"What?" Caroline stood up. "Hold out your hands. You should know the routine."
She fastened the wrist restraints as tightly as they would go.
"Contempt of court. The judge wanted to know the name of my informants, and I didn't tell her."
Now Caroline knew she was lying. "You don't go to MONCUS for contempt of court."
"Not directly," she acknowledged, "but as they add charge on top of charge while you spend two years in detention and observation, you eventually can end up there. I did, even though it was only on my way here."
"You think I'm some uneducated little moron, just because I told you I didn't go beyond high school." The little tech couldn't keep some heat out of her voice, although she continued quietly as they entered the hallway. "You're trying to say you're some kind of political prisoner. Well, let me tell you, we don't do that in this country, lock people up in high security prisons for what they say or write. Not during the twenty-first century we don't. We have freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. You did something else, and you just don't want to admit it."
"Sure," said Elizabeth as they neared her room. "And we don't force people to take part in medical experiments either. Not in this country. Not in this century."
Caroline had Elizabeth back in the chair and down to the scanning lab fifteen minutes early. The technicians from the lab took over then, and Caroline went over to Yellow Unit to see who was in the staff ready room. She was told Doo was "out and about," but she stayed and chatted with whoever came in until the Supervisor put her head in and asked her if everyone needed more to do. As usual, the techs scattered to their various duties, so Caroline returned to wait for her charge.
Almost two hours later, one of the scanning technicians rolled Elizabeth back into the small waiting room. "Good as gold," he reported. Caroline thanked him and pushed the chair down the hall to the door marked "Human Genetics Coding Project." When she rolled the chair through the door, she found a small room with a single desk in the center. Three unmarked doors lined the wall behind the desk. "Nobody's home," Elizabeth commented, the first words she had spoken to Caroline all afternoon. The door to the left opened, and a lab technician, a small, black woman with a serious expression, emerged. She spoke to Caroline. "Is this Elizabeth? You're late."
"Held up at the scanning lab."
"That's all right then. I'll take her." She replaced Caroline behind the chair and disappeared through the same door.
Caroline looked around, but there was no place to sit except at the desk, and she didn't feel right about that. She wished she had had a chance to ask how long this wait would be. The door opened behind her, and Dr. Stephens entered. She noted that he looked tired, and his lab coat and white shoes were spattered with blood. She was surprised when he smiled and greeted her. "Caroline. I guess we finally got our turn with your charge."
She nodded, a little awed. "Good afternoon, Dr. Stephens."
"Did she just go in?"
"Well, you have a wait of about an hour. Come into my office. I want to talk to you for a few minutes." He preceded her to the door on the right, and she followed him into an office far simpler than she had expected. After all, he headed this lab and Blue Unit, and some said he, not the seldom seen Director, really ran the facility.
He motioned to the straight-backed chair that faced his desk. This chair, a number of filing cabinets, a gray metal desk, and a battered leather desk chair were the only furniture in the small room. She noted that this was an inside room, and he didn't even have a window.
After he sat down, he leaned back in his chair and asked, "Well, how do you like working on Blue Unit?"
"I like it very much."
"Good. Do you think you could stand to stay with us for a while longer?"
"Sure, I mean, I'll probably be on Blue Unit as long as Elizabeth is."
"I've been hearing some good things about your work."
His gray eyes seemed to search her face for a reaction. When she answered, she tried to keep her voice and expression carefully neutral. "I try to do a good job."
"The tech-in-charge of your shift told me you're very thorough and pay attention to the details. You never slough your work off on others and, in fact, do more than your share, usually relieving the previous shift ahead of schedule." She put her head down, afraid he would see too much pride-and hope-there. "You also got a positive mention in an incident report by a couple of Kabota's attendants. Seems you showed you could react decisively and firmly in a tense situation."
He hadn't asked a question, so she didn't comment. He went on. "I also learned something interesting at the hospital yesterday. I stopped at Emergency to find out who had sutured Elizabeth's wound. I'm always looking for talent I can use over here. Thought maybe there was an intern or resident whose abilities had been overlooked. I talked to a young male nurse who told me something very interesting." He paused.
"He told me that you sutured Elizabeth's wound. He volunteered that you have a lot of aptitude for medical tasks. Do you think that's true?"
