Nathan's mind whined at him. "Little Nathan, whatcher tryin' to do? Huh, boy? Jesus H. Christ in a handcart, why get up when you'll only fall down later? Why not sleep, boy, sleep sleep sleep..."
Nathan halted in mid-step. His right foot dangled, toes down, from a stained chino leg above a smashed computer carton. A moist breeze flipped some strands of hair about on his nearly bald head, blending them with the mist so that an observer, if there were one, might mistake the effect for a halo briefly shimmering around his skull. The observer would not have seen any sign of anxiety or restlessness as Nathan stood thus immobilized, in colloquy with himself.
"Little Nate, little Nate, you filthy sleazebag! Maybe you'll walk right up to City Hall now, won't you? You, unclean practitioner of disgusting interpersonal acts, you neglected your appearance since the day of your birth! Out with it now--haven't you always, as far back as you can remember, wanted to go to the bathroom just once without washing your hands?"
The damp statue moved then, as the other side of the dialogue took its turn. Nathan's foot came down and his mouth opened. "No!" he declared, but the inner voice replied with a chuckle. The boy ran from that voice, forgetting that all previous escape attempts had failed. He repeated his denial, feet spattering cardboard box flaps and soggy plastic bags in a low are behind him. In the dark mist, his eyesight none too good from the muscle relaxant effect of the heroin, Nathan could not really see where he was going, but this mattered less than what he was attempting to leave. Had he moved more cautiously, he might have seen the worn painted name on the door--"Lennox". But the mist obscured it, and his stringlike body crunched into it. Only the agedness of the door's metal hinges prevented its wooden mass from stopping him. They were rusted through and gave the instant he slammed into them. With a low, grating, ripping sound, the door crashed into the building it fronted, and Nathan came down upon it.
The collision cut off the whining accusatory voice, and Nathan now remembered caution. He strained his ears to make out whether his slapstick escapade had attracted attention. After a few minutes he was satisfied that no one was coming. He recalled what had driven him to the exertions of becoming upright and mobile: hunger. His stomach cried out to him with yet another internal voice, stronger than any other. It drove him to rise again and rummage about the place. While crossing the floor Nathan stepped in a puddle; it splashed on his ratty pantslegs. He cursed perfunctorily and staggered across to the far wall. Here, on some old pallets, were a number of cardboard cartons and two or three aluminum permafridge boxes. Nathan's heart pounded in his chest, and his stomach turned joyous cartwheels, the pain of which nearly knocked him down. Permafridge boxes were used for storage of perishables; they contained a long-life battery which powered a small refrigeration pump. This could be an enormous cache of food, enough to feed him for several weeks, although Nathan suspected, from the serene distance of his opiate haze, that he would not live to finish the supply.
The boxes were locked, but mere mechanical devices are no match for grinding need. Nathan lifted the nearest box as high as he could and dropped it on its locked side, forgetting that this would destroy the refrigeration mechanism, along with the likelihood that the food would last for an extended period. The box struck the concrete floor with a full-sounding dull thunk. Nathan righted it, grabbed a splintered piece of wood dangling forlornly from the edge of one of the pallets, and pried furiously.
The lid sprang up, and Nathan reached in and fumbled in the dark. There were several small cardboard boxes, containing things that rattled. No food. Sighing jerkily, Nathan kicked the box aside and broke into another. This held a few squat round plastic containers. His mind reeling with the taste-sight-smell of pickled meat, or maybe beans, he carried a container out to the street and squinted at the lid, trying to make out the writing. He moved several paces toward the streetlight to read the label, increasing his likelihood of being seen by a Health Authority patrol. He struggled to keep his shaking hands still, to reduce the blurriness of the words: DANGER. HIV 1. TAKE SECURITY PRECAUTIONS.
Nathan reeled back and dropped the container, which rolled harmlessly a few feet away, clattering. His head was a pandemonium of voices. "Right right right! Little Nate! You should have taken precautions! You should have taken precautions, but you didn't! And now you've got it! That little box is yours, it's you, isn't it, Nate? That's your badge of honor! Take it, take it for your own! You fought the Health Authorities from the first, didn't you? Even in the womb you had unclean thoughts, so you were born with it! Your sin goes back to the womb, little Nate! Take the box that bears your name--HIV 1. The name is your name, little Nate, your name! Your name is AIDS!"
Nathan fought back. "No! No! Dirty filthy thing..."
"Like you, Nate!" The inner voice rose in intensity and pitch. "That is you, degenerate unhealthy sinner! Take that box that holds your soul! Take it and wed it to yourself, your bride! Take it! Take it!"
He could no longer keep himself from crawling through the gutter, palms slipping on damp trash, to the container. With a wild jerk, his hand fought off his tattered judgment and grabbed the box. Instantly the inner voice rose like gorge and erupted from his mouth. He danced a loose shambling step down the alley back toward the doorway. "I am AIDS! I am the great god HIV! I shall cast down and destroy utterly all manner of uncleanness! Not one wretched immoral soul shall escape my cleansing hand! The land shall be cleared of all interpersonal sinners! I am the scourge of God!"
With this last exclamation, Nathan bounded back into the storeroom and rummaged around in the first permafridge. He grabbed several differently shaped little boxes and ran out into the street. On his way, he stumbled over a spiral notebook filled with writing and took that too.
"I am the destroyer of all who are antisocial, unattractive, unhealthy! My righteous wrath falls on all sinners!" he bellowed as he trotted back to the dumpster. There he hid the plastic container, the boxes, and the notebook in one of his secret places. Oblivious to the sound of approaching footsteps, he stood up, his hair a bemisted dancing fire in the reflected streetlight. He skipped and jogged his way around the dumpster shouting, "I am AIDS! I am sent to destroy!" Finally his hunger, his illness, and the heroin combined to defeat him, and he went down heavily in the trash. Two white-suited Health Aides stepped up to his body.
"Ha! Little Nathan again!" said one, scratching his chin absently with a gloved hand. "Time to take him in and straighten out his meds again."
"Yeah," muttered the other, wiping his nose. "And clean him up too."
The two men bent and put their backs into the work.
But today, Miri was leaden--dull grey inside and out, feeling heavy enough. She broke a sweat, lying supine in bed, hefting an arm to scratch her head, She poked at the jigsaw puzzle of her recent past a bit more. How long had it been since her last concert? The number six floated phantasmagorically before her mind's eye. Six months? Six years? Six days? She giggled weakly, causing a slow, shuddering cough to convulse her body in rhythmic waves. Surely not six days!
Strangely, after the coughing passed, she felt somewhat stronger. A lie, she knew; strength was illusion, torpor reality with this disease. Her Counselor had explained how a fundamental failure of ambition had brought it on. But she'd had ambition enough to master the violin. Yes, and that probably had been an enormous task. Should have been. She had no memory of it now. Perhaps she would recall it again later. But she couldn't trust her memory now, could she? She certainly couldn't recall the psycho- moral lapse which had caused this illness, this Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
She lay dazed for several minutes, her mind like a blank eggshell sky in winter. Then her chain of thoughts relinked and bound her up in rounds of helpless rage and pain over all she'd lost. Her career, her talent, her pretty childhood memories; but worst of all, her self-respect. Somehow, she had done this to herself, performed alchemy of the spirit, changed platinum to lead. If she had the strength, she would raise her hands to her face, scratch away with razor fingernails the outer loveliness which remained to mock the empty hole where her inner beauty had lived.
The thought seemed to provide the energy; she raked her cheeks viciously, before she knew she was capable of it. A moment later, she felt something trickling down her face. She heaved a finger up, touched her cheek. She stared uncomprehendingly at it. Why was she bleeding?
She had to get up and fix her face now. She could bleed to death. Why not? she asked herself. Because one self-destructive sin does not cancel out another. If she wanted wellness, she must desire life. Somebody had told her that. It didn't seem like an original thought.
The water on her face, the forcing of her limbs to move, revived another slumbering portion of her mind. Her Lover! If she could think positively, take care of the-temple-her-body, she might feel up to seeing him. That would feel very good, and might even lead to a remission. Excited now about the possibility, she hurried from the bathroom. Halfway to the living room, she realized she didn't remember her Lover's name, or anything about him, except that he was male. Frantic with the thought that she might have torn from herself the last thing that mattered to her, she ran to her terminal. If she looked over the registries she might be jolted into memory by seeing his name. Please, please!
She punched up Interactive Opportunities and paused. Which borough? She lived in Lower Manhattan; it was reasonable to assume he lived there too. Names scrolled by alphabetically in the male-assigned listing. There it was! Quickly, she wrote it down.
A blank period passed. She found herself viewing the Central Manhattan availables. And there his name was again!
Obtaining his name had unlocked her mental file on him; she remembered his address, and it was the same as the one she was reading now.
Her joy at regaining him inverted to rage at the possibility that she might again lose him-- No! No, he was taking himself away from her! Trying to meet other Lovers, perhaps one with more moral fiber?
On a hunch, she called for the Queens registry. Yep, he was there too. A bitch in every borough, the sleazy stinking-- She tried the other boroughs, then looked at the Hunk/clear listings as well. The bastard was listed everywhere!
Why not? She considered bitterly. The State was so confident of its control that it never bothered to cross-reference new listings.
And that was a very strange thought indeed. She was not supposed to want to think that. And he was not supposed to want to cheat on her. Rage and the damage to her brain cells might account for her lapse, but what accounted for his?
Feverishly she checked the infected registries. He was there too! He was suicidal! She was in love with a suicidal maniac! Or maybe he really was infected, and his dementia had caused him to register clear. But you had to have proof to do that. There was no way he could fake that, was there?
Yes, it was true what they'd taught in middle school. Passion was a poor substitute for reason, and the State was only remiss in not intervening enough. Lovers and Hunks and Babes should be specifically assigned, not just chosen from some mindless registry. And that was another supposedly impossible thought.
Miri was sweating. She briefly wondered how near death she was. "Not near enough," she muttered. Suddenly she was acutely aware of her swollen glands, as though she were choking. Grabbing weakly at her throat, she lurched away from the terminal and stumbled toward the door, her face pushed forward, craning her neck painfully, seeking blindly for air. She left the apartment door open and staggered into the hall, literally bouncing off the walls. When she reached the street, the cool early morning air struck her face a backhanded slap, and she stopped. Her thoughts slowed some, and she saw it was a bright clear morning. It would be hot later, she knew, but now it was refreshing, stimulating. She wandered aimlessly down the sidewalk, and as she walked, she calmed. There were other Lovers. She was already infected, so her Lover's insanity could not harm her anyway. But she wasn't really thinking clearly yet, was she? You couldn't be infected by your Lover, only by your hunk. It didn't matter.
