Discover more from Gary Paul Varner
THE TEMPLE OF MAGGIE STONE
Chapter 8: Awakening
Robert and Maggie rode together in Ashley’s car. Maggie still sat in the back seat while Robert drove. Maggie didn’t want to fight with her son, but she was in a foul mood. After about ten minutes of silence, she asked, “Why do want to sell the house, Robert?”
“There’s no reason to keep it,” he said. “Ashley and I aren’t moving in.”
“I live there,” Maggie said.
“And how would it look if we let a young woman in her twenties live in our father’s house? I know dad never cared about his reputation, but I do. I won’t have him humiliated.”
He was right and Maggie knew it. She’d known selling the house was a necessity the moment Ray died, but something about the way Robert said this sent her blood boiling. It was her house!
“It’s mine,” she muttered. “I know you’re right, but you should’ve asked me.”
“And why would I do that?” Robert asked coolly.
“Because I have memories there!” Maggie shouted. “They’re all I have left!”
“If you were really my mother, then you would want to protect Dad’s reputation.”
“Robert, it’s me!” she screamed. “I’m in here! This is my body! I’m real!”
“You would say that, wouldn’t you,” Robert said.
Maggie threw her hands up in frustration. “What do you want me say, Rob. Honestly, what do you want?”
Robert sighed. “Look, I know you think you’re my mother. Maybe, in some sense, that makes you her, but there’s no way science can do something like that. It’s not possible. I’m sorry, but my mother is buried next to her husband now. You’re…” his eyes began to turn red, and he quickly wiped his nose with his sleeve. “I don’t know.”
“Robert…” Maggie began gently, but she couldn’t find the words. She sagged in her seat and stared out the window.
“Perhaps, I should be more kind to you,” he said after a moment. Maggie met her son’s eyes through the rearview mirror. “What they did…” He shook his head. “I’m sure having your son reject you must be awful, but I just…can’t bring myself to believe you’re her. I’m sorry.”
Maggie leaned back against the seat. More than anything, she was tired, and she already regretted the conversation. “I…I understand,” she said. They were silent until they reached the lab.
They pulled into a vacant parking. This was the first time Maggie had really seen the building. Maggie and Ray had kept their eyes on each other when Horace and Randolf took them back to the hospital. It was well disguised, a two story, red brick building. No one would suspect it of being a secret lab. The windows were dingy and dark. A large blank sign hung over two equally dingy glass doors. Loose wires hung below the sign like cobwebs from a robotic spider.
“This has to be the wrong place,” Robert said. They got out of the car, crossed the street and approached the two glass doors. He yanked on the left door which swung open so quickly that Robert knocked himself off balance, almost falling onto the dirty sidewalk. He caught himself in time and looked at his mother, embarrassed. Maggie smiled at him reassuringly. This did not seem to help Robert’s mood. For a moment, Maggie had forgotten her son did not regard her as real, and her smile was a little too much like his mother’s. He glared at her, half-suspicious, half-scared, before collecting himself and motioning for her to walk through the doorway. Maggie tried her best to ignore this, but it still hurt to see her son regard her with so much disdain. Still, seven months had passed since she’d first returned, and she’d spent all the nights crying over his rejection she could stand. This suspicion was just something they were both going to have to live with.
Maggie walked through the doorway and waited for her son. He didn’t enter right away. He took another unsure look outside then regarded the vacant room which looked like it was supposed to be a lobby. Maggie wondered if the building was some kind of theater. There was a desk between two large arches which led to a hallway. A large chandelier hung in the center of the room, covered with plastic crystals layered in dust. The floor was an ugly, faded green and purple carpet with strange Celtic-looking patterns.
Robert finally stepped through the door and was about to say something when Dr. Lane appeared under the archway on the right. She still wore the same purple hair as before, but there were large bags under her eyes. The doctor noticed Maggie’s hair and pointed. “The hair dye worked,” she said. “But I can see the green roots coming back.” She narrowed her eyes. “And you got blue contacts, wonderful! They still look off, but you have to stare hard to notice.” Her eyes went to Robert. “Is this your son?”
Maggie stared at the doctor, concerned. “Are you alright?”
Dr. Lane looked at Maggie, confused. Then she blinked and said, “Oh, yes. I’m very sorry. I’ve been somewhat overwhelmed. I’m running on autopilot. This is your son, right?”
“Yes,” Maggie said. “This is Robert. Robert this is Dr. Lane.”
