More Lies in Darkness
"Deaths happen in space. Everyone who goes is aware of it, accepts it as a reality of an untamed territory. What is not acceptable is an unexplained death."
Deaths happen in space. Everyone who goes is aware of it, accepts it as a reality of an untamed territory. What is not acceptable is an unexplained death, a death that doctors and safety inspectors alike examine closely and still have no satisfactory explanation. In the strictest sense, Amos Bosby’s death was easily explainable. The cause was homicide, blunt force trauma to the cranium by way of a spanner. The brawl leading up to the fatal blow had eight participants and was captured on video, as all events were on Jack 10. Things got heated. Words were exchanged then blows. Everyone got carried away.
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But this was hardly a satisfactory explanation.
Every worker on the Jacks was screened and highly curated. The best HR professionals in the world worked for A & A, weeding out the unqualified and the hotheaded alike. Space is no place for popping off. Years away from family and friends, the absence of the ocean, the trees, the wind and the rain, the close confines, the stress. Being an asteroid jack was serious business that required serious people. A & A sent only the best of the best to the settlement.
The Jacks, a cluster of thirteen rotating colonies built into the bodies of thirty-nine hollowed-out asteroids, was the premier mining operation in the belt, the oldest continuously operating deep-space settlement, and perhaps the least likely site for a murder in the entire solar system. At least that’s what everyone in the industry would’ve said the day before Amos Bosby wound up dead on the floor of processor room 13 in the fourth rock of Jack 10.
Luisa Ojeda-Solari was no homicide investigator. She wasn’t even a neurologist. Luisa was a general surgeon, a damn good one, a fourth-year surgical resident, who’d spent a six-month rotation with the famed neurologist Mohammed Faddis and had impressed him enough that when A & A had asked him to name his staff to help investigate possible neurological origins of the incident, he gave two names Kair Benedict, one of the world’s foremost forensic pathologists, and surgical resident Luisa Ojeda-Solari.
It wasn’t Luisa’s first time in space, but it was her first time spending any extended time off Earth. Like most everyone in Clearwater, she’d been up the ladder to Apogee more times than she could count, and she couldn’t get enough of that view. She enjoyed brief periods of weightlessness and taking in the entirety of the hemisphere in an eyeful, perceiving the curve of the Earth. But she’d never been on a spaceship, and she certainly didn’t ever envision herself as a pioneer, one of the lucky few to experience faster than light travel in its earliest manned missions.
The Jacks were too close to jump to directly. The ring drive wasn’t that precise at close range. The journey required a ten-minute jump past the asteroid belt, followed by a roughly-seven-minute jump back toward home. From there, the plasma rockets would make up the distance to the jacks. Luisa was thrilled to hear that the crew of the Offria had managed to negotiate the outward jump to terminate so close to Saturn that they scheduled a forty-minute viewing period, apparently at the request of the A & A bigwigs, on whom the wonders of space were not lost, despite their notorious reputation for discipline and seriousness.
Luisa managed to fight her way to the bay window for several minutes to see a sight with her naked eyes that only a handful of humans had ever beheld. “What do you make of that?” Dr. Faddis asked her on the way back to their seats after time was called.
“The ice in the rings, when the light hits it just right. Did you catch it?” she said. “They sparkle like the sun going down over the water. I never expected that.”
“Wondrous,” Dr. Faddis said with a giddy smile. “Worth the price of admission right there.”
The whole experience seemed surreal, pulling away from the Earth and setting eyes on the enormity of Saturn in the span of a subway ride, and in another seven minutes the announcement that they were in the belt, burning for the Jacks, an approach that would take more than double the FTL jumps, and then another thirty minutes of maneuvering to dock the Offria to the Jack 10 hub. After that, Luisa’s day turned into a blur.
Even coming from the hospital environment, where her day was meticulously scheduled, she was unprepared for how efficiently micromanaged her time was once she entered the Jack. She was handed a tablet, glasses, and a wristband and greeted immediately by AI personal assistant, which informed her she was to report with Drs. Faddis and Benedict to begin the autopsy of Amos Bosby. The transit to the medical lab in the third rock on Jack 10 was calculated to the second, her duties set out in writing, tissue analysis time calculated per sample, four hours and seventeen minutes till lunch. Luisa wondered if everything here on the Jacks was so precise. She would come to discover it was.