Miri walked for about a half-hour, eventually leaving her middle- class neighborhood of two- and three-family houses in the Village and entering a poor, devastated region of five- and six-story walkups, degenerate high-rises, and vacant lots. But now she lost track of where she was going and could not remember why she had come. Her legs trembled. She felt as if she were operating a crane somewhere in her pelvis, cranking up the diesel engine to lift the thighs and bend the knees. God, she was hot! Maybe this was the time, the end. But a flash of memory came briefly. No! She was infected, but it wasn't the fatal disease. Her sins, her lack of self-respect, hadn't been that awful.
But now the rage and pain returned. She took a hateful swipe at the cowering remains of her spirit, then caught herself in mid- swing. She remembered clearly that he was leaving her. She had done nothing to cost herself this loss. It was him she hated. Adulterous bastard! She would walk to his place! Yes, that was where she was going! And when she got there--The crane needed oiling. It was seizing up. So tired! So... exhausted.
Unaware of all but her forward motion, Miri wandered into an alley and collapsed against a red steel dumpster overflowing with boxes, bags, and other light trash. The weight of her body tumbling against it rolled it back a few inches. As her unconscious form slid toward gravity's bottom line, her left arm brushed against and displaced some torn cardboard flaps which had been under the dumpster. Her left hand came to rest on some small, variously shaped pasteboard boxes, and she slept.
Having wanted this so badly, Madelaine wondered, now, whether she was really ready for it. After all, a world without--well, it would be very different, And different was always frightening.
She shrugged that off impatiently. It was too late to be frightened, much too late. If she'd wanted to protect herself from fear she should have dropped out of her profession when she first saw its corruption. Today she could have been growing wheat, extruding tube track, printing tracts--anything that didn't require reasoning. It was reasoning that had propelled her this far, and now here she stood, gazing at a blank screen, wishing she'd been born without a brain.
Wishing for the impossible was a cue, and she stepped back from herself. Huh! Ambivalence--perhaps it was time for Counseling. Then she caught herself. That was what happened when you didn't practice mind control one hundred percent of the time. You ended up falling back into bad old patterns. Counseling indeed! If the Cabal succeeded, no one would be forced to undergo Counseling ever again. And with mind techniques available to everyone, no one would need to.
Yes that was indeed best, she realized, now that she had regained a firm grip on all the compartments of her subconscious. She had a few other things to do. Quickly, she made ready.
The store, Medigood, was one of a huge chain which had grown up in the wake of the astounding medical advances of the early '90s. While the chain had built a reputation on the strength of its lines of surgical instruments and research equipment, shortly after the turn of the century the market for these had fallen sharply. Now, while still catering to the medical establishment, it mainly stocked books on holistic healing, studies of the healthful effects of Passive Activism, and tomes discussing the relationship of mind to body. The chain had continued to carry research materials until increasing government regulation of research in the first decade of the new century made these unprofitable. They had been proscribed entirely under the Pseudoscientific Paraphernalia Act of 2016. Beakers and pipettes and such could still be obtained, along with hash pipes and purebred laboratory mice, on the outrageously expensive black market.
A brutal downpour inevitably followed the wind, beginning just as a young resident Applied Social Behaviorist emerged from the store carrying a copy of "Compliance with Societal Norms and Cardiovascular Disease: A Cross-National Study". He spotted the bedraggled notebook leaning against the hydrant and the same natural curiosity which had interested him in the healing arts led him to pick it up. He tucked it quickly under his raincoat and hailed a passing cab. Shortly afterward, the rain penetrated Miri's clothes, then her awareness, and slowly, groggily, she awoke.
The doors whooshed closed; each pedal station held a rider. A loudspeaker was situated below the customary sign which read "Your Energy Makes Us Free". A quiet, relaxed male voice, about thirty, said, "Your attention, please, The doors are closed. Ready at pedal-position. On the count--three, two, one, begin."
As the riders began pedaling in unison, gradually working their way up through the gears to the actuation point, Jack Lass ruminated for the thousandth time on the original slogan which had begotten the paraphrase above the speaker. The original had been altered to suggest a mildly amusing contrast for the early 21st. century mind.
The pedal-generators reached cumulative actuation voltage, less than thirty seconds after the start signal, and the car began to move. "Arbeit Macht Frei," Jack thought as he pedaled. "Work makes you free." The slogan above the gate at Auschwitz. "Cute little turn of phrase, eh?" he thought bitterly. Although he'd read the transit slogan a thousand times before, this train of thought never failed to race through his mind. The fierce rage he felt at the authors of the phrase, no doubt barely conscious of where their inspiration came from, never lessened. "Just trying to help, no doubt," he thought caustically. Neither Jack nor his fellow riders broke a sweat as they cooperatively generated electricity to move the subway car. The 23 gears in the automatic transmissions at each station, with the flexible drive linkages, removed most of the work from the job. It gave one time to think, while contributing to each commuter's mandatory exercise quota (the activity being recorded on the Personal Kinetic Activity Recorder, or "perker"). It also saved energy, and helped reduce mass transit costs. Jack appreciated the introspection time, while using it mostly to rail internally against the Passive Activism in which he must participate to get it.
This, he realized, was not the point. He wanted to focus his thoughts on the immediate problem at hand, but could not clear his mind of its usual impotent musings. He wanted to think about Madelaine's behavior of the last few weeks. She had been cool, but nothing definable. Could she have found out? Would she report him? No, not possible. Still, there was something she'd said--it had not seemed significant at the time, but now it nagged him.
The calm male voice announced his stop. Jack left his station; the computer-controlled linkages distributed his kinetic energy responsibility to the other pedalers, subtracted his weight, and drew power from the flywheel during the readjustment. This took less than a second, as the car slowed to a stop, and the other passengers never felt his loss. Similar transactions occurred as others entered and left the car. Jack was aware of a nibbling sense of having forgotten something. The process of leaving the car had driven Madelaine from his jumbled thoughts.
As Jack walked the two blocks to the apartment, his perker beeped, signaling that he'd met the daily quota. He knew that would happen when he ran out of Miri's apartment at four AM, to beat it back to Queens before Madelaine returned from her Hunk at five. He ticked the perker over so it would record the rest of today's activity against tomorrow's quota. This was legal, though considered crass. It wasn't something you would brag about to your friends. But Jack greatly enjoyed the notion that his unorthodox activities at the beginning of the week could save him from healthful exercise at its end, and he could lie around all weekend without attracting the attention of the Health Authority. No matter that he carried on his criminal and semi- criminal activities throughout the week, and was always several thousand calories ahead of himself. In fact, the stress of living an outlaw life while appearing respectable probably contributed to this surplus. But he was beating the system, that was what counted.
As he approached Madelaine's apartment, he dropped this chain of introspection. He must project mellowness and good cheer, in case Madelaine had returned early. This was rare, but it did happen, and for all of Madelaine's charming and supportive qualities, her facileness in accepting social norms raised his hackles. She would detect his contentious attitude in the lines of his face, and there would be an inquisition, in the name of loving concern, that would only irritate him and end in a fight. Jack had learned multi-channel thought suppression early on, as an avoidance-response to Counseling. Like all schoolchildren, he understood that any failure to appear satisfied would bring on immediate and intensely personal questioning, alternating with officious lectures--an outcome of the standard Early Intervention Mental Health Screening known as Counseling.
Unlike most children, he did not find the extra attention heartwarming. He had never really found anything heartwarming, as far back as he could remember. His mother had told him tales, vague resentment in her voice, of how he'd refused to eat as an infant; how, when picked up and held to her breast, he would stiffen and avert his head. How he would sometimes throw away brand-new toys, and refuse to ride the tube to the beach in summer when the rabid sun dripped burning white venom upon the city, precipitating out as sweat on the bodies of its inhabitants. And she'd asked him why he didn't love her. He couldn't answer. Couldn't she see he did love her? And if she couldn't, why expect her to believe what he said?
One of his earliest memories, indeed, was of receiving a new toy, a large, brightly-colored metal top, activated by depressing a corkscrewed rod into its center. The top spun maniacally, he remembered, throwing wild colors past his eyes like projectiles and emitting a piercing, whining hum. Terrified, he had hurled it across the room and bawled like a stuck pig. He remembered his mother's face at that instant, and could call it into focus now. Stupid kid, he couldn't interpret it then, but now it seemed to him that she'd been struggling to hold back tears of her own. And he felt wrong, dirty, now, just as he'd felt then. But he'd learned quickly, in school, to mask his strange reactions to strong stimuli once he saw that his childishly reasoned, matter-of-fact explanations could only instigate further and more intensely stimulating probing from his inquisitors. For his own protection, he had rehearsed his technique endlessly, found new uses for it in his personal relationships, and had continued it into adulthood.
He'd practiced the method without understanding the source of what he'd been told was his ungrateful, rejecting attitude. Then, as a teenager, he'd experimented with the black market and bought a copy of a banned popular book from the late '80s, "Nature vs. Nurture". In it he found a chapter which filled him with a gloriously expanding sense of relief and redemption. Studies had demonstrated, the book said, that a tendency among children to be "loving" or "rejecting" could be genetic. The problem with such children, he learned, was really a neurological lack of adaptability. A child with weak adaptability would defend its mind from onslaughts of psyche-scrambling new stimuli by fighting them: rejecting close physical contact, resisting sudden changes in location or activities, removing strange objects to a safe distance, often violently.
Pretty clever of the little tykes, Jack had thought sourly at the time. Except their cleverness had gone unrecognized for millennia, and then when it had been on the point of being understood, the State had banned it because it smacked of biological determinism.
Nevertheless, the information inspired a positive sense of self in Jack for the first time in his life, a self irremediably opposed to the society which had rejected the facts about him. It helped to lighten the burden of affect-control he was forced to bear.
He implemented that regimen now, carefully isolating his true persona by means of a metaphorical device concealed within his stream of consciousness, and substituting what he grimly called "happy talk". His awareness filled with recitations on the loveliness of the morning, the joy of living in an enlightened post-industrial world, and the true wonder of all life. His expression softened, his cheeks suffused with blood, his brows relaxed, and he was ready.
