Chapter 3A Chapter by Domenic Luciani
Adding some character depth and introducing a few new ones as well.
Not long after, two representatives from the company flocked to him like a pair of bloodthirsty corporate vultures. Beck pretended to listen as they quickly perused through various legal processes available to him and nodded halfheartedly when they tried to tell him what a tragic event it must have been, to see the loss of a subject like that. As the head of the department, they said, failure must have been so bitter. Boo-hoo. Fake pats of sympathy. A card if he needed someone to talk to.
Nobody cared that under the misguided hand of science a young boy had been murdered. Worse, it had been Beck himself who murdered him. He had known that the other departments were not as sympathetic to the human subjects as he was, and that these things happened, but he had somehow always managed to find solace in the fact that he had never had a hand in it himself. Now, what resolve he had left was crumbling away.
Something vibrated in his coat pocket, which he suddenly realized was interspersed with black scorch marks, holes and tears. He ignored them for now and found his phone in the side pocket. He opened up his mail and looked at the message from the head office. It was a formal message from the chairman, asking for Beck’s immediate presence in his office.
After a solid amount of cursing and air-punching, Beck made his way across the skyway that connected MedTech labs to the MedTech hospital and entered the building proper. It was like any other hospital; doctors treating patients, nurses sat at computers, and people brought balloons and cards to their sick relatives. The patients were all too happy to be treated. They were entirely unaware of the death, suffering, trafficking, and mutilation that went in to produce every single pill or drop of medicine that they take.
Sometimes he would take a walk through here, just to set his mind at ease that at least some of the pain they were causing would be alleviated here. But they angered him now. Pretentious, life-sucking mounds of flesh, all of them. He gritted his teeth and kept walking.
Beck managed to find his way to the chairman’s office on the top floor without too much trouble, but it was a younger woman who greeted him there. The chairman was just leaving a meeting and would be there shortly. She showed him to the waiting area. The room was square with a slightly raised platform in the middle. Hard metal benches ringed the platform and there was a small garden in the middle with a carefully pruned tree in the center.
He sat down on one of the benches and waited alone. Nobody came in, and the only sound was the distant hum of air conditioning. It was always on in the hospital, Beck thought, even when the air was freezing outside, the air coming out of the vents would be cold in here. He shivered and readjusted himself on the bench. It was angled weird and he couldn’t get comfortable. They weren’t padded either, so when the woman finally returned to tell him that the Chairman was ready to see him, he couldn’t feel his a*s.
The Chairman’s office was enormous. Instead of the sterile white and brightly lit offices like Beck’s, the Chairman’s was floor to ceiling wood of various types and shades. By comparison, it was also a great deal dimmer, primarily lit up by accented lighting and sepia-toned lamps. The ceilings were high and many of the walls had bookcases laid into them.
The Chairman wasn’t seated, but standing off in a corner gazing at a tablet screen; its white glow illuminating his pallid face and drawn features.
Beck stood until the Chairman ordered him to sit. This chair was much more forgiving on his butt. The Chairman sat down.
“I’ve been looking at the data Eric pulled from your computer,” he started. Eric must be sausage fingers, Beck thought, rewinding to earlier in the day. “I have some concerns that I would like addressed.”
“Sir, with all due respect, I am working at a satisfactory pace, I"”
“I am not interested in your work just yet,” the Chairman said without making eye contact. “What concerns me, as of late, is your activities outside the facility. You may recall that earlier today, your friend . . . Stephen? Was apprehended in subway terminal B3. Do you know what his crime was?”
Beck knew it was a rhetorical question but he could not stop himself. “Chairman. . . .” he paused to think of something to say. “The treatment of the subjects is abhorrent. How can we continue to use them"use children"for these things? There must be another way; a better way.”
The Chairman’s expression did not change. “Doctor Huxley, are you familiar with the Bible, the story of creation, or Jesus Christ?
Beck hesitated a moment. “No sir, of course not.”
