“But does it jibe with it?” A confused look crossed Nicole Zecca’s face.
“I think that if we rejigger the lenses and affix the sensors just right.…” said Billie Graff. She stood at about five feet three inches and possessed a skin the color of the cliffs of Dover. Her hair cascaded down her back in flaxen locks. Her grey-blue eyes penetrated with a sense of discovery. Nicole’s auburn hair was cropped and swooped around her head like a tiara. She was buxom and stood about five feet seven inches. Her tan skin looked like Himalayan pink salt. She took the skin from this particular project on which they worked, that looked like an opaque, skin-tight bodysuit with points of flexible graphene that served as sensors. It also came equipped with two cameras, a microphone, and the capacity to signal authorities in case of an emergency. The two inventors toiled, and toyed with the skin. A skin that could be attached to any man or woman who wanted to protect themselves from harassment and possible assault, is what they worked on through worrisome days and doubtful nights. They had tested on various heights, weights, and skin colors.
All of those tests passed. They had to figure out how long the suit would last. Two years? A decade or more? Billie, thirty-two and Nicole thirty-three, served as inventors in a field that no one expected could be executed. The idea of a skin that could flow with the human body; that could withstand the bumps and tumbles; that could sustain the user and provide comfort in knowing that it provided optimum surveillance over them. That comfort mattered. And Billie and Nicole would provide for the men, women, and children the assurance that their bodies would not be violated or assaulted and that their minds would not be harassed or intimidated. This skin, like silk with soft features and the ability to be just as strong, represented all that could be imagined in one piece of clothing. The sensors, delicate, ornate, sophisticated, bent and swayed with ease.
Sensitive to the touch, each could detect the hands going over erogenous zones as well as neutral zones like the lower back. This skin could send data to a smartphone or smartwatch or desktop computer in case of any threats, verbal or physical. The intelligence behind the skin known as Derma expanded and also contracted. Nicole understood this as she tinkered. She pulled the Derma until it nearly broke like a wad of chewing gum being stretched. But it never broke. It just returned to its original form. Billie sat at the computer analyzing the various points of the Derma. She pinpointed the stress areas and where the skin might show wear. The clock ticked away the seconds for the duo to produce this material. Each of them knew that they had in their minds an actress who would be safeguarded from the advances of a touchy-grabby producer; that a female could be shielded from an overzealous television newsman; that a young man would not be molested by an overaggressive coach; that a young political intern would not be fondled by an incumbent senator. Their contracts with companies outside of the offices in Wilmington, Delaware would expire in the next few hours. What mattered most now was the work that the two would put into Derma.
Large screens showed the skin being wrapped around mannequins of various heights and rotundity. The mannequins glided through space wearing the Derma models. Nicole and Billie outfitted them with body cameras and a microphone. The equipment remained discreet. Barely could anyone make out that cameras and a microphone set came attached to the wearer of the Derma. Nicole and Billie knew that the time remained an enemy. They had to battle with the clock and within that time frame, come up with a new, viable, and aesthetically pleasing piece of computerized tech, matched with runway style. Nicole reached for a cup of coffee. The lukewarm liquid became hot with the InstaCoffee machine. The caffeine invigorated her senses. She knew what to do now. It seemed as if a jet engine had refueled midair. Yes, she was working but the coffee caused a spike in her productivity.
Billie looked at her smartwatch. seven hours remain, she thought. Sweat beads formed at her temples. She pushed herself to see that this project would be completed and on time. In order for that to happen, she would need tap into his spirit and allow the flow of creativity and honest work to fill up the space in which they labored. Nicole held up to the light the pieces that would be fastened onto the Derma. She ran the entire framework through the scanners to see if there existed any tears or marks or smears. She checked and rechecked the body cameras and microphone to ensure their functionality.