A disadvantage of this procedure was that it submerged Jack's usual extreme wariness under a veneer of openness and so increased his reaction time. When he entered Madelaine's dark foyer at a quarter to five, he could not completely avoid the gloved hand that reached out of the alcove to his left and gripped his neck. He struggled, and his assailant didn't complete the injection into his upper left arm. The partially emptied plastic syringe fell to the floor, as did Jack, and a dark figure stepped over him and hurried out the door. Jack saw, dimly, the rounded curve of female posterior under the shapeless garment. That was all he saw, as the tempoceramic needle, and his consciousness, disintegrated together.
His intercom fluted at him. His irritation at the musical signal warred briefly inside him with the inhibition against criticism of the National Noise Pollution Act, and lost. He sighed, and touched the contact. "Yes, Ed?"
"Doctor, there's a case for you out here. A Madelaine Wong."
"Fine. Send her on in. And, if you don't mind, would you set me up for some Counseling sometime this week?"
"Sure, boss. I'll leave it on your calendar."
"Great." Dr. Estevez raised his finger from the intercom and shifted some papers away from the burnished-steel nameplate on his desk. It now clearly read "Norman Estevez, Ph.D., Applied Social Criminologist III". Important to establish role-positions at the outset.
His door opened and Ed appeared with a tall, thin woman in a green kimono. As she entered Estevez asked her to sit, and Ed laid a folder on the desk. As the door closed, Estevez opened the folder and raised his eyes to the woman. He smiled broadly.
"Nothing to worry about" he said automatically. "Be cool. I'll just look over this data briefly and then we can chat. Can I offer you a drink? Or a snack?"
The woman smiled just as toothily, and said, in a quiet, yet forceful voice, "Oh, no thanks! I've had my allowance of snacks, Doctor. One more bite and my Attractiveness Profile will slip ten points!" And she laughed effortlessly. Estevez laughed naturally and automatically.
"You have an excellent Internal Counselor, Ms. Wong," Estevez replied. But he noticed the slightly unnatural precipitousness of her bright, clear, "Thank you, Doctor" response. He was paid the big money to notice such things. Why, he could catch a smoker just by observing a slight droop in his lower lip, and applying pressure-questioning until he confessed. He sighed again. This Counseling was perhaps more overdue than he'd realized. First hostile thoughts; then, when he'd put a stop to that, held increased his downtime with idle speculation and unwarranted self-congratulations. With an effort, Estevez refocused his attention on Ms. Wong's chart, and fingered his pencil-thin moustache.
A quick review of the summary showed this was no simple physical self-abuse case. This was a truly serious interactive matter. The woman had found her Lover unconscious in her apartment. The lab report indicated the man had been injected with a combination of sodium pentothal and HIV 1. A syringe had been found near him, only partially discharged. There were tempoceramic remnants next to it. No fingerprints, naturally. Some marks on a windowframe seemed to suggest a forced entry, but the investigator on the scene thought they looked fake, as though done from inside the room.
Estevez noticed Madelaine fidgeting, crossing and uncrossing her extremely attractive legs... More downtime, more Counseling. He sighed, raised his eyes, and addressed her. "Ms. Wong? Just a few preliminary questions, to verify our records. Please relax. Would you prefer a pre-interview destress?"
Madelaine's eyebrows rose ever so slightly; her jaw dropped minimally. A natural startle response, Estevez noted. Was she truly puzzled by his question, or was she now taking opportunity to further release the tension he'd noted earlier? He observed her closely.
"Why, no, Doctor!" Madelaine said. "Do I seem tense? I feel perfectly mellow."
A normal response, indicating compliance with social-normative parameters, in a person whose body language was expressing significant unease? He chuckled, then glanced down briefly, checking the date of her last Counseling. One month ago. Something was going on. "No no, Ms. Wong. You're just fine. I had to ask, you know."
"Oh. Yes," she said, and here it was, the confirmation. A touch of color darkened her cheeks. Estevez made a preliminary diagnosis of simple contemplated falsehood. He leaned back in his high-backed pseudovinyl chair, still holding Madelaine's chart.
"As I said, just to check my information... birthdate?"
"Okay, identification number?"
"Right. Babe status?"
Estevez caught her jaw muscle working, momentarily, in his peripheral vision. "Uh-huh. Ms. Wong, if I may. I've spoken to several accountants about this. I have a little lake cottage, and, while I do some private consulting there, it's mainly for pleasure. Now, under the Omnibus Tax Act of '22, I'm allowed a fifth part flat, right?"
Madelaine did not have to mask her initial reaction to this gross breach of professional etiquette. She could use it to hide her revulsion at the mention of her former occupation. Or her current occupation and former profession, to be more accurate.
She had once fully accepted the Modified Standards of Accounting taught at NYU's Graduate Institute of Applied Reasoning. Had accepted them without question because their logic had been breathtakingly lovely, and she had been a child who in some ways never grew out of the "why" stage of development. When her parents would explain why the sky was blue, or how a perker worked, she would struggle mightily to understand, and the bliss she felt when comprehension finally exploded like summer lightening in her mind was almost physical.
As early as age ten, growing up in Brooklyn, she was enthralled by the name--"Applied Reasoning"--and once in college had been attracted to mathematics as pure logic. Later she faced the necessity of making a living and chose accounting as a compromise between the ideal and practical sides of her nature.
Then, as a working accountant, she discovered a logical flaw in the Theorem of Capital Gains. Frantically, as she recalled it now, she'd rushed from colleague to supervisor, professor to State official, trying to demonstrate the error, seeking some affirmation that her own reasoning hadn't gone awry. But, replied her associates, that was exactly what had happened. The most distinguished practitioners in the field had developed the Theorem. Who was she, with less than a full year's experience, to challenge them?
She had lived her life in logic, dedicated her energies to reason. She was sure of her facts, but was barred in that pursuit by irrational tradition. Her love of logic and reason had curdled in her, and the State became her enemy. Her anger had grown to be a towering monolith of rebellious purpose then; now, in Estevez's office, her training permitted her to reduce it without diminishing it, like a photocopied graphic, and set it aside. Instead, she concentrated on ascertaining Estevez's motives, while displaying only cynical amusement. "Ah, Doctor. Well, I won't tell your Counselor if you don't tell mine." She chuckled deprecatingly.
Estevez chuckled with her. She was sufficiently distracted.
She continued. "Yes, a fifth part across the board on related expenses at that site."
"So I understood," Estevez went on. "But here's the question: if I consult, while at my cottage, regarding a matter relevant to my work here, I can charge all of that time, pro-rated, based on an hourly breakdown of my government wage, correct?"
Madelaine uncrossed her legs, placed her feet on the floor, and leaned forward slightly. "Not exactly, Dr. Estevez," she said. "Actually, the Omnibus Act only allows for, and I quote, `...those activities and/or infrastructure directly and immediately relevant to work contracted for off-site.' That means you can't charge for time spent setting up operational parameters on your computer if those parameters will also be functional for other work originating onsite, nor can you charge for similar activities which benefit your work at that location as a whole."
"I see. Thank you, Ms, Wong, and, as you say, we won't tell each other's Counselors." He grinned briefly, and the appropriately reserved expression of mutual indiscretion served to cover his satisfaction in establishing that she was, in fact, an accountant. There was definitely falsehood imminent, but it did not concern her occupation. Still, the nonverbal indicator definitely had been associated with her statement of job title. "Ms. Wong, I'm sure it was quite a shock, your finding...uh," he looked down at her chart. "Your finding Jack like that. Let me assure you, the record indicates he is resting comfortably at this moment."
"Well, Doctor," she began. Out of his awareness Madelaine did something which triggered a certain knowledge in him that she was being very careful choosing each word deliberately. "I was startled, but you shouldn't assume a great deal of emotional involvement on my part. I was no longer satisfied with our relationship. Within a few days I would have informed him it was over. In fact, I'd already filled out a registry form listing myself available as a Lover. It should be in my chart."
"Oh?" Estevez was on to something. That care in choosing words, her voice tone, a slight cervical tremor betrayed by her hair-- He covered by leafing slowly through Madelaine's chart. His claimed preference for the "personal touch" led him to reject computerized records, and served him well when a distraction became necessary. Yes, he had it now. Clearly a prepared alibi. There was little, if any, truth in her story of an imminent breakup, and yet she'd filed a registry form. The primary falsehood must concern the nature of her business, the ends to which she was applying her accountant's skill. Oh, she was a clever one. He would have to proceed very cautiously. He had heard rumors of an underground Association, which trained extralegal Applied Sociologists for various antisocial unattractive, and unhealthy purposes. Could this actually be true? He must not allow his composure to slip in the presence of such a one. Her powers might be almost as great as his. He looked up from the chart. "Yes, Ms. Wong, I see the form now. I'm sorry I missed it." He shuffled papers again and considered how to redirect her attention. Then he regarded her and spoke. "There is one final matter, Ms. Wong. Your Lover's Hunk status has been changed from clear to infected."
That did it. In his professional opinion, Madelaine's subliminal reaction could not have been faked. This news did not surprise her.
Nevertheless, she gasped. "What? That's impossible! It must be a data-entry error!"
Estevez appeared appropriately troubled. Internally he permitted himself some elation. "No, I'm sorry, Ms. Wong. The information has been verified."
"Then...then...he must have crossed!"
Estevez's expression grew stern. "There are other ways to violate the Public Hygiene Classification Act, Ms. Wong. For instance, he could have role-jumped, say, with you? It's happened before, you know. Two Lovers, in their mutual passion--"
Madelaine was on her feet. "That's enough, Dr. Estevez! I will not stand for more of this absurdity. You checked my Babe status yourself. I'm clear. He could not have been infected by me." She turned toward the door.
"Sit down, Ms. Wong, please." It was a polite request, but his voice carried no hint of courtesy. "Are you sure you wouldn't like a destress before we continue?"
Madelaine sat, visibly shaken. Estevez was confident that her mental state would no longer permit her to maintain emotional compartmentalization, and he would be able to read her fully. She patted down her hair, rearranged the hem of her kimono. "No, thank you, Doctor. I'm quite mellow, now, considering the circumstances."
"As you wish. But your last test was six months ago, according to the record. As we both know, a lot can happen in six months. I'm afraid I'll have to hold you for a retest. You'll be quarantined for a few days, pending the results." Estevez leaned back in his chair, watching.
