Gromet's PlazaLatex Stories

The Doll Factory 3: Unexpected Visitor

by AmyAmy

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© Copyright 2010 - AmyAmy - Used by permission

Storycodes: Solo-F; FM/f; medical; bond; electronics; hum; mast; cons/reluct; X

The Doll Factory 3: Unexpected Visitor AmyAmy Solo-F; FM/f; medical; bond; electronics; hum; mast; cons/reluct; X continued from part 2

Part 3: Unexpected Visitor

Jared and Kaiser aren’t in when I arrive at the warehouse testing station. A chubby woman who explains that she is Phoebe the office manager lets me in and makes me a cup of tea while I wait for the Doctor to show up. She explains that everyone else will be in by nine, but the Doctor starts early… Of course she does.

I haven’t drunk much of my tea when the Doctor shows up. She has her silver flight case with her.

“Good morning Phoebe. Good morning Kelly,” she says, very politely, in a way that makes my skin crawl.

“Good morning Doctor Merriam,” I say, putting on the best face I can manage under the circumstances.

“You can come with me now,” she says. This is her way of giving an order.

We go to the makeshift medical room. She cleans my arm and then watches the clock for the exact time, then gives me the “injection” with her special gun.

“You don’t look like you slept well last night Kelly,” says the Doctor.

I nod, unsure if I should speak. She doesn’t say anything else. She just puts away her injection gun and leaves. She has a knack of making me feel like meat on a slab.

A few minutes later, Jared arrives to collect me. We go into the informatics area. He is excited and talks all the way.

“I haven’t managed to get proper look at your data from last night, but I glanced over it as soon as I came in. Of course, I was watching it as it came down late last night, which was really exciting. I’m really confident that we will get to stage two as soon as we have enough data…” And so on. I can’t be bothered to listen, I’m just too tired.

“Is there something you need from me?” I say. He sits down at his desk. I remain standing.

“Well, I was hoping for some feedback on the system design,” he says. He is literally asking for it.

“The system sucks. That jackass of an engineer put in cables so short that I can’t possibly put both of them in properly. I spent the entire night lying there stiff with fright dreading that the one I couldn’t screw in was going to drop out,” I say irritably. “Those giant computer boxes fill up my bedroom and blow out dry hot air like a furnace and then there’s the fucking noise…”

I rub my face with my hands. I just lost it in front of him. Whatever, he already knows I’m scum.

“Sorry. It’s hard to be sweetness and light when you haven’t slept in twenty-four hours. Actually, it’s hard for me to be sweetness and light at the best of times, obviously, but no point splitting hairs over it,” I say, my thoughts rambling randomly. I shut myself up. Might as well stop digging a deeper hole.

“Noted,” he says, humoring me. “Oh,” he adds. “Sorry about that. How wide is your bed?”

“Queen size,” I say. Then I remember to protest as such a question. “Hey!”

“I think the cables were kind of specced out for a single. You are single, right?”

“I don’t see how that’s your business,” I snap, stepping backwards.

“Technically, it is, and we were promised that you would be, you see?” I don’t answer that question.

“What’s the big deal? Single people sleep in double beds, king sized beds even. Stop poking into my sex life and just make longer cables,” I say, unreasonably. “Ideally they would be long enough to reach the bathroom, you know what I’m saying?”

“It just doesn’t work like that.”

“It just doesn’t work as it is,” I retort.

“I’ll see if it’s possible to make longer cables. It might actually be easier to swap your bed for one we have here,” he says with a hang-dog look.

“This whole thing is way more intrusive than I ever imagined,” I sigh. My eyes are watering and I rub at them some more.

While we’re talking Kaiser comes in, but he just sits down at his computer and starts tapping away, ignoring us completely. I bet he’s surfing the internet instead of working. I know I would be. I have no idea what is happening really, I’m in another place. Kaiser could be shouting at me, I wouldn’t notice.