Billie threw a chair against the wall. It didn’t leave a mark as the wall absorbed the impact. Nicole just went over to the chair and made it upright. She shot a glance at Billie. They shrugged. They returned to this work. This work of uncertainty and attempting to kick time down a flight of stairs. Billie lit up an e-cigarette. It hung out of the side of her mouth. She zoned in on the strengths, now, of the Derma. It’s durability in all seasons, and whether it could withstand dampness and dry conditions all became calculable bits of data for Billie. She peered at a visual of her husband and children. They laughed and played on Bethany Beach in Delaware in a constant three-dimensional loop. She smiled. She let the curls of vapor snake their way around her head. An idea zoomed through her consciousness like a zip-liner coursing from atop a mountain. She took hold of the Derma. She bent it and curled it around and tested it for its lightweight properties and durabilities. Nicole took notice. She walked over to Billie and helped her to bend and fold the skin. They both curled it up an and undid it again. Each of the two ladies of science, of the mind, explored new possibilities with Derma. With the time winding down, they snapped into high gear and focused on getting this skin ready for the showroom. Every component had to work. Each bend, each fold needed to be on point. Whatever their misgivings about the cloth or the graphene, they made up for them with their productiveness. Nicole studied more graphs and more charts to see if the skin could withstand extreme temperatures. Methodical in her approach, she summoned up multiple screens to broadcast whether Derma could hold up against the elements. Her persistence remained a focal point as she typed in code that would make the skin resistant to fire; in the cold, it would bring you warmth; and in the summer, the components would keep the wearer cool.
While they didn’t work in a private space program, their work seemed to share some of the qualities of an endeavor like that. The two women failed, and failed some more. The skin seemed to not keep up with the tests. Billie wanted to throw another chair, but Nicole intervened. She pushed the seating device aside and directed Billie’s focus back on the project at hand. Through frustration, through all the bits of rage that could have arisen within the two women, they fought on for ideas. Billie strove to have some sense of calm amidst the torrent of the skin not performing up to the task and with time being ever so fleeting, still, she worked. Her hands glided over the surface of the skin. She sent it back through the scanners to determine its resilience. She did this three times to no avail. The clock ticked. Nicole sat at her computer, analyzing the possible reasons for the Derma to not perform the way that it should.
With all of her training as a dropout from Delaware Institute of Technology (DIT), she relied on her own didactic intellect. She had scoured textbooks on her own time while working as an administrative assistant for a financial institution. On her off hours, she combed through Internet pages and interviewed major players within the scientific field. Nicole soaked up as much information to keep up with her counterpart, Billie, who graduated with highest honors from DIT. Nichole made up for her lack of formal training with her keen awareness and powerful mindset. In tandem, the two worked like the clock that was ticking against them. One would guide the hours while the other checked the minutes. With each stroke of the hour which had passed, they barely seemed to notice. They resided in a mindframe that permitted no outside distractions–whatever they may be. They distinguished the time that they spent on perfecting the Derma with the fact that whatever the final product would be, it would stand for safety, security, and beauty.
The computer showed that one aspect of the skin performed up to task. The two rejoiced for a split second, sharing a fist bump. But there lasted no time in bringing up joviality over their unfinished piece. Like dual rally car drivers winding down a patch, Billie remained at the helm and Nicole took notes. The entire time, they drove toward excellence. Their speed match their efficiency and the skin seemed to at least take some shape and form. From the outer layer to the inner lining to the cameras and microphone setup to the sensors, everything had to be perfect. It had to be a harmonious innovation. The sweat equity was evident as the two women poured their souls into this project.
As it flew across space, the skin seemed to be as a bird floating through the air. Billie had had enough. She looked at the clock. It challenged her. It dared her. She checked every clock in the room: the digital wall clock, the computer, her smartphone, Nicole’s watch. All of them read that they had about three hours left before the Derma would be scrutinized for further evaluation. When the two felt worn out, they just kept working. It wasn’t an aimless or rote form of plodding along to just say that they worked. No. They had a design. That design consisted of a workflow that consisted of training their sights and other senses to the facts. Always, they stuck to the premise that not only did the Derma have to be smart it had to be responsive. Billie picked up her e-cigarette and pulled in the vapor and pushed out cobalt vapor once again. Those curls that inspired her to test out the skin now taunted her somehow. Why is this so difficult? she wondered. Nicole just studied the numbers. Billie added up all the torment and agony of trying to produce this thing. The skin was nearly finished and she had had about enough. Why don’t we scrap the whole thing and start over? she thought.