Robert took several steps forward and stretched out his hand. Dr. Lane began to reach out her hand as well but lowered it. “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel comfortable letting him in the lab.”
“That isn’t negotiable,” Maggie said. “He’s coming with me, or I’m not going with you. He says he needs to see everything with his own eyes, and given the circumstances, I think he’s entitled to know everything I do.”
“If that were all there was to this, I wouldn’t have a problem…but…”
“I understand, but if something’s wrong with these bodies, he has a right to know that too,” Maggie said.
“There’s nothing wrong with our bodies,” Dr. Lane said but added, “At least, I don’t think.”
“Then why am I here?” Maggie asked.
“That’s…hard to explain. Really, it’s all hard to explain,” Dr. Lane was silent for a long time. She stared at Robert for a while then said, “You can’t tell anyone what I’m about to show you. I’m serious. I’m…well, I’m not really in charge anymore, if I ever really was.” She laughed. “If you breathe a word of this to anyone, the guys in charge might…will kill you. Do you understand?”
Robert looked at his mother. Maggie could almost read his mind. What have you gotten yourself into? Still, he nodded. Dr. Lane nodded and tried to smile. The grin looked more like a grimace. The doctor motioned for the two of them to follow her. As they exited the lobby and started down the hall, Maggie was amazed at how dark the hallway was. It shouldn’t have surprised her. There were no lights on, but something was off. The hallway seemed darker than it should have been, and the air felt heavy. It was almost, but not quite, hard to breath, even though there was a cool breeze coming through the vents above them.
As they went on, Maggie saw another open archway to her right. Behind it was a large auditorium. Faded red chairs lined the large room and disappeared into vague shapes in the darkness. On the far side, barely visible, was a stage. They were in an old theater after all. She didn’t like that all the lights were off in this room either. Her eyes made it seem as if there were shadows standing on the stage, watching her. Maggie quickly turned her head.
There was another thing Maggie noticed the longer they were in the building. There was no sound of traffic. It was about four o’clock, and the roads were buzzing with people returning from work, but from the moment Robert let the glass door close behind him, there was nothing, not even the faintest hum. Maggie figured the walls were thick, but it was hard to imagine them being thick enough to block out the sound of rush hour traffic.
Dr. Lane guided them down the hall to a pair of elevator doors. She pressed a button, and the doors opened. An odd florescent light flooded the hallway. It blinded the three of them for a second as they entered the elevator. Dr. Lane pressed another button, the doors closed, and the elevator began its descent.
Maggie and Ray had taken the same route out of the lab, but she’d never noticed the giant theater auditorium, or the way the sound of traffic was non-existent. Back then, things didn’t seem quite so sinister, but with all the excitement, she hadn’t paid much attention the first time. She’d mostly just followed Ray, lost in her own thoughts. She knew they’d taken the same route, but it looked completely different. She didn’t know why. All she knew was if there was another way out of this building, she wanted to take it when they left.
The elevator stopped. The doors opened, and Dr. Lane, Maggie and Robert stepped into the dimly lit hallway. This was the part Maggie remembered perfectly well: the dim green florescent lights, the infinite number of doors with no real order or reason to them, the steel plate roofs and the off-color walls which seemed to absorb the light.
Dr. Lane led them down the infinite number of twists and turns. No one spoke. An incredible tension hung in the air. Dr. Lane had been odd and mysterious in her way, but at no point did Maggie remember feeling so uncomfortable around her.
At last, Dr. Lane led them to a final door and fiddled with her giant keyring. For the first time, Maggie wondered how it was that such a large government project could not afford electric door locks. In fact, the security in this place seemed altogether lacking. She’d noticed several security cameras as they went, but if something were to go wrong, there didn’t seem to be any way to lock the lab down. Why? Dr. Lane had asked the government for help. Why hadn’t improvements been made, especially considering that it looked like the experiment was successful? She hadn’t experienced any side effects. Nothing was out of the ordinary. It was just like being a young woman again. It didn’t make any sense. In three months, they were supposed to make their big announcement to the world. They were going to sell these new bodies to dying, desperate people. Surely, they would want better security. They would want to keep someone from stealing a body or trying to burn the place down because they didn’t agree with the moral implications of such an invention. Not everyone was as thoughtful as Ray when they disagreed with something. Before she could dwell on it any further, Dr. Lane managed to open the door and motioned for them to enter the room.
