Alternative Training

Gwen struggled for words. It was crazy to try to write an introduction before you finished the paper, but she'd been away from this for four days and really wanted to get something done with it. Even if it was only the standard introductory bullshit

Tomorrowwas her day to be in the dome, July 14. Last dome day was July 7; next after this, July 21. Her dome day was always Saturday. Had it been Friday, she'd have been there already and no doubt being there would have provided the elusive inspiration she sought. Seeing them in person was so much more stimulating than researching them, or thinking about them... or writing about them.

Still, there was a paper to be written, and she had reason to believe it would be a paper to turn some heads. So, forge ahead with the introduction, mindless though it may be:

It is generally accepted that the Non-Directional Programming revolution in care for lower-functioning retarded people came about due to economic considerations. The impact of the Reagan and successive fiscally conservative administrations was to severely reduce the amount of government funds available in the public-health sector. No doubt the politicians, interested primarily in budget-cutting, were unaware of the salutary effect this would have on the care and treatment of those retarded people who did not possess job-training potential. However, the result was a forced elimination of intensive day-program and residence-based training for all but the most intelligent members of this population. Those whose families could care for them at home were returned home, but for the majority who remained wards of the state, radically less labor-intensive programs had to be substituted.

In 1989 Martelli's Theory was first published, and, while unproven, it was used at first by conservatives at the state level to justify the low-cost alternatives to care which they were beginning to put into effect. By the mid-1990s, however, it was growing apparent that there was some validity to Martelli's work, as certain events predicted by him began to be reported from the converted Developmental Centers.

Gwen looked at her watch. 4:23. Close enough. She closed her notebook and pocketed her pen. She stepped lively on her way out of her cubicle. Tomorrow--in the Dome!

The door opened. Pete grinned. When you watch something long enough, what you are waiting for always happens.

Pete's grin widened and he shivered in pleasant anticipation. This time it was Gwen! The thought caused his body to tingle, his heart to pound, while paradoxically, the serenity of the forest surrounding him permeated him.

Presently, he stepped out of the undergrowth onto the gravel path. He stood, waving, his body swaying gently, betraying his enthusiasm even as he strove to be reserved. A little breeze fingered the wisps of gray hair on his head.

Gwen waved back. Pete was obliged to giggle his happiness. He dropped one hand and covered his mouth. He wanted to run to her, but some rules were stronger than others. He was the boss. Gwen had to come to him.

She did, slowly, for she was staff and not subject to Pete's rules. Still, it was her job to keep an eye on things.

She also knew how unusual it was for Pete to be up and about at this hour of the day. He normally slept days and puttered around in the garden at night.

Gwen reached Pete and extended her hand. Pete shook it, chuckling slightly.

"Hi, Gwen!"

"Hi, Pete! What are you doing up this time of day?" Gwen was cordial.

Pete smirked. "I dunno." He dashed, suddenly, to the side of the path, where a small tower of smooth stones, carefully stacked, stood balanced. "Gwen. See what I made?"

"Hey! That's nice! Looks like the Leaning Tower of Pizza!"

Pete's laugh was joy. "Pizza!" he roared. "You're kidding me!"

Gwen chuckled laconically. "You're right!" It was time to get down to business. Without thinking about it, she placed her hands on her hips, but maintained her cheery tone of voice. "So, did you have a good night?"

Pete's expression darkened. "Gwen, you know what? That Marty was botherin' me!"

"Bothering you? Come on, Pete, you're the boss! What are you worried about?"

"He made me get out of the garden last night!" Pete's respiration was up and his face flushed, Gwen noted. She went to him and grasped his shoulder gently.

"Oh Pete! Why did he make you leave the garden?"

"He did! He made me get out!" The last two words were spit out as though there was someone Pete wanted to go away.

"I know! Why?" Gwen was as upset about this as he was, Pete saw. He relaxed a little.

"I was just teasing him!"

"Teasing him! Oh come on, Pete! Marty wouldn't throw you out of the garden just for teasing him. Marty likes you! He told me."

Pete forgot his next argument. "Marty likes me? Marty's my friend!"

"Right! So how could he get mad enough to kick you out of the garden?"

"I teased him! I threw a rock at him!" Pete blurted.

Gwen studied his face for half a second, saw that the fear evident in his expression was genuine, and concluded he was telling the truth. Suddenly she seemed to tower above Pete. She withdrew her hand sharply from his shoulder, and she spoke sternly, loudly.

"Pete! You know you must never throw rocks at people! That's bad! You could hurt somebody!"

Pete seemed about to cry now. "I wasn't hurting nobody! I was just teasing Marty!"

Gwen did not relent. "I said never throw rocks, Pete! Not even when you're teasing!"

"I'm sorry, Gwen! I wasn't hurting nobody! I'll be good! Please? I'll be good!"

Gwen smiled. The hand resumed its place on the shoulder. "All right, Pete, okay. You promise not to throw rocks?"