The skin glistened with its translucent colors to match all of humanity. From the walls of this super laboratory, the two scientists could bounce ideas. The room was the size of about a quarter of a football field by another quarter of a football field. It showcased lights and desks with computers, but no one sat at them. Just the two of them worked and worked until the thing was up to their high standards of excellence. Primary colors of red, blue, and yellow splashed the walls and they filled the spaces with art that spoke of life, of love, of deep passion. Because that’s what they had for their work. Nicole and Billie each possessed the ability to craft something from nothing. They saw through their ideas with confidence if not bits of anger pointed at office equipment. At least that was Billie. She had a temper and the only thing that could quell the beast within her spirit was the fact that she remained an eminent designer and engineer.
Nicole was the opposite of Billie. Her more reserved, more relaxed nature suggested that she had been refined by years of schooling. But Billie was the CEO of their company, Praeclarus, LLC. Nicole served as chief technology officer and the two women never clashed on anything. They’d never had an argument in the fifteen years that they’d known each other. Their bond was true. Yet when Billie had her moments of tantrums, Nichole always abated Billie’s rage with a simple look at her face and then Billie was smiling. She would turn once again to the visual of her family and know that while her work came first, they were the closest second. Once again, she hunkered down to resolve this problem. She observed the sensors and noticed what kind of pressure that could be placed on them. On the computer screen, the points indicated in blue and green soft touches and orange and red rougher touches. She then tested the microphone. They would seek to have this skin admissible in court so she wanted to make sure that the glossiness shined through. It did. The sound remained exemplary.
And the cameras and microphone and sensors that attached to the body skin would also be admissible in a court of law. Billie ensured that the entire ensemble worked in harmony and that it all functioned properly. The secret ingredient that was not so secret anymore remained the fact that the skin would be powered based on the body heat of an individual. The skin had no battery to propel its computing system. Instead, the pressure points of the body would provide fuel for the computers to run and that sat well with Nicole and Billie. Without a battery, there would be no need for recharging and no incident where the battery might leak or explode.
But the microphone had to be a point of interest as well. It would be able to detect inflection, timbre, and tone of the voice of whomever the wearer encountered. It would pick up on cues that the speaker was being too forward or abrasive and of course record actual words being spoken. Billie fastened the microphone to the visual set. These cameras could see all of the range of the viewer in front and back and on each side. This panoramic view allowed the user to employ the Derma as an audio/visual layer of evidence that would report the scene to a smartphone or tablet or other communications device. Any creep who wanted to feel up a co-worker or speak about sexual escapades or show their privates to the wearer of Derma would be recorded and reported within seconds.
Billie’s staunch approach to her work was matched by Nicole’s. Both women worked until their knuckles turned white, bracing the difficulty of creating a thing that had never been implemented before. They both took turns fine-tuning and testing the various aspects of the skin. From the sensors, the two could glean data from them and see if they would work every time, all of the time. The skin had to meet the standards not of some bureaucrat in Washington or some crony socialist on Wall Street. It had to meet their own standards and be available to the smart, the agile, the productive, the intelligent people on Wall Street; it had to be a deterrent against unwanted advances by politicians in any state; it had to hold up to the Hollywood actor who wanted to get a little bit too friendly with his counterpart actor or actress. Nicole and Billie kept men and women who wear this skin in mind. They devoted all of their attention to the cause for liberating the victim of any doubt. With the skin and the microphone and body cameras telling the tale, no man or woman could contend with the wonders of technology. What is most important about these two ladies remained their dedication to their craft. While Nicole executed the proper lengths and sizes of the skins, Billie noted the business details and how many orders that the would need to fulfill in the coming weeks.
Billie sat at her desk and contemplated on the market schemes and Nicole worked on a skin that would be camouflage that would mesh well with service men and women who would claim sexual harassment or assault while in uniform. The two of them left no blank spaces on the pages in the book of constructing a feasible skin to protect against the creeps, the liars, and the predators. Each of them brought to the project a tenacity and a burning desire to achieve. Even when the body cameras drooped or the microphone gave off feedback, the persistent ladies drew on their knowledge of the field and applied it to every problem that they encountered. The skin had to be tested for flammability. It’s resistance to cold had to work for those frosty conditions. Whatever the problem that cropped up, the duo stood there to chop it down to size.