When they stepped inside, the first thing Maggie saw was a giant one-way mirror. Standing behind it was Horace and Randolf. Between them, stood an older man who looked to be somewhere in his sixties. Maggie wouldn’t have called the man fat, but his belly protruded past his waste. He was bald on top but had thick grey hair in the back. This grey crop was neatly gelled in place. Maggie instantly knew the man was a government official because of his rigid stance and neat, black suit and tie. He turned to look at the three of them entering the room, and Maggie saw the beginnings of a jowl under a once narrow chin. He smiled at the three of them, looking perfectly happy to be there. Whatever was going on didn’t seem to be a problem to him.
He stuck out a small, wrinkled hand. “Ah, Maggie Stone, our first officially successful experiment. It’s an honor to meet you! My condolences for the recent loss of your husband.”
“Thank you,” Maggie said. She shook the man’s hand.
The man put his hand in front of Robert. “This must be your son! It’s also a pleasure to meet you!” Robert shook the man’s hand as well, but the government official did not give him time to say anything. “My name is also Robert, Robert Albertson. I am currently running this fine project, and we’ve just had some exciting developments.” He sent a sharp look at the purple haired doctor. “Haven’t we, Dr. Lane?” Dr. Lane nodded but refused to meet Albertson’s eyes. “Take a look!” Albertson grabbed Maggie by the small of the back, a little lower than Maggie would have liked, in fact, as low as he could without cupping something and led her to the one-way mirror. There was a single metal table and two chairs. On the far side of the table, sitting in one of the chairs, was a naked woman. She was awake and looking around the room. Maggie recognized her right away. The girl was one of the bodies she’d looked at before the operation. She distinctly remembered the red hair, the same color as a rose…only in this lighting, the hair looked more like blood.
Maggie looked back at Dr. Lane. “Did you try the operation on another person?”
Dr. Lane looked at Maggie, her skin paper white. “No.”
“That’s right!” Albertson declared. “According to security footage, this girl woke up at exactly three thirty-three this morning. Isn’t it incredible?”
Robert stepped forward. He looked at the girl. “You’re saying this…body just woke up?”
“That’s right!” Albertson said. “Dr. Lane has been sick about it all day, but I don’t understand the problem. She’s created life!”
“We don’t know that,” Dr. Lane said.
“Oh, yes we do,” Albertson insisted. “And I can see the headlines now. Dr. Rachel Lane, Mother of the Modern Age! It has quite a ring to it. Let’s see what them ignorant Creationists say when we tell them we have finally created life in the laboratory!” He cackled at this and looked around as if he were expecting everyone to laugh with him. The joke didn’t land.
“Dr. Bobby Blake will be here in a minute to try and interview the girl,” Dr. Lane said, ignoring Albertson.”
“Look, if what you’re saying is true, then this is all very impressive, but why do you need us?” Robert asked.
“We’ll need to do comparative brain scans,” Dr. Lane said. “But also…we need to keep an eye on your mother in case…well, in case another consciousness tries to overtake her body. I mean to say that if your body’s brain was working on its own before the operation, then it might have tried to encode its experiences. Who knows how that could manifest.”
“Wait, is that even possible? The brains you made might be able to…write their own codes?” Maggie asked.
Dr. Lane shook her head. “We don’t know. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I wasn’t trying to make life; I was just trying to make bodies. I was trying to save the people already here.” Dr. Lane stared at the new girl for a while, silent. Then she looked back at Maggie and tried to smile. “I don’t think there’s any reason to worry. We just need to monitor you for a while.”
“How long is a while?” Robert asked.
“Until we understand what’s happening,” Dr. Lane said. “Personally, I don’t think it will take long.” She shot an angry look at Albertson. “I think somebody took one of the bodies without our knowledge and began trying to program attributes into the brain. Perhaps, they were trying to build an artificial personality. Perhaps, they had no idea what they were doing and were just trying to see what would happen.”
“Isn’t that what a scientist is supposed to do?” Albertson asked, shrugging.
“Not when we are three months away from announcing our discovery to the entire freaking world!” Dr. Lane shouted.
“What makes you think somebody started messing with the bodies?” Maggie asked, trying to calm the situation.