"What? No way! Absolutely not! You've no reason to suspect me! You have my records. I've never violated the Classification Act or any other act. You--"
Estevez grinned, but his heart wasn't in it. He was not seeing the mixed signals he expected; there was no indication that her unknown illegal activities were contributing to her agitation. It dawned on him that the "Association's" training methods might in fact be better than the State's. "Ms. Wong, just a few minutes ago you violated the Occupational Ethics Act, when we discussed my taxes. I have no reason to believe you would not break other laws. This--"
Madelaine was on her feet again. "Hah!! I violated! It was you who--"
"Sit down, Ms. Wong!!" Estevez roared. "This is an investigation of attempted murder by infection, not some pantywaist inquiry about ethics. I can hold and question anyone I please, and right now it pleases me to hold you! You will be quarantined until I am satisfied that you could not have infected Mr. Lass. Now I strongly advise you have a destress. Your skin-tone indicates significant agitation. It is most unhealthy for your heart."
Madelaine sat, her jaw thrust forward, her mouthline hardened.
Estevez was convinced she was struggling to hold back some ill- advised remark. From the relaxed posture of the rest of her body, he deduced that it related to her primary deception. He pushed, trying to break her concentration. "I certainly hope you are not infected, Ms. Wong, for not only Jack Lass will be harmed by your antisocial unhealthfulness."
But Madelaine maintained, and Estevez felt something ferocious gnawing at his gut. The Association must exist, and it must possess techniques several orders of magnitude more powerful than his. He struggled himself, now, to avoid betraying this realization to her.
Meanwhile, Madelaine had regained her composure. "I'm sorry, Doctor, for my unattractive behavior. Of course I was upset about Jack's condition. It's a horrible way to die, even if I've stopped loving him. But I assure you, I've done nothing antisocial or unhealthy." She bathed him in a smile no less radiant for its brevity. "Naturally I understand your reasons for detaining me and I'll cooperate fully. And, yes, I think I could use a destress. Maybe I was a little careless in refusing before."
Estevez managed to project relaxation.
"That's fine, Ms. Wong. Under the circumstances, would you prefer my assistant?"
Madelaine grinned briefly. "Why would I use him when you're the best?"
Estevez forced a wan smile. If she was really as good as he suspected, she would detect his conflict anyway, but it was, at the moment, the very best he could do. Did she already know? he wondered, and had she complimented him purposefully to increase his stress level? "Thank you, Ms. Wong. Very well, then--", and he tapped a contact on his terminal. The lights dimmed, and Madelaine's chair reclined slowly. When it stopped, Estevez spoke in a voice he had not used that morning. "Relax, Madelaine, relax. You are on the beach. It's a hot day, but a cool breeze strokes your skin. The waves crash lightly on the shore, rhythmically..."
The procedure came automatically to him, but anxiety tightened his shoulder muscles. There would have to be several Counselings. Because a HIV 1 test would be completed, and results returned, in an absolute maximum of three days. After that, he would not even have this fraudulent excuse to hold her. He would have to determine her real business before then. And if she knew that he had detected her Association training-- Well, he simply must resolve this before she was released.
Later, in the holding cell--actually a hospital room differentiated from those of the last century only by the barred window and locked door--Madelaine congratulated herself on having thoroughly distracted the investigating Applied Behaviorist. She smiled grimly as she recalled Estevez' oscillating nonverbals: certainty/confusion to certainty/worry to certainty/confusion. She had revealed nothing of importance about herself but her hatred of accounting, and even that was misinterpreted.
Estevez would never know how she felt about Jack. She sighed. Poor Jack, she'd chosen him as a Lover because not having one would attract official attention to her as a possible narcissist. When she'd detected, through her training, his raw, undisciplined hatred for the State and Passive Activism, a part of her heart had opened to him. But her resistance was hardened by intellectual discipline, corsetted by the dangers of an uncontrolled affect under the watchful eyes of the Health Authorities. She could not afford to let him see her as she really was, and slowly, painfully, she'd closed herself to him again.
There was a price to be paid for mind control: what you locked away must periodically be released. Now was not the time; there could be monitoring devices in the room. But later, alone, she would cry for Jack, and for herself.
The receptionist was Kimberly DeLuise, Babe status clear. After a glance around the lobby revealed no "customers", Kevin strode to the front desk, placed both hands firmly upon it, leaned forward and kissed Kimberly full on the mouth. He was not in a hurry to finish, and Kim did nothing to discourage him. But there came a floorboard-squeal from the sagging wooden porch outside and Kevin backed away abruptly, assuming a blank expression. Kimberly smoothed her hair and began typing "The quick red fox ... " over and over industriously. Kevin's peripheral vision picked out an elderly gentleman entering the lobby as he himself departed for the inner hallway, where he slipped off his shirt.
Kevin entered his office and sat at his desk. He removed his perker, then got the field-interrupter from a drawer and clipped it to the perker. He replaced the perker on his belt and touched the contact to activate the truecoffee machine on the counter across the room. He opened another drawer and removed a small bottle of pure grain alcohol, at present a permitted substance, as the medical philosophers were still disputing its value. He opened the bottle, dipped a finger in, and touched it to his tongue. He was gratified not to hear intense shrieking from his perker, and replaced the bottle.
The field-interrupter was essentially a sophisticated radio- frequency jammer. It drew power from the perker, and interfaced with its control circuits, by means of a miniaturized microwave transponder. A Passive Activist device, called a "toxin detection network", was surgically installed during each child's six-year Early Intervention Physical Health Screening. When it attempted to signal the perker to record someone in the process of using a substance considered unhealthy, the interrupter scrambled the signal, neutralizing the network's tattle-tale function. In the past, interrupters had been surgically implanted. Then one user, not realizing his had malfunctioned, had gotten pleasantly smashed at a Society party, and when he called to have his perker read-off the next day, he had been surprised by the arrival of two Health Aides as he hung up the phone. He was sent to a maximum-security rehab unit for three years.
Now the devices were worn externally for ease of repair, and were tested via a circuit which temporarily activated the perker's recording function. This was detected by the interrupter, which signaled the user if something was wrong, but without creating a permanent recording in the perker. And so, having successfully tested his equipment, Kevin felt safe in having his morning coffee. He sipped and chuckled gently. As was his habit when not under possible observation by Health Aides, he spoke aloud to himself. "Damn good thing they haven't invented an Unhealthy Behavior Detection Network, or I'd never have any fun with old Kimberly!" He leaned back in his chair, savoring the coffee. It was Kenyan, light and fruity, grown in a land which still understood the importance of pleasure.
Kevin had come to his own understanding during his stay in rehab. Despite its disdain for scientific and statistical precision, the State was singularly efficient when it came to handling infectious diseases. When his semi-annual bloodwork showed positive for HIV 1, he'd been confronted by two Health Aides at the small, brutal Brooklyn cannery where he'd worked his way up to foreman of the cauldron crew. They'd informed him of his infected status and escorted him from the premises, put him in an ambulance and delivered him to Cedar Island Medium Security Rehab, via the ferry, in less than two hours.
Kevin had known virtually nothing about AIDS or its modes of transmission at the time. In rehab, his Counselor concluded that Kevin had been self-destructive since the age of five, when his younger sister broke a leg stepping through a cracked storm-sewer grate in the street before their apartment building. Kevin's mother had told him to watch her while she went to work. Kevin told the Counselor repeatedly that he'd done his best to take care of her, but it wasn't an appropriate job for a pre-schooler, and he was still a little angry at his mother for forcing it on him. Nonetheless, the Counselor insisted that Kevin must have felt guilty and wanted to punish himself for his inattentiveness. Hence he had let his immune system deteriorate and contracted AIDS.
It was a standoff, and after three months of being harangued as a guilt-ridden antisocial attempted suicide, (and without the appearance of symptoms), he'd been released as "unenthusiastic but cooperative". He'd already decided to find a way to pay back his torturers. His discovery that he would not be permitted to return to the cannery, or, indeed, to any food-service position, only increased his resolve. But the damage had been done. During stressful times, from out of memory came a quiet little voice resembling that of his Counselor, whispering, "Are you sure? Can you really be certain?"
In the unemployment office, describing his experience to another person in the infected queue, he'd learned of an underground movement that was seeking a cure for AIDS and an end to Passive Activism. With the grim methodicalness that had got him promoted to foreman, and despite the voice, he'd tracked down the organization's leaders.
In the ensuing years, as he rose through the ranks, mind control had replaced his compulsive self-discipline with a gentler, more flexible self-confidence, which gradually all but silenced the voice. Lately, that confidence had developed some strains following his appointment as regional commander. The Council routinely expressed great faith in his demonstrated leadership qualities, but the voice had resurfaced, questioning his ability to command in a crisis. Sometimes, as now, he wondered what he was doing here.
But the party should poke a hole in his cloudy consciousness and let some sun in. He put his feet up. Yes, the party would rejuvenate him, reconsecrate him.
Kevin's reverie was short-lived, however, as Kimberly hurried through his door with a computer printout in one hand, an empty coffee mug in the other. "Dispatch for ya, Kevin," she said, and dashed to the coffeemaker.
Kevin noted the small black box Jutting from the perker clipped to her waistband. He walked over and took the printout from her. "Thanks, honey. Be at the party tonight?"
"Nah, can't, Kevin. I got to go undercover, run some specimens up to Amherst."
Kevin scratched his clean-shaven jaw. He wished there was a way to grow a legally attractive beard without first sprouting an illegally unattractive stubble. "Oh shit, yeah, that's right. Well, we'll miss you, but, you know, `the Spirit must have a Home.'"
"Oh yes," Kimberly said brightly, and she sipped coffee and headed for the break room. When the coffee was gone, she could return to her desk in the outer office.
Kevin leaned back in his chair and focused his eyes on the report. The information was sketchy, but the implications were clear. Before Madelaine had been taken down for testing following her destress with Dr. Estevez (whose effects she'd used her training to block), she had activated her internal distress transmitter and an alarm had gone off at Kimberly's terminal.
Kevin once again thanked the good people, scientists and philosophers, who had assembled for their common purpose, that they had done so early enough. The State had not yet come to realize that its "reforms", initiated less than thirty years before and gradually intensified, were daily inciting more and more unrest. If the founders had waited until the dissatisfaction peaked and began seeking means of open expression, the State surely would have anticipated the various devices and techniques being used by the resistance, and moved to neutralize them. This could be done easily; it was only the State's blessed ignorance which, so far, had permitted the work of the Association to go forward.