 Jared is suggesting things but I’m not paying attention. Then I think about Kaiser surfing through my masturbation heart rate data and then telling everyone I’m a nympho. It doesn’t improve my mood at all. I have to turn away so they can’t see my face.

“You’re not listening to me are you?” Says Jared.

“I’m a bit tired. That’s been established,” I say. I try to wipe my face with my arm, but it’s made of plastic. I am so close to a hysterical fit, I can feel it trying to take control of me. I concentrate and push it down. I need to focus. I need to get paid. I need to keep moving.

“I will make sure the engineer comes out with a fix today,” he says. “Is there anything else bothering you?” I keep facing away from him. I can’t see his expression. If he was a real man he would comfort me. No, if I was a human being he would comfort me.

“Springs to mind that you might have matched my skin color better. Maybe you could make some gloves that match so I can at least pretend I’m a double amputee or something,” I say facetiously before I can turn the tap on my anger off.

“Maybe we should have incorporated gloves, yes. I thought about it, but I didn’t think anyone would want something interfering with their sense of touch. I’ll look at it for stage two,” he says.

“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe you’re right and I’d hate it,” I say defeated. I take another half-step away from him.

“I’ll see if there’s a way they can make it work. The materials part isn’t really my thing anyway. I think we need to get you into the 3D mapper next week and also get some color calibrated pictures for the next pass. I’ll note all this to materials, they’ll probably schedule something with you. I know they are real eager to press ahead,” he says. I know he’s trying to engage with me somehow, but I’m just not present.

“You just can’t imagine how my life is ruled by the clock. All I do is sit and wait, sit and wait. I feel like one of those little marionettes on a cuckoo clock that comes out on the hour, every hour and bangs away at a little bell,” I say.

“Really?” He says with a strange intensity.

“Well yes. I am watching the clock a lot. Last night was hard, and then this morning. I just can’t imagine how it’s going to feel down the line,” I say.

“That does sound like a problem,” he says, as if I had just told him that my quantum flux capacitor was charged up or some such technobabble. If I was even half awake I’d be asking him where the fuck he gets off, but I’m not, and I don’t. I open up my heart to him and he says creepy things like that, or acts like it’s a diagnostic report. I want to punch him in the face. I take a deep breath and let it slide.

He sees me out with a few polite words.

In the car on the way home I fall asleep. I don’t dream at all.

That afternoon the engineer shows up looking pleased with himself. Even when I answer the door to him he’s talking to somebody else on his headset. I want to punch the condescending little prick.

He walks into the kitchen and holds up some new cables.

“New cables,” he says like he just brought back fire from heaven.

“I thought you said they couldn’t be made any longer,” I say.

“They can’t. These are the same length as the old ones,” he says smugly. He is very lucky I am afraid of him hitting me back if I punch him. I consider stabbing him with a kitchen knife. Maybe going to jail will be good for me. Unfortunately, I’m dreaming: I haven’t the guts to tell him he’s an asshole, let alone teach him the lesson he so richly deserves.

“What’s the point of that? Are you just here to mess with me?” I say, sick of his nonsense. He gives me a fake sad look, like I just told the kiddies that Santa isn’t real.

“These don’t wire in permanently, they plug in at both ends. Think about it,” he says. I do think about it. It’s not the solution I was hoping for, but it might work better than nothing.

An hour later he has fitted a socket to each of the black metal cases at the sides of my bed. I watch him do it. When he takes the case off there is a rack full of flat silver boxes, each about the size of an expensive DVD player. They have lots of little blinking lights on them.

“Bayonet fitting on these snaps in with a push, locks automatically. You can do it one handed. Electromagnetic system releases them automatically when the upload cycle is complete. Until then there is no way they are coming out without a twenty-two mil spanner,” he says when he’s done.

“The other end is different too,” I observe.

“Yeah. Apparently, as you were afraid of the cable dropping out they added an extra safety measure. There’s a Velcro cuff to hold the connector firmly onto your wrist, it’s got a bit of give in it so you can put it on tight.”

“Show me,” I say, remembering last time.