A & A’s executives were obsessive about productivity as a means to help make the company profitable and successful, but for them, it wasn’t just a corporate buzzword. Because the cost of getting off Earth demanded tangible return on investment, space helped them to justify their obsession. But their methodology was extreme and top-down. They measured every possible measurable. Calories consumed by workers, humidity in the atmosphere control systems, time on task, seconds required to recharge each drone, number of breaths drawn per hour over the course of the day by each worker. All this data was then collated and analyzed by HYPR-LOCK, the A & A efficiency AI, and every person to set foot on one of the Jacks was scored, whether they were an A & A employee or a temporary contractor like Luisa was for this mission. They even learned enough about each employee’s personality psychology to know when and how often to show them their E score to raise personal efficiency.
As much as Luisa wasn’t scared to be measured, for she’d rarely failed to measure up in the most challenging situations, she didn’t much enjoy feeling like a cog in someone else’s machine. People were not machines.
Luisa waited as groups were called to the hub lift to transport them down to the “rocks,” as the asteroids were commonly called. Each jack consisted of four rocks affixed to a central hub, around which the jack spun to create spin gravity. Depending on operational needs, each rock contained a hollowed-out core where space, equipment, robotics, and specialized personnel carried out the duties of the jack’s specific mining operation. Jack 10’s designation was RE or “rare earth” metals and targeted specific asteroids in the belt for deconstruction. Jack 10 typically worked in concert with Jacks 4 and 9. As they waited to be called down to the med lab, the scope of what Luisa was being asked to do suddenly registered fully. Something had gotten away from these chronic micromanagers. There were security personnel by the tens exiting the Offria. There were investigators and corporate executives. There were grief counselors and forensic psychologists. There were robots whose purpose she couldn’t discern. And then there was Luisa herself. Along with Mohammed and Dr. Benedict, she gathered her role was to help determine whether there was a medical explanation for the most curated workforce in the history of the human race suddenly turning a normal workday into a bloody bar fight four hundred million kilometers from home. When the group for the third rock was called, she and Mohammed met eyes. Something about the way he looked at her gave Luisa the sense that it was time to put on her game-face, and for good measure, she raised her guard. Nothing she said or did would go unnoticed, unwatched, or unmeasured. The people who’d brought them there wanted something more from them than an autopsy. Now it was on her to figure out what and why.
They flew along guide ropes to the lift and placed their feet in toeholds as the lift started downward. By the time the lift had settled at rock three, gravity seemed to have returned. There was no small talk as the doors opened. Mohammed didn’t even make introductions with Dr. Benedict. They just walked at a brisk pace, following the guidance of the AI in their wristbands and immediately began to take inventory of the lab after each doctor was scanned at the door.
“Mohammed speaks highly of you Dr. Solari,” Benedict said as Luisa entered the room. “Says you gave up a promising career as a neurologist because you couldn’t make up your mind which part of the body fascinates you most.”
“I’m not sure I’d put it that way.”
“You appreciate variety more than a sure stream of income?”
“I just didn’t want to be locked into neurosurgery yet.”
“Ever perform an autopsy in a murder investigation?”
“Neither of us has,” Mohammed said.
“Yeah,” Luisa said. “I’m not entirely sure what our role here will be, Dr. Benedict.”
“For now,” Dr. Benedict said. “Call me Kair, and take a spot at the scope in the corner and keep an open mind. I’ll be taking tissue samples and I’d like you to analyze them as we go.”
“Very good,” Luisa said, at which point, a bot entered the room pushing the late Mr. Bosby on a wheeled metal table to the center of the empty room.
Luisa sat in the corner near the scope.
“Dr. Solari,” Kair said. “May I call you Luisa?”
“What would you do first in a forensic autopsy if this were your case?”
“I would take a set of baseline scans for the case file.”
“On a corpse?”
Luisa shrugged. “Yes. We have access to a scanner, no?”
Kair grinned. “We do,” he said. “And what part of the body would you focus on, seeing as this man expired from blunt force trauma to the skull?”
“Is that established already?” Luisa said. “Is it not our job to establish what caused his death, including all the underlying factors that could have led up to the head wound?”
“Besides the massive subdural hematoma? Such as?”
“Toxicological or pathological factors that could have led to a change in behavior? Something organic, like an undiagnosed neoplasm?”
“I’m going to like her, Moody,” Kair said to Mohammed. “How’d you let her get away?”
“She’s here, isn’t she?” Dr. Faddis said. “She hasn’t got away just yet.”
“I had the staff here take the baseline scans the day of the incident,” Kair said. “I admire your unwillingness to make assumptions, Luisa. That will serve you well when your goal is to learn the truth of things.”
