Thursday, July 24, 2014

The SubVersion Complex, Chapter Fifteen (Revised)

Continuing the march of revised chapters, this one has been more rearranged than rewritten, with hopefully a better end result and a better fit with the story as a whole. It is by far my favorite scene of the entire book so far, and one that made me cry when I wrote it.

Also, a tidbit: Sonya is the Russian-derived nickname for the feminine name "Sophia", which comes from Greek and means "wisdom". I'll let you draw your own conclusions . . .

Here is the new Chapter 15 of The SubVersion Complex. This book is intended for a more mature audience, so be advised.



It took much longer than a couple hours for the brain scan to complete. Anna and the doctor worked on everything else they could think of in the meantime waiting for it, but it seemed like it would never finish. The doctor's optimism didn't appear to wane much under the pressure of waiting, but his energy levels definitely did. He was moving quite a bit slower by the time four o'clock rolled around and he found himself continuously yawning. Anna on the other hand grew more and more tense as the hours passed, consumed with thoughts of Daniel and his hacker buddies and the code slicer in the bag silently but persistently chipping away at the encrypted files.

At four fifty-five the doctor yawned one last time and grabbed his coat from a nearby workbench. “I have officially had enough for one day. That's what I get for going sleepless last night.” He chuckled and patted Anna's arm. “You're younger and hardier than I, Anna. Would you be able to stay and make sure that the brain wave sequencer finishes correctly, if indeed it finishes tonight at all? It looks like it shouldn't take more than hour, I hope.”

Anna nodded as casually as she could and Dr. Jarrod thanked her and turned on his heel towards the door. At the door he gave Anna a little wave and disappeared, leaving her all alone in the room.

She glanced up at the ceiling and frowned. Not quite all alone, she thought as she stared into the electronic eyeball of a security camera. After double-checking to make sure her hands could not be seen by the camera, she turned slowly to the other workbench where her tablet sat and peeked into the bag to see the status of her files. With a flop of her stomach she saw that both files were done. She unplugged the slicer, pulled the tablet out of its case and spun back around in her chair, attempting to maintain a sense of nonchalance despite the thumping vein in her temple. She crossed her legs and set the tablet on her knee with the screen away from the cameras and began to peruse the files.

The first one she opened was a collection of vital statistics running for many, many long pages, but a picture at the top of the data readout caught her attention. The image was of a woman, a very young beautiful woman with pale skin, long brown hair, and piercing brown eyes. The eyes were the picture of sadness and resignation, and the mouth was drawn in a taut unhappy line.

Anna gazed for a long time at the picture. What was this? A personnel profile? She couldn't be sure what she felt, but a hunch began to form in her mind. She stared at the picture for a long pregnant moment, then began skimming again. The middle section of the data ran in a monotonous string for pages and pages but Anna was not interested in that part. She skimmed towards the end and was eventually rewarded with something intriguing.

The “Notes” sections on all the other pages had remained blank for the most part, besides the occasional stray comment or odd observation. Near the end of the file, however, the notes sections transformed into a veritable diary of eventful happenings, and Anna examined them with growing interest and alarm. One note in particular caught her eye; it read, “Estimated date of unauthorized sexual activity between subject and D.M., will use to backdate pregnancy. Monitor for any continued contact.”

D.M.? Daniel Marcus, no doubt. This must have been the woman he had been involved with, and if the data was to be believed they had been lovers. No wonder he wanted to know where she was so badly. Anna's heart melted unexpectedly for him and for his pain; she could forgive some of his cruel behavior to her for that. But a question persisted in her mind that she could not shake, something she needed an understandable answer to before she would be willing to absolve Daniel of all blame. What was the Subversion Complex for, and why was this woman there at all? If it was indeed a prison, then there had to be a reason she had been locked up.

She scrolled to the end of the file and saw a final grouping of data points, followed by a note that read, “Subject put back into cold storage until further notice.” Above that was a box labeled “Subject Location,” and it read “SubVersion Complex, Cold Storage Room 3, Drawer 1049.”

Cold storage? Drawer? Anna's skin crawled and she sat back in her chair, as if physical space between her and the eerie file on her tablet could save her from its disturbing power. And she cocked her head at the spelling: SubVersion. She had assumed it was the word “subversion,” a surefire conspiracy theorist term used by crackpots who railed against the government. But looking at it now it seemed awfully similar to HomoGen's “Versions.” The only problem was she had never heard of a “SubVersion” before. Her puzzlement increased, and soon she was doubting whether they had any connection at all. She quickly closed out the file and opened the other, but it proved to be little better.