“Because she can walk,” Dr. Lane said. “Because when we led her into this room, she immediately knew to sit in the chair, and when we offered her clothing, she rejected them, but here’s the thing. She knew what they were! She didn’t inspect them. She didn’t gaze at them stupidly. She instantly knew that they were clothes and threw them on the ground. None of that information just comes to the brain automatically. It must be learned. Humans aren’t like animals in the sense that we already have a certain amount of information already programmed inside of us, and even mammals have to learn to walk. Furthermore, why would a young woman reject clothing, reject clothing in a room that is kept at a constant fifty-seven degrees? Perhaps, all of that was programmed into her, and perhaps, her revulsion to clothing was programmed into her by a pervert!”
“Doctor, you give too much credit,” Albertson laughed. “I don’t know how to operate your equipment.”
Dr. Lane pointed at the bureaucrat. “You know people! You government types always know people!” She then pointed at the old door. “Why else would you refuse to spend the money on security after…after what happened with the first experiment? So, tell me, Rob, how long have you been planning this? And what exactly do you plan on doing with my bodies? I know you’re not just here to oversee the operation once we go public. You want something!”
Albertson laughed even harder. “You need to have more faith in your work. I’m telling you I had nothing to with this.” He stared through the window like a hungry wolf, licking his lips. “This is history in the making. Before you did the experiment on yourself, we were a week or even a day from shutting this whole thing down. But you had guts, and we respected that, so we gave you more time.” He looked Maggie up and down. Maggie cringed, knowing that the old man had probably seen her new body naked before it was used on her. She knew he was seeing her body naked now. “Then this extraordinary specimen happened. You may hate me, Dr. Lane, but I respect you. There’s no end to the money you and I are going to make. I have no reason to jeopardize that. I would be happy if I were you, Dr. Lane. I would be ecstatic!”
“I’m trembling with joy,” Dr. Lane muttered.
Someone opened the door behind them. Maggie turned and saw a middle-aged man with a high forehead showing the first signs of balding step through the doorway wearing a white lab coat, thick glasses and a thin smile. “I came in at the good part, I see,” he said.
Dr. Lane didn’t acknowledge the dry statement. “Maggie, Robert, this is Dr. Blake.” Maggie and Robert shook the doctor’s hand. Then Dr. Lane asked, “Do you know what you’re going to ask her?”
“I’m not sure I’m going to ask anything,” Dr. Blake said. He lifted up a grey bag and shook it. Maggie heard several items rattle inside. “But I have a few ideas. I’m sorry I took so long. I’ve been spending a lot time on the phone. I’ve called every scientist, developmental psychologist, psychiatrist and professor I could think of.” Albertson shot him a hot look. “Relax, I didn’t tell them what was going on. I presented it as an academic exercise, but nobody had any idea what to do. We’re in uncharted territory. But I was able to piece together the skeleton of a plan; the rest we’ll just have to play by ear.”
“Fake it ‘til you make it,” Albertson said, smiling and nodding with approval.
“Science in a nutshell,” Dr. Blake said.
“Politics as well,” Albertson added.
Dr. Blake looked at Maggie and Robert. “Like Dr. Lane said, my name is Dr. Bobby Blake, I’m not very high on the totem pole around here, but I’m good with secrets, which is why I was invited to the party. So, just in case no one has told you, please don’t tell anyone about this.”
“Of course,” Robert said.
Dr. Blake nodded then said to Maggie, “I’m glad to hear the last few months have treated you well, with the exception of today, of course. I’m sorry for your loss. I didn’t get to know Ray during your first stay, but I liked him. He seemed like a stand-up guy.”
“Thank you,” Maggie said. Now that she’d had time to look at the man’s face, she vaguely remembered him being one of the doctors who took her vitals the morning after the operation.
“What’s your plan?” Maggie asked.
“Well, I plan on testing her motor skills mostly. We know she understands how to walk and the purpose of the chair, but she hasn’t spoken yet. It’s possible she was given fragmentary information. I’m operating under Dr. Lane’s hypothesis that someone programmed information into her artificially but did not do a complete job. If this is the case, then we need to understand the extent of her knowledge. Testing her motor skills might be a good way to start.”
“But how can someone program those sorts of details into the brain? You guys act like this is just a simple chore, but it doesn’t seem possible,” Robert said.
“Well, all we did was copy your mother’s information onto her new brain,” Dr. Lane explained. “If someone was going behind our backs and decoding the different functions of the brain’s alphabet, they could hypothetically program segmented information into another body.”
