By: Joseph Hansen aka H.J. Harry
Klavalkian’s stern face glared from across his desk within the sparsely decorated room of the security office. There were no plaques, certificates, or awards decorating the walls. Volkov got the impression this wasn’t a personal space, but he didn’t know for sure. Upper management would always be a mystery to the hired help. Klavalkian wasn’t the man’s real name; only a select few used their real name at Tri-Fold.
Volkov didn’t know if the man had a family, played golf, or even fished. None of that mattered. What did matter was the fact that, as the security administrator, Klavalkian was a board member—and the only board member who held a physical position within the company, which made him Volkov’s boss. There was no sidestepping his authority, for within Tri-Fold, he was the end of the line.
“Yes sir, I am aware of the situations that have just arisen. I am doing my best to tally up the mistakes that have occurred due to our lack of understanding of what we were working with.”
“Mistakes?” a board member who Volkov had seen before but had never spoken with interjected with a heavy accent. Based on the woman’s rich-tan skin color, Volkov assumed she was from South or Central America. “I would hardly call something like this a simple mistake, Mister Volkov. No, I think not … an atrocity is what this is.”
“You are possibly right, board member Sanchez.” Volkov took a gamble that she was the “Sanchez” he had heard referred to in the past. “However, as I keep reminding you … we are doing things here that have never been done before, so there is no precedent for us to follow. There are going to be issues. It is simply the process of perfecting the science behind it. Everything great that has ever evolved from mankind had glitches like this. Here, the stakes are simply a bit higher. I understand that we must be extra cautious, but something is always going to slip through the cracks. We have caught it, so now we can fix it,” Volkov finished, hoping his east coast brogue hadn’t shone through.
“Thirty. That is the magic number here, Mister Volkov. Thirty times we have tried, and thirty times we have failed without noticing this issue. An issue that now seems obvious.” Klavalkian’s tone turned accusatory. “You have to admit that is a little disheartening, don’t you, Mister Volkov?”
“Yes, it is disheartening. And I agree that now we know, it does seem obvious. I have no credible explanation and can only surmise at best. I won’t waste your time with that. Instead, I will tell you our next few steps, if you will allow us to proceed.”
Volkov knew his job was on the line, as well it should be. There were people suffering for his mistake.
He continued to address the board. “I am in contact with the doctors and therapists on staff. We are meeting within the hour to discuss the recent developments in the lower commons meeting room. I am not putting any of them at fault, as this has been a learn-as-you-go process since the beginning. If you will take a moment to reflect, you will see—”
“That will be quite enough for now, Mister Volkov. You are dismissed and allowed to return to your duties,” Mister Klavalkian said, cutting off any further argument.
Experience had shown Volkov that all he could do at this point was leave without uttering so much as a syllable. The board didn’t tolerate unnecessary chit chat. The group at the table shared smiles, giving Volkov the impression they were somehow connected and could communicate without him detecting it. He turned and left, once again frustrated that he was never able to state his case. They judged him by results and with the entire facility being monitored by cameras it was easier for them to see results rather than listen to the pleas for understanding from their underling.
Volkov’s steps produced an audible squeak as the loose right heel of his shoe connected with the tiled floor. He had left his Cushman behind, knowing that a Glen would retrieve it, his need to think taking precedent over comfort. Things were happening fast, much too fast.
Cheap fricking shoes, will I never learn? Volkov cursed himself as he wondered if it was his own ineptness causing the problems. Everything at Tri-Fold was so clinical, precise with every detail accounted for, so how could this have happened?
First was Crag’s arrival from the portal. A remnant from a distant reflection now trapped in a world that could never accept him, regardless of his obvious intellect. Neanderthals tended to creep people out, not so much here in the facility but in the real world. He would be nothing but a freak show. This event, though drastic and one he had been hauled in front of the board for at another time , was nothing compared to this new revelation.