Kair began the autopsy in methodical fashion, following the same procedural flowchart he’d followed for the thousands of other corpses he’d examined. Along the way, he’d occasionally clip out a tissue sample, hand it to the bot assisting, which would bring it to Luisa to prepare and examine. Kair would then give directives as to what she should be looking for, usually by way of questions. When she wasn’t engaged directly with a sample, Luisa would pull up the scans on the viewscreens for Kair and Mohammed, and when they weren’t looking at anything specific, she would scroll through random points on the subject’s body, seeking out any curiosity that came to mind.
When they got to the brain, Kair became even more thorough, zooming in and out on the scans to get countless perspectives, entering still after still in the record of the procedure. He zeroed in on the amygdala for a prolonged examination. He hunted for any evidence of bleeding, scarring, or abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex that might explain increased inhibition or loss of emotional regulation.
Luisa, meanwhile, was examining brain tissue at the microscopic scale. Everything looked normal, like the tissue of a healthy brain of a thirty-something neurotypical person, slide after slide, with each sample pointing away from any neurological origin for a change in behavior. Mohammed even said at some point that even the most well-behaved people have the occasional outburst of anger. But speculation, Kair reminded them, was not part of their mandate, nor was stepping on the psychologists’ toes.
Then, in one of the down moments toward the end of the procedure, Luisa saw something on the original scan. To her eyes, it was a slight discoloration of the dura. At first glance, it didn’t seem like anything interesting, certainly not at close magnification, but as she pulled back, she saw what she characterized to Kair as abnormal striation. She went looking elsewhere along the margin of the parietal lobe, then the temporal, the frontal, and the occipital, then the right hemisphere as well. It encompassed the entire dura. Kair took samples of both the striations and the tissue that was seemingly unaffected.
Luisa got the first look at it when she prepped the sample before putting it up on the screens.
“What’s it look like?” Mohammed said.
Luisa grimaced as she looked down the eyepiece, pulling the image into focus. “Spongy, I guess,” was her answer.
“Precise medical terminology there,” Kair said. “Spongy?”
Luisa flipped the view to the screens. “Got a better adjective?”
Both Kair and Mohammed looked up at the tissue.
“Spongy it is,” Kair said.
“Ever seen anything like that?” Luisa said. “I didn’t in my rotation, Dr. Faddis.”
Mohammed stroked his chin. Kair was oddly silent, the quietest he’d been all day. He went back to work pulling samples of the dura from around the skull. Luisa came over. It was almost impossible to see with the naked eye unless one was aware and looking for it. Kair was about to conclude the examination of the brain.
“Could you?” Luisa said, on a hunch more than anything.
“Yes?” Kair said.
“Just for the sake of thoroughness, I wonder if you might take a few samples around the subject’s implants? There’s nothing on the scans that indicate any issues with the interface, but it couldn’t hurt to sample the area. I didn’t see anything in the dura after all.”
Kair didn’t say anything, but Mohammed nodded, and the two exchanged a look.
“Couldn’t hurt to be thorough,” Kair said.
As they finished, Kair told Luisa it had been a pleasure working with her and hoped to cross paths with her in another autopsy someday. Luisa shrugged and thanked Kair for the education. Something about the last ten minutes of the procedure didn’t sit right with her, though. Nevertheless, she and Mohammed were scheduled to examine the other participants in the fracas, starting with the murder suspect Derek Hamm.
In the corridor to the exam room, Mohammed pulled Luisa aside and told her not to mention anything about the autopsy to Mr. Hamm.
“He’ll be fishing for a defense,” Dr. Faddis said. “The last thing we need to do is give him an excuse for his actions.”
Luisa nodded. It made sense on some level that the man might be fishing for any possible lifeline after being caught on video killing their autopsy subject plain as day. But nobody had the full picture yet. The medical team and the psych team hadn’t spoken with the legal team or the security team. For all Luisa knew, Hamm had an adequate case for self-defense. She didn’t know whether Bosby was the aggressor. It struck Luisa as odd that Mohammed would even mention that point. The whole situation was becoming stranger and stranger.
The exam with Hamm was not what Luisa was expecting. She didn’t know what she was expecting, but Derek Hamm was certainly not it. He seemed small. He didn’t seem like a murderer. Hamm said very little and certainly didn’t trust that she and Mohammed were there on his behalf. “Who do you work for?” he asked Luisa at one point.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” Luisa said. “I’m a surgeon from Clearwater. My practice is through Vantagepoint.”
“I mean today. Did A & A hire you to cover their ass or to fry mine?”
“We’re just here to do a neurological examination.”