In particular, the size of the skin remained an issue. For the heavy set user, the skin had to be comfortable and fitting. It couldn't sag or bulge. Nicole zeroed in on the problem. She added a few more layers to the fabric, but not too much. She tailored it, tucked it, and smoothed out the wrinkles. The skin looked like a living, breathing thing. It looked sheer and ready to wear. Nicole stepped back. She observed the skin from afar then came in close to see what changes could be made. Could it be nipped here? Tucked here? she thought. With a few more adjustments, she could see that the skin seemed set on a path of creation. Billie’s insistence on finding the ideal way to synch up the sensors and the audio/visual units to smart devices became her next challenge. Around the room phones, tablets, notebooks, and other devices sparked her to consider just how well-rounded the skin had to be. It had to function on any continent and send data in real time. She stood up and mapped out exactly how the skin would be worn, by whom, and for what purpose. On a giant board of the map of the world, she targeted demographics and made notes of what this skin would cost. Nicole finished up on the microphone and cameras components. The clocked ticked some more. Both of them could not stand for a break. This work had to be finalized tonight or they would’ve gone past their deadline. The two women made it their mission to sculpt, to calculate, to deliver this skin that had consumed them for at least twelve years.
Graphics floated through space telling them the dimensions of the skin garment. Derma would be the lightest, toughest, and most responsive material known in the realm of cloth manufacturing. To add to the skin’s already impressive features, it allowed for the user to breathe and did not restrict him or her from using the facilities if necessary. The two women thought of the space programs to Mars with their designs. With all of the variables in place, the two put together a litany of more tests and retests to establish the integrity of Derma.
What each woman despised remained the idea that this was some mystical, magical, miracle material; in press releases, some journalists claimed they had not spent countless hours calculating and preparing and cutting and sewing the pieces to their cloth sculpture. It had to be the work of the unknown and unknowable, and selfish of them to consider themselves the creators of something so pure, so simple, so sufficient. It had to be the forces of society. Without the kindergarten teacher who said that Nicole and Billie stood for being special; or Billie’s college professor who said that her mind was impotent and impossible to comprehend and which prompted her to become another college dropout statistic. Billie and Nicole banded together in these final moments.
They paused their efforts to observe the paintings which hung on the walls of their stations. They peered at the ones which showcased the power of light and color and the distinction between the everyday, penny-in-pocket circumstances of other artists’ renderings. These pieces conveyed a sense of triumphing over their obstacles, of displaying the beautiful dimensions of the human form, and the possibility to discover truths. In one particular portrait entitled Laughing on Top of the World, a man with a smiling face arched back on a beam while laborers ate their lunch atop the skeleton of a skyscraper. A landscape offered the scene of a bountiful feast with businessmen and women from financiers and railroad industrialists to oil entrepreneurs and computer CEO’s decked out in formal evening wear–the ladies in opulent gowns, and the men in evening jackets and ties– sitting at a long table the size of a conference room table, but replete with all of the trimmings and goodies that a Thanksgiving Day for entrepreneurs could afford. The artist titled the piece, Producer’s Holiday. The two women became inspired as their spirits became refueled. The burden of the long hours seemed like coils of smoke lifting to the ceiling, now. They took one last look at these pieces and then returned to their own portraits and landscapes.
Billie took another toke off of the e-cigarette and looked at the skin. She just looked at it for a long moment. Her realization that the skin could be too tight ignited in her a fury that could only be subdued by an active mind and a constant hand. She made the adjustments. The material could be formed to fit any body. She tore the skin off the mannequin and set a torch to it. The blaze did not even singe the fabric. She then sent it to the freezer to be tested for the cold, again. This took about ten minutes in subzero temperatures. Convinced that this creation could handle anything that she and Nicole could subject it to, she leaned back in her desk and puffed some more. The nicotine would dull the tension that coursed through her veins. Billie attempted to keep the excitement that the next few hours would be the great unveiling of this most special piece of protection.