“A long time ago, people used to believe that there was an all-powerful being in the sky. They relied on him for guidance, for support, and for love. Whenever something happened that could not be explained through science, they credited his divine power. This God had a son who walked among the people many thousands of years ago, and told the people to worship God and have faith in something that they could not see. Naturally, there was retribution, and there were those who believed and those who did not. For the sake of the people, God’s son, Jesus Christ, went willingly to his death. For many years after that, people looked upon that event as a gift to mankind. These children are sacrificing themselves for the greater good of mankind, just like Jesus Christ did.”
“Chairman, these children are not divine. There’s no symbolism in their deaths for people to see. They’re not changing the world in any way other than being guinea pigs for a bunch of scientists who don’t know when to quit. They are not martyrs.”
“Doctor Huxley, I am not interested in jumping into a argument of morality with you. You do not know our country’s history, so it is understandable that you question whether what we do here is right or wrong, but I can assure you from personal experience that this is the better option.” The chairman tapped his finger on the desk upon every syllable for emphasis. “In your lifetime, we have never seen a war. You don’t know the pain it causes the world"the scars upon humanity that will never heal. The countless mothers who never saw their children again. You don’t know what it does to people’s minds: it warps them until people are ready to rip each other’s throats out. Martyrdom? There was a pandemic of martyrdom. People died left and right because they believed what they were doing was right.” The chairman had been speaking calmly up to this point but now rose out of his chair and pointed threateningly at Beck. “I’ve seen it. I know what the blood of fallen friends and loved ones tastes like. I know what it sounds like to hear a mother weep for her lost child. I was there. I know.”
“If you know the pain it causes, then why continue this? Just end it!” Beck cried.
“Because, Doctor Huxley, I chose the lesser evil. I could have convinced the politicians to go to war so we could test out our creations on the enemy. Fire a nuclear missile and wipe out countless millions in a second. Arm our soldiers with weapons that could shred a man in two with the push of a button. I could have ordered you to lob one of your formulas at a family cowering in their home and watched them turn to trees. It would be easier to kill a man, knowing you would never have to look into the eyes he didn’t have.”
Beck was speechless. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair, trying desperately to think of something, really anything, to say.
When Beck’s pause grew too long, the chairman sat back down and continued in his usual tone. “You will be watched, Beck Huxley, very closely. Think of it as a sort of probationary period. From now on, I want you to report any data you collect directly to me, along with your notes. You are treading on very thin ice, doctor. I would hate for you to slip and fall through.”
Beck stared distantly off into space, his mind locked up, unable to process a single coherent thought. Through the haze, he managed to perceive that the chairman had stopped talking and took it as his queue to leave. He stood up and made for the door, but the Chairman cut him off.
“One more thing doctor Huxley,” he said leaning in close to Beck. “If you ever try to steal, or devalue one of my subjects again, I will have you arrested, and your son . . . well, let’s just leave it at that for now.”
Beck left without acknowledging the chairman’s threat, but it had really gotten to him. His work had not gone unnoticed, and even more suspiciously, unpunished . . . So far. A part of his mind was yelling at him for his stupidity. You are not some vigilante, you are not a revolutionary, you don’t know the first thing about anything besides plants. Stick to what you know.
‘Fortune favors the bold’"the phrase jumped into Beck’s head, though it was not immediately familiar to him; did he read it somewhere? Not likely, books were either ‘revised’ history texts, or some form of subtle city propaganda. Fortune favors the obedient is more like it, he thought.
Beck barely managed to make it back into MedTech laboratories. Every window, every fire escape, every ventilation shaft seemed like a viable exit to freedom. A quick leap and he could leave everything behind. But he couldn’t do it. He still had Tyler if nothing else"in fact he didn’t have anything else. Screw research, he thought angrily. Screw this company, screw everyone in it, and screw the whole city. As he walked, he brushed the hair on the back of his head up and down, up and down, until it felt numb.
Up and down.