“Come here,” he says. “Hold out your hand.” I step forward and so as he asks. I guess I’m just used to taking orders from people I hate now.

He unscrews the cover on the inside of my wrist and puts it in my open hand. He plugs in the cable normally, then screws down the collar to lock it in place. The two pieces of the heavy elastic cuff are hanging over my wrist. He pulls them tight and then squeezes the fabric together. It’s tough stuff, like you might find on a climber’s safety harness. The cable will definitely be secure.

“So?” I say.

He grabs the cable, and holding my arm yanks hard. I feel the tugging, but there’s no question, the cable is not coming out. I think my arm would come off before it got loose.

“There we go, safe and sound,” he says.

“Let’s see. I want to be sure I can reach,” I say. I take hold of the other end of the cable and get onto the bed. I position myself in the middle and reach out to push the heavy machined brass plug into its socket.

“Hey!” Calls out the engineer, but it’s too late, the plug snaps into place with a solid and very satisfying clunk. It is definitely engaged.

“Shit,” I say. I immediately grasp I wasn’t supposed to do that. I grab hold of the plug and try to pull it out. Of course, it does not move a millimeter.

The engineer gives a long sigh.

“Good thing I’m here,” he says. “Wait here, I’ll get my tools back out of the van,” he adds as he dashes out.

I am suddenly afraid. I feel like a trapped animal. There is nothing more I want that to be disconnected from this box. I’m very nervous that maybe the engineer will not come back and drive off laughing. His “wait here” comment doesn’t tickle me either. I try to move the black box. It weighs about a ton, I can’t even tilt it.

Then I realize I can just remove the plug in my wrist. I feel like an idiot. My panic turns into embarrassment. Before I finish undoing the cable the engineer returns with his toolbox. I finish unfastening myself while he uses a big spanner to take off part of the socket and pull out the plug.

“I could have left that really, you still had the other one loose, but knowing you, you’d have cabled up that side first and then been stuck,” he says.

“You don’t know shit about me,” I say angrily. The engineer just sighs and tidies up his tools. I don’t thank him for his help.

It’s coming up to eleven again. This time I am prepared. I’ve been to the toilet and I’m as ready as I can be. I screw in the connectors and tighten the straps on my wrists. Then I turn off the light. I have to do the rest in the dark. With the light off I can see that there is a dimly-illuminated ring around the edge of the socket. I guess they thought of everything this time.

I lie in the middle of the bed and then shift a little to the side to plug in the cable. I shift a little the other way and plug in the other one. I try my hands for moment. I can’t even reach my head. It gradually sinks in that they just got me to tie myself up properly this time. There is simply no way I can get loose now and they made me do it to myself.

The night before was still worse, it was as if they’d made me freeze in position all night through pure fear. I remember reading how they use things like that as a torture technique. I take a reality check. If it was torture I wouldn’t be lying on my own bed, comparatively comfortable though sweating hot.

It’s not easy to fall asleep with my hands wired up, but I’m already so tired. I almost fall asleep a few times but end up tugging on the cable and breaking the mood. My last memory is the clock on the tower reading zero-zero twenty-one. Even though I’m bound with my arms spread, I finally fall asleep.

The next thing I know is the tower beeping seven am. It’s the biggest alarm clock I’ve ever seen. I shimmy over a little and reach out to pull the cable free, and I feel a rush of relief as it release with a soft, reassuring click. The other side does the same. I uncable myself, seal up and hit the shower. There’s still no hot water but it isn’t really cold either. I dress in clean underwear and yesterdays clothes. It’s not like I have limitless outfits, and washing powder costs money.

This morning the Doctor is already at the warehouse when I arrive. She greets me coldly and leads me into the room I now think of as hers.

While we wait for the clock to tick the hour I am silent, but she has something to say.

“I hear you got quite mouthy with the technical staff yesterday. I think you need to get some perspective. They are salaried employees and you are a test subject, at best, hired help. Do you think it’s appropriate for you to be impolite to them?” She says in her “reasonable” voice. I have not really heard this voice before, so it is probably a very bad sign.