Hamm shook his head and rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. “You don’t even know, do you?” he said, looking at Luisa. “He does, though.”
Luisa looked over at Mohammed.
“Ask him what you’re supposed to find?”
She ignored the comment. “Are you in any pain, Mr. Hamm? Headaches? Dizziness? Blurred vision?”
“No,” he said. “Apart from the circumstances, I feel fine.”
The exam found nothing nominally, but Luisa ordered a second set of scans and specified magnification on all three layers of the meninges. Mohammed tried to ignore Hamm’s comments after they left the room.
“See,” he said. “I told you he’d be fishing for an excuse.”
“You have no idea what he was on about?” Luisa asked.
“Why would I have any idea? I’ve never laid eyes on the man.”
Over the course of the following three days, Luisa and Mohammed examined every A & A field worker on Jack 10 and Jack 9. They were supposed to remain ignorant of the details of the incident, but she slowly began to piece together what had happened from unsolicited comments her patients made about the incident. The fight had broken out between Jack 10’s “beekeepers,” which was the slang term for drone operators and several of the floorjacks from Jack 9, who were filling in for the regular 10 floorjacks, who’d earned an afternoon of recreation on a productivity bonus. The “nines” were not happy about missing their productivity bonus and were arguing amongst themselves, and that anger quickly spilled over into animosity against the ten beekeepers, who were keeping their usual crisp pace. When work on the floor backed up the flow coming in, the 10’s beekeepers began to mouth off, and several of them exited the control room to let their feelings be known in person. It quickly got physical and then suddenly got deadly. Luisa asked for the footage from A & A security but was denied. She likely would have pieced everything together even sooner if she had seen the video.
Luisa had to look very carefully for the striation in Mr. Hamm’s meningeal layers, but it was there, very faint even with the contrast, but the striations of spongy tissue in the dura were present. The question became whether that was related to the inability to suppress anger, and if so, how. She wanted tissue samples of the striation from a living subject, but Mohammed wasn’t willing to go that far, even if they could get a volunteer, certainly not for the sake of Mr. Hamm. Luisa wasn’t so certain that information should be kept from him, but she wasn’t willing to pick a fight with Dr. Faddis over the issue before she understood it. She had to find another way.
Meanwhile, she re-examined every sample from the autopsy, including the excessive number of tissue samples taken near Mr. Bosby’s implants. Dr. Benedict had plucked twenty samples in proximity to the two implants, and something about that number seemed odd to her. Two or three clean samples would have satisfied her curiosity. Twenty clean samples made her even more curious, almost as though Kair was speaking through the data—“dead end here, Luisa, nothing to see.” She was just trying to follow a hunch. She’d heard the rumors like everyone else. And she understood that all the whacko conspiracy theorists who blamed implants for behavioral changes would point to this death as a kind of unfalsifiable point of evidence for their beliefs. All the A & A jack workers were implanted. When they’d left Earth, it was still in the protocol as a requirement. Most had also been in space for nearly three years now including transit time. The Offria had only just made commuting to the belt a possibility, and the crews on 9 and 10 hadn’t been cycled back yet, and surely they wouldn’t be until this issue was resolved.
On day four, Luisa was seeing patients for follow-up visits and spending time in the lab looking at scans. She’d found striation in the meninges of every patient the psychologists had referred. She could feel that there was something there, but she had no idea how to explain how the issue connected to a change in behavior. Then, by chance as she was walking between the lab and the exam room, she caught a glimpse of three workers talking amongst themselves in the corridor. One of them grimaced and rubbed the back of his neck with his hand, and it caught her attention. It was too familiar.
“You!” Luisa said. “You there. Come here. I need to speak with you.”
“I have an appointment with corporate,” the man said. “Some kind of anger management retraining.”
“It can wait,” Luisa said. “I want to see you in exam two. Go ahead in. I’ll be right there.”
When she examined the worker, she found nothing overtly abnormal. His pupils were a little sluggish for her liking, though.
“Any headaches? Neckaches? Pain?”
“No. I feel fine.”
“Why were you rubbing your neck, just now? In the hallway?”
“You were. I can get hold of the security footage if you don’t believe me,” Luisa said.
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“Do you have neck pain? Stiffness?”
“I told you already. No. I feel fine.”
“Then why were you rubbing your neck like that?”
“Our jumpsuits are a little tight in the neck. Sometimes they chafe back there. I’m not the only one has that issue.”
Luisa examined the floorjack’s skin at the base of his neck. There was no evidence of redness or irritation. She even rubbed the collar of his jumpsuit looking for a seem, a rough patch, some irritant. She couldn’t see it. She ordered a scan with contrast. Sure enough, she found striation.