The alarm message indicated Madelaine was in trouble and gave her location. That was all, but it was enough to alert an operative inside the Supreme Health Authority, who investigated and relayed the remainder of the information in the printout Kevin now held. Madelaine was being held for a blood test and possible reclassification of her Babe status. The operative thought she was suspected of either crossing or role-jumping with an infected Hunk or Lover, but Kevin was in a position to know better. She had been interviewed by Norman Estevez, and it was Estevez's job to fry bigger fish than violators of the Public Hygiene Classification Act. His bailiwick was violent interactive crime. As there had been no report of such a crime in the morning news, Kevin had reason to worry. The desert of ignorance that characterized the State's understanding of public opinion suddenly was sprouting information like a newly irrigated field; now would come lush growth, and some searching tendrils would soon reach the Association.
And, he couldn't help thinking, it would happen on his watch, in his region, and he alone had the necessary information and authority to stop it, if it could be stopped. Would he be able to take the required steps? He might have to "transmit" an acute case of AIDS to any operative who had access to the cure information. But would he, really? After all, who would believe it? A biochemical "cure" arrived at by pseudoscientific double- blind testing? Anybody who confessed such a thing would be solicitously clucked over all the way to rehab, where he/she would be Counseled until his/her brains turned to thin grey oatmeal. But, if against all odds, a State official believed what she or he heard, Kevin would have to give the order. "Really?" asked the internal voice. Would he do it, if it came to that? He clenched his massive fists. "I have no choice," he muttered.
Somewhat later that morning, a buzzer went off on Kevin's terminal. Kimberly having left on her mission, her terminal had routed the alert to Kevin's machine, and he hustled to his desk from the window where he had been standing for the last half- hour, contemplating nothing visible.
The message was already reading out on the screen: "...operative discovered it two days ago and considered relocation of the contents first priority. Now safe and reporting to you. Will await instructions one hour at this address." The terminal spit out several numbers and letters, a code to which only it had the key. Later Kevin would type them back in and the machine would contact the operative. Right now, he required a repeat of the entire message, and punched the necessary buttons.
When it was done, he laid his head on his desk. Someone had broken into one of the Association's secret research stashes. But the damage was not limited to mere discovery. Whoever had unearthed the stash had also apparently stolen several syringes and various anesthetic and analgesic serums, as well as a permasulated culture of HIV 1 virus. This person, whoever he or she was, now could overturn the social order in a much more immediate fashion than that contemplated by the Association. They could also simplify things for the authorities--if properly handled. Kevin chuckled, a little wildly, at the direction his thoughts were taking. If properly handled! Ha! Yes, soon there could be only one infection status for all citizens, and it wasn't "clear". Then the Association might be morally required to reveal its secret to the public. The religionists and New Age puritans whose unlikely coalition had begun to dominate society and government in the early '90s would never accept the notion of a cure. For different reasons, both groups had a stake in insisting that disease is merely a form of antisocial behavior, or a result of it, and thus the only real "cure" could come from a change in that behavior. The State would seize the drugs, suppress the knowledge as "unscientific", and continue as before. But they would know of the existence of the Association, and perhaps the circumstances surrounding these revelations would afford them some idea of its workings. They would use this information, and advanced technology, to destroy the organization.
Kevin paused. It dawned on him that this might be something else entirely. Certain influential people in the organization had tried for years to convince the leadership to make the cure public. Maybe they had grown impatient with the leadership? Feverishly, he asked his terminal for a search to determine which operatives had been in a position to rob the stores. The screen began listing several dozen people with sufficient opportunity and knowledge to have done the deed. He groaned and cancelled the command, then slowly, gingerly, replaced his head upon the desk. As Madelaine Wong's name was at the end of the list with the other W's, he never saw it, and the pain he was thus spared was profound.
But he was relaxed, and now he realized that was because he hadn't put up his customary resistance to the Counseling. He snorted. Phoney calm, plastic elastic for the nerves. What was that sort of peace worth, anyway? Nothing. Here he was, almost murdered--well, really murdered after all; he just hadn't fallen over yet. And the thought evoked nothing more than a slight irritation. Even so, that emotion was more marked than the little twinge of regret he experienced over the end of his outlaw career.
After the Counseling and discussion of Jack's medical future, including the customary sermon on the consequences of unclean living, Estevez had shown him a sheaf of registry forms yea thick. Jack had been just about to point out to the good doctor the absurdity of lecturing him on moral attractiveness when his ailment had been violently inflicted on him by another. This would have been just for laughs, he understood, because the lecture was compulsory, like granola for breakfast after the egg ban. But now the doctor was showing him the forms.
Estevez grinned and rubbed his eyes. "So! A real outlaw, eh? I suppose there's no point in even bothering with the usual motivation interrogation, is there? You Just don't like our ways of doing things, do you, Mr. Lass? And you're not about to change your mind at this late date."
"That's about right," Jack muttered.
"You know you'll be in maximum rehab for many years."
"Ha! If I live many years," Jack chuckled. The effects of the Counseling seemed to have worn off. His guard was up. He would not be taken in again. This guy was especially smooth, but no real problem if he could just concentrate.
Estevez frowned. "That is, of course, up to you. Only an upright and attractive life can maintain the immune system in--"
"Drop it, Doc. I don't subscribe to that periodical, remember? In fact, that's what you came here with your extraordinarily comforting bedside manner to tell me, isn't it?"
Estevez allowed himself the luxury of amusement. These outlaws, so easily made, and so easily caught once the Authority discovered them. He wondered why that was, and cursed himself for indulging in downtime again. "Well, I had a few other things in mind. For instance, your legitimate Lover, that is, the one who responded to your earliest registration. Madelaine Wong. Is there any reason she would want you dead?"
Jack laughed, long and drily, the sound of a boy tramping through a windblown pile of autumn leaves. "Only the same reason a couple dozen other women in the tri-state area would have. Except she didn't know about any of the others, and none of them know about her. Why would they? You people got it fixed so all we have to do is think about sweetness and light and nothing can ever go wrong, isn't that right?" He peered at Estevez.
Estevez detected a great deal of anger, which was to be expected, in Lass's nonverbals. But there was something a little odd about the way it was distributed over his features. A very symmetrical pattern. That was unusual, but it might not have piqued his interest before his disturbing interview with Madelaine Wong. Now he concentrated. "That's an extraordinarily simplified and flippant way of describing Passive Activism, as you undoubtedly know."
Lass sat up. He stared fiercely at Estevez. "Yes, I know! I know all of it! And you're here telling me more things I know and then telling me I know them and watching my reactions! What the hell I need you for? I can talk to myself just as well. Why don't you just... get... out!!"
These last words flew from his lips like roof shingles torn away in a rising wind. Estevez began to prepare a suitably sardonic and negative reply, but suddenly he felt an overwhelming urge to defecate. It was as if held developed diarrhea in the space of a microsecond. He had to leave. Now. He barely got out an "Excuse me, Lass, I'll be right back," before he scuttled out the door, white lab coat flapping behind him. Later, on the toilet, he discovered the urge had gone with nothing to show for it. But he knew he wasn't ready to go back to Lass's room, not just yet.
Jack was nonplussed. What could Estevez be planning that he would leave so abruptly, and without an argument? No doubt another one of their tests, he mused, but that was fine, it gave him what he wanted. Time to think.
He returned his mind's eye to that last glimpse of his attacker, the feminine posterior below the baggy garment. His anger at Estevez was still there, he realized, though fading. No. It wasn't fading, it was changing. Still as urgent as before, but-- changing. The anger was a soft blood-red pillow, then grew less substantial. It was a pink mist. The mist cleared. There was a picture.
The woman had been wearing green, a green mock-surgical smock, an old style all the rage in these hygienic times. He found that if he followed a wrinkle in the garment up from the region of her ass, he could now raise his eyes slowly up her back, to her neckline, her hair... Concentrating deeply now, he changed his angle of vision and her profile came into view. Abruptly his hands tightened into fists, and sweat broke out on his forehead. He saw! He knew! And he would repay. As he passed out, totally drained by his efforts, his last thought was: "My fault. I let her get too close."
Health gurus had divined that a very high antigen level coincided to a great degree with a strong likelihood of full-blown affliction, but the PPT was considered to have "perfect integrity" (a euphemism used to avoid forbidden numerical- percentage measures). Thus Estevez could now confirm his expectation that Jack Lass would die of AIDS, as his antigen count had been very high indeed. But when Estevez saw the PPT readout, he removed his contacts, cleaned them, and reinserted them. A small part of him raged at the time involved in doing this as opposed to the simplicity of cleaning glasses, while a much larger part of him again warned that he was straying from the path of healthful thought. And the effort was wasted, because there it was again--PPT indicator level 24.23.
Lord above, Estevez almost said aloud. Why the hell didn't to just check himself in for some light rehab right now? Talking to himself, whining about contacts--he was falling apart. He looked at the lab readout a third time. The numbers had not changed.
A PPT indicator for someone with an antigen count as high as Lass's should read at least 175. This-- This result showed the man had no chance of developing symptoms at all. He was healthy. An outlaw, a confirmed and unrepentant adulterer, crosser, and probable role-jumper, an adept at avoiding Passive Activism, perfectly healthy. It was unbelievable. It was a moral impossibility. The Lord, through His temple the body, would inevitably punish such a character with any number of ailments having both mental and physical aspects. Yet, not only did Lass not have AIDS, he had checked out clear in the routine but exhaustive admission physical for everything from CFS to simple allergic rhinitis.
Estevez suddenly felt very depressed. It was difficult to put thoughts together. Something was vibrating inside his head. His universe was crashing around him. He felt the weight of the several floors of the Health Authority building pressing down on his skull-- No! Hadn't he been indulging himself in minor sins such as skipping daily destress and delaying Counseling appointments? Sure, there it was. He was now being punished with a mild mental confusion. He'd misinterpreted the results, that's all. All this, the confusion, the downtime, the obsession with his contact lenses, would cease as soon as he underwent a little deep Counseling and got back to taking care of himself again.
He straightened his shoulders and read the lab report again. Yes, it did say 24.23, but he must have forgotten the proper reasoning behind the test, reversed it somehow.