Maggie’s heart sank. She didn’t understand most of what Dr. Lane was saying, but she did understand the meaning of the word copy. If that was the case, then she wasn’t really Maggie Stone, but rather a copy of Maggie Stone. The idea was terrible. Perhaps, Robert was right. Perhaps, she really had died after all. “But wait!” she said suddenly…hopefully. “If all you did was copy my old brain’s information, then why did my old body die? Shouldn’t I still be inside my old body as well?”
Dr. Lane glowered at Maggie. “It’s a complicated process. I can’t explain everything; I’m just trying to break it down into simple terms.”
“Um, excuse me.” Dr. Blake said, smiling. “It’s time to see how this goes.” He opened the door to the left of the one-way mirror and stepped inside the room. Everyone crowded around the mirror and watched in silence.
The girl looked up at Dr. Blake as he moved across the room and sat on the other side of the table. He placed the grey cloth bag on the table and stared at her. She regarded him with a look that was impossible to read. Then the girl cocked her head like a bird and smiled.
“Hi,” Dr. Blake said.
The girl said nothing.
“She’s not blinking,” Dr. Lane noted.
“What does that mean?” Robert asked.
“I don’t know,” Dr. Lane said.
“You’re thinking about it too hard,” Albertson said
“Maybe,” Dr. Lane admitted.
“I don’t think you can understand me,” Dr. Blake said, his voice sounding distorted through the monitor. “But I have a suspicion you’re going to pick up on language quickly. You seem intelligent. But let’s see how intelligent you are.” He pulled out a container of plastic Legos from the bag. He set it on the table in front of her. “What do you think of these?” The girl stared first at the Legos then back at the doctor. He removed the lid and motioned for her to take the toys. “Go on,” he said. She seemed to understand the motion. Slowly, she took the first Lego off a connected bunch and threw it on the floor. It bounced around the room with a series of loud plastic clanks. She looked up at Dr. Blake and smiled, showing teeth that almost seemed to be grinding. She slowly removed the second Lego piece and threw it on the ground. Then she took off the third, then the fourth, her cocked head and smiling teeth did not change.
Dr. Blake looked back at the one-way mirror as if asking for help. When none came, he looked back at the girl, her unblinking eyes still staring at him. “G-good,” he stammered, and tried to smile. “Now, you realize you can put them back together, right?” She only continued to look at him, taking apart the stacked Legos one by one. “Of course, you don’t.” he sighed. Dr. Blake stood up and began to pick up the Legos. She stopped taking apart the toys and looked at him while he did so. When he had put all the Legos back on the table, he looked back at the mirror. It was obvious he wanted to ask a question but knew he couldn’t. “Should have worn an earpiece,” he tried to joke.
“Why is he so uneasy?” Albertson asked.
Maggie understood what Albertson meant. Dr. Blake was trying to laugh and smile, but his shoulders were so tense it seemed like he didn’t have a neck. Maggie could guess why. The girl seemed innocent enough, but there was something threatening in her eyes. It was the way they never blinked. They reminded her of shark eyes. Her mind raced back to the old nature documentaries she and Ray used to watch back in the nineties. She thought of the way lions and bears and wolves would jump on a gazelle or some other kind of prey. When the poor beast would cry out, the predator would not notice. It wouldn’t regard the creature. It was as if the animal was almost bored as it ate its fill. She then thought of a video where she saw a bear walking toward a man to attack. It approached the man slowly, panting, as if it were more concerned with being hot than with its meal. The girl was looking at the doctor, not with curiosity but hunger. Maggie shivered. Robert noticed.
“What is it?” he asked.
“He needs to get out there,” Maggie whispered. “Something’s going to happen.” And the more Maggie thought about it, it seemed the air itself was confirming the suspicion. It felt heavy and electric like a bolt of lightning was going to strike inside the room.
Dr. Blake grabbed his chair and moved it from where he was sitting to right beside the girl. She never took her eyes off him as he did this. The doctor sat down. “Here,” he said. “I’ll show you.” He started to put the Legos together. She didn’t watch the Legos. She watched him. She kept looking right at his eyes, refusing to blink. Dr. Blake tried to ignore this. He kept going.
Maggie looked over at Dr. Lane. “You need to get him out of there. She’s going to do something. She might hurt him.”
“I feel it too,” Dr. Lane said. “But we need to finish the experiment. Let him use his judgment.”
“He’s nervous,” Robert said. “Maggie’s right; we need to get him out.”
Maggie couldn’t help but note her son had used her name. It wasn’t much, but it was more than he’d given her so far. For once, they were a united front. Dr. Lane regarded both of them, and even reached down for the tiny microphone on the desk in front of her. Then she pulled her arm up.