When Beck finally made it back to his office, the first thing he did was message Andrew to meet him there. He paced back and forth and around his desk, trying to figure out if he was absolutely certain that he wanted to do this. No, he wasn’t. Nothing of what he was thinking made any sense at all, but the idea of coming to work every day and knowing that there would probably be cameras set up to watch his every move"hell, there were probably cameras watching him right now"was unbearable. Beck glanced around quickly, trying to spot a black dot on the wall or a lens hidden in the leaves of the plants. Of course not, he was probably just paranoid. But still"
Andrew entered the room as Beck was making his sixth lap around the desk. Without hesitation, Beck said, “I need you to do something for me.”
“Yeah, sure,” Andrew said, giving Beck a curious look. “Anything.”
Beck glanced around the room, the idea of cameras still looming over him like a giant pair of eyes. He snatched a piece of paper from his desk and scribbled down a message. He finished and handed it to Andrew who frowned and read it.
“Are you nuts?” Andrew asked incredulously. He began a weak laugh but stopped as soon as he saw the look on Beck’s face. “Beck, this is crazy. You’ve gone completely insane if you’re serious about this.”
“I am serious about this.”
“Beck, I. . . .”
“It’ll be fine. Just do it. You can say afterwards that I threatened you at gunpoint.”
“But you wouldn’t do that, Beck.”
Beck went around to his desk and whipped out the electric taser holstered in a hidden compartment underneath it.
“Andrew, I need you to understand how serious I am about this.” He pointed the prongs at Andrew and hovered his finger over the trigger. Andrew’s eyes went wide, and he breathed in deeply.
“Jeezes, Beck, relax"just take it easy. Where are you planning on going anyways? You know they’ll be looking for you.”
“I don’t know yet exactly, but I’ll be damned if I stay here. I’ll find some way to contact you once I figure something out.”
“Yeah, be sure to do that.” He glanced around nervously as if he had caught on to the fact that cameras might be watching them. “Take care of yourself Beck. Don’t do anything stupid.”
“You know, I really wish you’d have given me that advice when they offered me that promotion. Then we wouldn’t be in this mess at all.”
“I don’t know, Beck,” Andrew said, smiling. “Somehow I always knew you’d end up pointing a gun at me one of these days.”
Beck couldn’t help but smile, too.
“Twenty minutes,” Andrew said, growing serious again.
Beck nodded and looked at his wristwatch. Should be just enough time.
They left the room together, Beck still pointing the taser at Andrew’s back as they walked for the sake of appearances. If they were going to see this footage, they would see Beck, crazy and wild and poor Andrew just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. When they got to the elevator, Beck gave Andrew a jab in the back for good measure.
“Easy with that thing, Beck, you could hurt someone with it.”
The elevator doors closed and Andrew gave Beck one final wink as goodbye. He was alone now. The full impact of what he was doing hit him like a bullet train and he felt dizzy for a moment. He opened up the briefcase he had carried out with him and stashed the taser into it, next to the two remaining vials of the formula that he just couldn’t bear to part with after all this time. He got on the next elevator and rode it to the floor just beneath ground level, the Department of Biological Symbiosis Research. The DPSR was known to the public for researching how different species of animals interacted with one another, though their main job was actually the genetic splicing of animal species to create deadly half-breeds. The scientists here were famous for tossing their human subjects in with their most aggressive concoctions and employed a famous gambling ring betting on how long they would survive.
Beck walked through the hallways without any confrontation. Nobody questions a department head taking a leisurely stroll. He slipped into the room where the human subjects were taken and had a quick look around. This was the worst part. He could only take one, so he had to choose whoever had the best chance of survival. Three of the cells were occupied. The closest cell held a boy so emaciated, Beck wasn’t entirely sure he was even still alive. One of the middle cells was a little girl who was clearly crying, but the soundproof glass silenced the noise. Beck tore himself away to inspect the final cell which was occupied by a girl, maybe the same age as Tyler, perhaps a bit younger. She was laying on the bed with her arms folded behind her head and a leg propped up on the other. Tyler often made the same pose when he listened to his music. He looked once more at the other children. The boy probably wouldn’t survive past the door, and the little girl would likely scream the whole way, or otherwise prove unmanageable. He thought about bringing her, too, but it just seemed too suspicious. No, he had to make the difficult decision.