“No Doctor,” I say.

“That’s correct. How do you think you should treat them in future? How do you think you should behave?”

I hesitate. I’m not sure how to answer. I don’t know how to reduce the no doubt horrible punishment she has planned.

“Well?” She asks again.

“Sorry Doctor. I… I should treat them respectfully, and… and I should behave with humility. I should be grateful.”

“Good girl,” she says. “I know you are able to, as you usually manage to behave yourself for me.”

“Thank you Doctor,” I say, trembling.

“How do you think you should be punished for your unpleasant little outburst?” She asks. Here it comes. I can’t answer this. I have no idea what to say. She has me right where she wants me now.

“I… I don’t know Doctor,” I stammer.

“Naturally,” she says. “You’re a typical gen-Y-me-me-me little brat who’s never had any discipline in her life. Do you think that just because you’re an orphan I should be sorry for you? It was probably your own smart mouth that got you thrown out of every foster home they sent you to.” She stops, as if to gloat. How do they know so much about me? Then she carries on. I can’t shut out her words. I have to listen. I can’t help myself even though I know I shouldn’t let her get to me. I ought to go away from this, watch it at a distance, unharmed, untouched. No, I have to be present, to let her hateful words burn into my heart.

“Oh wait, were you abused as well? Did some predatory foster-daddy force himself on you in the middle of the night? Did he say you made it up because you were a compulsive liar? Did they believe him instead of you because, after all, you are a liar and you really wanted him to do it? Who can trust a girl who gets in a fight with everyone she meets? No. I think they understood that if it happened you were to blame,” she says. Her words are poisonous, like drinking bleach.

“I was never abused Doctor,” I say. Is it the truth? Does she know something that even I don’t know? I curse myself. She has me doubting everying.

“Now, that’s not completely honest, is it Kelly?” She says.

“Why do you hate me so much? … Doctor,” I say, afraid she will respond with viciousness. She’s the only one who has abused me. Is that what she means?

“You have it all wrong Kelly. I don’t hate you. I’m trying to help you. I’m trying to help you get some respect for yourself. To respect yourself you first have to respect something outside yourself, you need to know your proper place. Punishment is deferred this time. If you show an improvement in your manners you won’t need to worry about it.”

“Thank you Doctor,” I say eyes downcast. Is she telling the truth? Is there something else, is there simply no way that she can punish me right now?

Nothing else happens for the rest of the week. I get a little more used to chaining myself to my bed at night so they can snoop into the intimate workings of my body. On the Friday the engineer shows up with a friend, or rather another kind of engineer. I suppose they are engineer buddies, but what do I know?

“We’ve come to install a split system in your room,” says the engineer.

“Oh,” say, because I’m not completely sure what a split system is, but I have an inkling that it’s air conditioning.

“You might want to go out, it’s going to take a while,” he explains.

“Yeah, sure.” I hesitate, but I know I have to say it. “About the other time when I got a bit bitchy, you know I didn’t mean it ok. I appreciate you sorting out my installations and stuff,” I say. I realize I really mean it. “I just wanted to say, thanks.”

“No worries,” he says. “It’s hot as the devil’s own barbecue in that room. It’d make anyone cranky. This baby is going to sort you out, ten and a half kilowatt Daikin split, it’s a beauty.”

“Thanks,” I say again. “I don’t have anywhere to go, so I’ll stay in if you can work around me. Just do whatever.

When they are done I just stand naked in the bedroom in the draught from the AC unit, letting it blow over me. I haven’t been this cool since my morning trip for my injection. It’s not exactly quiet, but compared to the computer fans it’s practically silent.

I’m pretty sure my landlord is going to go mental when he sees what’s happened to his house, but fortunately he doesn’t come around much.

On Monday Jared tells me I have an appointment with the materials department on Tuesday after my regular injection. We haven’t really had that much to say to each other for a week, not since I blew up over the cable problems. I apologized for that, but I can feel things are tense between us and he’s backing off. That’s what usually happens when people get a look at what I’m really like. I try not to worry about it too much because it’s probably better for it to happen sooner rather than later.