Nicole’s vision of a skin that would serve as the initial witness in any case where harassment or assault would be involved encouraged her to work even more to meet the impending deadline. Her diligence shown through as she studied each and every bit of design that would go into the skin. She instilled into the skin her own sensibilities. As a woman who experienced unwarranted propositions herself, she sought to ensure that her creation would prove to be seamless and work every time. She recalled the day her former boss had talked to her in a low, growling sound at an office Christmas party. She knew that he had become inebriated. He then stretched out his hands and attempted to touch her chest but she whisked his arm away and fled from his office, tears streaking her face.
Nicole held the wisdom of the actual empirical data that would go into this skin. As a cobbler would fasten shoes, she put together where the arms would go; she mended drooping lines and sagging bits of cloth. While Billie thought that the skin was too tight, Nicole busied herself to make sure that it didn’t hang too loose, either. In synchronicity, the two women went well past three o’clock in the morning. The skin would be smart. It would be able to distinguish a hug and a pat on the back (if the wearer agreed with such gestures, of course) or a hand to the backside or groin area or chest. All of the sensors would relay these sensations in real time and allow for the user to contest in court that he or she was groped or abused in any way. Nicole applied her technical know-how to the project in the remaining moments. She lasered all of her attention into the sensors. These vital elements of the skin would be doing most of the grunt work. Their goal was to record and send back data of the touches to the body and act as if they stood as financial institutions asking patrons if they had used their debit or credit information to purchase items. It would be simple. The whole idea remained to put an absolute end to the sickness of unsought after attention. Nicole held men and young boys in the balance as well. She knew that there were millions of boys who would be more than willing to put on the suit and the audio/visual components to prevent lecherous priests and preachers from gaining access to their most valuable commodities (their bodies and minds).
The ferocity in which she worked put locomotives to shame. Her hands flew across keyboards; her touch reached tablets; what she made of the skin in her hand was only matched by her business partner, Billie’s, intensity. Like acrobats in unison flying through space, the two women defeated time by working simultaneously. Their efforts to bring about a change in their own worlds and as a consequence the world around them, pushed them to pursue power. Not political power, but the economic kind. They stood to increase their company’s valuation by billions of dollars if this skin proved to be successful. They breathed like they ran sprinters. That is how profound their work on this project became. But this was more like a marathon than a short burst of running. Nicole and Billie brought all of their intellectual might to the problem of survival. They had on their horizon competitors which would make knock-offs of their coveted skin. They knew this. But what kept them ticking remained their persistence and ingenuity. Nicole’s brain was not Billie’s. These separate individuals, however, could complete each other’s tasks because they remained in tune with one another. Their thought patterns seemed to synch up and allowed them to push forward through all the entanglements and snares.
Ideas guided them to places of grandeur. Their thoughts permitted them to reach pinnacles to not be overlooked or overshadowed. Nicole checked and rechecked the durability of the skin. Billie put it through test after test to determine its strengths. Will it withstand being torn or damaged in any way? Nicole employed a scalpel to see what slashes she could make in the material. It was resilient. Not even a scratch appeared on the garment. But what if someone attempts to take off the skin by force? Built into the skin’s DNA remained places where any would-be attacker could not get far at all. He or she would be motionless after struggling to tear asunder the Derma. She tapped her stylus on her touch screen, making little white dots around the silhouette of the skin. Billie continued her task on the effectiveness of the skin and head set. She tested the whole apparatus underwater. Computers described whether the skin could hold up under such conditions. It did.
