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Black Hole Son – Part 43

Black Hole Son – Part 43

RION

Rion opened his eyes. Everything was bathed in orange sunset.

He lay on a low green couch against the yellow wall. A scattering of small picture frames with photos and certificates hung above it. There was a desktop computer on a card table in the middle of the living room. No coffee table, no TV.

He was in an apartment, but couldn’t recall getting here, so at first he thought he had lost his memory again. Then he saw Tuesday tip-tapping at the computer, a mug of coffee beside her.

“Morning, sunshine,” she said.

“Where am I? Is this your apartment?” Rion asked.

Tuesday nodded. “You fell asleep like you were drugged.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it. You had a tough night.” She picked up an object on the other side of the computer tower. “Want a toaster strudel?”

“A what?” Rion said as he sat up.

“It’s a food… thing…” She tilted it in her hands, as if she didn’t quite know what it was herself. “I think there’s food in there, at least. They have frosting.”

“Sure,” he said. It was sweet and delicious, but he agreed that it might not be food. “What time is it? How long did I sleep?”

“Oh, it’s about six o’clock.”

“In the morning?”

“No, in the evening.”

“What?” Rion said.

“It was, like, four in the morning when you collapsed.”

“Jeez,” Rion said as he rubbed his face. “That’s near fourteen hours of sleep. No wonder I feel so refreshed.”

“Make yourself at home,” Tuesday said. “You should be safe here for a while.”

“Safe? Are they still coming after me?”

“Well, they’re probably confused now. They had a big enough area to search. I moved in when they gave the go-ahead for capture. It was chaos with all the cop cars swinging in and out. I blended right in. Then when I was past the perimeter, I just drove away scott-free. They’re probably only now realizing you’re gone. Care to tell me what happened?”

Rion told her about being chased from the hotel, then meeting the pharmy, finding Dr. Mason’s lab, and the pursuit by Gray.

“I don’t know anything about him or the agents,” she said. “I didn’t even know about the S.W.A.T. operation until the grapevine reached me at the end of my shift. When you weren’t at the hotel, I wasn’t sure what to think. I see it was more serious, wasn’t it?”

“It’s getting more serious all the time.” Rion rubbed the back of his neck. “Do you have any painkillers?”

“Yeah, with what you went through, you could probably use some.” She walked into the hallway. “Are you allergic to anything?”

“Don’t know. I haven’t been so far. The last thing I had was prozium.”

“Prozium?! And you’re still standing? Why don’t you just get some Flintstone’s chewable morphine.” Tuesday came out with a small bottle labeled ‘Midol’. “This is all I have.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Rion shook out three capsules and downed them. “They’re like food to me. I’m so fucking dependent on them. I feel like a chemistry set.”

“We’re all like that. Everyone needs something from the drug companies.”

“Is this what all people feel like? Diluting your body to feel normal? I never feel like myself. Even if I remembered who I was, I couldn’t tell because I’m constantly on some medication.”

Tuesday shrugged. “I guess you haven’t found your memory then.”

“No,” Rion shook his head. “I get two steps forward, then something throws me three steps back.”

“Then you found something?”

“Sort of. That gun that I had was called a combipositor. That’s why it didn’t work–it’s for drug injection. And I found out about the sweater. There was a photo of girl and a guy in the lab, and the girl was wearing the sweater.”

“Speaking of which…” Tuesday disappeared down the hall and came back holding the pink, fuzzy sweater. “I got it back from evidence. They didn’t find a thing.”

Rion’s lit up. He snatched it away and sensed it at first touch. He buried his face in it, scrunched it in his hands. “Damn. I’m not getting a thing.”

“Your ‘psychic powers’?”

Rion nodded. “You’d think I’d be better at this by now. I’ve done it enough. I don’t know if this is the girl’s or not. Or if she was Dr. Mason. Probably not, because she was too young to be a neurologist. There were pictures of the brain all over the place.”

“Do you remember where it was?”

Rion sighed. “I asked. No one knows. Not even the address. But maybe the police know. There was caution tape everywhere.”

“Let me see.” Tuesday hopped on her computer. Screen after screen flashed by. “There’s nothing in the police database about a lab… no Masons on police file… no fingerprints or bookings…” She slumped her shoulders. “My elite hacking skills have failed me.”

Rion put a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t feel bad. I’m psychic and I still don’t know.”

Tuesday snickered and continued typing. “I don’t see any Wikipedia entry. All the Google and Yahoo searches give me stuff about masonry. Nada for the Yellow Pages.” She looked up at him with doe eyes. “Don’t suppose there’s anything else you can tell me?”

“I don’t know anything but the name. I don’t even know if that’s him in the picture.” Rion sighed. “Why couldn’t I have an address or a phone number? Why do I have a goddamn sweater?”

“Well, let’s try thinking about this logically. You don’t need a sweater. It’s not cold out. So that means you have some other connection to it. Maybe it’s sentimental.”

“But what is it supposed to mean?” Rion ran his fingers through his hair. “What about the location? Are there any labs in the city that deal in neurology?”