After that, I figure it’s time to go to the office and see if they have my cash. I have been looking forward to this all week. I am thinking really hard about all the things I will do with the money as soon as I get my hands on it. The funny thing is, I don’t actually know how much I am being paid. At this point, even three hundred dollars would be a help, but I sure hope it’s more than that for all the weirdness I have to put up with.

I ask the driver if he can take me to the office. He doesn’t really know, but I push him a bit and he says it’s probably ok.

Susan, the perfect receptionist is on duty again. She is always there. I recognize her voice immediately on the intercom.

“I’m buzzing you in Kelly,” she says. She remembers my voice.

I walk over to her desk. I’m full of nervous energy. I really want to know that I’m going to get paid.

“You’re here to collect your wages?” She says.

“I certainly am,” I say. She pulls out a form.

“Sign here,” she says. This is always the routine with her: sign this, sign that. I probably signed my life over to them a hundred times already, how many more signatures do they need? Of course, I sign right away.

She takes out a thin bundle of fifties and puts them on the desk. I flip through them, there are twenty: a thousand dollars. Jackpot.

“Kelly, the accountant was asking why you aren’t on salary,” says Susan.

“I like things fine how they are,” I say.

“I’ll pass that on,” she says.


The driver drops me off at my door. Half asleep I ignore the mailbox and head straight in. I’m about to head straight for the bedroom when a dark shape catches me eye. Then I scream in shock. I’m not terrified, but I am seriously shaken. There’s a woman I’ve never seen before in my life sitting at my kitchen table, drinking my instant coffee and flipping through the pile of bills I still haven’t paid.

My first thought is that she’s from the drug company. My second thought is that she’s a private investigator from centrelink. One of the two seems most likely, clearly the company think they own me now, so entering my house while I’m out and snooping through my stuff seems like something they’d imagine they are completely entitled to do.

“Kelly, please relax, I’m not from the company,” she says. She’s small and looks oriental, maybe Chinese. She doesn’t have an accent, so that’s no clue to her nationality. In fact her lack of accent is like a hole in her. It’s as if the accent has been subtracted from her and now something is missed, like a dog with its tail snipped off.

“What the hell?” I say. “You scared the shit out of me.”

“Sorry, sorry. Please, take it easy,” she says. In my opinion, physically she looks younger than me but she’s better dressed and seems somehow more mature. While she’s not very frightening she gave me a huge shock. I’m still shaking.

“What are you doing in my stuff?” I ask, knowing very well what she’s doing. There’s something about her attitude that makes me think I won’t be able to just throw her out.

“Is this how they got their hooks into you? Money?” She says.

 “What do you know about me?” I say. “I don’t know you. Get out of my house.”

“Bankruptcy is a matter of public record,” she says like I’m an idiot. I guess if you judge by the face of things and consider my actions, maybe I am an idiot.

“Just get out,” I say. My voice is cracking up. Why can’t I be stronger? She shouldn’t be here. Why can’t I make her go?

“Just let me explain,” she says.

“No. I don’t want you to explain. If I wanted you in here I would have let you in, when you knocked on the door,” I say, sniffing back tears.

“They’d have seen me if I came to the door,” she says.

“Get the fuck out before I phone the cops, or the company, or both,” I say. She doesn’t know I have no phone.

“Please let me speak to you Kelly. I just came to help you. Don’t get upset,” she says, rising to her feet. “I’ll go if that’s what you want.”

I’m sized by a sob, then regain control of myself. “No. Now you’re here, you may as well say your piece.”

I pull out a chair and sink into it.

 “You can call my Lauren. I came to warn you about the company. I’ve found out some things about them, and I know Alex Merriam from way back. I know what she’s capable of.”

“Is this some sort of trick? I know what NDA means. I’m not saying a word. I’m not going to breach, real, actual or intentional.”