"I'll never throw rocks again, Gwen," Pete vowed.

"Good man. Was there anything else you wanted to see me about?"

Petewas all smiles again. "Nope!"

"All righty, Pete. I have to get on down the path."

"Down the path!" Pete agreed. "Bye!"

"Bye, Pete." Gwen waved, turned, and headed down the path away from the door, in search of the Basics.

"Gwen?" Pete called behind her. She turned back.

"What is it, Pete?" she called.

"I like your shirt!" Pete giggled.

Gwen's face was all pleased surprise, he was gratified to see.

"Thank you, Pete! That's very nice!"

"Bye bye, Gwen!" Pete was waving again.

"Have a good day, Pete!" Gwen chuckled to herself as she turned once again and followed the path into the forest.

Petesuddenly was very tired. It was long past bedtime. He knew he would fall asleep before he got back to the Boss's House, his home, so he slipped quickly into the brush at the side of the path and trotted a few yards, following, at a distance, the wall to the left of the door. There he found a small clear patch of ground, and he lay down in the soft moss and fallen leaves, and slept. A satisfied smile stretched years out of his lined face

Gwen strolled along the path, in no hurry. It was a clear day outside. Looking up, she could barely make out the struts of the dome, tiny in distance, through the glare of the sun. There was some question, on a midsummer day such as this, whether the air conditioning would once again belch and stutter its way through the peak heat hours. It might expire, and they'd have to make it rain while the cantankerous beast was being fixed. This was troublesome, as the residents weren't accustomed to it, and rains were always followed by an increase in upper-respiratory symptoms.

This was not really Gwen's problem, however. She'd be working in other modules for the next week, and the aftermath of the rain would be gone by the time she rotated back to the dome. She moved on, brushing palm fronds out of her way, looking for the Basics.

About a quarter of a mile from the door, she entered the clearing of Basic Village. A small cluster of lath and screen huts stood in a circle in the center of the clearing. The space was overhung with palm branches, creepers and vines, an the shaded air was cool. The ground around the huts and in the central circle was covered in fine grass, deep green in color, and carefully trimmed. Extending back to the edges of the clearing, where the grass ended, moss and small ground plants took over, gradually supplanted by higher underbrush where the palms and eucalyptus trees closed in. They stood like a ring of friendly toy soldiers, protecting the clearing.

Gwen saw no one about, but she sauntered slowly, deliberately, her hands hanging loosely at her sides, down a slight incline toward the huts.

These buildings, each the same with one exception, were ten feet on a side, with peaked, thatched roofs. The roofs were supported by six-by-six posts sunk into the ground. Suspended from beams, bolted to these posts, hung the frameworks of lath and screen that made the walls. A screen door set in the center of the wall facing the interior of the circle, below each roof-peak, completed the design.

One building was different. While passing through the circle, Gwen noted that there didn't appear to be anyone sleeping late or puttering around the huts, and she headed for the singular hut, across the circle from her direction of approach.

This building was somewhat larger than the others, and instead of screen, its walls were of vertical rough-hewn siding. Small screen windows were set hight in the walls at long intervals, and a folding sewn bamboo-lath door under the peak replaced the prototypical swinging screen.

Inside, the rustic illusion was shattered: the eyes were assaulted by light, gleaming from thousands of square feet of shining ceramic tile and chrome and porcelain fixtures. To the left, sinks; ahead, urinals; on the right, toilet stalls. Behind the stalls, a wall on whose other side was a common shower room with ten showers, and a couple of bathtubs. There were sparkling stainless steel shelves holding stacks of screaming white towels and washcloths. Mechanical soap dispensers accented the walls everywhere. The bathroom was completely furnished, with one exception--there were no mirrors.

Gwen surveyed the place--it appeared to be spotless, as had become usual in the past few years. Nevertheless, she went to the first sink and tapped three tiles, lightly. A section of tiled wall retreated away from her an inch, then slid out of sight to the right. She took down the bottle of disinfectant/detergent and the brush from the now-exposed shelves, tapped the tiles again, and headed toward the toilet stalls. Although she doubted any of the toilets had been used during then night, she did her duty by the book. She poured disinfectant into the bowl, ran the brush over the porcelain, flushed, and moved on to the next. This part of her job was boring, and, at this point, unnecessary, but she felt no real irritation. "A hell of a way to make fifteen dollars an hour," she said to herself. She regretted having missed the Basics at home, however, and was impatient to be looking for them. When she finished the last toilet, she returned to the hidden shelves and replaced her brush and detergent with the chamois cloth. She moved to an odd-looking chrome plumbing fixture in the end wall overlooking both the shower and toilet areas. As she approached it, she stuck out her tongue at it, then placed her hands under her armpits and flapped her elbows, lifting her knees in the classic "chicken walk". Chuckling, she reached the fixture and tapped a tile beside it. Then she took an allen wrench from her pocket and loosened a bolt in the fixture. She removed the fixture from the wall, revealing a camera lens. Carefully, she polished the lens with the chamois, then replaced the fixture and polished it as well.