After she let the floorjack go back to his corporate retraining, she approached security about obtaining footage of the floor, not on the date of the incident, but everyday operational footage on the days leading up to it. They told her they would have to clear it with management, as it contained workflow trade secrets. They asked her why she wanted it. She told them it was a hunch. She wanted to see the workers’ mannerisms.
The following day, she got access to the floor. A whole month of Jack 10’s floor processing from a hundred different angles. She didn’t need to look for long. They all had the affectation. It was almost like a tick, probably so common amongst them that none of them noticed it anymore. They all rubbed their necks nearly identically. Once every half hour or so, sometimes more or less frequently. That was something, but she wasn’t sure what yet. She started thinking again about the striation in the dura. It had to be connected.
The answer came to Luisa that night in her sleep. She awoke breathing heavily, sweating. Her first thought was that she needed to tell Mohammed. Her second thought was that she needed to tell everyone. By East Coast time, which the med team was all still on, it was three in the morning. Dr. Faddis would be asleep. So would Dr. Benedict. She walked toward Mohammed’s quarters and stood outside, debating whether she should wake him. In her six-month rotation, she woke him regularly, at least once a week. Now she hesitated. All she had to do was knock, yet she didn’t, and she didn’t know why she didn’t.
“Dr. Solari,” a man’s voice startled her. “Would you please come with me?”
It was one of the A & A security personnel.
“Why? What’s this about?” she asked.
“One of our executives would like to speak with you.”
“At this hour?”
“You’re up, are you not? He’s up. No better time for a private chat, no? Nothing untoward, I assure you.”
Luisa sized up the man and decided to go with him. It was his eyes, they were reassuring.
The man brought her up the lift to the hub and then back down to rock one. He sat her in one of the executive conference rooms and asked her to wait. It was only then she became aware of how unkempt she must appear, her hair all out of sorts, her sleepwear.
Her heart nearly stopped when he walked into the room. She wasn’t sure it could be him, but it couldn’t have been anyone else.
“Oh my God,” she said, almost involuntarily. “It’s you.”
“It’s me,” he said. “I get that a lot. Julian Hartsock. Nice to meet you, Dr. Solari. Please call me Julian.”
“Look at me,” she said, rubbing her hands through her hair. “I’m a mess.”
“Space,” Julian said, shrugging, “does it to the best of us. May I call you Luisa?”
“Sure,” she said. “I had no idea you were here.”
“That’s the idea. My security team is a bit like the Secret Service. I’ve got a look-alike bot and even a human double, who’s probably on my island in the B.V.I. right now. Sometimes I wish I could trade places with him for real.”
“I’m just. I’m dumbfounded. I knew this issue was important to the company, but to think you’d come here?”
“Well, as I suspect you’ve just discovered, this issue goes beyond A & A, does it not?”
Luisa’s face grew grave. She could tell he knew a lot; the question was how much. Now corporate interests were involved.
“You’re not in any danger from me, Luisa. If I wanted this situation covered up for the sake of A & A, you certainly wouldn’t know the first thing about it, and neither would anyone else. Does a team of twenty doctors and a slew of corporate investigators scream coverup to you?”
“No,” she said. “But you don’t know what I think I know.”
“I think I may.”
“How do you know, Mr. Hartsock?”
“It’s Julian, please. Peter told me you were up, standing outside Dr. Faddis’s door. You stood there for nearly five minutes, yet you didn’t knock. Why is that? Your career?”
“Your reputation, probably?”
“But what I guess you really feared was whether you’d find something out about Dr. Faddis that you didn’t really want to know. You still respect him, don’t you?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because if you told him what you think to be true. He’d tell you that you were crazy. A Purist maybe. You aren’t implanted, are you?”
Luisa didn’t answer. Julian looked over at her, examining her face.
“Now the moment of truth,” he said. “Do you trust me with the information you wouldn’t even trust with your dear mentor? On some level, though, I assure you, he already knows. It wouldn’t be a revelation to him, just as it won’t be a revelation to me. I know something’s going on with the implants. I just need a mechanism of action. You’ve figured it out, haven’t you?”
“Why do you think it’s related to the implants?”
“If I showed you the scars behind my ears, you would assume I had chips in, wouldn’t you, Luisa?”
“I’ve had psychometric indicators that Biogenetive implants were altering their user’s psychology for nearly a decade now. I have no reason to think the competing technologies are any different. They all seem to alter the mind, but I can’t prove it directly. I don’t know how. And it’s a dangerous thing to know and even more dangerous to try to prove. I suspect you’ve uncovered an explanation.”