"Aptitude?" she asked. Be careful, Caroline. "I'm interested in the medical field. Once I'm shown how to do something, like suturing or drawing blood, I don't have much trouble doing it."
He changed the subject. "Do you know Frank, the tech-in-charge for the night shift on Blue Unit?"
"I know who he is," she answered.
"Frank also does some extra work for me, organizes subject records, assists me in the dissection suite, things like that."
"I didn't know that."
"No reason you should. The point is that Frank has taken a position at another institution."
Hope flared, but was immediately dashed. "Of course, you're not qualified to take Frank's place on the unit. You're at least a year from tech 1 status, although I don't have a doubt you'll achieve it as soon as you're eligible."
"What I was thinking about was the other work, the work Frank has done for me. It's really too much to be done on just an occasional or extra basis. I'm thinking about making that a full-time position." Caroline made herself look him steadily in the eyes. "It would be a good opportunity for a tech to get some medical experience, maybe even qualify for some tuition assistance, if he-or she-was interested in going beyond tech status." He cleared his throat. "I was wondering if you might be interested in that position."
She had trouble speaking, but finally was able to say, "Yes, sir. Very interested."
"Good. Nothing definite yet, understand." He rose, and she did also. "I have some things to do elsewhere. Feel free to sit at the desk in the outer office until your charge is finished with her tests."
The next morning went routinely, except that Doo was again in Elizabeth's room when Caroline came on duty. This time he had not moved the chair close to the bed. "Karen went home sick," he explained. "The Supervisor sent me up to fill in. But they wouldn't give me one of those nice blue coats. Said yellow was good enough for old Doo."
Caroline laughed. She saw that Elizabeth was awake. "Good morning. How did you sleep?"
Caroline looked at Doo, who nodded. "She just now woke up. I was going to change her bandages so you wouldn't have to do it, but I always say let sleeping subjects lie."
"Bandages" was right. Elizabeth had come back from the genetics lab with two small squares of skin missing from her upper back. Tissue samples, the technician had explained. So Caroline could add caring for those wounds to her list of things to do. She also planned to remove the stitches from Elizabeth's leg, which despite the soaking in the sensory dep tank, was practically healed. She set about all these small tasks, having Elizabeth clean, gown and bandages changed, blood drawn, and stitches out within the first hour of her coming to work. "You didn't feel these going in because you were sedated," she told the woman when it came time to remove the stitches. "I'm quick, so it won't hurt too much."
Elizabeth lay, patient and uncomplaining, and that job was soon done. "You'd make a good doctor," Elizabeth commented. "I should know. My father was a surgeon."
"He was?" Caroline had guessed that Elizabeth came from money. Guess it hadn't done her much good.
"Yes. We lived out on the island, but he came into the city every day. He could have worked at one of the private hospitals, but he preferred to work at a teaching hospital. Said he could make more of a difference that way."
"My father believed that we're all put onto the earth for a purpose. He said his purpose was educating young doctors about their responsibilities to their patients, not just to themselves or to the state. He was a good man."
"He died when I was sixteen. My mother, too. Car accident." She shook her head, the only gesture she could make. "What about you? Are your parents living?"
"I don't know about my father. He didn't stick around long enough for me to learn much about him. My mom died about a year ago. Lung cancer. She was only thirty-nine years old."
"She had a hard life, didn't seem that sorry to go." A fierce look came over the small woman's face. "My life's going to be different from hers." There were a few seconds of silence, then she said, "I'll get your breakfast. Today I want you to eat it. I ate at home." As an afterthought, she added, "I'll release your right hand and let you feed yourself today."
Morning exercises followed breakfast, with Elizabeth working on three new machines, all working the lower extremities. As Caroline had predicted, she did even better on these machines than she had done on the others. Except for monitoring that her charge was doing the exercises correctly and at the right weights, Caroline didn't pay her much attention, having decided that she might as well use this opportunity to use the weight machines herself. Conversation was casual, and except that Elizabeth wore a gown and Caroline a tech's uniform, they could have been just two friends working out together in a private gym.