That did it for this village. She'd have to visit the other villages before her shift ended and perform the same perfunctory rites, but there was no hurry, and she was eager to go in search of the Basics again. A beeping sound emitted from the direction of the fixture. Gwen chuckled again, and tapped the tile next to the hidden camera once more. The beeping stopped, and Gwen turned, headed back to the storage cabinet.

As she turned she had just enough time to see a male head and shoulders disappear as the bamboo door was slammed to. It was enough time for Gwen to identify the man. It was Amos, an older Middle, who had come to the dome only a few weeks before. It wasn't unusual for Amos to be seen poking around places where he normally had no business being, following staff around, albeit at a distance. The man had to be given time to adjust to his surroundings, after all, before he could be expected to exhibit the normative behavior patterns practiced by almost all of the seasoned residents of the dome.

Gwen made a mental note of the incident, however, as the behavior of new residents was to be closely scrutinized for the first three months. She would have to make a note in his record. She was reminded, at the same time, to leave a note for Marty at the gardener's shop, asking for his version of the incident Pete reported. Sighing, she left the bathroom and departed the village by one of several paths that led away from the clearing in all directions. The path she chose ended at the waterfall, a favorite hangout of the Basics.

As she continued to move farther from the door, the animal life of the dome began to make its presence felt. She heard the parakeets and the chickadees singing above her, and grasshoppers leapt, terrified, out of her path. She saw no rabbits, and was satisfied, because apparently the selective captures were working. The dome would never again be besieged by another unattended rabbit population explosion. She did see a doe and her fawn, watching her from a distance off the path to her left. Since no potentially dangerous stags were kept in the dome and the does were artificially inseminated as necessary to maintain the population, this did not worry her.

Gwen could hear the sounds of the waterfall now, ahead to the right, and she hastened down the path toward the blind. As the clearing became visible before her, she stepped into the brush at the right and crept carefully, quietly, through the forest. The blind was a coarse netting of creepers and bushes, primitively woven between the trunks of two trees. There were holes at ragged intervals in the foliage screen, through which one could see most of the waterfall clearing while sitting on the stump on the ground behind the screen.

Gwen entered the blind and sat. Peering through the woven vegetation, she saw no one around the waterfall at the moment. So she pulled her notebook from her pocket, held her pen at the ready, and waited. It was worthwhile to take the time to wait. Sooner or later the Basics would come for their daily swim, and she could get more data for her continuing education project, in which module she spent two-fifths of her on-duty time.

Since her study of language modalities in Basic society required her to hear as well as see the Basics in their natural setting, she was permitted up to two hours of observation time on her dome shift. This "live" observation was an important supplement to the time she put in on the monitors, watching the action in silence.

These thoughts reminded her, and she pulled the ever-present chamois out of its metal box concealed in a cluster of brush. Then she carefully crept outside the blind to clean the camera lens hidden in the eucalyptus branches that overhung the front of the little shelter. Satisfied, she re-entered the blind and stowed the chamois. She stared out the hole, now using the little rattan chin-rest cleverly woven to the inside of the screen. Presently she was gratified to witness the arrival of Arlene, a Down's Basic, about thirty years of age. Like all the younger residents, she wore no clothes. She was wearing an orchid in her hair, however, and this she carefully removed and laid on the grassy bank before jumping, feet first and with a shrill cry, into the wide pool at the foot of the waterfall. Within moments, the other Basics had arrived, most of them appearing on the other side of the pool, from the path that led to the gardens. They quickly followed Arlene's example, and were soon splashing, each making his or her own peculiar joyful noise under the shining panels of the dome.


July 12, 2007

It has been five weeks since I gained admission to this disgusting hellhole. In that time, as you who are to survey these pages will see, I have witnessed the depths of human degradation and have found in abundance that evidence of improper treatment, neglect, and inhumane conduct which we expected to see.

Most particularly outrageous, last night, was the incident of the post-adolescent, microcephalic female, Donna. This poor patient, with an IQ of less than twenty and profoundly delayed, had a most nauseating encounter with the insects which plague this place. To think that their presence here is deliberately maintained by the authorities, under the absurd assumptions that they contribute to the "normality" of this jungle--and that they feed the birds. Birds! As if human beings were meant to live with animals, as if nothing could be more "natural" than for unprotected, uncontrolled patients to wander about in this anarchic setting and commune with filthy rodents and pests!

But to get back to my repellant tale. This retardate, Donna, wandered unprotected by either clothing or shoes into the glen on whose edge I was preparing to go to sleep. Fortunately, I've finally managed to adjust myself to this unnatural timetable of the sun, and I rise when it rises, set when it sets. A timetable for children, not for adults in our society! Not many years ago that kind of patronizing treatment was grounds for dismissal.