“OK. Please, relax. I won’t ask you anything if you don’t want to talk, but please, listen.”

“From what I’ve seen, they probably told you that you’re in a Neogen trial. That’s what they call their supposed anti-aging drug by the way. I already know that’s a cover for something worse. They’ve already know Neogen is flawed.”

“It doesn’t work?”

“Oh, it works,” she says. I don’t really believe it.

“I thought you said it was flawed?”

“It is. Anti-aging is just one of its properties. The others aren’t very desirable.”

“And I’m on this stuff? What does it do?” I don’t like this story, but I’m not necessarily sure I believe it either.

“You probably already worked out that Alex Merriam, as she’s calling herself these days, is a certifiable psychopath. Did you know she’s responsible for the death of dozens of girls?” She pauses, waiting for me to answer. I have nothing.

“I didn’t know that,” I say, staring at her and waiting for her to continue. “You’re saying the drug will kill me?”

“No. It won’t kill you. It’s worse than that. You see Alex is probably the least of your problems, it’s the boys in “Materials and Biomechanics” that are into the really creepy stuff. I’m thinking they never say the word “biomechanics” in front of you do they? Does the name Adam mean anything to you? Sorry. I said I wouldn’t ask, but Adam is something that was stolen from us a decade ago.”

I just stare at her. I am struggling just to parse what she is saying, let along figure out the implications if a word of it is true, and there’s the big question because whether it’s true or not is a big deal.

“How do I know you’re not from the competition come to screw up their test?” I say. As far as the Doctor goes, I am pretty sure she is wrong. I do need to worry about her; that Doctor has it in for me, big time.

“Simple. I am from the competition and I am here to screw up their test. Everything else I said is still true,” she says.

“If you are, how do you know all this stuff?”

“I’ve been keeping tabs on Merriam. I only just made the connection between you and her. I saw you meet through those big plate glass windows in the front of their office. She had the reports on you printed out and lying on her desk at home last night. The company might have good security but she thinks she’s above all that. It wasn’t hard to search her house while she was out. The security she does have is to stop people getting out not in, I suppose you can imagine?”

“Not really. I try not to think about her. I wish you hadn’t made me question what she does when she’s not torturing me … but how come that report made you come here?”

“They always refer to you by a code and Merriam’s involvement with you is only peripheral, the Neogen part of it. There’s something weird about the way all the documents she has in her files at home dance around the facts, the code words and the secrecy made alarm bells ring in my head. It has to be something blacker than black for them to be so cautious. There aren’t many people above her and most of those are just money men – they don’t have a clue what really goes on.”

“This conversation is just not going my way,” I say. “You started by scaring me, and then you continue scaring me. Do you know anything that can actually help me or are you really just fishing for information?”

“I still don’t know how I can get you out of this. I wish I could do something about your financial problems, but I have scarcely any need for cash myself so I don’t keep it around in the quantity required to set you up as a new person outside of the reach of the company. It’s not as if they are just going to let you walk away now. I’m not even sure if it’s physically possible.”

“They won’t let me walk away?” I ask dumbly.

“Of course not: you already know about Neogen, and just the facts about that are enough to make a lot of trouble. It’s the sort of thing that governments like to seize for themselves. As for what they’re actually testing on you, I don’t know what that is, but setting all this up has been a big project for them. Their codename for you is Lilith. It might not mean anything at all, but if it does, given what happened to her it doesn’t bode well. Either way, I think they see you as a product now, and products don’t walk away from their owners,” she says then falls silent, suddenly grasping what she just said to me, the product.

“So, who does know what’s happening?” I ask after thinking it over for a while.

“I don’t know who most of the people at the computer center are but I did find out a few things.”

“Go on.”

“You can figure out who’s a big noise at a place by looking at the parking spaces. There are five people with spaces right by the door and none of those spaces have a car in it worth less than a hundred grand. I was able to run a number plate check. It comes back with Gideon Jones, Jared Hudson, Kaiser Unger and Alex Merriam. We know about the last one, but do any of the others ring a bell?”

