sixteen: word vomit, vol 1

i’ll never know why i’m more comfortable posting my own legitimate disturbed and disturbing thoughts than i am posting my fictional rubbish. someday we’ll delve into it, but not today. nay friends, today will be the first of a short series of word vomit posts. the rules are simple: at least 30 minutes of writing. no editing, no mulling over the details, no asking myself if anyone will like it. just words trickling from brain to fingers to keys. when the words run out, i post.

“I will give you any amount of money you want to take that thing as far away from me as possible,” said the doctor, eyeing with despair the chart in the outstretched hand of her nurse.

The name, printed on a strip of peeling tape stuck to the front cover, was too well-known to bring any degree of pleasure to the work such a chart brought with it.  In fact, of the thousands of personnel at Camp Delta, this patient was the only one she knew by name, the only puzzle she could not solve, and the only thing that made her deeply regret accepting this placement. As if you had a choice, she thought to herself.

“No dice, Dr. Wishnik. Officer Noble is in rare form, and nothing but a directive from Command would induce me to deal with him today.”  The nurse carefully laid the chart on the teetering pile of papers and folders on the corner of the desk, and then put a reassuring hand on her boss’s shoulder.  “Godspeed, Doctor.”

“You used to be my favorite, you know.”

“I still am,” she said. “Exam 3. I prepped a sedative, the strong shit.  Stashed it in the top drawer on the left. If you need more help than that, page someone else.”

“Definitely not the favorite anymore!” Dr. Wishnik called after the nurse, but she was already gone, closing the door behind her and leaving the doctor alone with her dread.

But dread wasn’t the right word.  Annoyance, sure.  Frustration, definitely.  But dread?  No.  She hadn’t known real dread for almost a year now, since her first meeting with Command and her acceptance  of her current post.  It was a feeling that would take years to shake, if she could shake it at all, but she wasn’t far enough removed yet to forget every detail.  The military transport, the armed men, and the look of panic on her husband’s face as his wife was pulled from his arms, handcuffed, blindfolded, thrown into a truck, and driven away.

It was a long ride, two or three hours, over rough terrain to some unknown location.  The camp hadn’t been so much a camp then as a collection of makeshift multi-use buildings, all made of corrugated metal siding that shivered in the wind and flimsy roofs that turned even the lightest rain shower into a sharp, metallic cacophony.  For the first six months, there were no barracks.  She’d had to bed down in this room, her office.  Her cell.  It’s where they kept her then, locked away like a prisoner when she wasn’t on duty.  Only then was she allowed to wander freely around the medical facility, but only with two armed guards in attendance.  She was a flight risk, they said.

Or rather, he said.  Commander Gallagher wasn’t the top of the food chain here, but he was as close as anyone was allowed to get.  He looked like the standard military type.  Tall, barrel-chested, imposing.  He had a way of getting you to do things that made it feel like you were doing him a favor, when really you were just following orders.  His language was gruff and cutting, but could turn soft and persuasive in a moment, leaving his target confused, vulnerable.

She had been half dragged, half led into this building in the middle of a fantastically loud thunderstorm, locked in this room, and told the Commander would be with her shortly.  Her handcuffs had been removed, and as soon as she was sure her captors were gone, she yanked off the soaked blindfold and used it to wipe as must moisture from her face as she could.  The last thing she wanted was to appear as if she’d been crying.  She had been, but no one needed to know it.

She was alone in the room except for a metal table with one dim lamp and a folding table on each side, interrogation room style.  There walls were bare except for the tell-tale signs of surveillance equipment in use.  Two small cameras were mounted in opposite corners.  Microphones were wired into the other two.  She didn’t check, but no doubt was a smaller, wireless mic unit affixed to the lamp on the table.  Whoever was listening didn’t want to miss a thing.

She hadn’t been there long when the door opened and a man in full military dress came in, hat in hand and smiling pleasantly, like a generous and benevolent host come to greet his honored guest.  He had a large accordion folder under his arm.  He put in on the floor next to one of the chairs before extending his hand to her.

“Dr. Wishnik, I presume.”  Her hand was gripped firmly, pumped three times, and released.  “I’m Commander Josiah Gallagher.  How was your trip up the mountain?  I know the roads can be unforgiving this time of year, what with the rains and all.  I hope you weren’t too uncomfortable.”