Anyway, as the patient crossed the glen, a grasshopper popped up in front of her. It hit her exposed left breast, and fell back into the grass. Quite unexpectedly, since one is not normally prepared to see this type of sophisticated reflex in such a low-functioning subject, Donna immediately jumped after the insect. She found it, shortly, and held it cupped in her two chubby hands.

I sat up, discreetly, to get a better view. The light was fading fast, but I was able to make out her next actions, a preventable tragedy whose memory my stomach dreads to have recalled.

She played with the grasshopper for a few moments, tilting it this way and that, pulling its wings. She gave no notice as the grasshopper released its brown vomitus in her hand. Then, in a blurred motion, she popped the insect into her mouth. She was apparently puzzled by the beast's efforts to escape, as she pulled the thing back out after a couple of seconds. She looked it over again as it lay struggling weakly in her hand. Then she made a fist of her other hand and used it to smash the grasshopper flat. Amazing coordination in one so impaired! And then, with a quick flick of the wrist, she again deposited the insect in her mouth, and this time chewed and swallowed with evident pleasure.

I saw no more than her bare legs as she left the glen in the direction of that treacherous waterfall, going for an after-dinner swim, I supposed, because I was scrambling back into the brush to vomit. I had been able to hear, faintly, the tiny sounds of the grasshopper's exoskeleton being crushed by the patient's teeth. Remembering that sound brings on a cold sweat and flip-flops in my stomach even now as I write this.

I believe I should leave off and turn in. Surely this information will be of use to our cause.

Pleasein your next delivery, could you drop a couple of more books from my list? I'm going to go crazy if I don't have some evidence of the continued existence of human society outside these walls to comfort me. Thank you.

Gabriel Whiteman, also known as Amos Markolis, pocketed his pen and ripped the newly-filled sheets from his spiral notebook. A few bits of torn ruled paper scattered on the ground. Whiteman carefully hid the notebook in the brush on which he slept, and then crept back toward the path, with his daily sheets stuffed into his pants.

They had tried to get him to surrender his clothes and run about naked like a primitive aborigine too, but he had insisted, in his carefully controlled, severely delayed vocabulary, that he would keep his clothes, thank you very much. He had not been very surprised that they let him get away with this defiance; the lack of consistent discipline in these modern bedlams was well documented. Since he knew where the day attendant was, having seen her just a few minutes before, he felt confident as he moved toward his destination that he would not be discovered. Serious staff shortage, his mind automatically muttered for him. Neglect, no programs... He reached the wall of the dome and headed for the large coconut palm located about ninety degrees to the left of the door where Gwen had entered earlier that morning. Once there, he looked quickly around, then crouched in the undergrowth.

Here, to the left of the palm trunk, in the midst of scattered, rotting coconut shells, one of the concrete blocks of the Dome's foundation wall had been loosened. Quickly, hands trembling, he pried the block out. Behind it, on the other side of the glass and steel Dome wall, was a galvanized iron box. The box also had a lid opening from outside the wall, and had been installed by Whiteman and a confederate not long before Whiteman's admission. They had worked at night, taking advantage of the loose security patrols at the Developmental Center, as the place was still euphemistically called.

Now Whiteman hurriedly stuffed his pages into the box, replaced the concrete block carefully and made sure no concrete crumbs lay on the ground to incriminate him. Then brushing his hands off, and his clothes, he stood and resumed the guise of Amos, hunkering off toward the gardens in search of a late breakfast.

In the blind, Gwen completed her observation period toward noon, and the Basics began scrambling, as if called by unheard voices, out of the water and up the bank toward the garden path.

She consolidated her notes into an only slightly disorganized sheaf. She sat, staring, without seeing, down at the pages covered with phonetic symbols denoting the bilabial fricatives and glottal stops which were part of the Basic "language".

She grinned gleefully. There had been no case of an attendant producing any original or useful research as a result of a continuing education project in the seven-year history of the Non-Directional Program. Now, as she'd been confidently anticipating for several weeks, there was going to be that first case.

Because the conclusion was now clear, even before statistical analysis of the data. The Basics were developing a language of their own. A very simple, concrete language, to be sure, which appeared to contain only nous and verbs, but it was language. It was a symbolic system of sounds which consistently corresponded to actions, and possessed a distinct grammar and syntax.

Now Gwen actually whistled as she hiked up the path on her way to clean the rest of the bathrooms and monitor lenses assigned to her.

She would be able to submit, when all the tedious analysis and write-up was done, a paper which offered the first definitive proof of Martelli's Theory of Natural Stimulation. Moreover, this development would be extremely valuable in maintaining funding for this pilot program, which was founded on the Theory.

Arlene, and Donna, and Bruce and Tad and T.J. and Willa, and the other Basics, slid and scrabbled out of the water on the high side of the bathing pool. The burning in their abdomens led them to the path that wound up the slope toward the gardens.