“None of them have anything to do with our mystery guest. Unless it’s a cover-up. Unless he did his work in secret.” Tuesday’s eyes lit up. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe we’ve got to reverse-engineer this.”

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe I’ve been looking at the wrong things. If this guy was responsible for someone like you, he had to be a genius. And if he was a genius, then he must have gotten noticed at some point.” She swiveled back to her computer. “This guy wouldn’t have been any Joe Schmoe off the street.” Tuesday muttered as she typed. “Let’s see if there’s any early works for Dr. Mason in Gopheric.”

“Gopheric?”

“It’s a massive database of newspaper and magazine articles. I’ll cross-reference this article to see if it can find anything else about the same guy. Let me mux some keywords.” She muttered as she typed. “Neurology, plus Mason.”

“Plus drugs,” Rion added. “Whatever he did had to involve drugs, since I had the combipositor.”

Tuesday leaned back in her chair. “Okay, got the search going. Looks like it’ll take a few minutes.”

Rion nodded. He turned to the pictures on her wall–all 4×6 photographs and a few awards. The photos looked like friends at places like the park and the beach, including one of Tuesday in a swimsuit that Rion found himself gazing at too long. Others had her sitting with uniformed cops, usually at a bar holding up mugs of beer.

Tuesday stood beside him. “Do you want anything to drink? I’ve got some Surge, mini-muffins, frozen pizza. I don’t know if you want breakfast or dinner right now.”

“No thanks,” Rion said, still entranced by the photos. She looked out of place–a small, chipper, blond girl among the burly uniformed men with mustaches and hairlines. “What made you become a cop?”

“Hm? Oh, my father,” she said.

“Your father was a cop?”

“No, my father was an alcoholic child-abuser.”

Rion stopped and faced her. She wore a dispassionate glare, like she was discussing the quality of tea.

She furrowed her brows at Rion’s expression. “Physical, physical,” she stammered, “Not sexual, just physical. Sorry, should have said that before.”

Rion didn’t know how she could make such a blunt statement. “How did that make you want to become a cop?”

“I wanted to stop the violence. It’s a perpetual cycle. I know my dad’s dad was an alcoholic who abused him. And who knows how many generations that went back. So I’ve had to be real careful to avoid becoming like that, becoming a drinker.”

“I would think dealing with those people all day would make you want to drink.”

“Not me. Cause I see the results. I see so many mothers with bruises, children with bruises, it makes me sick.” She checked the computer to make sure it hadn’t locked up. “But in high school, I was a mess. I was a partier. Every weekend. Then I got into rehab my senior year. You never realize how fucked up you get from being abused as a child, unless you take a step back from it. And realize that sort of thing’s not normal or healthy. Because why would the one you love be hurting you?”

“But you got out of it,” Rion said.

“I went to the meetings and stuff, for a while. But honestly, there’s only so much yelling and crying and whining you can take. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s the best thing out there for treatment. It’s like being deprogrammed. Or reprogrammed. But it’s a huge commitment of time and money, and I just didn’t have that when I was younger. So I decided to become a cop.” She smirked, “I had to lie on my application to get in.”

“You lied? What about?”

“My age, and whether I’d ever been in a treatment facility.”

“That explains why you look so young,” Rion said.

“I had to do it. It was my real therapy, like Bruce Wayne becoming Batman. If I didn’t become a cop, I might be walking the streets like the hookers that I bust.”

Rion crossed his arms. “I don’t get why you’re so laid back about it. I would never have known, if you hadn’t told me.”

“Ha, that’s the thing. You never can tell. There are people on the force that should have been in treatment ten years ago. There were people in meetings that couldn’t stop going, even when they were fine. People cope so differently. A boy could become an alcoholic because his father was. The other would turn away from it for the same reason.”

“And you cope by arresting people?”

“No, I have my own way. There’s no real word for it. Some people do it by writing bad poetry. Some lash out by sleeping with lots of guys. Some get drunk till they get sick. But not me. I just realized that I have a problem. And that’s the hardest part, I think.” She sighed. “You can’t treat a disease until you realize you have it. The meetings say you gotta go through the steps, make amends, resign to a higher power, that sorta thing. But I think if you realize you have a problem in the first place, half the battle’s over.”

The computer speakers emitted a pleasant ping.

“Cookies,” Tuesday said brightly and spun in her chair.

“What happened?” Rion said.

“It’s done,” she answered. The screen displayed three results. The first one Tuesday clicked on was from a news magazine. “Let’s see,” she whispered. “Neurology. Neuropathy. Science. Drugs. Thesis papers. Grants. Awards. But it’s from thirty years ago.”

Tuesday pointed to a picture of a man standing in front of a college lecture hall. “Is this him?”

“Uh,” Rion said. “I’m not sure. It might be. He looks so young. Seems like the same build.”

“Not exactly a mad scientist,” Tuesday said.

The article discussed different kinds of medication and their effects on the brain. Rion read it word for word, but it only described Dr. Mason as a recent medical graduate with a Ph.D. in neurology and pharmacology.

