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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Inspector Simon and Dr. Romano have a little chat, and Fate gives him a gift
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1797 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
“More wine, Inspector?” Dr. Romano asked, graciously. Simon held out his glass – the vintage, if not excellent, was far superior to what he had been drinking. While wine wasn’t one of Simon’s particular upper-class fetishes, he did enjoy it, when properly arrayed with a meal. And when faced by such a poor excuse for a meal as this, it seemed doubly fulfilling. The Administrator had apologized profusely for the poor fare – barely a cut above what he had eaten daily on Serenity – and offered the wine in recompense. After meeting the incoherent sot who was “captain” of this ship, Simon needed the fortification the wine brought. It had been a five-minute interview that had given Simon every reason to have the Captain committed to a mental institution for treatment, so out of touch with reality was the old man. “I have them bring it in labeled as ‘medical supplies’. And I don’t skimp on the vintage. It almost makes up for the utter lack of cuisine in the Black.”
“This is from Ariel?” he asked, whirling the ruby liquid in his glass to see its legs.
“Yes, I have a cousin who has a small vineyard in New Tuscany. He’s an Internist, and spends his weekends tending his vines and working in the clinic he established near a blackout zone. The soil is perfect, just the right touch of magnesium, sunlight, and dirt cheap labor . . . and he gives me a family discount.”
“How fortunate for you,” Simon agreed.
“Yes, Dr. Romano is the fair-headed child of the universe,” one of the other scientists said from the far end of the table. There was more than a trace of bitterness in the man’s voice, the tone of a man doomed to a career as an underling. He wasn’t the only unhappy face among the scientific staff at the reception.
Simon had rarely seen such a sad, wrung-out group of researchers as these. Their clothes were shoddy and worn, of course, as was everything on the Suri Madron. But so were their spirits. Their demeanor ranged from outright fearfulness of his presence to bland irritation at being interrupted from their daily routine. But over all there was a pall of pointlessness and hopelessness that seemed almost visible. These people had been here a long time, and they did not have much hope of leaving. Especially not with the crimes they had knowingly assented to hanging over them.
Romano was different, though. Romano was still the leader, even if his tired band of scientists didn’t want to be led. He was a charming, gracious, aristocratic, and more than a little pompous. He seemed oblivious of his staff’s apathy and disillusionment, as if he were running a highly successful research program at a top university instead of a thinly disguised crime against humanity. He had introduced each of his people as a trusted and valued colleague. Few returned the favor.
There were about a dozen of them, in all, plus another half-dozen important functionaries, like the pathetic Red Crystal representative, and Romano’s obsequious secretary . . . and, he was surprised to learn, the ranking officer of the prisoners. Colonel McNab. The man wore the long brown coat that had become so familiar to him during his time in the Gopher Hole, an old threadbare homespun cloth coat with hand-embroidered insignia and rank patches on it. Among plenty of the normal kind of patches, Simon noted. McNab had deep, soulful eyes and a disarming smile – and he was quick with a joke. Obviously a plant to assure him that the prisoners were well treated and happy, Simon knew.
But Simon could tell that behind the man’s smile was a calculating intelligence. He felt measured – and scorned – within seconds of meeting the man. Things were not all happy and content among the prisoner population, he knew, and the only thing that kept McNab from blurting it all out was the fear of harsh punishment. So he smiled, and hated Simon even while he was joking with him, and Simon knew it.
It was a subtle thing, but living with River had taught him to pay attention to subtle things. Ordinary, innocuous items that could turn around and hurt you. Like butcher knives. And chopsticks. And smiling prisoners of war.
“Inspector, Ni hao ma,” McNab said, pumping his hand. “Good to meet a new face! Haven’t seen anyone new in years! Cigar?” he asked, gesturing towards a large baboon in a bow tie, holding open a humidor.
“No, thank you, Colonel,” Simon nodded, reserved. “Lo hin hao. I don’t smoke, as a rule. Not while I’m on duty, at any rate.”
“But you didn’t turn down a splash, eh?” the browncoat colonel said, nodding obsequiously towards the wine.
“Medicinal, I assure you. You are the officer in charge of the patient population?”