Grimacing at her from the top of the new file was the image of a child, probably six or seven years old, with a shaven head and prominent facial features. Although Anna knew it was a female from what Daniel had told her, it would have been difficult to tell just by looking at the picture whether it was a boy or a girl. The girl's sunken eyes exuded sadness and the tight line of her mouth only added to the disturbing effect. Anna stared for several seconds in a sort of fascinated unease at the face, then slowly began to comb through the text of the data. It gave things similar to the first file like running stats of height, weight, body temperature, and hundreds of other data points that stretched for pages and pages.

But that picture haunted her imagination. She realized that the woman and this girl bore a striking resemblance to each other, so striking that they could be mother and daughter. No, they have to be mother and daughter, it's the only way that this all makes sense, Anna mused uncomfortably. It all jived perfectly with what Daniel had told her and the notes section in the other file.

Finally, near the end, Anna found something interesting. The section featured the title “Subject Transfer History” and gave a short list of what looked like differing locations. At the end sat a small note, which simply read “Specimen signed out indefinitely to Dr. Konrath Jarrod. Final subject location: Laboratory A1A, Central Administration Complex.”

Below that, very clearly signed with a flourish, was Dr. Jarrod's signature.

A cold sweat broke out over Anna's entire body as she slowly put the tablet back into its case. So the transfer order ended up here, in this very room, she thought. The eerie conclusion clicked in her mind. That means that the little girl in the picture is somewhere in this room right now. She glanced around the lab in a futile attempt to divine where the girl might be, but nothing immediately presented itself. It was only when her eye fell on the main display of the reactive computer that a horrible thought came into her mind.

Behind the display, buried in its network of cables and paraphernalia was the heart of the reactive computer, the coffin-like black box that Anna had fleetingly thought earlier could comfortably house a small child.

No, it couldn't be . . .

The notion disturbed her so badly that it was an effort to remain outwardly calm. She walked over to the reactive computer and stood standing there for several seconds, running her fingers over the edges of the displays. Only two things surfaced in her mind: that there was someone inside the box, and that Dr. Jarrod knew about it. Not only did he know, but it seemed he had signed off on the little girl's transfer. And he had left Anna all alone in the room with it.


For the next hour Anna's spirit raged inside her as she waited in agony for the reactive computer to finish the scan. She could not shake the horrid feeling of being not alone.

Left alone with that . . . thing.

Thing, girl, monstrous creature, whatever it was. If indeed that was what was in the box, but Anna somehow had no doubt in her mind that the box did contain what she feared it did. There was no other place for the girl to hide in the lab, unless . . . she was in more than one piece. Anna shuddered at the thought and desperately thrust that possibility out of her mind. She would go with her first assumption for now.

There was nothing to do but wait for the scan to complete. Anna found she couldn't get comfortable in any position, whether sitting or standing or pacing around. The whole awful concept burned in her mind like nothing ever had before. At one point she turned toward the computer and the desperate thought occurred to her that she could pop the box open and confirm her suspicions once and for all, but she recoiled just as quickly and decided against it.

Her mind churned for answers but none came. Only questions bubbled to the surface. She knew Dr. Jarrod was more than aware what he was doing, but how the thought of using a little girl for an experiment ever entered his head she could not fathom. How many other people knew what was actually going on here? Did Adam know?

She felt her stomach growing sick again at the thought of the girl. What had they done to her? Why had they done it? And worst of all, why had she been trapped inside the SubVersion Complex for what looked like years before being shipped here to be used as part of an experiment? Which led back to her original question . . .

What was the SubVersion Complex?

She shuddered again and put it out of her head for the moment. There were bigger and more immediate problems at hand. She turned to the main display on the computer and with a shock realized that the scan had completed. The scan is complete. Theoretically that means that I can talk to the brain inside. The brain inside . . .

She stared at the display for a long time without moving. The brain wave pattern readout undulated in regular patterns like it always had, but now next to it there blinked an input window. Anna realized that the algorithm was working and that the computer sat ready to finally do what it had been designed to do. She fell into the chair in front of the keyboard but still hesitated. Equal parts morbid curiosity and revulsion mixed inside her as she considered trying it out.

With a sudden burst of either desperation or confidence she typed the opening command. The electronic side of the computer would be running standard QX code, but if the algorithm was indeed working it would translate whatever code she typed into the appropriate brain wave impulses on the other side. Once the opening command was typed in she struck Enter.

The brain wave pattern immediately contorted and stuttered, and Anna recoiled as she began to see the patterns speed up and pulsate. She looked back to her input display and her heart raced. Underneath it was a window labeled “Output” and text began to fill it in. It was one sentence long.

'Please stop you're hurting me.'

Anna froze. Could it even be possible? Or was it a trick of the code? She went back to her input window and typed 'I don't want to hurt you.' Perhaps it was not real.

A pause, then more text appeared. 'It makes my head hurt make it stop.'