The crash, the white noise of the waterfall seemed to pull T.J.'s blond head backward, toward the water, but the burning called him forward. He found himself cold, now, out of the water, and this too turned his mind uphill, toward the warming sun. The others were ahead on the path, and he heard them laughing food laughs, and he bound up the path, as if there were no hill at all.

The garden-smell and the kaleidoscopic sun reflected from the last leaves and flowers of the forest invaded T.J.'s senses, already inundated with the sound of the breeze on this hilltop. Utterly delighted, T.J. laughed, a ticklish, slightly hysterical chuckle. In response, Arlene and Bruce repeated the laugh between bites.

T.J. wandered aimlessly through the plots, attracted by the smell of a tomato here, the color of an orange there. The smell and color of the marigolds set around the tomato plants drew him, but he could not reach through to get them; some wire structure blocked his hand. It hurt when he pushed hard, and he moved on.

He passed by the carrot bins and took two. The carrots were still wet from the previous night if you dug down deep into the bin.

He passed among the beans and, although he didn't like these particularly, he always remembered the apples then. For these you had to climb trees, and there weren't may of the Basics who could do it. They liked apples, though, and quickly discovered that they could gang up on T.J. and take his apples if they came when he was up a tree.

T.J. had tried different things. He tried to stay up in the tree and eat his apples, but the knobby branches dug his thighs and buttocks, and this sensation made apples less interesting. He tried to hold the apples and stay in the tree until the others went away. The first times, he dozed off after waiting a long time, and fell out of the tree. He was not seriously hurt but one of the Parents had taken him aside and put red stuff on his scratches, and they burned for days. After a while, he had ceased this approach and tried a new angle. He made the sleep-whine. Several of the others had turned and begun to plod down the path toward their forest sleeping-places. After a while, only two had remained--Donna and a tall, sallow man named Mike. T.J. climbed down and Donna and Mike proceeded to strip him of his fruit.

Now, he stumbled on yet another method. The others, having seen him go up the tree, were waiting around its trunk. T.J. pulled an apple from its branch, but pulled a little too hard. It flew from his fingers and landed on the ground at Arlene's feet. She studied it curiously. It loomed up at her from the grass, red, round, smelling like... She grabbed it, and just as quickly Tad had it out of her hands and ran for the forest. Arlene gave hot pursuit.

T.J. found this very funny. His happy-laugh rang the ears of all those around the tree, and they looked up. Apples began to fall from the tree, one by one, and small robberies, minor chase-scenes and good natured rough-housing ensued. T.J. took two apples under each arm, and a fifth in his mouth, as he leisurely climbed down from the tree. He almost sauntered past his busy companions, as he made his way toward the cold-box.

Arlene caught Tad at the edge of the forest, but she'd made several visits to the tomato and spinach bins and wasn't really hungry. She flopped down, laughing, on the grass with her head on Tad's thigh and watched him eat his apple.

Tad felt warm to Arlene, and she nuzzled his thigh. Her hair brushed his thighs and lower abdomen. Tad thrust himself against Arlene's red hair. Arlene's whole face seemed to tingle; her hair stroked the back of her neck, giving chills. They both made the sex-laughs and coos.

They shared their pleasure together in the half-sun, half-shade at the forest edge, and then they slept.

T. J. finished his last apple and rose from his reclining position against the shiny cold-box. Cold-box things were different all the time. Most of the time T. J. liked what he found there, but sometimes he spat it out in disgust.

Today the yellow-soft and the white-balls were there. T. J. liked the yellow-soft, but the white-balls' smell was offensive to him. He took a cube of yellow-soft about two inches on a side and closed the door. This firm but chewy, slightly tangy thing, its fiery color, brought out the food-laugh again.

But the others had made the rounds and were coming. Soon the cold-box would be surrounded by people. T. J. liked people sometimes. But sometimes when there were a lot of them he felt like he couldn't breathe. When his breaths shortened, he turned and trotted into the underbrush, but no one could take from him that chewy, tangy sensation.

Gwen completed her cleaning rounds and head-count at about 2:00 in the afternoon. She bequeathed her duties to the ever-present cameras and left the dome by one of its twenty doors. This one led down a sloping hallway to the basement floor of the Developmental Center building, to her office. The remainder of her shift was to be spent filing brief reports on her duties, head counts, and the behaviors of the new resident, Amos Markolis. She had to talk to the gardener too, she remembered now. Or leave a message asking about Pete's story.

She counted herself fortunate at finding Marty in when she arrived at the gardener's shop, since his was the five-to-one shift and he usually came to work as Gwen was leaving. But Marty was a true gardener. He had thirteen acres in the hills north of town, where his raised beds, cold-frames, orchard and potting shed occupied more than two thirds of that ground. He was never far from growing things; his long, slender fingers immersed in soil or compost, or gently handling stalks and stems. When it was slow season at his own outdoor plots, he often came early to the dome, where there were no seasons, and where he could occupy himself once again with his avocation.