“Not at all,” she said with forced politeness and unveiled contempt.  “The armed guards who abducted me from my home in the dead of night were most accommodating.  Though the handcuffs were a bit much.”  She sat down in one of the chairs, in clear and deliberate breach of military protocol.  The superior officer remained standing, but didn’t call her out on her error.

“Abducted?  Come now, Doctor, let’s not be hasty.  Surely you saw this coming.”  He chuckled to himself, as though it were all simply a matter of course.  He wasn’t wrong though, and that’s what annoyed her.  She knew it would happen eventually.  She’d even talked about it with her husband.  Her work in biomedical engineering and human genetics was too well-known, and would without question make her a target.

It wasn’t long after the State assumed power that the visits to their home began.  They always came in groups, but never the same people.  Always two military officials and one medical professional, all unknown to her and all singing the same song: enlist.  Tensions with Russia and China had reached a tipping point.  War was coming, and no one, military or civilian, could deny it.  Her work, her research was invaluable.  She declined each time, hoping to keep her research and developments as pure as possible.

“Well what would you call this little exercise?”

“Intensive recruiting.”

“Clever.”

“And accurate.  But we’re wasting time.  Let’s proceed with the interview.”  He picked up the accordion folder and took out a large, disc-bound file.  It landed on the metal table with such a thud that she jumped.  The card stock cover was blank except for a few lines in narrow, bold print across the middle of the page.  The first lines were easy enough to decipher, just her initials.  The lines following her a mystery:

Project: Ocean
Class 5
Docket 476
Subject: Unknown

“Impressive little beauty, isn’t it?” he asked, tapping one sausage-like finger on the stack.  “I do love the smell of a freshly compiled dossier.”

“What is all that?”

“That, Doctor, is your life.  Neatly and concisely boiled down to 539 single-spaced pages, not including various attachments, addendum, and appendices.”  He sat down directly opposite her, opened the cover, and began reading aloud.

“Wishnik, Katherine.  Maiden name Kemble.  An interesting middle name… Cantwell.  I’m guessing your mother’s maiden name?”

“Grandfather’s first name.”

He nodded and kept reading.  “Born July 1, 19-… well, we won’t divulge.  Raise in New Hope, Indiana.”  He looked up from the page.  “What sort of place is New Hope, Indiana?”

“Farming community.  Small, quiet.”

“Church-based?”

“Six churches in a town of 700 people.  You tell me.”

“That’s a yes,” he said, producing a pen and making notations on the page.  “Raised in New Hope, Indiana.  Attended New Hope Secondary, graduated with honors, well done.  Early acceptance to Northwestern.  Double major in Biology and Organic Chemistry, double minor in Spanish and dance.”  He stopped and chuckled.  “Unusual, but nothing to be lost by being well-rounded.  Graduated summa cum laude.  Most impressive.  Graduated from Harvard Medical.  Married David Hiram Wishnik October 24, 20-…”

“I know my own history, thank you,” she snapped.  “What’s all this leading up to?”

That’s when he told her, in no uncertain terms, the danger that loomed before them all.  Mass hysteria.  Bio-terrorism.  Nuclear winter.  Threats to democracy and safety on the home front.  Imagine New Hope, Indiana as nothing more than a great crater in the Midwest, another Grand Canyon.  Imagine her family, her husband as casualties of something her work could have helped prevent.

“Since you’re already so familiar with my work, you know why I’m not about to agree with whatever offer you’re going to make.  My stance is clear: no human testing.”

“Is that why you don’t have any children?”

Her blood turned cold.  Too close to the mark.  “What do you mean?”

“It’s all here,” he said, flipping through the file.  “Fertility specialists, adoption and surrogate applications… it’s all here.  Now why on earth would a talented, highly trained geneticist put herself and her husband through all this rigmarole for the sake of having a baby when she knows there’s a much clearer path open to her?”

“You’re talking about cloning.  Fetal genetic modification.  Altering what ought not to be altered.”

He leaned forward.  “I’m talking about a brilliant but desperate woman using every advantage she’s got.”

She struggled to remain calm.  “My work is in disease prevention, not family planning.”

“But still, why would…”

“Because it doesn’t work like that!”  Restraint was no longer an option.  She rose, irate, and began pacing her side of the room.  “What’s so hard to see?  Disease prevention.  I take synthesized strains of cancer and break them down, find out how and why they originate and replicate.  Yes, I sometimes use organic genetic specimens, but only as a control.  My experiments are always conducted with synthesized material.”  She stopped her pacing and thought of David, and what consequences her actions might have for him.  She must be calm if she’s to protect them both.  She returned to her seat and spoke with measured affirmation.