There was only one appointment scheduled in the afternoon, and that was in something called the Cold Water Lab. It was in the lowest level of the facility, actually two floors below ground level. When Caroline pushed Elizabeth's chair off the elevator, they were in the lab. It was a large open space, with high ceilings and several pieces of equipment around what looked like a small swimming pool in the floor. A white-coated figure was adjusting something on one of the machines, but she immediately strode across the room to greet the new arrivals.
"Hello, I'm Dr. Jan Durvich," the woman said. She reached out a hand for Elizabeth's chart and immediately turned to the first blank page and started writing.
"Caroline. This is Elizabeth."
"Okay. Let me tell you what you need to do, Caroline." Her tone was brisk, but not unfriendly. "This is the Cold Water Lab, as you probably know, since you managed to find your way here. We're studying the effects of cold water immersion on human physiology, both at the organic and cellular levels. See those tracks on the ceilings? That's a system for moving our subjects to and from the submersion pool. You need to fasten a set of those suspended restraints around the subject's wrists and the lower set around her ankles. You can do this with her standing, still able to touch the floor. You'll note that the cuffs are padded, since her weight will be fully suspended from them when we lower her into and raise her out of the water. Therefore, it's necessary for the straps to be quite tight or she might be able to slip free of them. Do you understand?"
"Good. Normally an attendant would do this, but we're quite short-handed down here today. Flu epidemic or something." She looked vaguely annoyed about this, but continued. "The first phase of the testing is called cold shock and takes only a few minutes. When everything is ready, we'll raise her so that she can be dropped in the vertical position into the pool. The water temperature is 34 degrees, so her first impulse will be to take a breath." She checked the first sheet in the chart, obviously reminding herself of the name. "Elizabeth, you must try to hold your breath as long as you can after you hit the water."
"Won't she inhale water?" Caroline asked.
"No, she'll be wearing a mask that will keep her from actually taking a breath. It has sensors that will let us know when she tries. As soon as her head emerges from the water, we'll release the valves on the mask so she can breathe. After we've completed that phase, we'll remove the mask. There are two other phases to the testing we'll do today, peripheral cooling and core cooling. Altogether, they'll take no more than an hour. There's a fourth phase, circumrescue collapse, but Elizabeth isn't a candidate for that one."
"Dr. Stephens's orders." She hesitated, then went on. "He considers the mortality risk too high." Taking Elizabeth's chart with her, she walked away and through a door on the other side of the pool.
Caroline had to stand on her toes to reach the lower of the two sets of attached restraints. She moved them back and forth and saw how easily they slid along the track in the ceiling. She saw that there was a hydraulic hose attached to the top part of the suspension system. When she pulled downward, there was enough give in the system for her to pull the restraints to the floor.
She glanced at Elizabeth, who had not spoken since they entered the lab and who was warily eyeing the suspended restraints. "Look, I know it sounds unpleasant, and it probably is, but it's just cold water. You'll go in and out of it a few times, and we'll be out of here in an hour. I'll arrange for you to have a hot shower when we get back to the unit, a real shower, not just a sponge bath in your bed."
"I'm not going to do this," Elizabeth stated flatly.
Caroline sighed. "You don't have a choice. You're going to do it, so you might as well do it the easy way." Elizabeth didn't answer, which the tech took as assent. Holding the suspended restraints to the floor with her foot, Caroline knelt and removed the mobile ankle restraints. She then lengthened the tether between the wrist cuffs to allow room to fasten the suspended ones. "Stand up. Now. Hold out your hands."
Elizabeth stood up and did as she was ordered. Caroline quickly fastened the suspended restraints before removing the others. As she finished, there was the sound of air being expelled from the hydraulic system, and Elizabeth's wrists shot into the air. The ascent stopped with her feet still on the floor, but she pulled back violently. Wearing only the soft cotton boots subjects were allowed, she lost her footing on the bare floor, and her right foot made contact with Caroline's knee. Staggering, Caroline drew her BeRt and touched it to Elizabeth's back. Elizabeth convulsed and, thinking she was still struggling, Caroline pushed the intensity to full and touched it to her chest.
Dr. Durvich came running around the pool. "Stop it," she shouted. "Stop shocking her!"