“He’s not a super genius,” Tuesday noted. “He graduated from a state university. That must be how he flew under the radar. I would have expected him to come from Harvard or Oxford or some place where they tie sweaters around their necks.”

Tuesday clicked on the second article. It was a piece of sensational journalism about how this group of people had received a grant to unlock the ‘secrets of the mind’. “This one’s actually written by him,” Tuesday pointed to the third search result.

Tuesday opened the link. Rion’s hope dropped when he saw it consisted of only three small paragraphs.

The article was about how bad society was getting with the costs of drugs, how old ladies couldn’t afford their nitro glycerin, how someday there would be 77-year-olds freezing to death in the street. The last paragraph name-dropped some buzzworthy researchers.

“There,” Rion pointed. “At the bottom. ‘Dr. Friedrich Mason recently received a government grant for his work in neuropathy. His collective thesis, titled Pain Suppressors and Circumstantial Surrounding Neuropathy-‘”

“I’m on it.” Tuesday cut and paste the title into a search engine. Results flooded the screen, but they all linked to the full text of the thesis. They were looking for articles that talked about it.

“Citations to his work…” Tuesday scrolled down. “Association of neuropathy and neurology hospitals…” She scrolled down. “Diagnosing how the brain functions with new drugs…”

“All right, I get that he worked on the brain. Where the hell does he live?” Rion said.

Tuesday clicked to a university website that referenced Dr. Mason thesis as a source on a student’s web page. In the comments forum, someone had posted a link to YouTube.

“What’s that?” Rion pointed.

It opened onto a small video titled “electro shock therapy IN ACTION – MUST WATCH”. The info box described it as lifted from a British shock-news program.

The stream started with Dr. Mason in a white room speaking to the screen.

“What is neuropathy? What is it trying to accomplish? What is all medicine trying to accomplish? The elimination or suppression of pain.”

The camera cut to a woman laying down on a hospital bed, while a doctor waved a medical instrument over her. She was wearing the pink sweater.

Rion jumped out of his chair. “That’s it!” he stabbed the screen with his finger. “That’s the sweater. And I think that’s the girl.”

“Looks like she was a patient,” Tuesday said. “Or an actor.”

Doctors gingerly strapped her to the table. Two hands in a lab coat, maybe Dr. Mason’s, placed an electrode helmet on her head.

The narration continued, “Pain is purely a function of the brain. Neurons in the body react to extreme sensations, but the reaction and interpretation takes place in the brain. Like a keyboard and computer. The keys know they’re pressed, but only the processor can do anything about it.”

There was a faint hum of a generator and the woman on the table twitched and writhed. The smile on her face had gone. Foam formed at the corner of her mouth.

“Jeez,” Tuesday said. “I hope you don’t remember this.”

Rion shook his head.

Mason started walking around a lab. “New experiments in ECT show promising breakthroughs in linking pain suppression to previously unexplored regions of the brain. We think this might contribute to some of the side-effects like memory loss, retrograde-“

“Memory loss?!” Rion shouted. “Is that what I did? Is that why I can’t remember anything?”

Tuesday said, “I don’t think they’d allow him to wipe people’s identities out and then make a video about it.”

“But this has to be it. Was Mason trying to hurt me or help me? And where is his lab? And who is the girl? And what’s the deal with the psychic powers?” Rion tugged on his hair, ready to pull it out.

They continued watching. The video wouldn’t run fast enough for Rion. He wanted to inject it into his head so the information would be there at once.

At the end, after more video of patients undergoing shock treatment at various angles and levels of intensity, Mason stood triumphantly in front of his staff.

“I know the future of medicine lies in a combination of pharmaceuticals and physical treatments. Traditional medicine is expensive, and archaic, impeded by government bureaucracy.”

The girl from the beginning of the video walked on screen. Mason put an arm around her. “With these methods, we can diagnose, treat, and release patients in less time.”

“She looks your age,” Tuesday said. “She’s pretty cute.”

Rion was too busy scrutinizing every pixel for some clue to respond. “What’s that say on her shirt.” He pointed to an emblem on her lapel.

Tuesday leaned in. “Looks like a logo. Some Japanese writing.”

“Pause it.” Tuesday paused the video. “Can we find out what it means?”

She grabbed a piece of paper and tried to copy the characters as best she could. “There might be a website where I can draw this in and get a translation.” She searched for one, found it, and painted the symbol with the mouse.

“Master Bull’s Red-Hot Delight?” Rion asked. “Did you make it wrong?”

“No, it’s badly translated. Sounds like the name of a Chinese food place.”

Rion shrugged. “Try it.”

Tuesday entered it into the search engine. “Helloooooooo, nurse. King Bull’s Spicy Asian Cuisine. And there’s only one location. 47th and Baker.”

“Can we check it out?” Rion asked.

“Rion, there’s one thing you’ve got to learn about me.” Tuesday grabbed her ruffled leather jacket and utility belt from the floor. “I love a good mystery.”

Eric J. Juneau

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at http://www.ericjuneaubooks.com where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.


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