She found him transplanting some pepper seedlings from six-packs into two-by-two pots at the bench.

"Hey, Marty, fingers in the dirt again?"

Marty raised a sandy hand to push a shock of sandy hair out of his eyes as he grinned at her. "As always, and forever, Gwen," he said. Then his expression dropped, adding more serious lines. "You here about Pete?"

"Yeah," and there was consternation in her tone. "He says he was throwing rocks at you?"

Marty's brows lowered. Gwen was a little taken aback at this sign of anger in a man whose demeanor was usually as placid as the green things he lovingly nurtured. Marty signed heavily.

"Yeah, he's right. But my guess is you don't have the whole story. Hell, I hated to throw him out for doing something that wasn't even his own fault." He put down the pot he'd just filled with soil and looked directly at Gwen.

"It was that new Middle. Andy? Amos?"

Gwen caught her breath. "Amos. The older guy who still wears clothes?"

"That's him. I was hoeing around the tomatoes when I heard this noise in the bushes. Long after the residents are usually asleep, except for Pete. Well, I figured it was Pete, for a while. But this little noise kept happening every few seconds. Kinda like know? That went on for a couple of minutes and I decided it couldn't be Pete, because Pete always comes right up to you. Whoever this was, was hiding. That was strange enough, 'cause our people don't hide. Don't have anything to hide from. So I went looking. I headed into the bushes off to the left, and I heard this giggle, and then somebody jumped up right in front of me and went running. So I got back to the garden shed and turned on some more of the night lights, just in time to see that guy Amos tearing off into the woods."

"So you think..." Gwen began hesitantly.

"I know, Gwen. Because about five minutes alter comes the first rock. It hit a ripe tomato just in front of me. That tomato was ready for picking, too. Rock didn't hit it that hard but the tomato split right down the middle and good red juice ran out."

An unnamed lurch seized Gwen's large intestine momentarily.

"Go on, Marty," she said quietly.

"Well, the second rock hit the dirt between the rows behind me just as I was turning to see where the first one came from. The third one hit my right leg just below the knee. Didn't hurt, really, but it made me mad." Marty paused and scratched his head. "Funny. none of the residents ever did anything to get me mad before. I mean, I wasn't expecting to get mad, you know? I was just going about my business. Strange how such a little thing can set you off, when you're not expecting it."

"I know," said Gwen. A vertical line had squeezed itself between her eyebrows where they now strove intently to meet.

"Well, I dropped my hoe and yelled, 'Who's there?' Pete stood up out of the bushes right away. He had this big grin on his face. 'It's me, Marty,' he says.

"Well, I laid into him. I yelled, and I said a lot of stuff I'm sure he didn't understand, but I was mad. I felt bad afterwards too, because I knew Amos must have put him up to it. I felt like --"

Gwen patted him on the shoulder. "You did just fine, Marty. It's important that consequences follow immediately upon actions in a case like this. Though I haven't seen a case like this since I started working here. Used to see it, once in a while back in the old Day Programs--." With an effort, Gwen straightened her shoulders and elicited a smile from lips that had a quite different expression in mind. "Thanks for your help, Marty. Please let me know if anything else unusual happens on your shift."

The tension that had been building in Marty as he recalled the incident now flowed slowly out of him with his sigh. Gwen had a way of making people feel better. No wonder she was so good with the residents. "But you won't rotate back into the dome for a week. You won't be able to do anything about it anyway."

"I know," Gwen said. "But I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know anyway. I was the one who recommended Amos for Dome admission. I was sure he'd passed his reorientation module. I feel responsible for his behavior. Just leave a note in my mailbox."

"Well, I'm sorry you feel that way," Marty said. "You're a good worker. But I'll keep you informed."

"Thanks, Marty," Gwen called over her shoulder as she threaded her way between the plant tables on her way out. She'd tried to make it light-hearted, and knew it had come out that way. But she execrated herself internally. The instant he'd refused to relinquish his clothes, she'd known he hadn't passed orientation. She should have reported it to the Psychologist immediately. But there was her ego to be dealt with. After all, the first attendant to produce an original piece of research in this Program wasn't likely to be wrong about a simple pre-admission orientation review, was she?

She'd have to file a report now, though, wouldn't she? But she wouldn't be at the Developmental Center until the middle of next week, her earliest opportunity to do so. In the meantime, while she did her library module, Pete might forget how to throw rocks. Amos might even stop wearing clothes. Anything could happen, and then she wouldn't have to report--report her own incompetence.

This thought carried her along to the file room where she completed logging her observations, omitting for the present any mention of Amos in connection with Pete's unusual activities. Then she left for home. By the time she returned to the Center, it was too late to file a report, or to do anything else.