“That’s one way to look at it,” agreed McNab, earning him a sudden look from Romano. “That’s what these gents pay me for, at any rate.”
“Good,” Simon said, studying McNab’s dark face. He was the officer, Simon remembered, who had penned the original ‘note in a bottle’ stuffed inside the pressure suit. His aboriginal ancestry gave his eyes a particularly piercing look that the man used with sardonic humor, but Simon knew at once that it was an act. Colonel McNab was playing a game here in this salon, and Simon knew he was merely a piece on the board to him. “I have many questions, Colonel. I look forward to speaking to you.”
“When you have all these brilliant minds to converse with? I’m merely a humble soldier, and apparently not that good of one, or I wouldn’t be here. But if you must . . .”
“I must,” Simon assured him. “I’ll be speaking to all of you, have no worry.” He kept a healthy amount of cordial threat in his voice, and a perverse part of him thrilled to see them shrink at his words.
“What kinds of things are you interested in?” asked a squint-eyed woman in a worn labcoat. “What do you want to know?”
“I’ll cover that in the individual interviews,” Simon assured her. “I’d rather not prejudice your answers by speculating. Not good practice. No, I shall start with Dr. Romano, of course, for an overview of the project. Then I’ll interview each of you in turn and get your own account of events. Just answer my questions as truthfully and as succinctly as possible.”
“Well, I don’t think anyone will have any problems with that,” agreed Dr. Romano, confidently. “Everything should be in order—”
“If everything were in order,” one of the balding old men in the back corner said, “he wouldn’t bloody be here, would he?” There was no disguising the anger in the man’s voice. “About bloody time, you ask me.”
“No one did, Bruce,” Romano said, patiently. “Of course there are questions – how could there not be?”
“Questions!” someone giggled. It didn’t sound completely sane, to Simon’s ear.
Dr Romano continued his attempt to rally his people, ignoring the muttering already taking hold. “We have a mountain of quality research we’ve done, here. Even with the security restrictions, we’ve managed to—”
“Piss into an open airlock?” Bruce called out. Dr. Bruce Rendell, Simon remembered from his preparation. A behavioral neurochemist, he believed. Someone laughed harshly. That didn’t seem to dissuade Romano.
“I told you it had garnered significant interest in the Core, didn’t I?” he asked, addressing his staff as a whole. “Wu Ma, that botany paper you prepared about the—”
“I am not here,” Simon said, finally deciding to interrupt Romano rudely, “to discuss . . . botany, Dr. Romano.”
“Of course not,” agreed Romano, acting the slightest bit offended at the suggestion. “Our work in aggression mitigation alone—”
“I am here because there are a whole lot of dead people – millions, in fact – and even more live people who are suddenly very curious as to just what has been happening in this forgotten corner of the ‘verse. That is why I’m here. So let’s skip the botany, shall we, and go right to the genocide.”
The room was filled with gasps, and Romano looked pained. Everyone but Colonel McNab. He looked positively pleased.
“I don’t have a lot of time,” Simon continued, heading off Romano’s attempt to regain control of the conversation. “Every hour I spend here, the situation becomes more grave. So I’m going to skip through the formalities and begin my interviews now, if you don’t mind. Starting with you, Dr. Romano. If you would be kind enough to lead me to your office, we can begin. In earnest,” he added, with just a bit more menace than he intended. River was right. He was overplaying it, a bit.
If so, his audience bought it. The science staff was looking excited and horrified all at once, and the babble of voices was thick with tension. Dr. Romano looked pale, handed his glass to a baboon, and bowed to the room in general before gesturing towards the door.
“Of course. This way, Inspector,” he said, deliberately grave. “Let us begin at once.”
Simon handed his own glass to McNab and picked up his attaché case and his eagle scepter. “Pleasure,” he said, absently.
“Oh, the pleasure is all mine, Inspector,” the prisoner said with a certain amount of restrained glee at the Administrator’s uncomfortable accounting. He finished Simon’s wine with nearly the same relish. “All mine.”