Luisa looked around.
“This is a private conversation, Luisa.”
“I’m not one hundred percent certain, but I think I know,” she said, and a smile crept up on one side of her mouth. “My theory is a bit complex.”
“That’s not surprising. The brain is complex. Please,” he said, gesturing for her to proceed. “You can trust me to keep this confidential.”
“I think it’s a condition called cervicogenic headache. It’s a secondary effect of the porosity of the meninges. The protective layers around the brain leak fluid, which causes the users to suffer from headaches and neck aches.”
“If that were the case, every one of them would complain of head and neck aches, no?”
“Not necessarily,” Luisa said. “Biogenetive’s interface is proprietary, and I’m not a licensed agent. I never did implantations, but it would be very easy for the implants to block certain nerve endings from reporting pain or pressure around the cervical spine or cranium. You know about psychometrics, Mr. Hartsock, so I’m going to assume you know a little bit about psychology?”
“Please, Luisa, it’s Julian, and, yes, I know a lot about psychology.”
“You know about split brain patients? That these people could perceive an object with their left hemisphere and behave as though they see it but still not be consciously aware of that object when they were asked about it.”
“I know of the condition.”
“I think that’s what’s happening here. Just like the signals between hemispheres were severed in the corpus callosum of the split-brain patients, the implants are blocking the conscious perception of the pain from the cervicogenic headaches. But the brain still feels that pressure, the irritation. It’s why your workers are all rubbing their necks all the time. They don’t know why, and just like the split-brain patients, they confabulate some reason why they’re rubbing their necks, but the reasons don’t hold water. Now that you know, you won’t be able to unsee it. They’re all suffering from severe headaches and they don’t know it. I suspect that’s what’s making them all short tempered.”
“Do you suppose the extended time in space has something to do with it physiologically?”
“Could be,” Luisa said. “We don’t yet understand all the physiological effects of extended time in space. I’m certainly no expert in that area.”
“Their psychometric divergence is far more troubling than most implanted people on Earth. I suspected the implants were part of the story when this incident happened. Your explanation makes a lot of sense. Now the real question.”
“Could you prove it without tipping off any of your colleagues?”
“You don’t think I should discuss it with Mohammed?”
Julian shook his head. “I think Dr. Faddis already knows something. Every neurologist is beholden to Biogenetive and their competitors.”
“I’m not sure I could prove my theory here,” Luisa said. “Not by myself.”
“What would you need?”
“Tissue samples of the striated meningeal layers. Measurements of intracranial pressure. Schematics of Biogenetive’s interface around the brain stem at the nanoscale would probably prove it. But they keep that information sewn up. The patents are sealed, so I suspect it would take a lawsuit to get that in discovery.”
“For what it’s worth, Luisa, I think you’re probably correct. It’s an explanation that makes sense. It’s quite brilliant.”
“Now the hard part. You can never tell anyone about this conversation. Not a word of it. Not if you want to keep your head on your neck.”
“I know it’s probably hard to hear, but there are certain realities—”
“Realities? You’re joking? These things are causing—”
“In hundreds of millions of people, Julian.”
“I know. I’ve known it for years.”
“Then how could you stand by and let it happen?”
“I’d be dead in a month if I tried to stop it.”
He nodded. “A single doctor? You may not even make it off this space station if the wrong person gets even an inkling that you suspect implants are at the root of this incident. Think of the implications, Luisa, every dollar at stake if tens of millions of implants had to come out. Then think of the downstream effects, the productivity numbers of reverting back to a chip free economy, an economic depression the likes the world may never have experienced.”
“And you? You can’t tell me the founder of the richest corporation in history couldn’t tell the truth?”
“O pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth, That I am meek and gentle with these butchers.”
“I don’t understand. What is that?”
“Well, pardon me for not recognizing, Julian. I only ever read Shakespeare in Spanish. Which play was that?”
“You really think they would kill you?”
“Someone’s always trying, Luisa. But I don’t want you to mistake me. In this metaphor, I’m actually Marc Antony. Just because I intend to live through the play doesn’t mean the butchers won’t get what’s coming to them. But you don’t simply call a press conference and tell the world. Not this secret. You proceed with extreme caution, and you bide your time. And, most importantly, if you want to keep your head, you figure out very fast whether you’re a key piece or you’re a pawn. You’ve done a tremendous service this week. Trust me to take it from here.”
“Shut up and go home? That’s your solution?”