When is it going to stop? There has to be some solution. Volkov always found the solution … it was simply who he was. A “gift” is what his mother called it. his father on the other hand felt it was plain dumb luck but Volkov knew of it as something much more. He had an insight to people and situations that came naturally to him. He could predict things that would happen micro seconds before they occurred or be said in almost any given situation. It hasn’t seemed to help him in dealing with the board but on a more personal level it was surprisingly accurate. He wasn’t clairvoyant nor did he have illusions of it being some mystical power. It was more a part of being locked within the moment and feeling a part of whatever situation he was in. Reading body language and facial expressions subconsciously gave him instant prediction of the very next moment to occur in most situations. It wasn’t much but it was all he had to explain his elevated status within Tri-Fold Corporation. However despite all of this, the point remained—he had screwed up… again.
He was starting to perspire now from the exertion of his ever increasing pace. He wanted to run down to the lower level and revisit his past mistakes. He couldn’t help but feel that this new data or revelation could fix some of what had gone wrong in the past. He continued down into the bowels of the many acres complex to see if he could start on things immediately but there were procedures to follow and that meant a meeting with the medical staff was in order first.
This didn’t bother him as much as most meetings at Tri-Fold did. Things were more relaxed, and the doctors were not corporate pawns like he was. They went by their real names as opposed to the names assigned to different positions and considered themselves protected under other means than Tri-Fold, namely malpractice insurance and the Hippocratic oath. Most employees had names assigned to them as indicated by their position to keep identities sacred. Early on it was difficult getting used to having all security personnel being referred to as Glen and the technicians as Tim, be they male or female, but strangely, it worked. It seemed to keep everything on an impersonal level that was refreshing for a work place. Especially a work place such as this.
“Good afternoon, Doctors Cavanaugh, Fontaine, and of course Specialist Singh. So good of you to join me here today. I take it you are up to date on the recent developments?” Volkov scanned the three complacent faces looking back at him. “Before we get started, I want you to know that I have put a call into Julia in an attempt to get her back on the panel.”
“Don’t tell me that you are buying into her Sybil theory? That was revealed as a fraud many years ago through both public and private studies ,” Doctor Fontaine stated boldly. He was the main doctor who had pushed for Julia’s dismissal when she revealed the path she was taking in their research. Volkov should have figured that he would have some protests on her return, providing she decided to come back into the fold.
“Yes, well … I think under traditional standards you are correct in your opinions; however, these are not traditional standards, and we have to start thinking of things in a much more metaphysical manner if we are to have any hopes of correcting this issue. Our experiments—or trials, if you will—are going to continue, although we are adapting the format so we may utilize the recent data that has come into being. What we need to focus on is what we are going to do with the past cases that we have deemed as failures.”
“It was my understanding that we are not to refer to past cases as failures, Mister Volkov.” Specialist Singh’s Mandarin accent seemed to add a hint of mockery to her tone.
“That is correct, Specialist; however, I feel we now have a chance to turn those issues around. They drag upon us as failures simply because that is what they are, no matter the dialog we choose to use.” The room fell silent as each of the doctors found the top of the table an interesting thing to focus on. “I am taking a lot of heat for us not realizing … worse yet, not even having an inkling that this phenomenon was occurring. It took a Tim fresh from training to come up with the solution, and I tell you what … she is making us all look bad,” Volkov said, knowing secretly there was someone with more training behind the discovery.
Specialist Singh lifted her eyes to meet his. “It’s not about looking better or worse, Mister Volkov—”
“No, Specialist Singh, it isn’t a competition. It is new research that we are feeling our way through on a daily basis. That being said, I need you to be aware that we need results. If we don’t deliver something soon, especially in light of this new data, we might as well pack it in and go home, providing we are allowed to go home.” There, the unspoken fear has been mentioned.