Anna's heart pounded. She was talking to the girl in the box. In a fevered daze she typed 'Who are you?' She waited for a moment, and sure enough more text appeared.

'I'm Sonya and I'm trapped get me out I want to get out where's my mommy I want my mommy.'

The girl had a mother. The girl's name was Sonya. And she was in pain. Suddenly the humanity of the creature inside the computer struck Anna in a wave and she sat back in her chair, stunned. Her eyes filled with tears; she almost didn't know why. She reached for the keyboard again. 'I don't know where your mother is, I'm so sorry.'

A long silent moment passed before anything appeared again on the screen. Then a short burst of text: 'Please get me out it's so dark I'm scared.'

A tear ran down Anna's check and fell onto the keyboard. She sat motionless, unsure of what to tell this poor girl. Her hands trembled with an emotion she could barely understand, a surge of protectiveness and a feeling bordering on attachment. She was about to type again when the output window filled with more text.

'What's your name?'

For some reason the question caught her completely off-guard. She bit her lip, then typed 'My name is Anna.' Then she added, 'I wish I could get you out of there, I wish I could find your mommy for you.' She had never really spoken to or interacted with many children before so she felt suddenly awkward speaking to one even through the stilted interface of the computer.

No response appeared on the screen. Anna waited for what seemed an age but still no answer. Fearful that somehow she was losing her subject's attention, she wracked her brain for something to say. Then something occurred to her, but she found herself wincing as she typed it: 'I lost my mommy too.'

Sure enough a reply was not long in coming. 'Oh do you have the same mommy as me? We should find her.'

Anna found herself smiling grimly at the suggestion, and another tear trickled to the end of her nose. She realized that she liked this girl. She began to type again when another message from Sonya appeared. 'I like your name Anna it's pretty.'

Anna stopped typing her own message and sat still, listening to herself breathe and the computer hum. The situation was surreal. The biggest dream of her life, the reactive computer, sat in front of her and all she could do was have a basic conversation with the brain inside. The mind inside. The entire experience was completely unlike what she had ever fantasized about it.

She typed 'I've always liked my name. I like yours too.'

An idea occurred to her, and she leaned to one side so she could see the black box a little better. The lid was secured to the rest of the box with hinges on the long side and a trio of latches on the other. However, there were also screws pinning the lid closed all around its perimeter, securing it shut.

What would happen if I opened the box?

She knew she had roundly rejected doing so earlier, but now that she was certain of what was inside, somehow it didn't seem half as crazy. Except she had no idea of Sonya's condition, how she was hooked up to the computer, what sort of physical state she was in. Anna sat undecided for what felt like an eternity, her fear and her curiosity battling for dominance. On top of everything else, whoever was watching her via the security cameras would certainly see her open the box. Who knew if she would be stopped for doing it?

She glanced at the monitor and saw another message from Sonya. 'My head hurts Anna make it stop.'

That settled things in Anna's mind. Without another contrary thought she hopped off the chair and pulled the rolling toolbox over to the computer. Selecting the appropriate torque driver, she gingerly pushed aside the masses of cabling and tubing that snaked to and from the black box and began working on the first screw. They were tightly secured and Anna had some trouble, but ten minutes and two sore hands later she had removed every last one. She snapped the wing latches open first, then reached for the main one, but again stopped in fear.

Why was she doing this? Suddenly every instinct in her body insisted that she stop, that she walk away. That she tell Adam what was going on, perhaps, so he could fix it all. Or perhaps that she should just finish the transfer protocol project and forget that this entire thing happened. Forget that she knew about Sonya, let the whole thing drop from her mind.

And it was then, while she crouched next to the black box absorbed in these thoughts, that she heard a sound that she would never forget. It was a sound that completely banished all thoughts of abandonment and betrayal from her head, quelling any desire in her to run from something that she knew she could never un-know.

From deep inside the box's dim interior came a sigh; the sorrowful, fitful sigh of a child who has cried for hours and hours and has no tears left to cry.

Steeling herself for the worst, Anna flipped the final latch and let it fall open, then took the lid in both hands and slowly lifted it up. It creaked a loud creak, the noise of rarely used and never oiled hinges. Anna's spirit sank as it occurred to her that this box probably was not meant to be opened for a long, long time. She pushed the top all the way open and looked inside. Initially she saw nothing but a strange paper-like substance, very much like opening a gift wrapped in tissue paper. She guessed it was some sort of insulating substance meant to protect the subject inside and she reached in and spread the paper apart. Even with all of the time her mind had had to accommodate itself to such a disturbing idea, Anna found herself unprepared for what she saw next.