I am unable to answer. She flounders in the silence, looking at me like I’m already dead or something. It’s horrible. I just want her to go away, but the things she’s saying make too much sense. I know I need to hear them, I just wish it wasn’t from her.

“From what I’ve had time to research Jones is the obvious candidate to run things. A decade ago he was at the forefront of nanotech research, tenured at MIT. After that there’s nothing about him. I have a pretty good idea that Merriam traded Adam to him and it turned his ideas of what is possible with nanotech upside down.”

“I’ve never seen him,” I say. She hesitates and I continue. “You didn’t say what this drug … Neogen … ” Then she interrupts me.

“I know you’re already in pretty deep. They’ve got you hooked to their machines and I have no idea what they do but the only ideas I can come up with involve them destroying your body in an incinerator to hide the evidence. I just wanted to warn you. Rethink your priorities. If there’s any way you can get out of this without tipping them off, do it. If you see an opening, take it. Don’t worry about money, I’ll make sure you’re alright.”

I take time to weigh my words. I don’t want to say it, to make it real, and it sounds like a cliché. “We both know I’m already in too deep. I don’t think there’s any way out for me. I’m sorry, but you probably wasted your time.”

“Just keep an eye out for that opening. These people aren’t infallible. In fact, I know from experience they’ve made mistakes, serious mistakes. The people I’m with, we won’t forget what they’ve done, the people that died for so little reason. If you need to contact me, phone this number.” She writes something neatly on one of the bills. It’s not a number, it’s a word that makes no sense but everyone knows how to dial a word once they know it’s really a number.

“Tell me. Stop being so evasive and tell me about Neogen,” I say.

“I’m hoping you aren’t on it. This odd thing with the clockwork injections doesn’t sound like Neogen, so you’re probably fine. It’s a one shot injection. Strictly, it’s a retro-virus with a self-destruct timer. Once you’ve had it you need to be kept isolated for about eight hours. They haven’t done anything like that to you have they?”

“No, nothing like that. I’m in and out in an hour most times, never been there longer than a couple of hours,” I say. She looks relieved.

“It’s a good thing you’re not. You’d be experiencing runaway sex-drive, compulsive behavior, sudden mood swings, frequent depression, sleep problems and an impaired ability to assess risk. It’s a bit like being a teenager really,” she jokes, “You haven’t experienced any of that have you?”

“No,” I lie.

“That’s definitely a good thing, though one of my theories was that maybe you were part of a project to fix the problems with Neogen somehow. Telling somebody who’s been infected with it what it does is hard. It’s hard to tell someone to their face that they’re going to gradually slide into a depression so deep that eventually it becomes a coma. Even if they’re looked after, inevitably they die anyway unless they’re kept in intensive care, as critical portions of their horomonal regulation system cascade into failure.”

I turn pale. She can see the look of horror on my face. She can tell I lied to her.

“I’m sorry,” she says. Her voice is quiet.

I try not to think about it. It’s the sort of uncertain thing you just deny and move on.

“What now? Do they know you’re here? Aren’t I watched, bugged and tracked?” I ask.

“I think they are confident they can track you through those things on your arms. As for bugs, I scanned the house and there’s nothing. Perhaps they never expected you to have a conversation worth listening in on. You’re watched, yes of course, but not all the time. I know how to come and go so they don’t see me. I’ve been doing this sort of thing a while.”

She reaches out to touch my face and says “Goodbye Kelly. I hope you live.”

I sit there while she leaves, trying to make some sense of the brief, chaotic encounter.

The next thing I know I’m waking up, full of stiffness from sleeping in a chair at the kitchen table. For a moment I’m confused. I don’t know where I am. As I regain my bearings and remember what happened, I wonder if I dreamed the whole conversation. If I did, who moved all the unpaid bills onto the table? Who made a cup of coffee and didn’t finish it? I look for the word she wrote on the gas bill. It’s still there. Yes, she was real.



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