“I’ll try and protect you here on the station,” Julian said. “But people will start to wonder if your curiosity continues beyond that.”
“How do you expect me to live with this? Most of my friends are chipped. Cousins. Even my oldest nephew.”
“I find that it helps to think about my life on a much longer scale. Don’t think about tomorrow, Luisa. Think about your future and live to see it through.”
“It was a pleasure to meet you, clever doctor,” Julian said. “I hope we’ll meet again someday.”
“Me too,” Luisa said.
“Pay close attention to my security team,” Julian said. “Following their instructions will keep you alive.”
They brought her down to the suspect’s room and had her sit with him for about ten minutes. Then they told her to think up a pretext for speaking to Mr. Hamm in the middle of the night. When they brought her back to her room, one of Julian’s personal security team stayed at the door and told her that she would have someone “on her” for the duration of the mission. She wasn’t to go anywhere without them.
Luisa got it. She even scratched a cut into her forehead with her thumbnail for effect. She told the security team to say that Mr. Hamm was complaining of a headache and asked to see a doctor before he’d attacked her. When Luisa was asked about it the following morning, she called Hamm a “psycho,” and when Mohammed inquired, she hyperventilated theatrically and told him she didn’t want to talk about it. Julian’s security team claimed to have sequestered the footage “for Luisa’s dignity and privacy.”
“What will happen to Mr. Hamm?” Luisa asked Cedrick, Julian’s personal security agent, at lunch.
“That’s not for me to say,” he said. “And probably best not for either of us to concern ourselves with, doctor.”
She couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to him. Would he get a trial? What would his defense say? What would Mr. Bosby’s family learn of the circumstances of his death? She kept thinking about what Julian had told her, to think past the present. She still wasn’t sure whether she should be trusting him more than Mohammed, a man she’d known for years. Was it possible he had been so corrupt all along? How could she have missed it?
That evening in the lab, Luisa spent time going back over her notes. She went through each of the slides where she’d examined striation, as well as the samples around Bosby’s implants. Her updates to her notes betrayed no hint of her discovery, and she made sure to highlight the difficulty of the mystery and normality of the implant samples. “No indication of malfunction,” was copied to each file.
As she was working, there was a commotion in the hallway outside the lab. She heard raised voices, one of which she recognized as Mohammed’s. When she opened the door, she found Dr. Faddis, Dr. Benedict, and a man who looked like an executive, she thought from A & A, but she wasn’t sure. They were trying to push their way into the lab to the objection of Cedrick, who was holding the two doctors back.
“What’s going on here?” Luisa said.
“You’re not to have access to any of those records,” Mohammed said.
“Step back inside please, doctor,” Cedrick said to her.
“What’s this all about?” Luisa said. “Moody, what is going on?”
“You screwed up, Luisa. You lied on Hamm’s case report. You are not to have access to those records.”
Mohammed looked furious. She’d never seen him like that, and Cedrick, despite being far bigger than both doctors had his hands full trying to keep them both from the lab. He called up for another security person to come help him. The third man in the back quietly stepped away while the doctors became more belligerent. Cedrick began to usher them both down the hallway, and a physical shoving match ensued.
As Luisa stepped back, the third man quietly stepped through the cracked-open door and into the lab. He didn’t say a word as he approached Luisa. She backed away quickly.
“Stay away from me,” she said, stepping behind the lab bench. She could hear the voices in the hallway outside growing more distant and muffled. “Stay back.”
“There’s nothing to be nervous about, doctor. But there is something we should discuss,” the man said. “Would you come with me please?”
“I don’t know anything about, Mr. Hamm. He just had a headache.”
“This way, please,” the man said, gesturing toward the door.
Luisa put her head down and walked toward the hallway. She recounted steps in her head. As she took a measure of the man she’d mistaken for an executive, she noted the posture, the manner in which he carried himself. He stood at the threshold to the lab and held open the door. Luisa looked to her left to see Cedrick still occupied with the two doctors halfway down the corridor.
“Don’t call out, doctor,” the man said.
Luisa put her head down and slumped her shoulders. It was her only chance.
She sprung toward the man without warning and headbutted him square in the nose, her momentum carrying them both into the doorframe. Luisa fell over him, and they both crashed to the floor. The man grasped her leg as she scrambled to get up and break free. She kicked fiercely as he tried to clamp down on her ankle. She managed to kick his hand with her free foot and roll backwards and to her feet, that half step of distance enough of a gap for Luisa to get a running start.
“Doctor,” she heard the man say as he got to his feet. “You shouldn’t have done that.”