“So let’s start with the Pax, shall we?” Simon asked, once his recorder was set up. The entire interview would be captured holographically, just like in a real inspection. Simon droned the date and time to coordinate with the records, and then sat down across the desk from Dr. Romano. His pet baboon lurked nearby, almost as still as a piece of furniture. Simon glanced at him before sighing and beginning his investigation. “Tell me about Paxalon.”
“That was Group Three,” Romano mused, as if recalling a childhood pet. “Brilliant group. Bruce was in it, in the beginning, and Chow, Stevens – astonishing behavioralist, Stevens – and Guptil, Serberg, and Soal. Oh, a few more, mostly associates, really, but Stevens and Rendell, they were the two geniuses behind Pax.”
“I don’t recall seeing Dr. Stevens at the reception . . .”
“Oh, you won’t,” agreed Romano, as if he was discussing a recently deceased relative. “Not any more. Dr. Stevens had an . . . episode, after the news of Miranda got back here. Bruce had left Group Three by that point for Group Seven, of course, but Stevens heard about the first cases of CPS – that’s ‘consciousness paralysis syndrome’, our internal name for the disorder that befell the Miranda colonists – and he started to . . . decline.”
“The first cases?” Simon asked, skeptically.
“Oh, yes, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let us start at the very beginning . . .
“You have a doctorate, Inspector? Medical? Right, surgeon, did some trauma, splendid. I won’t have to explain too much, then. Let me ask you this: how much of the human societal infrastructure is devoted to aggression, Inspector? Hmm? Forget outright warfare, for a moment, and take it down to the level of the individual. Consider the billions who live in slums, whose daily lives are a struggle with organized crime, crimes of passion, crimes of neglect, crimes of opportunity. At the base of each of those is naked aggression. The human animal naturally lashes out, before attempting a reasonable compromise. ‘Might Makes Right’, ‘to the victor go the spoils,’ we have hundreds of sayings in our culture that try to justify the use of force in a civilized society. At it’s best, we get street fights and domestic abuse. At its worse, we get war, with all of its horrors.
“This Project was designed to remove all of that.
“When the government and the consortium first approached me, that was their stated intent: to control human aggression, to reduce the inherently harmful element of society. The consolidation of the Outer Core worlds in the Gamma system showed us the danger of letting it go unchecked – Shan Yu, the corporate wars, the fanatics and cults. And as the Rim began to be settled, well, we saw the most dangerous and extreme elements from the Core flee there. We were facing the prospect of a hundred Shan Yu’s, and that . . . that was unacceptable.
“So the idea was put forth that perhaps there was some way to tone down the violent impulses in a human population. Social and cultural systems weren’t nearly efficient or controllable enough to work – it was thought that a chemical or medical solution to the problem would be better. My own work on aggression and intelligence was widely known – a seminal work in the field, it has been said – and I was able to recruit an incredible staff of experts for the problem. After a few years of preliminary work we were ready to start a few trials. This ship was the result of that.”
“Without any of the established safeguards for human subjects in place,” Simon added.
“We didn’t have time for all of that – do you realize how quickly the populations on the Rim were growing? Families in the Core have two, maybe three children. The Rim settlers were have three or four times that many – they were breeding like rats, with limited resources. Many had religious or cultural taboos about restricting populations. Some were just plainly hostile to the idea that maybe fighting over the scarce resources was a poor idea. Even when we tried cultural or social efforts, the few aggressive exceptions would spoil the whole thing. We had whole communities in the hundreds able to live in relative peace and harmony – but a few bad apples could ride into the community and enslave everyone there. No, we knew the solution had to be all-encompassing, else the strong would take advantage over the weak. That was not a desirable outcome.
“I, myself, was looking at the possibility of increasing the efficiency of the human neurostructure, in essence creating people too smart to fight. The baboons you see all over the station are one result of that research – they are intelligent, and no longer participate in the fratricidal conflict that characterizes their species. It took five years of genetic meddling and surgery, but eventually I got the effect I wanted.
“But that was nothing, compared to the Paxalon. My techniques worked, but they are painstaking, difficult, and prone to . . . culls. You’ll be happy to know that I’ve continued the experiments – the theory, in any case. We’ve had some promising results. Some of our human subjects here have had their intelligence raised beyond our ability to measure. But it was a slow and painful process – humans do not breed as quickly as baboons.”