“No,” she said. “We have to finish this.”
“I agree,” Albertson said. He looked hungrier than the girl. He leaned toward the mirror so close his nose was almost touching it.
Dr. Blake finished putting the remaining blocks together and reached into his bag, presumably for a second toy. The girl rose, grabbed the container of Legos and raised it over her head. She tossed the container across the room, still smiling like she was mocking him. The block of plastic bricks fell to the floor, scattering throughout the room. She reached across the table and placed her hand on the doctor’s thigh. Dr. Bobby Blake stopped mid-reach, his outstretched hand hanging like a dead limb over the cloth bag.
“The hell?” Robert whispered.
The girl jumped on the table, pushed Dr. Blake out of his chair and leapt down, straddling him. The doctor cried out. The girl leaned over and gave the doctor a deep kiss.
“Dr. Blake!” Horace cried. Maggie had forgotten that he and Randolf were even in the room. The two men made a dash for the door.
“Don’t,” Dr. Lane yelled. “Stay right there!” She reached for the microphone. Blake was lifting his arms about to push the girl off when Dr. Lane’s voice came over the monitor. “Bobby, don’t move. She’ll think you’re a threat!”
“The girl looked up at the ceiling, her head darting back and forth like a bird. Then she saw the mirror and smiled. Her eyes locked onto the glass.
“Is she…” Robert gasped.
As if to answer the question, the girl got off Dr. Blake who did not move. She approached the mirror looking at either herself or them; no one could tell. She stopped and gazed at the mirror. Her smile broadened. She went back to the doctor. She stepped over him, positioning herself over his head. She bent over and wrapped her arms under the doctor’s shoulders. She dragged his limp body to where the crown of his balding head was facing the window. Maggie was amazed at her strength. She didn’t so much as grunt as she lifted him. She lowered herself on top of him. Then she gave him another kiss.
“She knows were here!” Robert whispered.
The girl kissed the doctor. Then she bit his lip so hard he cried out.
“No,” Dr. Lane said calmly. “She recognized her reflection in the mirror. She wants to watch herself breed. She’s not an infant like we assumed. She’s an animal. She’s operating on instinct.”
“Is vanity an instinct?” Robert asked, horrified. It was a good question. Dr. Lane’s theory sounded good to Maggie for a second…but then it didn’t.
“That can’t be,” Maggie said. “She heard Dr. Lane’s voice over the monitor. She moved Dr. Blake because she heard her voice. She put two and two together! Animal’s don’t do that!”
Dr. Lane was quiet for a moment then said, “Leave to the deductions to the scientists.”
Maggie was too shocked to be offended. She turned back to the girl who seemed to be looking right at her as she tugged on the doctor’s lower lip. It looked like she might rip it off. The already dark room seemed to grow darker. Maggie felt cold. Dr. Blake did not move; although, he screamed. Finally, the pain was too much. He threw the girl to the floor and bolted for the door. The girl watched him leave. Then she smiled at the mirror with bloody teeth.
She stood up, walked back to the table, threw the bag to the floor and laid down on the table, curling into a ball. Dr. Blake stepped into the room and slammed the door. He was shaking.
As he stood there, wiping his bloody lip, Albertson said, “Congratulations, Doctor. You were just raped by a mannequin.” He howled with laughter. Everyone else was silent.
Dr. Blake straightened and said, “Shut up, Albertson.”
Dr. Lane said, “I don’t know why we didn’t think of it before. I assumed she was going to be like a newborn in an adult body. I never imagined she’d be driven by instinct.”
“It wasn’t instinct,” Dr. Blake said instantly. “It was…something else.”
“What do you mean?” Maggie asked.
“I don’t know exactly,” Dr. Blake said. “It was like…she…she was taking pleasure in hurting me.”
“I doubt that was it,” Dr. Lane said.
“You don’t understand…she took something from me,” Dr. Blake said.
“You’re just feeling violated,” Albertson interjected.
“Sadly, I have to agree with Albertson,” Dr. Lane said. “I don’t think she knew better.”
“Can we stop acting like what just happened was not a big deal, like it was just a part of some…science experiment?! How can you all be so callous?!” Maggie shouted. “He was just attacked.” She turned to the Dr. Blake. “Is there something we can do? I know you’re not alright, but…I don’t know… do you want us to do something for you?”