“About that, Mister Volkov,” Doctor Fontaine spoke up. All eyes turned toward him, wondering if he had something of value to say for once. It was rare that the doctor had anything to say, since his focus was on the ethics end of things, as opposed to the medical interest. He did not disappoint. “I have concerns about how we are obtaining this new data. There are some human rights issues that should be discussed before we go any further.”
“Go any further? I don’t know what boat you crawled off of, but there is no stopping now,” Volkov said, exasperated by this new development.
“Mister Volkov, we are stealing people’s memories without permission. There is a violation of ethics there, and it needs to be addressed before we move forward. I am not willing to risk the rights of those who are under our care,” Doctor Fontaine said stoically.
“Rights? Why are we caring about rights when we have them locked up for their own safety as well as the safety of society? You were the one who determined that over half of them would never be fit for society again, and now, suddenly, you’re concerned about their rights? Kind of strange that this comes up once we may finally a have solution to their woes, isn’t it, Doctor?” Volkov struggled to keep from screaming.
“What are you suggesting, Mister Volkov?” Fontaine replied indignantly.
Volkov struggled to get his anger under control. He looked at the window in the door for a second, hoping that could offer some respite. He turned back to the group at the table, calmer yet still determined. “Okay, I will have the legal department look at it and let the board decide what we are to do, but until then we work. Agreed?”
Volkov waited while Fontaine stared at the table, struggling with the tentative solution. “I need an answer and I need it now, Doctor.”
After another hesitation, Doctor Fontaine nodded his head in resignation. He knew the terms of his contract with Tri-Fold as well as anybody; he, too, was bought and paid for.
“Excuse me for a minute while I take this,” Volkov said as his phone started buzzing in his breast pocket. “Yeah, Volkov here.” He answered the phone tersely, knowing that a call usually meant something bad.
“Yes, Mister Volkov, I am calling to tell you we have another infiltrator trying to access our systems.”
“Infiltrator, what do you mean another infiltrator? A hacker?”
“The alien or energy source? It seems there is another one that has entered through a portal and is attempting to get into the systems.”
“You have the altered firewalls up, don’t you?”
“Yes sir. They seem to be slowing it down, but they will not stop it permanently.” The tone of the Tim on the other end was more than a little stressed by this turn of events.
“Well … what is it doing?”
“It seems to be gravitating toward the collider. We have it boxed in temporarily, but if it makes a hard push … I don’t know that we could stop it.” The Tim finished and Volkov took a moment to absorb the data.
“Listen to me very carefully. The collider is critical,” Volkov said, knowing that an unknown source accessing the collider could have devastating effects, let alone the dark matter contained within. “I want security to station a Glen at every electrical outlet and two on every panel. Arm them with containment guns and send a video link of how Bob caught the first one to their phones. I will be there within the hour.” He closed his phone and stared off toward nothing for a few seconds, the day’s events obviously wearing on him. Then he shook his head and looked at the doctors.
“We’re out of time, Doctors. Let’s go talk to some patients.” Volkov headed toward the door, expecting the highly educated to follow.
“Mister Volkov, there are still some issues to be resolved,” Doctor Fontaine said to the retreating form.
“No time, Doctor Fontaine. People much more important than we are will make those decisions and get back to us with whatever they decide. It is time for the grunts to head to the trenches.” With that, he turned and headed out into the hallway. He hopped into his Cushman that a Glen had brought for him and waited. Specialist Singh came and sat next to him. He waited for the other two to come out and get into one of their own Cushmans.
Doctor Fontaine sat at the table, looking at the door that Volkov had just passed through then looked at Doctor Cavanaugh with a defiant smirk.
“I don’t know who he thinks he is,” Fontaine said.
“I agree. He is pushing people way above his pay grade. In my op—”
The simultaneous ringing of their phones opened their eyes wide with surprise. They answered wordlessly, knowing what was on the other end. The two doctors tried not to look at each other as they listened, but they were obviously in similar conversations. They both stood at the same time and walked quickly toward the door that Volkov had just gone through. One said yes, sir at the same moment the other said yes, ma’am before ending their respective calls and sliding their phones into their pockets.
