[personal profile] walk_ins

Dr. Jarden isn't a bad man. He knows this. Only the thing is, it's so hard to find work these days. Important people in important places lost interest in his field of expertise after the Saranac event (three years gone, now; how time flies), and Jarden has a mortgage, his wife wants a new kitchen, and soon enough they're going to have to pay for special classes for Janey. (They shouldn't really have had her, not at their age, the doctors had told him with a you should know sort of look. But the house had seemed so empty with Ira gone, off interning at dear old St. Lucy's and doing his daddy proud. And - well, Jarden had counted. Janey was conceived on that night. Their own little miracle.)

A man's got obligations, is the point, and that's what helps Dr. Jarden a little every time he swipes his card and lets the computer scan his retinas and takes the elevator down to the labs. There are large sections still cordoned off, sections Dr. Jarden wouldn't have clearance for even if they weren't still undergoing repairs. There'd been an accident, or something; Jarden's not clear on the details. He hadn't been here when it happened - near three years ago as well, that was, although so far as he can make out, it was a while after Saranac. An explosion, or an earthquake maybe. The records never seem to specify. Whatever it was, it did gorram thoroughly for Dyton Colony's Blue Sun Tech Research Centre, and the only bits that were left were the ones that were deep enough underground.

What's left is still extensive, though, and Jarden can never quite squash the morbid fear that he'll get lost down here, tap tap tapping along the sterile, blue-lit corridors until the only thing that's left of him is his voice, whistling on the way to work for the rest of eternity. He shivers, and the tune dies in his mouth as he approaches his own little corner of the maze (leased now to a subsidiary of Blue Sun's), which is just as well, because he's not sure his bosses would appreciate it. The irony isn't lost on Jarden, either.

Thirty million on Miranda, colonists and unafraid...

If all goes well, though, this'll be the last time. He's finished what he was paid to do, the work that'll see Janey through school and get her the help she needs, and all that's left is a demonstration. Swissssh, clunk: the heavy door closes behind him, and then Dr. Jarden damn near jumps out of his skin.

Of course. It's only the inspectors, sent down from on high in their twin black suits. But for a moment, he'd thought...

Impossible, naturally - they've taken all the necessary precautions - yet still not something you want to spring on a man first thing in the morning. The North Central bureaucrats watch impassively as a red-faced Jarden collects himself, but before he can think of a wise to crack, one of them speaks.

"We received your memo." Obviously, Jarden thinks. "It is ready for deployment?"

"Yes - uh, yes," he replies, still a bit flustered. "Everything was set up last night for the demonstration, so if you'll just - "

The suits fall obediently into line, and follow him through another set of doors, and another. Where is everybody today?, he wonders. Their footsteps echo strangely down the hall, past the rows of - rooms. The rows of rooms. Jarden refuses to think of them as cells. They're all empty now, of course. All is silent. He's not a bad man.

Finally, the last one; they go through one final door, and loop around to an observation window: one-way, and reinforced.

The room isn't soundproof on this side, and the noises filter though: grunts, and growls, and horrible and somehow liquid sounds as what's inside takes its rage out on the only thing available - itself.

This one was on death row, just like all the others (so the records say, and Jarden prefers to believe them). And the others - it was humane. Compared to what they would have had. They all looked happy; not a care in the world. However, that meant they had to keep trying, patient after patient, until they found a viable case.

One who didn't lie down when they pumped more than air through the small vents, high in the wall.

"Gentlemen," he says, "if you'll excuse me for just a moment, I have one or two last-minute..."

Last-minute nothing, really, but Jarden thinks he ought to be wearing his lab coat for this, for no reason he can properly explain. That, and he needs to actually fetch the... thing. The Device, he calls it, since if this project was ever given a name, nobody thought to tell him. He's only the one building the gorram thing. Christ. When he comes back, box in hand and properly dressed for the occasion, he's disconcerted to see that the suits haven't moved at all, still staring with that same disinterested expression at the specimen behind the glass.

"Right," he says, with painful cheer, and runs his hand along the smooth edges of the box to pop the catch. The metal feels unpleasantly slick under his hands, and he's glad to put it down. "As you know, the original design for this was based on the, uh, the model you sent down to us - "

The slim little silver wand, the one that flashed a pretty little warning and then drained the human body of blood faster than Jarden had ever wanted to know it could be done (the record: eight point six seconds). He'd been relieved to finally take it apart; once it was in bits, once the clean, sinister shape of the wand was dismantled, everything became academic. Easier to study. Fascinating, even, at least to Dr. Jarden's degrees in biochemistry, neurology, et cetera (he's modest). How A reacted to B, how this frequency made the body do that, how that frequency made the mind do this, how even slight variations in modulation could have astoundingly different effects. The difficult part, of course, hadn't been turning it from a weapon into something else, but figuring out how to target the signal, though really his team had been very efficient in breaking down the (he pauses delicately, here) - the relevant chemical compound, in translating the corresponding neural patterns into appropriate electromagnetic hooks, and then... and then Jarden realises that the North Central visitors are giving him that same blank look, are tuning out his babble - give, in fact, not one hóuzi de pìgu how it was made to work, so long as it works.

Well then.

He passes it over, and because they're the guests, he lets them push the button.

The stylus-sized wand clicks quietly, and two thinner rods slide out, one to each side: a black, three-pronged fork, no longer or wider than a man's hand.

For a moment, nothing happens.

And then, like a beast hearing something on the wind, its head snaps up. And - CRASH - the observation window (one-way, reinforced) - CRASH - rattles in its frame, as the thing on the other side - CRASH - flings itself against the glass, shrieking death and rancid hunger. It leaves blood on the pane, and other fluids, too.

Jarden flinches; the suits don't.

It doesn't stop, not even after Suit #1 pushes the button again, puts the sleeping Device back into its box, puts the box inside his briefcase. But they've seen what they came to see, and they can move on. Jarden's seen it all before, of course, enough times that it shouldn't matter. And yet here, now, he still feels a little sick.

But a man's got obligations, and this one's nearly through, so he shows his guests through to the tech room (still empty; why?) and offloads the rest of the things - fewer than half a dozen, all told. And then, because he needs a glass of water, he offers them coffee and excuses himself to the cafeteria (empty). He's a little while coming back; he couldn't find the filters, and he didn't really hurry to look. But, because he's feeling a little better (inclined to be grateful that his part in all this is over, for the fact that they won't have to pinch any more pennies, for the fact that his daughter will have everything she deserves), he brings along a little plate of biscuits too. He snarfs one of the ones with jam in the middle on the way back.

He backs through the door, a company-logo'd mug in each hand, and the plate balanced on the left. Turning, he sees the suits lowering their hands from their ears, and says "Did the PA system go static-y?", spraying crumbs, right as Suit #2 slides a slim silver wand from his breast pocket.



November 2009

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