Lying on her back in the bed of insulating paper was the limp body of a little girl, her pale slender arms straight against her sides and her spindly legs lying straight with ankles together. She was dressed in a flimsy piece of clothing that resembled a hospital gown in that it only covered the front, and it was shifted around almost as if the girl had moved quite a bit since being put into the box. But it was her face and head that caused Anna to feel horribly queasy yet again. The girl had no hair to speak of on the top of her head; rather, in an obscene parody of long hair, from her scalp there sprouted innumerable slender probes that connected to wiring which flowed out of one end of the box and into the computer. The skin of her scalp had actually been peeled away in some spots where larger probes had been inserted.

The girl's face looked similar to her picture in her file, except this face was even more sunken and tortured. She wore a sort of blindfold or eye protection of some sort, and thrust into her nose was a long thin oxygen tube. Embedded into her abdomen were two other tubes, one for food and one for waste presumably, and in her arm was stuck an IV. All of the girl's skin shone a pasty white, and tattooed into her upper arm was the number SVC1001-1FX.

Anna gaped at the miserable form in the box for several long minutes, her soul devoid of any feeling other than absolute revulsion and fierce sadness. However, instead of willing herself to go numb, to feel nothing this time, she dared to fully savor the depth of her grief as she looked at Sonya. There was a grave injustice at work here and Anna could not help but feel herself moved to sorrow.

Then she heard the sound again, and clearly saw Sonya's chest rise briefly and fall in a long unconscious and broken sigh. A single tear trickled out from underneath the blindfold and disappeared into the paper below the little girl as she grimaced faintly. Anna saw the tear, the sigh, the pitiful condition of the helpless subject in front of her and in that moment something snapped. Whether it was the repellant combination of human and machine or the sudden thought that the girl had a strange terrible beauty about her, she was never sure. Whatever it was, tears surged into Anna's eyes; she leaned on the side of the box and wept, and as she did so she put out a hand and touched the girl's face softly, feeling the surprising cold of Sonya's skin. The unconscious form of the little girl did not noticeably respond to her touch though, and Anna wept more.

As she sobbed a notion crossed her mind and grew stronger the longer she looked at the black box and its occupant. A crazy notion to be sure, but a strange and powerful urge that would not subside. Without knowing how it might be accomplished or what her life would hold in the future if she tried, she suddenly felt that she absolutely must get this girl out. Out of this laboratory, out of Central Admin, out of D.C.

But where to start? Perhaps with Adam? But her face darkened as she realized that the Secretary might be as deep in this as Dr. Jarrod, in which case he would be absolutely no help. Maybe Daniel would know how to break her out, Anna thought, then cursed herself for even considering wanting to work with him. But the curse felt halfhearted in the face of what she had seen already today. Besides, the realization struck her that she was Daniel's break-out plan, or very probably, and it would make perfect sense if this was his daughter. Anna found herself staring into the child's face and tried to recall Daniel's face for comparison, but the trauma of the girl's ordeal made it difficult to tell if there was a resemblance.

The question still remained as to what both mother and daughter were doing in the SubVersion Complex in the first place, but that was for a later time. She turned to take one last look at the computer monitor and her pulse quickened at what she saw.

In the Output window new words had appeared: 'I heard you crying did you touch my face please make it stop hurting Anna please don't leave.'

The words ripped Anna's heart out. There was no way to just take the girl out; it was not something Anna could do on her own anyways. Any attempt to move Sonya in the condition she was in would probably kill her. Neither was there an easy way to convince Dr. Jarrod to stop his experiment. He would never stop, she was convinced. Nor could she simply let the whole matter drop, she just couldn't. For lack of anything better to do she closed the box again and screwed it shut.

A knock on the door nearly sent Anna's pulse through the roof. She turned away from the black box and answered, “Yes?”

The door clicked open and an aide stepped in. “Miss McLean?”

“That's me.” Anna felt one hundred percent sure someone had been watching her over the cameras, had seen her open the box. Why else would they be here?

“The Party Secretary would like to see you in his office. Now.”

Anna stood resolutely and took one last look around. I'm sure he does. I'd like to speak with him too. She glanced over at her tablet case and hesitated, remembering that the code slicer sat nestled inside. She wondered if it would be safer to leave the case behind or to bring it with her. She decided with trepidation that it would be better if the tablet and slicer stayed in the lab for now, since the security was tighter in front of the Secretary's office and she had no idea what they might want to confiscate besides her gun before she walked in. She leaned over to turn the workbench light off and in the same motion, out of sight of the aide and the cameras, she pulled the tablet case off the table and slid it onto a cabinet sitting underneath the workbench. That would have to do for now. Her purse would have to come with her, however, since it held her ID badge.

She straightened her dress and headed towards the door. “Lead the way,” she said to the aide with more confidence than she really felt.


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