Caroline stopped and saw that Elizabeth was hanging from the wrist restraints and trembling uncontrollably. Dr. Durvich checked the pulse in her neck. "Regular. No arhythmia." She turned to Caroline. "The floor is wet. You're protected by rubber-soled shoes, but she's not. You're lucky you didn't kill her. This will be reported to Dr. Stephens."
"She was fighting the restraints."
"I pushed the button that activates the hydraulics. It must have startled her." Dr. Durvich shook her head and gestured to the BeRt. "She wasn't going anywhere. That's why I use attendants. You techs live for using that thing. I swear I don't know where they recruit you. You just better hope this doesn't skew the test results."
"You're going through with the experiment?"
"Of course." She checked Elizabeth's pulse again. "See? She's already coming around. We'll give her a few minutes, then proceed." Before walking away, she gave Caroline a kinder look. "Sorry I yelled. We don't need to tell Dr. Stephens. It was just that he was so specific that this subject was to come to no harm."
Having been given a hot bath and warm liquids and now covered with two blankets, Elizabeth's lips had lost their blue tinge, and she had finally stopped shivering. Dr. Durvich had instructed Caroline to take the subject's temperature every hour and to have her paged if it hadn't risen to normal by the end of shift. Caroline looked at the readout and decided that .2 of a degree wasn't worth disturbing a doctor. She checked her watch as she recorded the reading in Elizabeth's chart. Where was her relief anyway?
"How are you feeling?" she asked the other woman.
"All right." She tried to shift in the bed but couldn't move very far.
"Sometimes I dream about sleeping on my back or side."
Caroline realized that this was as close to a complaint as she had heard her make. She wanted to say something about how someday things would be better, but remembered that subjects weren't to be encouraged to think about the future. For them, there was only now and following orders. "I'm going to check on my relief." When she approached the control station, Jeannie was talking to a tall black man. Frank, the night tech-in-charge. Both of them faced Caroline when she approached, but Jeannie ducked, pretending to hide.
"What's up with whats-her-name?" Caroline asked. "She's over a half-hour late, and I'm on my own time now."
"Sweetie, Karen just called," Jeannie answered. "You know she went home sick this morning. Now she says it's this bug that's going around, and she can't make it in tonight."
"Well, is someone else coming in?"
Frank spoke up. "We've gone through everyone we can think of. They're already working or just can't come in. We even called that guy Doo, Jeannie's friend." He looked at Jeannie, who covered her cheeks, pretending to blush. "No answer. I don't like having males in charge of female subjects anyway, not on my shift."
"Oh, Doo's okay," Jeannie put in. "And he doesn't need to force a patient to get what he needs." As both Caroline and Frank looked at her significantly, she added, "I don't mean me. We're just buddies, and only here at work. But Doo is popular with the ladies. Why do you think he's always finding excuses to wander all over the facility? Anywhere you go, you're likely to see that yellow jacket and Doo inside it flirting with some tech or attendant."
"Don't forget the nurses," Caroline amended. "Over at the hospital, the female nurses request him to pick up medicines and supplies for Yellow Unit."
"Well, his charm's lost on me," Frank stated. "I know, it's a girl thing. Anyway, he didn't answer his phone or his page, so he must be gettin' busy tonight." He gazed down at the little tech.
"So you want me to stay." It was a statement, not a question.
"We hate to ask you, kid," Jeannie said. "I would stay if I could, but I've already done a full shift, too, and I'm on duty tomorrow."
Caroline sighed, acknowledging the inevitability of her answer. "And tomorrow is my day off. Which I'll now spend sleeping."
"It's extra money," Frank offered. "Your hourly plus the double-shift bonus."
"Yeah, I hear you." But she knew she always needed every cent she could get, just to make ends meet. "Okay, I'll stay, but I can't guarantee I'll stay awake."
Jeannie smiled and started around the counter, ready to leave before anything else came up. Frank asked Caroline, "Is your charge a good sleeper?"
"Yeah. She had a busy day, and she's already half-asleep. Why?"
"I don't usually allow this, but, since you're taking a double shift, get a blanket and pillow from the supply room. You can doze in your chair as long as you get everything done that's ordered in her chart. Fair enough?"
She wanted to ask why what's-her-name got away with leaving all the chart orders for her, but just smiled and said, "Fair enough."