But his trained mind's eye perceived blank walls of certainty surrounding the issue: the results were correct, his conclusions were correct, and Jack Lass was an unpunished antisocial scoffhealth. Most of his reasoning faculties shut down at this point. He could not permit any more thought along these lines, not until after Counseling. He signaled for his secretary to see if he could get an emergency appointment.
Not long after, Kevin Parsons underwent therapy of a rather different kind.
The late evening sun suspended solid girders of angled brilliance throughout the Clear Consciousness Support Society's conference room. The overhead glow_panels could not compete now; their time would come later, and it would be long and glorious. The walls between the windows bore decorations--pornographic photographs, antique psychedelic posters by the forbidden Peter Max, modern holographic kinetic reliefs. The floor, devoid of the usual conference table and chairs, was divided in half. One half was smooth wood, the original Victorian oak breathtakingly restored, and served as a dance floor. The other half was piled deep with shag spreads, blankets, india prints, and oversize pillows. One walked here at risk of losing one's balance among the uneven and shifting fabrics. It was safer to crawl, and this was the preferred form of locomotion.
Kevin came over from the dance floor. He wore a djeleba, long and loose, in a startling orange-and-black pattern. Field interrupter secured to his perker and a gin-and-tonic precariously balanced in one hand, he crawled through the jumble of talking, dozing, laughing, loving bodies, taking care to make slithering, friction-inducing contact with as many of them as possible. His passage was greeted with murmurs, caresses, and squeezes. Eventually, and considerably stimulated, he arrived at a black-shag pillow leaning against the wall next to a lovely middle-aged woman with long straight black hair. She wore elaborate body makeup and a skimpily-cut pair of kelly green pseudosilk panties. The woman smiled at Kevin as he got himself adjusted, leaned over and French-kissed him a little, then a little more.
A moment later, Kevin sampled his drink and said, "Hi, Ada. I'm really, really glad you could make it."
"Well then I'm even happier than I was already. It's going to be a gloriously liberating party."
"Yes," Kevin chuckled. He inhaled a few liters of the incense- and-marijuana-laden air and expelled it with infinite leisure. "It must mean so much more to us, you know? I mean, back in the old days, parties were nothing special. Everybody had them all the time. We know they served the same healthy purposes--stress relief, time for reflection, the spiritual renewal that only comes with physical pleasures intensely shared with loving friends. But for us, it's our only release. I'm sure they didn't feel as urgent about it as we do."
Ada ran a light hand down Kevin's arm from shoulder to palm. She looked at him. "My, you're philosophical tonight! Where's the old party animal? Don't you just love that old epithet? Yes, I suspect we've done what those who have incomplete pictures of the past always do--overemphasized, superintensified what remnants of evidence we have. I imagine we've made a sort of religion out of what was probably just an insignificant pastime." She ran the hand back up his arm to the shoulder. There was a slab of granite under his skin. "You are tense! Something is very wrong, isn't it, Kevin?"
"Yeah, something's wrong, something very frightening, I think. No, I know I'm frightened. I sure hope it's not as bad as I think, but it probably is."
Ada rubbed the tight muscles gently. "And I gather it's something you can't tell me about."
"You don't need to know," he said, and shifted slightly away from her. This shocked him. Some of the old suspicion from his rehab days had seeped back into his gut. Whom could he trust? She could be one of them.
Ada pulled back herself. "Kevin, your voicetone, your nonverbals--"
He taxed his mental skills to the limit to push this nasty, sour distrust out of his awareness, and sighed heavily. "Yeah, I know. I'm sorry. It really is serious."
"Hmm. I'm sorry about that. But `the Spirit must have a home and tonight, here, there's a vacancy. You can't do anything about it now. Take what the party has to give." She began massaging his shoulders again.
"Right again, Ada. I have to try." He slid his body slowly down, and laid his head in Ada's lap, atop a cleverly painted orange and red griffin on her upper thigh. She stroked his head.
Several people danced formlessly but energetically at the room's other end. Couples, trios, foursomes, mixed- and same-sex, made various kinds of love: standing, sitting, sprawling wherever there was space. The air rained down music and cries of ecstasy, laughter and conversation. Some conversations, in darker areas of the room, involved the Cure and the moral imperative of releasing it to the public. Most who heard this kind of talk smiled languidly and slowly turned away, but some stayed and listened, and spoke in turn of ways and means.
The door opened and a distinctly non-party person entered. His presence attracted some attention: greetings and touches. The man acknowledged these briefly, apparently intent on other things. He stopped in the center of the room and looked around. He found what be sought and slowly, with a certain grimness of expression, made his way to Kevin.
Kevin looked up. Ada's massaging was completely wasted. Al was the guard, posted at Kimberly's terminal to watch the door and take messages. Apparently, a message had been received.
Kevin apologized to Ada, nuzzled and fondled a few people, and grabbed a drink from a table near the door as he followed Al from the room.
"It's a priority one message, Kevin, or I wouldn't have--"
"That's okay, Al, I know you wouldn't." He brushed past the distraught young man and sat down at the terminal. Al moved to a position from which he could watch the door without seeing the screen.
Kevin requested decoding, and when he had read the brief note he drained his drink in one gulp. In the process of rechecking and trail-covering at the hiding place compromised by Nate, an operative had found a permafridge box in a poorly-lit corner of the room. The cleaners had missed it earlier. It appeared to have been smashed or dropped and was lying open. It contained over four dozen vials of HIV 1 vaccine, and a twelve-count case of Liberol. These items had not been on the official inventory for the cache. The records had been triple-checked. All available operatives had been questioned. There was a hundred percent certainty that the official inventory was correct. There was a ninety percent probability that two of the operatives questioned had lied when asked to explain the presence of the additional items, according to the global nonverbal assessment performed on them. They had denied any knowledge of the extra medicines.
Kevin sat back. That was all the message said, except that the reporting operative was awaiting instructions, but it was more than enough. He now knew an organized group of dissidents existed within the Association, and apparently they were preparing to distribute AIDS vaccine and the curative medication on a wide basis. Kevin calculated quickly, raggedly, fighting the effects of alcohol and other drugs to regain some reasoning ability. The mind-training helped, but he had done a lot of drugs. ("Tough luck," said the voice.) Roughly, there were 500 doses of vaccine and--oh God, over a thousand single doses of the curative, of which three were needed per person. And this was not the only Association drop, so there was no reason to assume it was the only dissident hiding place either.
It had begun. No time to lose. The two with the high probability of lying had to die. Probably--no, certainly--all of the operatives associated with this discovery would have to be executed. Then the investigation--how many could there be? Dozens, hundreds, thousands? Would he have to kill thousands of people who only wanted to save lives, for the sake of the Association?
God damn them! Their puny plans, save a few thousand, but condemn the hundreds of millions to certain death! It was monstrous! A monstrous plan, conceived by monsters--it would be easy to kill them.
But monsters don't act to save lives, even if ill-advised and poorly-timed. These are gentle monsters, then, Frankenstein's monsters. He giggled, choked it off with the back of his hand.
They knew the stuff had been found. They would have to start now. They knew he'd come after them, and he knew he had to go. Get started. Move! Kill a few hundred, a few thousand, right now! Every second's delay increased the chance that the State would find out. Then they would destroy the Association and his act in saving a few thousand well-meaning but stupid--incredibly stupid--
Kevin began to cry. He pounded the desk, roared out bestial sobs, muttered, "kill... kill... save... save... kill" over and over. Eventually, exhausted, wasted, he passed out at the terminal. In the conference room, the party went on.
But before he could settle his debt, he had to get out of here. He thought about it. Thinking required virtually no effort. He concentrated, and the solution was there. He'd never been able to plan a scam so easily before. "Does AIDS make you smarter before it kills you?" he wondered. But no time to wonder. It was time to carry out the plan.
He sank back in his pillows. He sucked in his cheeks, hollowing them. He slapped his forehead and cheeks, hard, several times, producing redness.
Then he began to moan, softly and deep in his throat. After a moment with no response, he increased the volume slightly. A middle-aged female nurse appeared. Jack regretted to see that she stood 5' 8" and probably weighed about 130 pounds, all of it healthy muscle. He hadn't expected an obese or emaciated nurse; such people had trouble getting any kind of work, let alone in health facilities. But he'd hoped for petiteness. Well, he wasn't getting it. And he still had surprise and the larger male musculature to his advantage.
The nurse approached the AIDS patient. Estevez, whether due to his shock, the lateness of the day, or the incessant Machiavellian wheel-turning in his own mind, had not posted the results of Lass's PPT to his chart. All the nurse knew was that this was a newly-diagnosed HIV 1 exposure, exhibiting some of the later physical manifestations of the disease, including sunken cheeks, fever blush, pain. Probably a derelict, she thought, undetected until onset of the final phases had already begun. She approached the bed, remaining out of the patient's reach, as she'd been taught. "What's the matter, Mr. Lass? Are you in pain?"
Jack increased the volume and pitch of his moans, rolled his eyes, and tossed his head.
"I'm so sorry," the nurse said professionally. "Try to relax just a little longer. I'll see if any medication has been ordered for you."
Jack nodded, and added a resigned roll of his eyes. The nurse left the room. While she was gone, Jack ripped the upper sheet loose from the bed and pulled the blanket up to his chin, all the while continuing his moaning. Under the blanket, he rolled and doubled the sheet into a short, very thick rope. He held it ready in both hands.
It had only recently become possible for a nurse to decide, largely on her own, to administer heroin in a government medical facility. Since all mental and physical ailments resulted, eventually, from voluntarily unhealthful, unattractive, or antisocial behavior, clearly no medication alone could be either harmful or beneficial. During the big medical school shakeups at the turn of the century, Gray's "Anatomy" and the PDR were alternately burned or enshrined as opposing camps fought for control. But a small, inconclusive batch of studies, mostly English, was preserved. These indicated that in controlled, absolutely pure dosages, heroin performed many useful analgesic and relaxant functions without producing any harmful side effects, with the questionable exception of addiction. The State preserved and publicized the research because it appeared to support the contention that the real harm of drug addiction resulted from addicts' behavior, not from their drugs.
As the fallout of these events settled, it became common practice for applied social behaviorists to prescribe heroin for pain relief PRN ("as needed") for AIDS patients. Nurses could administer the drug on indication of pain provided the patient regularly attended, and cooperated with, Counseling and destress. Jack had not been admitted long enough to be scheduled for either of these therapies, but he was showing definite signs of acute pain.