July 13, 2007

There now appears some hope that these retardates have not been so long neglected that they are beyond hope of habilitation. Let me relate the results of a small-scale experiment I conducted last night on a middle-aged moderately-delayed male individual. Please note that this subject was of sufficiently advanced age to have spent most of his formative years in a properly designed, structured program wherein he would have been subject to consistent expectations. Thus my findings regarding him may, sadly, bear little relevance for the younger patients who have grown up, for the most part, in this filthy jungle.

The individual in question bears the very professional designation of "boss", and resides in a separate shack which is called the "boss's house". He has received this appellation, and the questionable privileges attached thereto, apparently because he has been superficially trained as a sort of attendant's aide. His function seems to be to perform perfunctory inspections of the low-functioning patients who are corralled here and to report to staff when one of them encounters any of the more obvious and gross dangers inherent in this place.

At any rate, I discovered his semi-nocturnal sleep-pattern and endeavored to befriend him by joining him, night after night, as he pestered the staff member whose job it is to maintain the open gardens which are the sole and unsanitary source of "prepared" food for the inhabitants of this dome. Of course, "unprepared" "foods" such as that which I observed the microcephalic female eating last night, are also available. One wonders why these humanitarians bother with the garden at all!

When I say "joined" this patient, I mean I did so to a limited extent. I am not entirely comfortable with my disguise, and am aware that my refusal to run buck-naked about the place has attracted the attention of the staff. Therefore, I endeavor to avoid extended observation by staff whenever possible, for fear that I will consciously behave in so intelligent a manner as to give myself away.

So I hang back in the bushes and watch while my subject, whose name is Pete (naturally these "professionals" have not carried out their responsibility to teach these retardates their last names) goes about his routine of interfering with the gardener's work.

Last night we arrived rather early near the gardens, and the gardener was not present. I had come to feel that a certain amount of trust had evolved between myself and Pete, and so believed the time was ripe to conduct a small test to determine the extent to which his learning abilities had deteriorated in this neglectful environment.

Although the soil in the dome supports a fantastic variety of tropical and semi-tropical plant life, it is evident it does so by means of artificial fertilization, as its consistency is very rocky. Several of the rocks were at hand. While the patients here have the ability to manipulate objects directly related to the satisfaction of various physical urges, so that they will feed themselves, wet themselves with water when overheated (which conditions they would never experience under proper supervision), masturbate, etc., I have observed that they will never manipulate objects for any other reason. As this ability is of course prerequisite to any training regime likely to lead to productive work, and as there are ample satisfaction-irrelevant objects around, I have tried to teach him some simple object-transfer routines on several occasions. This had been unsuccessful up to now, perhaps because the routine I'd selected, stacking rocks, was too complex. This time, I attempted a simpler routine...

Pete squatted with his new friend Amos in the bushes. Marty was late, but Pete did not worry. If you wait for something long enough, it always happens. It had been a long walk from the Boss's House to the garden, and it seemed very hot even though the sunlight was gone. The broad leaves of the plants felt nice and cool on his buttocks and thighs as he squatted and watched Amos. Amos was real smart. He always showed Pete lots of new games. He was showing him a new one now.

Amos screwed up his face in an exaggerated grin. "Amos makes funny faces, " Pete thought.

"Watch me," Amos said, and picked up a small pebble from the ground. At first, Pete thought he was going to build a tower of rocks again, as Pete had seen him do many times before. This had impressed Pete so much that he had tried his hand at it himself. First he'd tried it in front of Amos, but Amos would get so cross when he didn't do it right. Now he only tried it when he was alone. But this was a different game. Amos had tossed the pebble away from him, into the bushes, toward the garden.

"Whad you do?" Pete asked, and he felt a little giggle rising in his throat. Amos was so funny.

"Watch," Amos said again, and threw another pebble.

This time the giggle escaped Pete's admittedly feeble attempt to control it.

"You like that?" Amos asked, and his eyes twinkled like the spray from the waterfall in the sunlight. "You do it."

"Sure, Amos, OK," said Pete. He picked up a pebble and tried throwing it, but let go too soon, and it fell to the ground at his feet, while his arm flailed out impotently.

"Silly," Amos said sternly. "Do like this," and this time Amos held his wrist and guided his arm through the throwing motion. Pete was startled by Amos' tone, and probably would have given up and run away, forgoing even his nightly visit with Marty, if he'd failed again. But somehow with Amos' hand on his, the pebble flew!

"Like a bird!" Pete said, awed.

"Yeah!" Amos sounded excited. Pete was proud that his friend took such pleasure in what he'd done.

"Now you do yourself," Amos said, and smiled at him.

If Amos smiled at you, you couldn't screw up, Pete knew somehow. It was a thought that just popped into his head, but it seemed like an old thought. He remembered, briefly, a brightly colored room, and a...a..teacher.. that was the word, who smiled at him just like Amos. He picked up a pebble and let fly. Perfect! It went all the way through the bushes and landed in the garden.