She doubted that she would be able to sleep on duty, but brought a blanket and pillow back to the room with her anyway. Elizabeth's eyes were closed, and she was breathing deeply and steadily. Caroline stood for a moment and studied her face. So calm and beautiful, the planes of her face smooth and strong. She wondered how someone who looked like this and who had started life as a doctor's daughter ended up here, in this bed, her freedom gone. Drugs? The wrong lover? She didn't believe that story about writing anti-government articles. Sure, you got in trouble for that probably, but not this kind of trouble. Then she shrugged and went to settle in her chair. She put the pillow between her head and the chair back and snuggled in the blanket. Although she wouldn't sleep, she might as well be comfortable....
She was standing by a broad river on a flat plain. Her side of the river was beautiful, with tall, fernlike trees, soft grass, and a multitude of flowers, pink, yellow, blue. . . . A group of women approached her, one carrying a jeweled goblet. They wore white gowns, sheer and flowing. Angels, she thought. This is heaven, and those are angels. The women greeted her, but they called her a strange name, not Caroline. The one with the goblet knelt and dipped it into the clear water of the river. Then she held it out. "The water of Lethe," she said. "Drink before your journey."
Caroline took the goblet and tasted it. Sweet, unlike water, more like wine. Then she heard shouts and laughter and looked across the river. Three men were hauling on a rope, pulling something out of the water. "I wonder what that is?" She had no more said the words than she was standing beside them on the other side of the river. The men frightened her. They wore rags of clothing, and their faces looked blasted with evil, their eyes dark and sunken, mouths pulled back in something more like rigor than grins. But they paid her no attention, continuing to pull on the rope and yelling to whatever was on the end of it. Then that object surfaced, and Caroline saw that there was a body at the end of the rope.
The men stayed back from the river and pulled the body completely onto the bank before they approached it. It was the body of a drowned woman, and it lay face down, long and lifeless, also wearing rags for clothing, its pale skin covered with deep wounds, from which no blood issued. The men surrounded the body, but seemed cautious about approaching it. Finally, one pulled his foot back and kicked it in the side with all his strength. The thing moaned. All the men laughed, and he kicked it again, this time in the head.
"Stop!" Caroline cried. "She's alive."
She started forward, and the men finally looked at her. They laughed and mocked her. "Alive! She's alive! I don't think so."
The one who had been doing the kicking spoke, his voice strained and croaking, as if something was wrong with his throat. "You? You don't belong here. Get back on your side of the river." He turned his back on her and ordered one of his companions, "Get the boat. We'll take her out for another swim."
Caroline couldn't stand to touch him, but she came within a few inches of his face. "I said to stop this. You have no right!"
"We have every right," he croaked. "We're just following orders. We're her punishers. Who better than us, right boys? Her 'innocent' victims." The others nodded, still showing their malicious grins. "We were assigned to make her suffer. Best duty the place has to offer. Now that she's leaving, this is our last chance, and we're not going to let it go to waste."
He kicked the body again, this time hard enough to roll it over. Without thinking, Caroline threw the goblet at him, striking him in the face. Wiping at the liquid, he screamed as if burned and staggered back a pace. He recovered and started toward her, but then suddenly he and the others were gone.
Caroline felt a hand on her shoulder. "I told them to make her drink from Lethe," a voice said. "The rest they came up with themselves."
She turned to see a man, tall and broad, dressed in black leather and armor. Under his arm was a helmet, also black, and, for some reason, she found it hard to look upon. She looked at his face instead and found it calm and not unkind. "What is this place? Who are you?"
"Ah, you've already drunk of the river." His face remained solemn. "You're about to get what you wanted. As I've warned you, you will now live a different life. In time, as all do, you'll return here. My judgement then will be based on this new life only."
She listened but had no idea of what he meant. New life? Judgement?
He stood over the woman who lay on the river bank. "The same is true for her." Caroline stood beside him and looked down. Then he waved his hand, and the woman was gone.
"Where did she go? What did you do?"
"She's gone to a new life, little one." Then he did smile, a small smile that seemed tinged with sadness. "You had better hurry. Time passes differently up there. She's already almost a decade ahead of you." Then he held his hand above her own head. . . .
