Loading...

Insignia


Page 57






"It opened right there because I looked at that chapter almost every day for a year. That's where I started. The first time I reprogrammed my processor, I was trying to control the dopamine. It turned out, I needed to do a lot more than that, but it was a first step."


"You just experimented with your own brain like that?"


"I had nothing to lose. My mind was gone, my career was over, my wife-" He stopped abruptly.


Silence hung on the air. Tom could practically sense Wyatt working herself up to asking something. He knew her that well by now.


"What's being crazy like?" Wyatt blurted.


Wyatt, don't, Tom thought, wincing, certain Blackburn was going to make her sorry.


Blackburn didn't answer her for a drawn-out second. Tom could hear his fingers begin drumming on the desk. "It really depends, Enslow. What's being tactless and completely inappropriate like?"


The question seemed to catch Wyatt off guard. "Oh. Oh! I'm sorry." Her footsteps thumped over, and there was a squeak as she settled in the other chair. Tom hoped they weren't getting ready for a long conversation. "I don't try to be rude," she said. "My mom flew in her old pageant coach to live with us one summer and teach me all about how to talk to people but eventually, she just told me I should try not to talk when anyone's around."


Blackburn gave a reluctant chuckle. "Fair enough." His legs stretched out, his boots settling an inch from Tom's hip. Tom leaned awkwardly to the side, away from them. "'What is being crazy like?' At the time, it felt like I was having one long moment of insight."


"Like when you get the neural processor and you just know some things you didn't before?"


"Much more powerful than that. I felt like my thoughts could burrow right through the layers of reality and see the way everything was truly interlinked.

At the time, I thought it was the processor giving me this understanding of the world. I tried sharing this new perspective, but people disregarded me. It was the most frustrating thing you can imagine. I began to suspect they were willfully ignorant. Then I grew convinced they were plotting against me. I was delusional, but I believed I was the single sane one in a world gone to madness. I began to see everything I'd once believed in, as they say, 'through a glass, darkly.' And even now, even after all this time … there are things that can't be unseen."


A heavy silence settled in the air.


"Any more awkward questions you want to get out of the way?" Blackburn prompted. "Let's do this now. I told you that trust is the most essential thing I ask of you-and I'll make every effort to return it. Better to ask me now than ask someone else later."


"Um, well, with your face … People say you tried to claw it off when you were crazy."


He laughed.


"I figured that wasn't the reason you have those scars," Wyatt went on.


"These were just my ex-wife bidding me a fond farewell. With her fingernails."


"Oh."


"Is that it?" His voice was tense. After a moment of silence, "Good. And with that, Enslow, caring-sharing hour is officially over." He rose from his seat, and Tom was finally able to stop hugging his knees to his chest. He heard Wyatt's chair squeak as she got up, too.


"I actually do know better than to ask about something like that," Wyatt blurted out.


They were moving toward the door. Tom leaned his head back against the wood behind him, relief swamping him. He'd get out of here unseen, after all.


"Then maybe there's some hope for you yet. Come on, now. Those processors aren't going to configure themselves.
" The door slid open and closed again.


Tom waited a minute to rise from beneath the desk, until he was sure Blackburn's GPS signal was back in the basement. Then he bolted safely out of the office and back into the elevator.


Consciousness initiated. The time is now 0000.


Tom had been asleep for two hours when his eyes snapped open. This never happened. He never woke up in the middle of the night.


He gazed into the darkness, confused, wondering why he was awake. He heard Vik's heavy breathing on the other side of the bunk. He threw off his covers and rose from the bed without quite knowing why he did it. His brain pulsed with the need to get out, get out into the hallway.


Tom followed it, but once he was in the hallway there was no relief from the restless feeling. He needed to leave Alexander Division, and that was off-limits after 2300, but Tom did it, anyway. He emerged right into the common room and stood there in the darkness.


What am I doing here? What am I doing? he wondered.


And then a door slid open to another division. Karl Marsters filled the doorway to Genghis. "Come on," he said, and didn't wait for Tom to plod over before heading into the hallway.



Tom scrambled after him to make it through the door before it slid back closed, even though his brain was exploding with disbelief. What was he doing? What was this?


Karl headed up the stairs to the upper-level floors of Genghis Division. He opened the door to an unoccupied bunk and Tom followed.


"All right, come on, already, Fido." Karl snapped open a case and pulled out a portable data chip attached to a neural wire.


Tom looked around. "I don't know why I'm here."


"Yeah, I got that. Take the bed. Facedown."


Tom's heart pounded harder and harder. He stretched out on his stomach, even though every instinct he had railed against the idea of this. Karl could beat him up if he wanted to, and Tom had no grounds for explaining why he was in Genghis Division on the wrong floor after lights-out.


"I was pretty mad when they said you, of all people, were gonna work with Dominion," Karl said. "That's my gig, right? But I've gotta say, it cracked me up when I found out you said no. I'm gonna love watching them neuter you, Fido. You think you're such a tough guy, don't you? Yeah, we're gonna see once you've got all these programs crammed in your brain. A few weeks from now, you'll be a vegetable."


From where he was sprawled on the mattress, Tom gritted his teeth. He'd never hated Karl so much.


"I don't want that," Tom managed when Karl approached with the wire.


"Too bad. Nighty night, Lassie." Karl clicked the wire into his brain stem.


CHAPTER SEVENTEEN


SATURDAY MORNING, THE private car arrived at 1100 and took Tom to the Beringer Club. The sign read SECURITY ON PREMISES today. Tom headed down the stairs, pressed his Challenge Coin against the retina scanner, and headed inside.


The big guy, Hayden, was there. He led Tom to a table where Dal-Mr. Prestwick was already nursing a scotch. The man surveyed him, gestured him into a seat. "Go ahead and order lunch, Tom. We're going to meet a few others with the company."


The menu blurred before Tom's eyes. He couldn't concentrate on it.


"Did Karl give you the update?" Mr. Prestwick asked.


"Oh, I sure gave it to him." Karl slouched down into the seat across from Tom's and planted his elbows on the tablecloth. "You buying us both lunch, Dalton? I was surprised you hadn't invited me. I had to pay for my own taxi. I think you owe me one."







Loading...