the same area taken with an electron microscope.”
“What are those lines?”
“Circuitry. Molecular level electronics, like the chips in this computer, but made out of something else, like a gelatin, a liquid with structure.”
“Is that why the lines aren’t straight?”
“Apparently, they don’t have to be.”
“Is it some kind of tracking device?”
“Not even close. As far as we…”
“Some people I know I can trust. …Just listen.”
“So what’s it do?”
“As far as we can tell, it’s a recorder and a transmitter.” M turned to look at her as if she was supposed to be as excited as he was.
“…Wait a minute.” Somehow it had just occurred to her. “What does this have to do with that device you were rubbing over my back?… You thought I might have one? You think other people have these?”
“This is way too sophisticated a device to have been made for just one person.”
“And you’re showing this to me be-cause…?”
“Because you work in the Pentagon, and I need your help.”
“I’m an analyst with a think tank under contract to the Pentagon.”
“Hold on, let me get a pad.”
“No. No notes,” he warned her, grabbing her forearm before she could get up. “…Just listen. …Think about what this is. It’s circuitry with more or less the same texture, flexibility and look of as living tissue. It’s virtually impossible to find with any kind of scanner, not even an x-ray, cat scan or MRI – and yet it conducts electricity. And see these things, these tentacles? This is how it manages somehow to connect itself to the nerves in the subject’s back muscles.”
“I’m sorry, I still don’t get what this is. How did it get in the cadaver’s back?”
“Best guess, it was injected in a high caliber needle. Put the patient, the ‘target’, to sleep. Inject the circuitry. Allow it time to integrate itself…”
“Maybe a few weeks, and the only mark it will leave, if any, will be a small blemish. And then maybe some occasional, very minor stiffness or pain, depending upon precisely where it’s placed and how well it connects to the nerves.”
“And you think the military has something to do with this?”
“We’re not sure. It certainly has elements of very advanced prosthetics research, the kind the Pentagon might be funding to make superior artificial limbs. The problem has always been how to connect an artificial hand or foot to the body, not just structurally, but neurologically. This thing seems to have solved that problem. But that’s not the really big deal. That’s just engineering and biochemistry. What’s really impressive is the programming, the code embedded in the device.”
“You understand the programming??”
“Me? No, of course not, but I have people working on it,” and then he stopped, realizing how overstated that sounded, “…evenings and weekends, whenever they have time. They’re reverse engineering it, starting with the simplest functions to see if they can identify the specific code that makes them happen.”
“So, if it’s not a tracking device, what’s it for?”
“It’s sending out a very low power, encrypted signal which we think is what the subject is seeing and hearing. Whoever did this, they’ve figured out how to use the bodies existing neural pathways – no wires, no electrodes, no scanners, no nothing – but use our own neural pathways to tap, to.., to hack into our brains.”
“How’s this even possible? …Why don’t they need sensors all over the place like you see on TV? How can it be this simple?”
“The way it’s been explained to me is that the brain is a complex, but open architecture device that didn’t evolve, didn’t need the equivalent of any anti-virus or other security software to protect it. Mike, uh, one of the IT engineers that’s working with us, tells me to think of the brain as an unencrypted wireless device, without the wireless part.”
“Alright, enough already. You always were a sucker for this kind of stuff.”
“Lynn, be serious. This is real. This isn’t about alien invasion or the grassy knoll. The people I’m working with are really bright, experienced scientists and engineers. They’ve never seen anything like this. Hell, they’ve never seen anything in the vicinity of this. If I wanted to write a novel, I wouldn’t be wasting air fare, $150 for dinner and $300 a night to waste time showing a girl that looks like you screen images from an electron microscope. Whoever did this, they they’ve found a way to hack into our brains, to hear and see what we do. If these people can get inside our heads like this, it only follows that may eventually be able to control what we think.” He was talking fast now, trying to cram in as much as he could before he lost her attention. “In the right hands, as a tool for gathering intelligence for legitimate reasons of national defense – being able to bug and spy on enemy operations without risk of discovery or jeopardizing our people – would be great. In the wrong hands, used to deprive us of our right to privacy, influence public opinion and events, it’s a very different story.”
Lynn was quiet. “..M, this is too much. ..I really don’t know what to think. It.. It lacks credibility. It’s so fantastic, it’s literally unbelievable. …Hey,” she leaned forward, gently stoking the side of his face, desperately wanting to get back to where they were over dinner, “you know I’m crazy about you, always have been, but you’re asking a lot here. ..Why are you telling me this, M? I mean,” she said smiling, hoping to calm the alarm she saw in his eyes, “I was going to sleep with you anyway,” but it didn’t work.
“Because you’re smart and inquisitive, because you…”
“M, listen to me. I’m a mid-level program analyst with more work than I can handle. I don’t have the contacts, and frankly none of them are people I can talk to about something like this. ..I don’t know what you expect me to do for you.”
“I need help. I need someone who can check things, who I can work with to figure this out, like Woodward or Bernstein, if one of them had really nice boobs.”
(“So he was coming back, after all,” she thought to herself. “Finally.”)
He leaned forward, all the way forward.
“Is this,” she asked between moments when her lips weren’t busy, “mmm.. going to be the sex part… ..of the evening?”
“God,.. ..you’re so demanding.”
“You don’t have to call.. ..me ‘God’ when.. mm.. ..it’s just the two of us.”
Three hours later, in the middle of the night, the two lying in each other’s arms under sheets and a light blanket, the door to the hotel room opened slowly, but not without making some noise. Her eyes popped open, uncertain what she heard, but unable to see the door which is around a corner. “M,” she whispered, “M!” louder, poking at him, but he didn’t respond. …And then she sat up, unembarrassed by the sheet falling out of the way, wearing M’s undershirt that barely made it past her waist. Turning, she pushed at M hard to make certain he’s asleep. No response. Reaching for the base of the light on the nightstand between their two double beds, Lynn pressed the button to turn it on. “Hey,” she greeted the stranger standing at the end of the other bed, the one closed to the door. “Did you bring it?”
“Yeah. …Are you sure he’s out.”
“Are you kidding, with as much as I put in his beer, we should be good to go,” and then, noticing where the man was looking, “…Could you try to leer a little less obviously?” Standing up, she walked quickly around to the other side of the bed. “Hand me the kit… and help me roll him over onto his chest. ..Closer to the light. Good.”
Taking out a large syringe, she injected something into M’s back, about 6” from the neck, to the left of his spine. Blotting the little bit of blood, and then dabbed on some liquid bandage, blowing on it to help it dry.
“His back could be a little sore in the morning.”
“Thanks for your concern. I’ll find a way to distract him. …There baby,” she rubed his back gently. “Sorry, but the implant you found was an older, experimental version. The new ones use a signal your sensor can’t pick up. Sorry to do this, but we need to know who you’re working with.”
“We got worried when we didn’t get a signal for a few hours? You turned it off, didn’t you.”
“I wanted to be absolutely sure he couldn’t find it. Besides, this isn’t porn, you jerk. We’ve got a lot at stake. ….Here,” turning back to the man, “get this out of here.” Closing his case, the stranger looked around quickly to make sure he had everything and left, the door chunking shut behind him.
Turning off the light, Lynn got back into bed, snuggling up to M’s side, rolling one of her legs over his, and fell back to sleep as if nothing had happened.
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