Volkov watched both coldly but said nothing as they crawled into their own Cushman. He swooped around them, knowing they would follow this time.
Side by side in the elevators, the electric-powered Cushmans allowed for conversation but there was none. He knew the doctors were busy with taking care of the staff and physicals for the subjects before insertion. However, there still were critical issues to be dealt with in the containment ward. He always suspected the doctors weren’t spending much time here and today he would find out.
They stared at the door as the large elevator made its way down seven stories into the ground. Volkov knew that none of the doctors would be fired today; their services were too valuable to Tri-Fold. He hoped he could prove that they were simply stretched too thin, and he might possibly get a couple more recruited. It would help to have Julia back on board, but that still wouldn’t be enough. The size and scope of what they were dealing with was growing exponentially.
The doors opened and they entered the emptiest hall in the complex. Where there were typically people in lab coats or suits running to and fro on this floor there was no one. They could hear the clanking as attendants put together the night’s meal or cleaned up after the last one, and they could see a light on in a room down the hall ahead of them, where a shadow played against the white wall. This area wasn’t dingy, per se, as much as it was Spartan. The outside world would never see it, so the hallways weren’t bright, and the floor was smooth with unpainted concrete as opposed to tile. The area was well ventilated and dry, but you could smell the clinical scent instantly.
Volkov led them to a door that required an electrical ID badge and his thumb print, which was then repeated by each person in turn, documenting their visit. They parked their Cushmans in a wide foyer, and he gathered them in to discuss their destination.
“I am assuming you understand the case of Anton Bishop?” Volkov asked, not surprised to see Specialist Singh nod her head as the other two stared at him blankly. “I was afraid of that. Specialist Singh, would you care to enlighten the doctors on this particular case.” Just as he finished the request, the door opened, allowing an attractive but hurried woman in her mid-thirties to enter.
“Julia, or Doctor Jules, it is nice of you to join us. I am surprised that you are still on site.” Mister Volkov said, good naturedly.
“Yes, well … it seems you can’t really get fired from Tri-Fold. They had me upstairs moderating the physical stats of those in the field. It wasn’t a bad gig, though rather tedious. So what are we up to now?”
“I was just about to explain the Anton case to the doctors here,” Specialist Singh said.
“Ah, carry on then … hopefully you won’t mind if I fill in some gaps since he was the case study where I developed my hypothesis.”
“Ahhh, your Sybil theory,” Doctor Fontaine said, slightly mocking her.
“Yes, that is what you called it, doctor, but only because you did not listen to the nuances that differentiate it from your mocking reference. As I said to you before, we are in uncharted territory here and must look at things differently. Our physical world is no longer physical, and we have to adapt to that fact.” Doctor Jules stated her case in a tone that said she was not going to put up with his crap and probably never had.
“You two can hash out your problems later. Carry on, Specialist.”
“Well, Anton Bishop was first inserted into a reflection of the early 1800s as far as we can tell. We know it was open range, and he was probably inserted into a person who was a cattle rustler or rancher. The requirements of the mind of the host subject being weakened created the situation where Anton’s insertion in the host’s life at the exact moment the man was swarmed under a stampede of horses and cattle. Currently he is in his bed and hasn’t moved without assistance for the year and a half since his retrieval. The only sound he makes are screams during physical therapy, when the nurses have to move him for circulatory purposes. We have yet to know what his physical issues are.”
“Doctor Jules has a theory on that, but Doctors Fontaine and Cavanaugh brushed it off, which is a habit that has to stop. We are supposed to work together; this is not a pissing match,” Volkov said firmly, wondering where that particular cliché had come from. “Julia, would you care to elaborate?”