“But they are protected by interplanetary law,” countered Simon, testily, “and have legally-protected rights. Baboons do not.”
“I’ll leave the legalities up to the lawyers,” Romano dismissed. “We had iron-clad permission to work, straight from Parliament.”
“That hardly excuses your moral duty—”
“Inspector, we were facing the biggest, worst war in human history. A few thousand sacrificed to save millions—”
“But the Pax didn’t save millions,” Simon shot back. “In point of fact, thirty million died on Miranda. More than everyone in the war on both sides.”
“And don’t think I don’t feel bad about that,” agreed Romano. “There were some miscalculations . . .” he looked off into space for a moment, then returned his focus to Simon. “Sorry. Paxalon. It was developed by Group 3, based on some earlier work – ironically, work by Shan Yu’s scientists during the worst of his reign. Group 3 had over six thousand potential compounds to test, artificial molecules that the mapping programs suggested might be the key we were looking for. All designed to theoretically affect the base behavior of a human being. Real R-complex, reptile stuff: aggression, fight-or-flight, mating, feeding. The essential things that make us animals.
“A year after the project started, Dr. Stevens had just transferred in. He had done some really nice work, and neuro-biochemistry was a particular interest of his. He was almost entirely on the bench side of the lab, theory, mostly. But he was a keen observer of the data we were gathering in our early studies. It only took him six months to narrow down those original six thousand molecules to a mere two hundred, all of which had some affect on aggression.
“This is where my work dovetails with his,” Romano said, inexorably bringing the conversation back to himself. “I was deep in the genetics of intelligence, back then, breeding monkeys and tweaking their DNA like tuning a violin string. I’d noticed some unusual events after intervention in the—”
“Doctor Romano, please,” Simon said, impatiently. “I’ll be glad to listen to your accomplishments shortly, but now I’d like to focus on the development of the Pax. The expurgated version, if you would please.”
“Yes, of course,” Romano said, both annoyed and cowed. “I made a few key observations, let us say, and then introduced Stevens to Rendell, who was over in Group Two doing God knows what, and at lunch one day we sketched out a theoretical model based on three separate compounds that all had different effects. It was elegantly simple, as such things usually are. Stevens and Rendell began testing on monkeys – they utilized some of my less-viable experiments, at first, I’ll confess. It may have skewed the data, somewhat, but scarce resources and all.
“The initial findings were impressive. Primates exposed to the chemical began to show significant decrease in naturally aggressive behavior within a matter of hours. It was a very delicate psychochemical reaction, which allowed a mere trace amount to have an effect, only on part per two billion by atmo would do it. The baboons who were exposed to it became docile, gentle, even. Cooperative, less prone to even the most dramatic provocations. It was the most peaceful baboon troop in history, I’d be safe to bet. And I’d like to add that my reject specimens seemed to excel in the daily testing battery used to measure cognitive functions, even under the heaviest concentrations of Paxalon, while the control group fell slightly.
“But then there were the . . . aberrations,” Romano said gravely, almost in a whisper. “When the Paxalon compounds were combined in certain ways, instead of retarding the aggression in the subject, it did the exact opposite. Cortisol and adrenaline levels skyrocketed, the central nervous system became highly more sensitive to testosterone – which was also going off the charts – and what remained was the most primal, vicious killer ever produced. Not just a killer – a psychopathic sadistic brute who delighted in torture, sexual aggression, and even cannibalism. The first time the effect – which we dubbed Aberrant Aggression Enhancement Syndrome, or AAES – occurred in the animal population, we sedated the subject for later study. Then the subject woke up and attacked the off-hours cleaning staff. Three women and a man. That one monkey killed all four of them, and ate their flesh. Not just ate it, but desecrated it. Ripped off facial parts, hair, fingers, you name it. And the sexual aggressive componant was well intact – I’ll spare you the details.
“But just imagine it, Inspector: a twenty five pound baboon maims and kills four healthy adult humans. Not just ordinary humans, but trained soldiers. We ended up gassing the whole compartment and putting the beast in manacles. A later dissection revealed . . . well, some startling developments.