Beck slid his access key through the lock on the door and opened it once the green light flashed. He went in and shook the girl who immediately jumped up and shoved him hard against the wall.
“Gimme the key,” She growled. Her hair was shoulder-length and a dark brown, the grime-coated locks pushed back behind her ears. Her face was small and round with freckles dabbled around her nose and her eyes were a stormy grey. They reminded him of the sky that morning"a lifetime ago when everything was normal.
“No, you don’t get it,” Beck said, delicately trying to push her off. “I’m here to get you out.”
“Why would you do that?” She asked, keeping her firm grip on Beck’s jacket.
“Trust me, I have my reasons, but I’ll explain later. We don’t have a whole lot of time.”
The girl hesitated. “Why the hell should I trust some guy in a lab coat? All you a******s have done for me so far is jack me from my home, poke and prod me with that laser s**t, and lock me up in the box.”
“Alright, to be honest, you have no reason to trust me. There’s nothing I can do right now to prove to you that I mean what I say, but right now, we’re both fugitives. You can either come with me, or stay here. Your choice.”
The girl released her grip on Beck’s coat. “You got a weapon or something?”
“A taser, why?”
Beck backed away defensively.
“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna use it on you. At least not yet. Consider it an insurance policy.”
After a second of hesitation, Beck opened his briefcase and handed the girl the taser. She hooked it onto the waistband of her pants and strolled out of the cell. “I’m Sam, by the way.
“Here,” Beck said, throwing his lab coat over her. “You’ll be a little less noticeable.”
“What about Christine?”
Sam looked towards the crying girl in the other cell.
“No, we don’t have time, and we’ll be too noticeable.”
Alli seemed to consider this a moment and then nodded gravely. She turned followed Beck to the door.
As they headed to the elevator, A couple of beefy security guards got in their way and Beck’s heart nearly stopped.
“Excuse us, Doctor Huxley,” one said. “You shouldn’t be wondering around.”
Another said, “We’ll escort you back down to your office.”
This is it, Beck thought, his throat going dry. End of the road. A giant ‘Game Over’ flashes in front of the screen. Oh well, at least if they don’t end up taking the girl, maybe she could escape on her own. As for him, he was absolutely, royally"
The floor shook violently as a colossal blast from somewhere beneath them sent a shockwave through the entire building. The walls cracked and the lights flickered repeatedly. Beck saw now that Sam had been slowly easing the taser from beneath the folds of the lab coat, but the guards were completely distracted. They all pressed their fingers to their ears and started talking quickly into tiny receivers. They ran off down the hall, presumably to find out where the bomb had gone off.
Beck now had a clear shot to the exit. If the God the chairman had told him about was real, maybe this was one of those miracles he had mentioned. Beck made a mad dash for the elevators, deciding at the last minute to take the stairwells instead. He hadn’t come all this way to get stuck in elevator now. Alli was right behind him.
They took the stairs two or three at a time. When they finally got the ground floor, Beck was sweaty and exhausted. He wasn’t a particularly fit man, and the remainder of his adrenaline had run empty long ago.
A second blast went off as they cleared the lobby. Fire alarms were going off all over the place and much of the facility had already been evacuated. A large crowd of men and women in scrubs and lab coats had gathered on the sidewalk outside in the rain. They were confused and talking to each other in excited voices. Beck and Alli moved slowly through the crowd, catching their breaths and catching a few fragmented stories of what had happened.
By the time the fire and medical trucks pulled up outside MedTech laboratories, Beck Huxley and the girl, Sam, had already slipped away, unseen.
© 2012 Domenic Luciani
Added on February 16, 2012
Last Updated on February 22, 2012
Forest of Men
AboutThat is my real name, and that is really me in the picture. Like Patrick says, I'm not in the witness protection program. I mostly write books and stories. I like fantasy, or fiction, but if.. more..
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