“Thank you, Mister Volkov. It is simple, actually. Anton Bishop was aware during the stampede and felt every hoof that landed on him as it crushed the life out of the host’s body … or so we thought. He feels that every bone in his body was crushed and broken, and he lives that pain every day.”
Doctor Cavanaugh shuddered. “That’s horrible. I can’t, for the life of me, see a way to help him with that unless we incorporate some synthetics,” he said, referring to the manmade narcotics that were on hand.
“It is also impossible,” Doctor Fontaine interjected. “The human mind is simply not capable of surviving that sort of trauma. He would be a vegetable, if you would pardon the term.”
“Yeah, I’m sure he would love the drugs.” Doctor Jules took her turn to be sarcastic. “You see, he is not a vegetable in the sense that you are implying, as his mind still works. However, with what that mind is doing, along with being unable to use any part of his body, he is somewhat of a vegetable—or locked within a vegetative state.” She paused to see if there was going to be more discussion on the matter. “Considering this new revelation of being able to capture a flash of their memory during the retrieval, I have developed a theory that I would like to try. We could do it right now, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“By all means, Doctor. Lead the way,” Volkov said, hardly hiding his excitement that something might possibly come of this so quickly.
They walked down the hall and entered Anton’s room. The man lay still on his cot, his body limp and his head turned to the side. He had an IV in his arm, and Volkov was pleased to see that his bedding and clothes were clean and fresh.
“Anton?” His eyes rolled up to look at Doctor Jules. He smiled as if he was happy to see her after her two week hiatus. She smiled in return before she continued. “Hi, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I had to come see you today because I wanted to tell you the news. You have been here over a year and a half, and x-rays show that your bones have sufficiently knitted. Do you understand what that means?” she asked, and he gave the slightest shake of his head as if he hardly dared to move even that small amount. “It means that you can move again—possibly in time, walk.”
His eyes widened hopefully. The whole time he was here, nobody had mentioned broken bones, though he knew that was what the problem was. His jaw was broken so he couldn’t talk, and his hands were broken so he couldn’t write. The memories of that horrifying day and the crippling pain that ran through his being haunted his dreams. On impulse, his hand jerked a little and he felt it … it didn’t hurt.
Anton was a smaller kid who had survived his neighborhood by being sneaky, able to go where others couldn’t. Tougher guys took him under their wings due of his ability to acquire things without getting caught. His record had been almost perfect until the apartment where the old couple from out of state had surprised him with their presence. He killed them and got away; however, he left his prints and other DNA. Six months later, he was busted stealing coin boxes at a laundromat and the computer spit out his name on multiple past crimes, one of which was a murder. Tried, convicted, and sent to prison, his sentence was intercepted by Tri-Fold. It was then that he proceeded to become one of their biggest failures to date, with the exception of a few who had died.
“Okay, so we have to try something here just to make sure we are correct. Slowly now, open your jaw just a little bit. Slowly, gentle …”
Anton slowly opened his jaw, and Doctor Jules smiled. “There we go now. I’m sure that you feel some muscle pain from lack of use, but that will loosen up with time. Now let’s put that together with some air so I can hear your voice for once. You know that I have known you for a while and never heard you speak. Let’s start with something easy. Can you tell me your name?”
Anton worked his jaw around as if he was feeling his face for the first time. He frowned then smiled before he puckered, only to smack his lips somewhat loudly, which ended in a more genuine smile.
“Okay, Anton, say your name,” Doctor Jules said as Specialist Singh looked on expectantly and Doctors Fontaine and Cavanaugh somewhat skeptically.
“My name is Ivan,” Anton replied.
“No honey, it isn’t … but we’ll get that all sorted out in time.”
Thirsty for more?
Wayward Son by Joseph Hansen will be available June 8, 2017.
This short story is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may be loaned or given away to other people. If you would like to share this short story with another person, please do so at your leisure. If you’re reading this story… This is a work of fiction. Any similarities to real persons, events, or places are purely coincidental; any references to actual places, people, or brands are fictitious.