The nurse read the PRN order in his chart, prepared a tempoceramic hypo, and returned to Jack's room.
Jack still appeared to be a dying man in intense pain. He had begun to concentrate on his image of his father's last year of cancer--the withered, distorted limbs, the eyes like new moons on a windy, late November night. Unbeknownst to him, his efforts had succeeded far beyond his expectations.
The nurse stopped suddenly, shocked at the rapidity of his deterioration. She concentrated on projecting a positive interpersonal presence. "Hold on, Mr. Lass, help is on the way. I'll just give you a little shot, and you'll feel much better."
Jack tensed his arms under the blanket; the nurse approached with the syringe. The inevitable occurred.
Less than thirty seconds later, Jack was in the hall. The nurse, with the rolled bedsheet held tightly around her neck by Jack's left hand, walked just ahead of him. Jack held the syringe in his right hand, the unsheathed needle pointing outward. There was no need for him to speak to attract attention; the nurse's scream had done that. He spoke calmly, informatively, instead. "Nobody move, please. That means you behind the desk. This is an AIDS-contaminated needle; you touch that emergency call button and this nurse gets it. I'll get at least two more of you before they come for me. Those of you who believe your holy, healthful lives of unending devotion to attractiveness and social uprightness will protect you from mere viruses, come ahead and get me."
Nobody moved. Jack chuckled. "As I thought. Never met a straight arrow yet who would back up his talk with action when his ass was on the line. Nope, with all our enlightenment, we still leave that kind of thing to the outlaws."
Jack realized he was wasting time. Grab the hostage and get out. Stop standing here lecturing the enemy. "All right. I'm coming straight through you people and Nursey and I are taking the stairs. Stay out of reach and you'll be safe. Don't touch anything and she'll be safe too."
The nurse tried to call out that he was lying, that there was nothing on the needle but heroin, but Jack tightened the sheet around her neck and she just wheezed. Together they moved down the hall. The medical professionals scattered before them, taking care to stay out of range of his continually waving right arm. The pair reached the stairwell door. "Thanks, Nurse," Jack muttered. He opened the door, making as if to drag her into the stairwell with him. Suddenly, he released her and dropped the hypo simultaneously, then bolted down the stairs.
The tempoceramic needle shattered and disintegrated; despite the nurse's assurances that there was no contamination, the health workers formed a broad circle outside the splatter zone and stared at the closed stairwell door.
"For God's sake, it's just heroin!" the nurse shouted, then headed down the stairs after her escaped patient, rubbing her neck and coughing.
But there had been only one floor between Jack and the fire exit; by the time she reached the red-levered door, the alarm was chirping melodiously and Jack was gone without a trace.
Right now he only had time for a destress. He took it from a junior practitioner one floor up in Traffic Behavior, then hurried down to a consulting room. This was a bare, green- painted, pseudopolymer-furnished cubicle designed to appear official and threatening to intractable suspects and patients. Estevez felt these austere surroundings would not intimidate so disciplined a mind as Madelaine's, but he was not about to provide her the comfort of the relaxed atmosphere of his office. He reached the room and had Madelaine brought in.
When she arrived, Estevez noted uneasily that although she had nothing to wear but the clothes she'd had on when arrested two days ago, she'd managed to keep them looking neat and crisp. There was nothing about the way she looked which signified resignation, fear, or even fatigue. Naturally not, he realized shortly. Obviously every aspect of her appearance, as well as her behavior, would be under her conscious control and used for maximum effect. He caught himself trembling. He felt he was done for. Could she be projecting that? No! Projection was not possible; that had been conclusively reasoned both deductively and inductively. He searched himself. Yes. All that he felt emanated exclusively from his certainty that he was unprepared for this.
With a nearly physical effort, he suppressed his desperation and concentrated on flipping through his print copy of Madelaine's record.
"Doctor, I'm sure you've reviewed my chart extensively," Madelaine said brightly. "Now you're going to tell me I'm clear, as I asserted earlier, and I'm free to go, right? I'm not going to have to put up with any more of this inconvenience, am I? You're not going to try to tell me an error was made in my test, necessitating a retest, are you?"
Estevez felt sweat coming to his forehead; a masterly concentration and sublimation restrained it just before it broke out. She sensed his apprehensiveness, it was clear, and would permit him no time to think. Very well, he would have to think on the run. He had not risen to this high-- Stop! No ... more ... downtime! He looked up at Madelaine, bent his lips around his teeth to form a grin.
Permit a slight release-- "Why, you must be a mindreader, Ms. Wong," he said, chuckling. "As a matter of fact, I regret--"
Madelaine shifted from an erect, formal posture to a slightly reclined position; her right hand reached behind her head to scratch her neck. Estevez tensed to receive the blow. She could not have missed this, and he was no longer able to conceal it.
"Now Doctor," she began. She had the upper hand, she knew. This so-called mind-control master was about to flip his beanie. He had conflict about her, about his other work, and, most useful, within himself. She concentrated on her peripheral senses as she felt him out. "You disappoint me. Surely you could have concocted a better excuse than a botched lab run. Hell, all you have to say is Jack pointed the finger at me, and what could I do? I'd have to get a lawyer, which would give you several more hours to try to tape-and-glue some kind of charge together. Naturally, you'd have to arrest me as a material witness, at least. That could have consequences for you if I turned out innocent. But you do seem convinced that I've done something, so what's the risk?"
Estevez buried his head in his papers and Madelaine inventoried what she'd observed: One-- The test error was a lie, so there was a high likelihood that she was clear. Two-- Jack had not implicated her or anyone else. Three- Estevez had not learned anything new about her but he had very definitely discovered something unexpected about Jack. Four-- He was convinced she was dangerous, and Five-- He was willing, and planning, to use illegal and physically forceful means to detain her, and this action would likely stress him enough that he would lose all control. He might even enter a transient psychotic state, and if that occurred, she saw that the principal risk would be to him rather than to her. She decided to push him to that point and attempt to partially disable his memory. Then, perhaps, he would withdraw from the case and things would proceed through normal channels, as long as she maintained her assertive stance. Maybe, she thought, just maybe, she could be out of here before the whole thing blew up.
"Oh God!" she thought suddenly. "How could I have missed it?" Madelaine had noticed something strange about Jack in the past few weeks. His usual listlessness, the laizzez-faire attitude that made him an ideally uninquisitive Lover, had slowly transformed into a sort of intensity, a purposeful lassitude, a pointed distractibility-- What was she thinking? How can a personality be defined properly by nonsequiturs? It can't, unless-- And now Estevez had learned something odd, surprising, about Jack.
Her trained intuition delivered the goods. Jack had achieved mind-control too, and within the last month. Now, was he a fellow cabalist, or an Association spy who knew she was a dissident? Or was he a government spy who suspected she was with the Association? She forced these speculations aside brutally, allowing only a sense of urgency about getting out of here to remain.
"Something's wrong," Estevez thought. "I needed three seconds, and she allowed me them." That was a mistake. She was distracted-- by what? He studied her. The trapped animal syndrome; all she wanted was out. "Ms. Wong, you speak of risk. The only risk here is the one you are running by not being candid with me."
Madelaine moved her feet aimlessly. Estevez interpreted it as mounting anxiety and decided the time was ripe.
"Now let's begin at the beginning," he said. "Tell me how you became involved with the Association and what you know of its origins."
He had expected a dodge which, in her distracted state, would reveal to a certainty either the existence of, or her lack of association with, the secret organization. He got more than he bargained for.
Madelaine, also, had not expected such a lovely opportunity, but she was trained to react quickly. She had detected Estevez's growing anxiety. A good deal of it, she saw, formed a psychic cloud around that word, "Association". The "Association", she understood, was personally trying to destroy him. She mentally and sarcastically "tsked" at his failure to maintain good mental hygiene. Then she rose from her seat, slowly, in a manner she hoped was majestic. "All right, Doctor, since you asked. I think you're right. I think it's time we did discuss the Association and its plans--for me, and for you." She pointed sternly at him. By God, the man visibly quaked! An ordinary untrained teenager would have seen it!
"We're done toying with you, Doctor, you and your paper-tiger State," she intoned. "We have studied your puny mental skills and have far surpassed them! You do well to fear me! See? You, the master of mind-control, the great Applied Behaviorist, cannot hide your smallest emotion or intention from me!" She approached his chair.
This action gave Estevez a small break in his struggle for mental equilibrium. He stood himself, knocking over his light chair. "I no longer need to, Ms. Wong," he said icily. "You have incriminated yourself and your `Association' beyond all hope of salvation. You've heard the expression, `the walls have ears'? Well--"
Madelaine managed an entirely convincing careless laugh. "Oh! Oh, yes, I've heard it Doctor, but the ears have nothing to hear. Sit down, Doctor, Norman. Pick up your chair and sit. I know your recorders are running, gathering evidence for you to present later. That's why I have maintained this conversation on the telepathic level."
Estevez righted his chair. It was an involuntary response. She'd already manifested her power, her completely natural self- confidence. Now he turned toward her, faltering. "What?"
"You'd really better sit down, Doctor, before I restore some of your senses and you realize you never left your chair."
She put on another small series of chuckles.
Estevez sat before he realized it. Then he regained what was left of his control. "Are you telling me you have sufficient mental power to create a three-dimensional illusion around me, and to communicate telepathically as well? Nonsense!"
"Is it, Doctor?" Madelaine asked. "And is it an illusion that I know that I'm uninfected and that Jack Lass did not accuse me?"
"Any competent mind-control expert could have learned that."
"Yes? But from another expert determined to prevent it?" There was a clink loudly audible only to Madelaine. It was the sound of the last piece of Estevez's composure hitting the floor. She pressed on. "Is it a further example of your prowess that I know that Jack Lass is not what he seems? Or that I know that you are on the verge of a nervous breakdown at this instant?" She changed tones immediately, quickly pulled her chair up close to Estevez and sat. She reached out a hand. "Come Norman, let it all go. You've gone too long without Counseling, been too far removed from the source of your strength. Unburden yourself to me."
Estevez stared at her, seemed about to square his shoulders and start a reply. Then something behind his eyes just shut off. His head dropped. He mumbled something.
"What was that, Norman?" Madelaine asked gently.