"No! I don't want to go!"
Caroline realized she was standing, a blanket clutched tightly to her chest.
"Caroline. You had a nightmare."
She looked in the direction of the voice. Elizabeth. She lay on the bed, awake, face serious. "You were screaming. Are you all right?"
"It was just a dream?"
Caroline took a shuddering breath. "I've had that dream since I was a little girl, but never like this time."
"Do you want to tell me about it?"
Automatically, Caroline shook her head. Then she realized that she did.
Not tell Elizabeth particularly, just someone who wouldn't make fun of her. Or make it a joke to tell someone else. She lay the blanket in the chair and walked over to the bed. She hesitated, then sat gingerly on the edge. She looked into Elizabeth's clear blue eyes, then looked away before speaking. "It was the dream about the Black Knight."
"Yes. That's what I call him. He's all dressed in black armor, and he's holding one of those helmets, you know, with a visor, like knights wear." She realized that she had fallen into talking about the nightmare as she had when she was little and tried to describe it to her mother. "I'm in a strange place by a river. There are other women there and some scary men. They're hurting one of the women. Then the Black Knight shows up."
"Does he frighten you, too?"
"No. I don't know if he's good, but he's not bad, not like the other men." She felt herself breathing more rapidly just thinking about them, and she consciously slowed her breaths. "He warns me."
"He says he's going to judge me. And the other woman."
Not answering, Caroline forced herself to look at this woman's face. Whenever she had dreamed of the Black Knight before, she had not looked down on the drowned woman's face. This time she had. And the face was Elizabeth's.
Determined not to relieve night shift any earlier than she had to, Caroline stepped out of the elevator exactly on time. Jeannie was already at the control station, and she greeted her cheerfully, "Hi, sweetie. How was the day off?"
"I don't know," she answered, "I slept through it." But then, Jeannie's look was so sympathetic, she had to smile. "It was okay, just went by too fast." She started past the station, but Jeannie motioned her to stop and come over.
"You don't need to stop at the room. It's covered, and you've got an appointment. What you been up to, girl?"
"What do you mean?" Caroline asked but immediately thought of the incident in the Cold Water Lab.
"Dr. Stephens left a message with Frank. He wants to see you a half hour after start of shift. That man is here day and night. Doesn't he ever sleep?"
"Oh. I'll check on Elizabeth and. . . ."
"Leave her alone. You go in there, you'll get started on something and then be late." Jeannie checked her watch. "Supervisor sent Doo up when I said I needed someone to cover. He's been in there about fifteen minutes; let him take care of the morning orders. He ought to do a little work after not answering his beeper the other night."
"Doo? Did he get in trouble for that?"
"Did you ever know Doo to get in trouble for anything?" She shook her head and smiled knowingly. "Doo has the run of the place, and he's the only person who isn't afraid of the Supervisor."
Caroline leaned against the station, enjoying this rare opportunity for girl talk. "How do you suppose he gets away with so much?"
Although there was no one in the hall, Jeannie lowered her voice even more. "Since he's your friend, too, I'll tell you. But you have to promise not to tell anyone else."
"Okay." Caroline leaned closer.
"One time, when I was at his apartment, I found something." At Caroline's raised eyebrows, she added, "Okay, we had a thing going for a while. It didn't last. We soon figured out we were better friends than lovers. You know?"
Betraying her inexperience, Caroline answered, "Not really."
"Well, take it from me, it happens." She beamed at the younger woman. "Anyway, Doo was taking a shower, and I thought I would help him out by cleaning up some of the mess. You seen how he keeps his place?"
"Oh, okay, just asking. I picked up some clothes from his desk, and there was a file folder under it. I'm the curious type, and I opened it. When I saw what was in it, I closed it real fast and put the pants and shirt back on top of it." She paused, and Caroline wondered if she was having second thoughts about sharing this information.
"What was it?"
Jeannie glanced at the door of Elizabeth's room and dropped her voice even farther, so she was whispering now. "The top page had the Supervisor's name written on it. And then it listed her salary and all of her expenses. It listed her car payment, her rent, her kid's private school tuition . . . ."
"The Supervisor has a kid?"