"All right Pete!"Amos cried, and slapped his big friendly hand on his shoulder. Giggling, Pete found another pebble and tossed it.

Then Marty was coming up the path, and Pete was about to step out to meet him, but then he thought, I bet Mary would be surprised if I showed him.

Seconds later, Amos was gone, and Pete was confronted by Marty, whose face was contorted in ways he'd never seen. Marty was mad. Real mad.

"Pete!" Marty said, and his voice was different, lower. Pete remembered a dog he'd been afraid of, once. The dog had growled low, deep in its throat.

"Pete! What are you doing?"

"I-- I dunno. I--" Pete began backing away.

"Stop right there!" Marty bellowed, and Pete couldn't move his feet anymore.

"Do you know what you're doing? You could hurt somebody!"

Pete was shocked and afraid. "No! No, Marty, I like you! I wasn't hurtin' you!"

"No, but you could have. You could have--"

Marty stopped. Then he spoke again, more softly. "Wait. Wait right there." Pete did as he was told. Marty disappeared between the rows of the garden, then returned a couple of minutes later. In one hand he had a ripe tomato. In the other he carried a large rock.

"Pete, let me show you what you could do throwing rocks." Marty set the tomato on top of a tall stake, up which, in a few weeks, a new crop of pole beans would climb. Then he stepped back a few feet from the stake, holding the rock in his right hand.

"Now, Pete, pretend that tomato is my head. Here's how you could hurt me."

Marty reared back and fired the rock at the tomato. The collision knocked the ripe fruit off the stake.

"Come here, Pete," Marty said, and gestured that Pete should follow him toward the final resting place of tomato and stone. Pete did so.

"Look, Pete," said Marty, pointing down at the ground.

Pete looked down and saw red tomato meat and juice oozing out from under the rock.

"Remember, Pete, that's my head."

Pete stared at the sight for some seconds. Then an uncontrollable agony out of nowhere clutched his abdomen and wouldn't let go. He doubled over and bawled.

"No!! No!! No!! I didn't hurt nobody!! I don't wanna hurt nobody!!" He ran to Marty, flung his arms around him. "You my friend, Marty! I don't wanna hurt you! I don't wanna do ---that --- to you!!"

Marty stood stiffly. He was not returning the hug. Pete could feel no warmth, no reassurance coming from him at all. What did come from him was a hard, quiet voice.

"You better think about it, Pete. You better think about what throwing rocks means. And you better get out of my garden, and don't come back until you've learned your lesson."

"No!!, No!! Marty, please--"

"Stop it, Pete," Marty said in that same hard voice. "Go on now," and he pushed Pete away, turned his back on him, and picked up his hoe.

Pete stood there whimpering, tears falling freely for a moment, then turned and ran into the forest.

For a long time he ran, just ran, remembering. Then, exhausted, he fell down in the brush. He picked up a rock, began to bring his arm back to throw it, then remembered, and dropped it. He slapped himself smartly on his throwing arm. "Bad!! Bad Pete!" He said fiercely. But something made him pick up another rock. He cocked his arm to throw, then dropped it and slapped himself again. He picked up a third rock, and dropped it immediately. It landed on top of the second rock, and he felt no urge to slap himself. He continued picking up rocks and dropping them, gradually forming a pile. He watched the pile grow, and slowly a smile budded, then bloomed on his face.

"You did it, Pete!" he cooed to himself softly. But the smile faded almost immediately, and he picked up another rock and threw it. A fierce frown appeared on his face. "Bad! Very bad, Amos!" he muttered, as his hand made stinging contact with his arm.


July 13, 2007 (continued)

Although the experiment was interrupted, sufficient trials were conducted to support a preliminary conclusion, which, I think, is optimistic. This evening I will repeat the test under more ideal conditions (away from the garden) and I will attempt to modify the routine back toward the original short-term goal of completing a stack of five pebbles.

The subject is approaching now, so I must conclude this entry. I will enclose this, along with subsequent entries, in my week's end dispatch to you.

Whiteman stood up and hastily shoved his folded and crumpled notebook, now missing many pages, into the back pocket of his jeans.

Pete spotted him at this point and waved at him. "Amos" waved back.


Dear Gwen,

No doubt you'll read the official story in the files, but you asked me to keep you informed of any developments, and I feel a special responsibility in this case.

I found him on my way to the garden tonight. I know the files will describe the size and shape of the crushed part of his skull, the position in which his body was found, and the contents of the notebook in his pocket. So we had a "Mental Hygiene Crusade" spy among us.

But the files will be inconclusive on how it was done. Please believe me, I never meant it to come to this. And, when I talk to you personally next week, you'll understand why I did what I did. And you can decide what to do about it. I'll abide by whatever you decide.

But nobody is ever going to find the rock that smashed Amos' head. I've seen to that.

-- Marty

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