“The aberrations popped up several more times, and eventually we had a collection of eleven crazed, murderous baboons. We thought that they were contained, but one day they escaped and went on a rampage. Nineteen people died, including four heavily armed and armored guards. In the end we had to seal off the decks, lead them down to the lower compartments, unused space that we converted into a holding pen. Installed automated feeding and watering equipment. We evacuated the deck above it, just as a precaution. But by that time, the first human aberration had arrived.
“Good God, man,” Simon said, aghast. “Why did you continue pursuing it when you knew those aberrations were possible? And on human beings!”
“Because we were so close!” Romano insisted. “Yes, Pax 4, 11, 17 and 19 occasionally led to aggressive aberrations to a greater or lesser degree, but several other compounds were extremely promising! And the things we learned from the aberrant baboons . . . are you familiar with baboons, doctor?”
“Not outside of senior administration,” Simon said, dryly.
“They’re remarkable creatures, among the most social of primates. Very well organized, very hierarchical. That’s why their groups are called ‘troops’, because the leaders maintain an almost military-like discipline. Even though they’re more distant cousins than the great apes, when it comes to their complex social systems, they more closely resemble humans. And while, individually, they are not as intelligent as a gorilla or chimpanzee, collectively they have a sort of institutional intelligence. The aberrations even worked together to escape, and seemed to coordinate their attacks. Magnificent creatures! What I wouldn’t give to go back to Earth-That-Was just once and observe them in their natural habitat!”
“Yes, I’m sure it’s fascinating,” Simon said, looking at Romano’s baboon, plainly un-fascinated. “But the human aberrations . . . “
“Yes, they were ghastly. We . . . originally wanted to shut down the program: the research team, that is. But the military was fascinated, and ordered us to proceed. Chen and Clark were the first two – which was completely unexpected, since they both got Pax 5 – and they killed eight people and brutally raped three of them before they were captured. Chen was killed in the capture, and I got a look at his brain afterwards. Truly astonishing change, and in a metabolically short period of time, too. We kept Clark under observation and heavy sedation, but he got loose twice more. No more deaths, but three more rapes. He was a brute, a vile—”
“I know the type,” Simon said, tight-lipped. Reavers. The very first Reavers were born here on this ship. “But you continued anyway?”
“We were forced to. Parliament was insisting on a peaceful method of pacifying the Rim colonies – the doves were in power, then – and the military was interested in the boost in aggression. The usual ‘super soldier’ nonsense. It became clear that a segment of the population was genetically predisposed to sensitivity to one form of the Pax or the other, and it took a lot of fiddling. Along the way, we had some, uh, interesting forays into some speculative areas . . . cross-discipline work, really—”
“Doctor, if you plan to dissemble, please have the courtesy to be good at it,” Simon said, his voice cold.
“We . . . departed the usual methodical approach and experimented with some highly theoretical speculations. I . . . combined some of my research subject matter with the Paxalon project . . . purely in an effort to fight the aberration effect, understand . . . in the belief that higher cognitive functions could somehow control the aggression response. Things didn’t go well. There were more incidents, more deaths, and finally the Captain ordered all such aberrations to be confined in the storage facility Below, where, in his words, ‘they can chew on each other until the last trump!’.
“But the work was remarkable, in other aspects. The aberrations did not, it seems, lose all higher reason. Or even their technical knowledge. One of them, a Corporal Sykes, was functional enough to re-route power around the security system of his containment unit, and then kidnap, torture and rape a nurse for fifteen hours straight. He was among the most . . . feral of the AAES. Their reason wasn’t gone, it was just subsumed in a howling vortex of rage and lust and violence. The areas of the brain that dealt with empathy and compassion were atrophied almost out of existence, and what remained was a singular drive for survival and dominance. Listening to them – those that retained speech – was a horror. Their capacity for cruelty was unimaginable. They had no fear of death, only of weakness. And they would never recline, lay down, sit, always stand or pace their cells. They only slept when drugged – and it took three times the dose than for a normal man.