"Yeah. Musta bought him," she answered. "But the point is that her expenses were more than double her salary."
"Maybe she's in debt."
"No, that's just it. Not only was she spending all that money, she had thousands more in a bank. I guess she's figured out a way to make a lot more out of her position than a paycheck."
Caroline thought for a minute before she spoke. "Something that's against the rules."
"Or even illegal. Selling supplies or drugs, something like that."
"And Doo found out." Caroline didn't know how she felt about this. "And he's using the information against the Supervisor. Holding it over her head."
Jeannie nodded. "That's why he can do whatever he wants and never get into trouble. Look at it this way, kid, one of our own is finally getting over on an administrator." She checked her watch. "Hey, you better get downstairs. You don't want to be late for your appointment. Hope it's good news."
Caroline nodded. She did, too.
When Caroline entered the genetics lab, Dr. Stephens's office door was open. He was sitting at his desk and waved her in. "Good morning, Caroline. Prompt, even a little early. That's good."
"Good morning, sir." Caroline seated herself and sat erect, hands folded in her lap.
"I know we both have busy days ahead, so I won't waste time. I told you that I was thinking about taking on a tech as my full-time assistant."
"I've decided to do it," he informed her. "Would you be interested in the position?"
She tried to slowly release her breath before answering. "Yes, sir, I would."
"Good." He opened a folder that was on the desk in front of him. Caroline recognized it as a personnel file. Hers?
"I have a few questions I want to ask before offering you the position." He paged through the file and found the paper he wanted to refer to. "It says here that you don't have any relatives. Is that correct?"
"Yes, sir, at least none that I know about. My father may still be living, but I haven't heard from him since I was a small child. My mother died a year ago."
"Lung cancer, yes," he said. "A smoker. On this question about whether she had an arrest record, you've marked yes. She wasn't involved in the tobacco riots, was she?"
"No, sir. She worked in a cigarette factory, but she had been laid off long before the riots." Caroline remembered that cigarettes had been only one of her mother's many addictions.
"She never took part in any anti-government activity." In her mind, Caroline said goodbye to any chance for advancement at the facility. "The arrests were for prostitution."
"I see." He closed the file. "Thank you for your honesty." He stood up, and Caroline followed suit, hoping her disappointment didn't show too clearly. "Now, would you like to see where you'll be working?"
"Yes, sir. You mean I have the job?"
"Of course. I already knew all about your mother's profession. I just wanted to see if you would tell the truth." He gave her a fatherly pat on the back. "You're a fine girl. I'll be glad to have you on my team."
Caroline followed him to the elevator, trying to control the big smile that wanted to form. "When will I start? The new job, I mean."
"How about tomorrow?" he asked as the elevator descended one floor. "This is Frank's last day, so I need someone immediately."
"Tomorrow? Is Elizabeth going to be reassigned?" she asked. She had never known a special duty patient to be switched from one day shift tech to another.
"Elizabeth will be leaving tomorrow." Caroline wanted to question him further, but the elevator stopped. and they stepped together into a hallway Caroline had never visited. Ahead were double doors below a sign that said Dissection Suite. "This is where my real work takes place."
"Not in the genetics lab?" she asked.
"That's really Dr. Leonusco's department," he informed her. "He's the genius with the superelectron microscope and with the tiniest parts of the human genetic code. My job is putting together what he discovers with what really goes on in the human body. Figuring out how the genes are expressed. And how to predict what effect certain combinations of genes will have." He pushed open one of the doors and motioned for her to precede him. Inside was what appeared to be a completely equipped operating room. "Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Only part of it," she admitted.
"Part of it is a good start," he assured her. He led her to the operating table that seemed to be in the exact center of the room. "This is where I unravel the mysteries, Caroline, where I figure out how nature takes the messages of the human genetic code and arranges them to produce superior qualities in actual organisms. This is where I've come within reaching distance of finding out how to produce those superior qualities, strength, endurance, intelligence, obedience, all present in one organism."
"You mean make better babies?"
"Better babies? Yes, better babies." He chuckled. "You've cut to the heart of the matter. Better babies, ones that won't be prone to diseases of the mind or body, that won't suffer from addictions or commit crimes, that will live long and happy lives."
"You're really learning how to do that?"