"I just wanna wear my glasses, that's all. Mommy, the contacts itch, they hurt, Mommy! Just let me wear my glasses--" Estevez began sobbing quietly.
Madelaine scooted her chair closer, cradled him in her arms in the drab, nearly empty room. "It's all right. Yes, Norman, yes, of course you can wear your glasses. Just--"
Estevez's voice maintained its childish pitch but acquired a tight, clipped cadence. "No it's not! Glasses are unattractive, you dirty, dirty unhealthy, ugly boy! What's a little irritation in your eyes compared to the great pains of AIDS, the horrible tiredness of CFS, which you'll surely get if you keep up your contrariness, your filthy unhealthy attitudes?"
Madelaine sighed. The man was almost certainly insane now, or at least temporarily dysfunctional. Yet she needed him to get out of here. She would have to gamble that he still had some control, but not enough to turn the tables on her. "Norman? Norman, this is Madelaine. Are you listening to me?"
Estevez raised his head slightly. Still in the child's voice, he answered, "Yes, but it's hard."
"That's okay. Just keep listening. It gets easier if you keep listening. Now your mommy was wrong. She yelled at you, called you names, and she was wrong. I want you to forget her, block her out. Can you do that? If you do, we'll play a really neat game."
"Okay, I'll try," came the strained response.
Madelaine paused. Then, "Is she gone?"
Good, she thought. "Never mind. Now listen to me, I'm your new mommy."
Estevez relaxed in Madelaine's arms, rested his cheek on her breast. "Yes, Mommy."
"Now pay attention. It's okay for you to wear glasses. It's okay for you to love yourself. You can love yourself even if you're not perfect. Did you know that?"
Madelaine laughed and hugged Estevez gently. "Well it's true. Even if you're not perfect I still love you, and you can love yourself. Nobody's perfect you know? Concentrate now, Norman. Nobody's perfect."
"Yes, I know it, Mommy." There was no ambivalence in his body language. For now, at least, and in this little corner of his ravaged personality, he was buying it. And his mind-control was growing stronger now, working with her.
"So it's not your fault, Norman. You can't help it if you're not perfect."
"Really? It's not my fault my eyes don't see right?"
Madelaine laughed again, with infinite sweetness. "No. It's not even your fault if you get sick. Nobody's perfect, Norman. You can remember that. Nobody's perfect, and that's okay. It's just fine."
"Oh good, Mommy." There was a pause. "Mommy, you said if I was good and concentrated we could play a game."
Madelaine smiled. If his control was returning, so might a portion of his trained awareness. She would have to maintain a positive affect. She could not betray her anxiety about this most critical part of the plan. "Yes I did. But for that, we have to go to your office. Do you remember where your office is?"
Estevez giggled. "Of course, Mommy! I play there every day." He stood. "Let's go," he said, and they headed for the door.
As they approached, it opened, and a beleaguered-looking Ed entered. Madelaine prepared herself for the end.
"I'm sorry to interrupt you during an interrogation, sir. There's an emergency."
Estevez looked at Ed. There was an emptiness in his eyes for perhaps half a second. Then Madelaine saw it, although what it boded, she did not know. But his back stiffened; a brightness, as of the sun coming from behind a cloud, returned to his gaze. He brushed at the big pockets of his white lab coat in a gesture she had never seen before. He spoke. "That's perfectly all right, Ed. What's the problem?"
"The patient Lass, sir. He's escaped. He threatened a nurse with a HIV needle and used her as a hostage to--"
"What! How did he get an infected needle?"
Ed was startled. "Well, I suppose he stuck himself with it when the nurse brought him his pain medicine. He was waving it around at people and--"
"Oh Jesus!" Estevez roared. "He wasn't even infected! He faked you all out!" Then he glanced briefly at Madelaine. "As well as me." He turned back to Ed. "All right. How long ago was this?"
"About fifteen minutes. As soon as--"
Estevez chuckled. "All right, relax, Ed. He's gone. We'll catch up with him later by tracing his associates, if we need to."
Ed was wide-eyed. "Sir?"
Estevez straightened his shoulders, brushed at his pockets again. "It's all right, Ed, call off the dogs. His PPT was negative. This," he indicated Madelaine, "interrogation takes precedence. We'll be going directly to my office now. See that there are no further interruptions."
Ed was very happy to be able to say, "Yessir," and vacate the premises. When he was gone, Estevez turned and regarded Madelaine. She stared pensively back.
"It seems you've a lot to explain, Ms. Wong, and I've a deal of learning to do. Suppose you begin my--shall we call it an `initiation'?--in my office while I pull Mr. Lass's records and track him down."
Madelaine didn't know what to believe. Either his ordeal had forced him to a higher level of control, such that she could no longer read him accurately, or it had reformed him from the bottom up, so to speak. She had no choice but to follow him, and she began to do so.
Estevez turned to her suddenly. "Unless you prefer to leave now. I know I've detained you illegally and, as I now understand it," he said, scratching the back of his head, "immorally. You are, of course, free to go. I'll cover up this--incident nicely, and you and your organization can pursue your plans in peace." He smiled, "But, if you've the time and inclination, I beg you, instruct me. I believe my knowledge and--uh--position can be of use to you."
Madelaine eyed him. "I can really go?"
Estevez grinned. "Yes. Go. Try it."
Madelaine hesitated, then sneered at him. "Hah! You let Jack go, then planned to pick him up at your leisure. How do I know you won't do the same with me?"
Estevez brushed his pocket, then left the hand there, hanging by a thumb from the opening. "Jack is a scoffhealth. They always get themselves caught, eventually. But you, you're a representative of an apparently very powerful organization. It's a good bet that if you make it out this door, that organization will swallow you up beyond our ability to find you. So go ahead." He gestured toward the door.
Madelaine did try. She left the office, the floor, the building, the grounds. She saw she was not followed, and got as far as the tube station, when she decided to go back. His position could, indeed, be valuable.
"So he was an adulterer!"
"Yes, and a role-jumper and crosser. He apparently angered one or more of his women. Not you, I take it? Such a one as you would not risk attention by committing murder?" He eyed her.
"I gather that's what you believe. Who am I to argue?"
"I never argue with the truth, either," Estevez said, and grinned at her. "But the matter is of some moment, as the unfortunate Mr. Lass is unaware of his negative PPT."
Madelaine tensed. "So. He will try to kill--whom? All of them? Or does he know which one?"
"He claimed no such knowledge. Thus I've taken the precaution of placing guards on all his known female contacts in the metropolitan area. He paused. "Oh Lord! All except you! When you left, he could have-- And I was so anxious to prove you wouldn't be followed that I--"
Madelaine interrupted him. "Forget it. I'm here, aren't I?" She smiled. Inside, something relaxed, like a door opening. "But it's sweet of you to think of it. I don't imagine he would have risked staying around here, and I didn't go very far."
Estevez wiped his forehead. "Thank God. Well, there's also an all-points-bulletin out on him. I imagine, within the hour, we will have him either at one of the women's homes or at some place of public transportation. Uh, it may prevent some injury if you feel you can tell me-- Does he share your talent for mind control?"
Madelaine considered, then spoke. "He didn't until recently. But yes, I think so."
Estevez thought. His episode of ephemeral diarrhea came to mind, and he shuddered. "It began shortly before his admission here?" he asked.
"Yes. And it could have intensified since then. He might be able to--distract your people."
Estevez touched a contact on his terminal. "Then I'll double the guards and issue orders to be careful of his person. He may prove valuable to us." He did so, then gestured for Madelaine to be seated.
"Madam, at least for this hour, and most likely for much longer, I am your obedient student."
Madelaine was just about to begin when a chirp erupted from Estevez's intercom.
"God, I hate that noise!" he muttered angrily. "A noise that interrupts a person should sound like an interruption, not like some bird singing in the garden of Eden." He chuckled before he pushed the contact. "Boy, that felt good!"
Shortly thereafter, Ed ushered in a very agitated young man, clutching a battered spiral notebook to his chest. Madelaine saw it and gasped. "I know you said no interruptions, sir," Ed said, "but this man said he has the secret of the destruction of the State in his hands, and he wanted to speak to the President. I had a very difficult time satisfying him with you. He practically pushed me through your door, sir."
Estevez waved him away. "It's all right, Ed. What else could happen?" Ed withdrew and closed the door.
"All right young man, what's your story?"
The man glanced at Madelaine.
"She's cool. Please relax." The formula was still automatic.
"I'm sorry I didn't come sooner," the kid blurted. "I had to be sure. I confess, I had to buy some black market books just to understand what I had. I found it, just found it in the street. Here! It's the end, or the beginning, I don't know. I never saw anything like it before." He handed the notebook to Estevez. Estevez opened it, read the first page. Then he was interrupted to hear that Jack Lass had been apprehended at the home of one Miri Thomas. He had threatened violence but had been restrained with no significant injury to anyone. Oddly, though, some of the Health Aides had fallen into hysterical laughter on confronting him. Estevez gave instructions to have both of them brought to his office and resumed reading.
When he finished, he nodded, closed the notebook, and set it aside. He looked at Madelaine. "I see. I think this fellow has saved you several hours of lecture time."
Madelaine frowned. "And maybe several hundred lives as well. I've just remembered something urgent. May I use your terminal?"
Estevez gestured toward it with one hand, patted a pocket with the other. "Certainly."
Madelaine pressed the keys, sending the appropriate codes to the Cabal members. Earlier she had put the operation on hold by feeding a false code to the Association operative who had seen her, briefly, following her arrest. In alerting Kevin, this operative had inadvertently alerted the Cabal to wait. Now she fed in the code to stand down, effectively calling off the operation for the time being. She could afford to wait. Perhaps Estevez would be a greater weapon than all of the resources of the Cabal combined.
But Kevin. Would he move against them anyway, as was his responsibility? She didn't believe it. He might have the nerve to carry out mass murder if he thought it was called for. But he would never make such a decision on his own. He would consult her and the other subleaders first. In any case, Estevez could now monitor his actions and prevent any disastrous acts until Kevin could be brought up to date.
She relaxed then, and smiled over at Estevez. "All set," she said.
The student, who had been shifting his weight back and forth from one leg to the other and wringing his hands since his arrival, stepped forward toward Estevez. "Sir?" he asked.
Estevez regarded him, "Oh yes. Young man, what you've found here. It definitely is an end. And also the beginning."