“But they retained the ability to cooperate. While they’d fight amongst themselves almost constantly, they rarely slaughtered each other they would any other hapless victim. They evolved a casual hierarchy that was led by the strongest, most vicious of them. Oh, and the mutilations and scarifications, they were a sight. It was as if they taunted existence itself, daring the ‘verse to strike at them.
“The pressure on us was mounting – the war wasn’t going well in those early days, and the Alliance had a colony prepared that would serve as a field test – provided we could overcome the AAES. Guptil worked on that, mostly. He and Chow studied the problem from every angle, learned all they could about the syndrome, even tried to reverse it. They were never successful on that count, but they did lay the groundwork for the development of Paxalon 23. It passed our tests magnificently, and computer modeling showed that the possibility of triggering AAES was minimal – statistically insignificant. So we made our presentation, got permission to go ahead with large-scale testing, and Dr. Stevens and Dr. Rendell flew to Miranda to alter the atmospheric generators.”
“And then everyone died,” Simon continued.
“Not everyone. The world went mad, with most laying down and simply not moving, paralysis of the will. That was an extreme reaction that we’d seen in a few cases, but not on this scale. Not everyone, everywhere. Except for the aberrations. They wandered the world killing and raping and eating the living corpses until they had all died, and then in a fit of madness they took their tainted atmos with them into the Black.”
“And thus the Reavers were born,” Simon observed.
“God have mercy on our souls,” Romano pronounced. “We don’t know what went wrong, to this day. The whole incident was hushed up – you can’t kill thirty million people on your own side in the middle of a war and not expect some backlash.
“For a time the work continued, but other issues were more pressing than the post-mortem for Miranda. We sent a probe. It didn’t come back. The rest of us carried on, as best we could. Soal returned to his work in rodents, poor Dr. Serberg couldn’t handle the news of Miranda and walked out an airlock one day, poor woman. Dr. Stevens . . . well, frankly, he went mad with despair. Transferred out of his department, retired to his quarters. He’s mostly catatonic, now. A shell of his former self. Dr. Rendell remained, bitter about his failure. He administers the group now.”
“Yes, I’ll be wanting to speak with him, next.”
“Of course. Dr. Guptil and Dr. Chow continued to work on reversing the process, and made some significant progress – they were able to medically mitigate some of the testosterone sensitivity, re-establish pathways to the atrophied portions of the neural net, re-grew the amygdaler region, used psychotropics to temporarily re-establish empathy and compassion, kept the subjects sedated enough to keep from provoking a violent response – they did some amazing work, but ultimately, to no avail. The infected patients never come back. Once a man is aberrant, he stays that way.
“Guptil and Chow kept working until the day that Guptil, somehow, got exposed to one of the Pax compounds and went aberrant. It wasn’t as pronounced as in some of the other subjects, but it was definitive enough so that Guptil raped and slaughtered Chow, and had to be forced Below with the others. Now there’s just a shell of a group, no real research happening. The government has lost interest in Paxalon.”
“I would say that Miranda has stirred its interest once again. In your entire program. I won’t lie to you, Dr. Romano: there are elements within Parliament who would prefer nothing better than to see the Suri Madron go nova in the Black, a flickering memorial to their predecessors’ arrogance and stupidity. There are others who want every nasty little secret you have here exposed to the light of five suns. That means war crimes, legal issues, and far more publicity than anyone in the government is comfortable with.”
“I understand,” Roman said, subdued.
“Good. I appreciate your candor, so far. I even, to some extent, understand your position. But you have loosed a plague on the ‘verse, Doctor, and there shall be accountability for that. The prisoners you have here – they are human beings. That still means something, regardless of their politics. There are many, many skeletons in this closet, Doctor, and the destiny of every soul on this ship lies in your hands.” Simon was purposefully trying to keep the doctor on the defensive, not only out of a need to stay in character, but also to keep the windbag from going on and on. He reminded Simon of his father’s friends, so caught up in the obscure rules of the social game they played that the rest of the ‘verse was an afterthought.
And speaking of afterthoughts, Simon felt something niggling at his subconscious, an internal alarm bell that was trying to alert him to something. It was difficult to acknowledge, considering how many other directions his thoughts were going, but something was eating at him.
