There have been delays. We’ve been dealing with a sick guinea pig, Missy, who sadly didn’t make it and is now in the first grave in our garden. There is a marker stone, uninscribed so far, and a large stone slab to deter foxes from digging up the corpse. The remaining guinea pig now has to face the night alone for the first time.
There were other delays but that was the most important one, I’d say. Anyway, work must continue and so, here is chapter 16 of Panoptica.
Panoptica: Chapter 16
“Okay, Doc, you can bring her out of it now.”
Doc’s deep voice held a hint of mirth. “She’s been awake for a few minutes already. She’s listening.”
10538 sniffed. How does he know? He opened his eyes. “I’m awake.”
Three – Sally – looked down at him. “How are you feeling?”
“Rested. And confused. Why can’t I see Doc?”
Three looked up, a hard stare in her eyes.
Doc cleared his throat. “She woke last night, I gave her a sedative, but we did talk awhile.”
“This is delicate work, Doc. She doesn’t know what’s happening to her. None of us know what’s going to happen.” Three’s lips were tight. She seemed angry.
“Well anyway, she knows me now.” Doc moved into 10538’s line of sight. “She seemed to accept me.” He hoisted up his waistband. “Look, I took out a lot of chips. Like I said, we have no idea what half of them were for. I think we’ve removed a lot of suppressors of all kinds along with the ones we do know about.” He smiled at 10538. “I think she’s getting her own mind back.”
“I have questions.” 10538 licked his lips. It felt wrong, but he had to ask.
Three’s eyes widened. “Questions? One-zeros do not question.”
Doc laughed. “I think she’s gone way beyond her programming now. She’s coming out of Panoptica’s spell.”
Panoptica? Another question.
10538 took a moment to compose himself. “Doc is just Doc, with no designation. How do I determine his rank? And you, Three, are also called Sally. How does that work? Then you use words like ‘she’ and ‘her’. What does that mean?”
Three leaned back in her chair and stretched her arms over her head. “Those are complex questions, and it’ll take time to answer them. It’ll be easier when that chip is out of your head.”
10538 said nothing, just stared at the twin mounds on Three’s chest. Is that cancer? Can Doc fix it?
Three lowered her arms to her sides. “Doc, how long before you can take that thing out?”
“I’m not sure. Could be a long time, if I can ever fully do it. It’s really well embedded and it’s suppressing memories from her whole life. Taking it out will be a hell of a shock and could cause permanent damage.”
Three looked at the ceiling for a moment. “She can’t stay strapped to a bed forever. We have to get her out of this cage. She’s no use to us in here.”
“I know. I think I have a possible solution.” Doc moved past 10538’s head and out of sight. “We’ll talk about it after this session.”
“Okay, 10538.” Three clasped her hands and leaned forward. “I know you have a lot of questions and we’ll answer all of them, I promise. But first we’re going to take you back a bit further and see what you remember.”
10538 closed his eyes as more walls collapsed in his mind. The screens. His screens. Ghost! The bus. Walking then talking. The news… it all came together.
“I saw a ghost on my screens. It was… it was 71556. The one I was on the train with. How could I have forgotten? I was on the train with the terrorist.” 10538 strained against the restraints, then relaxed. “So it was true. The train wasn’t taking us to Pensionville. They wouldn’t send a terrorist there.” He stared into Three’s eyes. “Why were they sending me to be cancelled?”
Three’s expression was blank. “You were the one who reported 71556?” She blew a long slow breath. “You’ll need to be very careful around Mary, I think.”
“Yes. It’s why I had the tomatoes as a reward even though I was overweight and had to walk to the next stop. But it wasn’t like the news showed. 71556 didn’t fight the police, didn’t have a gun. That’s why it felt wrong. That’s why I had alcohol that night.” 10538 paused. “But I don’t understand the smokers part, even now.”
“Tomatoes.” Doc’s voice came from behind. “Tomatoes contain some nicotine. Enough to give a measurable cotinine trace and that’s all they need. The question is, why did they set you up like that?”
“Set me up?” 10538 blinked.
Three tapped his arm. “What else happened? Don’t break the flow.”
“Oh. Yes. I couldn’t get on the bus because I was overweight. I had to walk to the next stop. I met 11712 there and we talked. I told him about the ghost and he told me how he’d tracked a chip with nobody attached to it.”
Doc’s laugh filled the air. “There we have it. You discussed your work with your friend. That put you under suspicion because you might have told him what really happened and not what the news showed. So they set you up for a nicotine fall, just in case they needed to haul you in. Then the alcohol, which everyone dips into and everyone knows it. Add in the overweight episode and they can take you down any time they like.”
Three looked up. “That all seems a bit petty, doesn’t it?”
“It’s a petty and paranoid world in there. Mostly run by computers following algorithms designed by the petty and paranoid.” Doc came back into view. “When you ran for the bus they took you down because they’re more scared than you are. They’re scared of even the slightest deviation.”
“And the police cannot admit they are wrong, so you had to be disposed of.” Three squeezed his arm.
“What about 11712? The news said he was a terrorist. I was the one who reported him. They said he was found dead on the rocks. But the medics said he was in Pensionville.”
Three’s eyes closed. “I’m sorry, but your friend will be dead by now.”
“It’s my fault. I reported him. I could have just let him run but I called it in.” Tears streamed from 10538’s eyes as he writhed in the restraints.
“That’s it for now. I’m shutting this session.” Doc placed the now familiar mask over 10538’s nose and mouth.
The pain receded for a while.