Dr. Blake raised a hand. He shook his head gently. Then he looked first at Albertson then at Dr. Lane, helpless. “It’s not…,” he began. Then a sudden cloud fell over his expression. Whatever composure he was trying to maintain melted. He slammed his fist against the wall. “This whole thing is off! She knew what the Legos were! I could tell! She knew what to do with them, and she started throwing them around because we were insulting her intelligence.”
“Instinct,” Dr. Lane said patiently.
“She can’t just wake up and know what Legos are, know how to walk, know how to sit in a chair! And how could someone program all of that into her when we haven’t even begun to decode the brain’s language ourselves? You said so yourself! You’re just copying it from the old body. Even if Albertson or some government big wig was working behind our backs, there’s no way to program those details manually. They would be years ahead of us! Rachel, we haven’t seen her learn anything since she’s been in that room!”
“These are simple exercises. You’re upset. Understandably, but you’re underestimating the capacity of the human brain. This is all within the realm of her intelligence.”
Dr. Blake shook his head. “I’m calling him.”
Maggie watched the blood drain from Dr. Lane’s face. The doctor shook her head. “No.”
“You can’t stop me, unless you’re going to fire me.”
Bobby, I know you’re upset, but there’s no need to involve him.”
“I think there is. This…this isn’t right. I’m not right.”
“He’s not a scientist!” Dr. Lane roared. “What’s he going to tell us that we can’t put together ourselves? What he deals with doesn’t even exist. He and his bunch are nothing but charlatans!”
“Then why was he brought in to find Subject A?” Dr. Blake asked.
“He’ll be too busy with that to help,” Dr. Lane muttered.
“I think he’ll find time for this,” Dr. Blake said.
Dr. Lane sighed, looking at Dr Blake with both frustration and sympathy. “Of course, I’m not going to fire you. Do what you want.”
Dr. Blake nodded and was about to leave. Then Maggie asked. “Doctor, you act like she did more than just bite you. What…is there something else going on?”
“She took something from me,” Dr. Blake said.
“What do mean?” Maggie asked.
“I don’t know. I just feel…tired, very tired, but not physically. I can’t explain it.”
“Go home,” Dr. Lane said. “Get some rest. We’ll be here.”
“Call me when he shows up,” Dr. Blake said.
Dr. Lane nodded, and Dr. Blake left the room.
“Who is he talking about?” Robert asked.
“His name is Pinkerton,” Albertson said. “At least, that’s what everybody calls him. Of course, that’s not his real name. I don’t know if he has a real name.”
“Pinkerton, like, after the old private investigators?” Maggie asked.
“Yes,” Albertson said.
“He’s a figurehead for an offshoot of the former investigation firm, a representative,” Dr. Lane added. “Albertson hired him to capture the first failed experiment. I was hoping we would hire a more professional company, but Albertson is the master of cutting corners, a bureaucrat after the government’s own heart.”
“He gets results,” Albertson said, shrugging. “And it’s nice to have him on our side for a change.”
“Our side?” Robert asked.
“He’s not particularly loyal to the U.S. government.” Albertson explained. “If he were a citizen, he would’ve been tried for treason more than once, but in his case, it would be a waste of time. He’s just as big an asset as he is a liability. It’s hard to know what to do with him; however, for our current situation, he’ll be useful.”
“So, what, he’s like half-detective, half-spy?” Robert asked.
“Something like that,” Albertson said.
“When you said you were hiring the Pinkerton’s, I thought you meant the real Pinkerton Agency that was bought by Securitas AB,” Dr. Lane said bitterly. “The Pinkerton company is more into IT security, protecting business interests and intellectual property. This guy says he’s a Pinkerton…but he doesn’t do any of that.”
“If you want to protect your bodies, then you need the real thing,” Albertson said, as if he’d had this conversation a hundred times before. “He’s good.”
“How’s he going to help you?” Robert asked.
“That’s what I’d like to know,” Dr. Lane muttered.
Albertson shrugged. “I don’t know, but it can’t hurt to ask him. Besides, it’s high time we got an update on our other situation anyway.”
“You keep alluding to that. What happened?” Robert asked.
“A conversation for another time,” Dr. Lane said quickly. “You two are probably hungry after such a long day. I’ll have Horace and Randolf take you to the cafeteria. Get some food, and I’ll bring Maggie back to the labs for some scans afterward.” Both Robert and Maggie were ushered out of the room before they had the chance to ask anything else.