“I hope you appreciate the good work we’ve managed here, as well as the more circumspect aspects. I . . . I understand the magnitude of what we’ve done wrong, but what we’ve done right . . . well, I still hold out hope for Pax as a means of calming aggression. Think of the lives we wouldn’t have lost in that damnable war, if only the bloodlust the Independents felt had been abated before it was organized. And the other work we’ve done, my research on increasing cognitive capacity, Group Six’s work with selective gene restriction in embryology, the—
There it was. Something the doctor had said earlier. Simon’s subconscious vomited up the phrase like a precious jewel, and it shone so brightly as to overwhelm every other thought.
“Doctor – what was that you said about re-growing an amygdale?”
Romano’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “That? Oh, that was something Guptil did in his research on the aberrants. The amygdaler region is severely atrophied in the specimens, and Guptil attempted surgical intervention. He grew a clone of the tissue, and—”
“Was it successful?” Simon demanded intently.
“Well, yes, actually. Successful enough. We never pushed that line of research beyond a few practical applications, and we failed to follow up conclusively, but the actual physical procedure was successful. I would suppose that the new tissue continued to reintegrate with the existing neural network – it wouldn’t be a pleasant process for the patient, but eventually . . .”
“Doctor Romano,” Simon breathed, his heart racing and his palms suddenly sweaty. “I think we may have something to discuss that might . . . help your case, here,” he said, glancing around the office. “I have a patient . . . a special case . . . who was maimed. It’s a long story how it happened, and I don’t care to get into it, but I would find it . . . extremely helpful if you would take a look at her scans, and formulate a plan of action for treatment. I want it spelled out to the detail. Excruciating detail, so that a first year medacad student could do it. If you can do that . . .” Simon said, glancing at his fancy chronometer, “in the next eight hours, I promise I will intercede upon your behalf with the Parliamentary committee.” He looked over at the baboon, who was still watching him intently, as still as a statue. Simon found himself “creepified”, in Kaylee’s language, by the simian, but tame monkeys were the least of his concerns on this ship of horrors. “Eight hours. No longer. And I’ll save your ass.”
Romano stared at him with his full attention. “Why eight hours?” he asked, cautiously. “What happens in eight hours?”
Simon swallowed hard, knowing that he was breaking every rule of spying by saying the next sentence. “I can’t be explicit, Doctor, and I would caution you – nay, insist that you keep this utterly to yourself, but there are other forces at work here, forces beyond my ability to control.” He took a deep breath. “While my work here is important, certain parties have taken matters in hand and would see a quick resolution to the issue of the Suri Madron. So review the files, formulate the plan and put it into my hand in the next eight hours, and you, at least, I might be able to save. You can work while I conduct the balance of my interviews. But if I discover you have breathed a word of this to anyone – anyone! – I swear to God that I will burn you down where you stand without a single regret. Do we have an understanding, here?”
“What do I tell my staff?” he asked, in a daze.
“Nothing. Tell them I’ve requested a mountain of specific research from your files and you have to prepare it personally. Tell them that you need to be left alone. I don’t care what you tell them, but for the next eight hours you work for me. Do that, and I’ll spare your life.”
“My . . . life?” Romano asked, eyes wide. “You mean . . .?”
“I mean that your life is valuable to me, if you produce. If you don’t . . . not so much. I can’t be any clearer than that, I’m afraid. But no one must suspect – not a whisper.”
Romano looked down at his desk, subdued. “No one will know but me . . . and my monkey,” he laughed, bitterly, glancing at the baboon.
Simon noted that the baboon was staring at him so intently he felt suddenly uncomfortable. It made him feel guilty, possibly jeopardizing the entire mission over a personal matter, but then Simon had a higher mission than the Browncoats: save his sister, and restore her, if at all possible. For that he would trade . . . a lot. How much, he did not rightly know, but he had traded so much already. He had nearly given up the hope of any further improvement, after his consultation on Muir. But Romano had given him new hope, and Fate had delivered him an opportunity.
He’d be a fool not to take it.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008 5:10 AM
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