“I took an oath when I put on that white coat, and the work I do is just and ethical and within the bounds of that oath.  You will not impugn my life’s work by making it the basis for some bullshit superhero origin story.  I will not be your mad scientist.  And permit me to say that using my fertility struggles as an inducement to work for you is disgusting.”

“Disgusting but effective.  You may not see things our way at present, but we can work with that.  Until then, you will be our medical liaison.”  From the very back of the file he pulled a single loose sheet.  It was a draft order, signed and stamped by the commanding General.  It was dated one day before her abduction.  “This isn’t a job offer, Doctor Wishnik.  This is a military directive.  The threats are real, and at some point you will be forced to abandon your naivety and work with us.”

“And if I refuse?”

“I think you know better.”

She tried keep her voice steady as she chose her next words, hoping like hell they hadn’t been acted on, but knowing fully well they probably had been.  “I assume my husband has already been dealt with?”

Commander Gallagher tsk-tsked, like a disappointed parent.  “We’re not monsters, Doctor.  Professor Wishnik is in perfect health, and with your cooperation, he is very likely to remain so.  No, you’d be no good to us if you were constantly distracted with worry about him.  But that’s not to say he won’t be under close supervision.  Very close indeed.”

There was no more discussion after that.  She knew it wouldn’t do any good.  Almost a year later, her situation had not changed much.  The armed escorts were gone, but she was still closely watched, routinely questioned about her practices and ideologies.  She still had not agreed to perform anything beyond routine medical procedures on any personnel.

In a show of good faith, once a month she was shown a picture of David, always with that day’s newspaper.  They used Polaroids so she could be sure the images weren’t doctored.  He looked sad and tired, but healthy.  He wrote her little notes, sent her trinkets when the higher-ups would permit it.  Nothing extravagant, but little things one couldn’t obtain in a military camp.  Her favorite pens, little framed photos of himself and the dog, a small box of candied violets.  Once they allowed him to send her cuttings of the prized hydrangea bush in her garden, but they arrived wilted, and no amount of love and attention could bring the blooms back to life.  She hung them to dry and pressed them between the pages of Gray’s Anatomy.

She had expected David would be relocated to military housing like the families of the other recruits.  Those housing units were bugged “for the safety and protection of our servicemen’s loved ones.”  Dissension often began within the civilian families, frustrated with the long absences, the shoddy news and closed-off nature of their relatives’ brief and infrequent communications.  A discreetly place microphone or three kept the people in check.

But David was not relocated.  Ostensibly it was because he held a senior tenured position at a prestigious research university, the same university the State had contracted to carry out a number of  classified operations, the nature of which vague.  But Katherine knew better.  As long as David was allowed to carry out business as usual in their own home, the longer she would quietly cooperate with the State and their expectations.  She knew it was a status quo she could not maintain, and it was only a matter of time before her own power ran out.  Sooner or later, she’d have to make some choices.

And that was where Officer  Jesse Noble entered the picture.  Exactly where he came from or how he ended up at Camp Delta, no one knew.  He had been deposited-or dumped-at the gates three months after Wishnik’s arrival, half-dead and unable to remember where he had been.  Even if he did remember, he was too far gone to tell anyone.

He was dressed in military fatigues, but there was no record of his enlistment and he didn’t appear on any of the recruitment rosters.  Civilian records didn’t help.  As far as anyone was concerned, Jesse Noble did not exist.  Jesse Noble may not have even been his real name.  All this presented a perfect opportunity to the State.  A young man between 20 and 30 with few connections to civilian or military life and in a state of health so uncertain that a little bit of voodoo witch doctoring would go amiss.  He was enlisted, given assignments for barracks and some bullshit vocation, and then promptly transported to the intensive care wing of the medical building.

Almost four months later, Katherine continued to perform the daily miracles that kept Noble alive, even with interference from the State.  She prepped his treatments and injections herself whenever she could, but her resources were limited.  More often than not she was forced to use what she was given, without being allowed to examine it too closely before administration.  At least nothing had killed him yet.

Now Noble was back in her med facility for his bi-weekly exam, and he’d already been kept waiting too long.  Katherine hauled herself to her feet, grabbed his chart, and made a slow walk to Exam 3.

there’s waaaaaaaaaaaay more to this, but i’ve already spent more time on it than i meant to.
to be continued…

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