Luisa made for the lift, hoping that there would be people, security, floor workers anybody. She was a fast runner, but she knew he would close on her fast. It was maybe fifty feet from the lab to the foyer, and as she cleared the hallway into the open room at the base of the elevator, Luisa could see nothing but a vast, empty room. The man’s hand was on her shoulder, and before she knew what had happened, Luisa had tumbled to the floor with her pursuer following directly on top of her, prompting an involuntary exclamation of surprise more than pain from Luisa. She hadn’t expected him to fall on her.
“Damn it. You are a pain in the ass,” the man said angrily, rolling to his knees and grabbing Luisa by the wrist. “Last chance to do this the easy way, doctor.”
The man looked over his shoulder.
“Hombre!” a voice echoed from the distance.
Luisa turned to see the dark outline of a figure against the black opening to the back corridor—the causeway that led down to the industrial bays and the mining equipment storage. Two men came out of the darkness from behind the one who’d shouted at her assailant, all of them wearing space suits.
“Help me!” Luisa shouted.
The men came over at a dead sprint, prompting Luisa’s pursuer to back away with his hands in the air.
“She’s lost her damn mind,” the man said. “Dr. Malhotra will have some words for you, Dr. Solari.”
“Somebody lose they head in here last week, hombre,” the spacewalker said, holding a long blunt instrument in his right hand. “Take care it’s not you too.”
Luisa’s rescuer extended his free hand and helped Luisa to her feet. At that point Cedrick came running into the room with two other A & A security guards.
“Space not just the only danger in space, mama,” the spacewalker said as the security team pulled her away, moving her toward the elevator with more urgency than she’d experienced even in the most emergent situations in the hospital.
The Offria hadn’t been scheduled to return to Earth for another week. The explanation for the ship’s early arrival at Apogee was that tensions among the crews following the incident necessitated an early rotation. Luisa didn’t know who else was aboard the ship, but Cedrick and two others stayed on her from the moment they pulled her into the elevator until the moment they put her in a taxi in Clearwater. A & A put her in a hotel while their security cleared her apartment.
That evening, at the hotel, she received a visit from one of Julian’s people. She was a middle-aged executive, who carried a serious air of authority and seemed to have Julian’s utmost trust. She told Luisa that she didn’t know what Luisa had gotten herself into but that Julian was working to “unstitch the situation.”
“I’m not going back to the hospital,” Luisa said. “Not as long as Mohammed is there.”
“That’s probably best,” the woman said. “Out of sight, out of mind.”
“Am I ever going to be safe again?”
“If you have your head on a swivel, you’re safer today than you were yesterday,” the woman responded. “Oblivious is not nearly the same thing as safe. Anyway, I’ll come see you when I get the all clear from Mr. Hartsock, and if it’s not safe at home, we’ll move you somewhere you will be safe. From what he told me, he’s pretty sure they don’t know what you know. They were just trying to figure out what you know. It’s pretty damn confusing to me, because I don’t have any idea what any of this is about, but does that make sense to you, doctor?”
“Is there anything else I can do for you in the meantime?” the executive said.
“There was a worker on the space station—the one who stopped my attacker. I’d like to thank him personally if it’s possible.”
“I’m not sure if he was a welder or not, it all happened so fast. Security pulled me out before I knew what had happened.”
“I was thinking more along the lines of a sandwich and soda,” the woman said smiling, “but I’ll make a few calls and see what I can find out about those guys.”
“I appreciate it,” Luisa said.
She looked sad or perhaps sad and scared. Something about the look on Luisa’s face gave the woman pause.
“Julian would probably quote you Shakespeare or something. I’ll just say this. The tide comes in, and the tide goes out. And in my experience, there are precious few secrets worth dying over, because a new tide’s coming in tomorrow regardless of groundwork laid or state secrets.”
Luisa smiled. “I’ll keep that in mind if I get a say in the matter.”
“Good luck, doctor,” the woman said.
When the door closed, Luisa was alone with her thoughts and the cool hum of the air conditioning as the dim light of dusk was fading to darkness outside her hotel window. With everything that had happened to her over the course of the preceding week, Luisa was possessed by a sudden inexplicable sense of calm in that moment, not because of Hartsock or the security team watching out for her safety. It was the sense that far more than coincidence had been at work for her, the voice of that welder in that exact moment, appearing at the second he was needed, like the universe was bringing unknown forces together, folding light into darkness in spaces no humans had business treading. Luisa felt the truth of it now. Far more lies in darkness than the worst acts of deceit and sin. If hope lived anywhere in the darkest times, hope would have to live in the dark.
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