"Yes, the work Dr. Leonusco does and what I do here, when combined, will enable us to do just that." He paused, and then seemed to come to a decision. "Caroline, have you ever heard of a story called Frankenstein?"
"Yes, wasn't that a monster?"
"Frankenstein was a doctor. He tried to make a superior being and ended up making a monster."
"Do you know the lesson of that story?"
She hadn't read the story but remember an old-fashioned videodisc by that name, one that was shown to them in school. "Something about not messing with nature?"
He shook his head. "That's what most people think, but they're wrong. Frankenstein's idea was fine. But where he went wrong was using the wrong material. He tried to make a superior human being by using defective material. The brain of the monster was the brain of a criminal."
Caroline didn't know what to say, so she was silent.
"We work on the cellular and subcellular level, but the principle is the same. You can't produce strength if you use material that is weak. You can't produce intelligence if you use material that is stupid. And you certainly can't produce respect for authority if you use material that is criminal." He was looking around the room as he talked, and Caroline had the feeling he wasn't really talking to her anymore.
"Dr. Stephens?" Caroline saw Frank walking through a door on the other side of the suite. The doctor didn't respond immediately, seemingly lost in his own thoughts. "Dr. Stephens, I have everything ready for tomorrow's procedure."
The doctor shook his head, as if clearing it. "What? Oh, Frank. I didn't know you were here already. I guess you're eager to finish up and get on to your new job."
Caroline thought Frank looked doubtful, but he said, "Yes, sir."
Dr. Stephens explained to Caroline, "Frank is leaving us to work at MONCUS. Seems like that place is always stealing our best people. Guess the district can afford better pay, right, Frank?"
"I guess so."
"Before you leave for the day, stop by my office. Now I want you to show Caroline around, give her some idea of her duties. Will you do that?"
"Of course." Frank walked over and held the door for Dr. Stephens.
"Goodbye, Caroline," the doctor said, "Welcome to the team."
Caroline started to say goodbye, but he was gone. She turned to the big tech. "So you're leaving here to go to MONCUS?"
"Yeah." He sighed. "Dr. Stephens got me the job."
"Oh, I didn't know. I thought. . . ."
He cut her off. "It's not because he doesn't like my work. He hasn't been happy with some of the material we've been getting. Or the condition it's in when it comes."
"Material?" Caroline asked, remembering how Dr. Stephens had used the term.
"You know, subjects. We call them material once they've been dedicated to the genetics project. Dr. Stephens wants to make sure we get the best subjects and that they aren't ruined before they get here."
Caroline remembered Elizabeth's battered condition when she had arrived in Emergency. No, that couldn't be related to what Frank was saying.
Frank ordered curtly, "Come over to the table. I'll show you what you need to do."
Frank spent a few minutes explaining the various instruments and the procedures followed in the suite. He also explained how tissue samples would be preserved and stored. Caroline concentrated, but she didn't see how she could get everything straight from this one time through. "How can I remember all this?" she asked. "I've already forgotten the names of half the instruments."
"Dr. Stephens is pretty patient," he told her, "especially when you're new, so if you forget something, just ask him. This is like an orientation. He'll train you as the procedure goes along."
"Isn't there a resident or nurse to assist him?"
"No, just one tech. Dr. Stephens doesn't want a lot of people in here. He likes to work alone." Frank pointed to a small machine at one end of the table. "There's one more thing I want to show you. This is the most high-tech piece of equipment in the facility. The surgeons at the hospital probably just wish they had something like this."
"What is it?"
"It's a phorohydroquadrilizer.
He smiled for the first time. "A PHQ machine. You hook the dissection subject up to this, no more complicated than putting in a couple of IV's, and place this mask over the face. Then the PHQ automatically monitors the blood, supplies the correct amounts of anesthetic, oxygen, muscle relaxants, anything else that is needed." He patted the machine proudly and looked as if he were going to miss it.
Caroline blinked and felt the blood leave her own face. "Are you all right?" the other tech asked. "Oh, great. Don't tell me you're squeamish. You'll be a hell of a lot of good in here if you are."
She took a deep breath and steadied herself. "No, I'm fine. I don't know what was wrong with me. I'm not squeamish. Not at all."