Billie wore a rare smile. From the pool of water, to the freezer, to the blow torch, the skin seemed ready for all elements, and the headset stood up to these tests as well. For all of their efforts, the two women could visualize the number of dollars that would be generated. But only if they had a superior product. It had to be sound and feasible. Nicole worked out the equations for the skin to perform for the smallest child to the tallest man or woman. With a few taps on her screen, she produced an algorithm to best protect the skin against damage or destruction. The skin would be famous and predators would know about whether someone wore it or not. Billie and Nicole needed to protect the innocent from these creeps. So, to do that, they struggled and fought against every dilemma that could possibly crop up during the test phase. With hours to go, the two snapped to and fought to finish the project. The money from the private grants aided them in their research. Every cent went into the the development of the skin. For these two, their salaries came first in their decisions to make the skin better. If their product failed to be as near perfect or perfect as possible, then they would just toss in their lab coats and gloves. Hours continued to tick by into the wee time of the morning. Somehow, both Billie and Nicole stayed alert and saw clearly their vision of this skin.
Just when the time was right, Nicole took a look at her daughter and husband in a three dimensional visual like Billie’s. They moved on a constant loop in raincoats and rain boots hopping into puddles. She knew what this was for, ultimately. She held the utmost contempt for any lecher who would prey upon innocent children or even grown men and women. She kept the most resentment for women who would molest young children without the auspices of their parents or guardians. As serious as this task was, the two women still enjoyed their work. It was like filming a movie on slavery in the United States and winning the top prize of best picture at the award show. The pain and suffering that people had to go through remained not a profit for the two women. However, their toil, their undying spirit to get the skin just right would warrant any cash and prizes that they might garner. Though they had little of them left, they still had a few moments to spend sizing, shrinking, dressing, primping and readying for the launch of the Derma. This particular invention of theirs still had to be patented–they both knew lawyers who would aid them in this–and the skin still needed to be brought to the marketplace to be sold. That meant marketing campaigns, commercial spots, and their own visibility on social media sites. But they poised themselves to be ready for it.
As a limited liability company, their size remained small but with Derma, they hoped to bring the brand into a full-fledged corporation. Billie toked on her e-cigarette. She tooled a design on the interior of the skin. The insignia of their company, a saluting female five star general, seemed militant, respectful, and like a symbol of quiet strength. Billie and Nicole brought every ounce of brainpower to this particular project. Whether Billie could hold her e-cigarette in one hand and write in the other; whether Nicole could crunch data and munch on a turkey sandwich; both women saw through and delivered on their commitment to greatness.
Praeclarus, LLC would be launched into the entrepreneurial stratosphere with the Derma. While both women eyed the ultimate goal of being a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, they first had to deal with lint. Yes, the skin could withstand, water, fire, ice, and being shredded to bits, but lint became a concern. Billie reworked some of the elements within the material via the computer and allowed for those lint particles to drop to the floor. The fabric of the skin would offer those sensitive to the material to not sense any discomfort in wearing it. Billie looked at the molecular structure of the skin and made adjustments according to the way that the skin moved. Once she had input a code for the fabric to change its structure, the lint fell to the ground like snowflakes. Another win allowed Billie and Nicole to move forward, yet they could not congratulate each other just yet. They still had to contend with the shipping orders, the data from the computer regarding the longevity of the Derma, and they had to make all of this happen by nine o’clock am. It was now seven o’clock in the morning.
With every action that the two undertook, there remained to be three or four more remaining. The clarity of the microphone and video; the perfection of the logo; their concerns over the wearability of the skin; all of these factors impelled the two women to create and critique their work at the same time. As the skin once again flew through the air as if a body glided through space, Billie and Nicole could embrace the material. They could discover the faults and flaws inherent in the design and make the skin better. Nicole stitched the logo onto the skin via a printer. It gleamed in platinum against the flesh colored skin. For comfort’s sake Billie and Nicole worked the remaining hours on the graphene that made up the entire skin. It allowed the wearer to roll around, to jump up, and to run out of any situation in which they felt threatened.
The sensors and audio and visual units would all be integrated and inform the authorities of any wrongdoing. Derma had to meet their standards, not government inspectors, or political busybodies. They knew that they had to put the finishing touches on the skin. It looked like a brand new luxury sedan to Billie and Nicole. They enjoyed the way that it appeared under the lights. But its sole purpose for existing remained to uncover what goes on in the dark. When the movie cameras stop rolling; when class is over; when the government official has office hours; that’s why these ladies designed this skin. Yes, they wanted the spotlight on themselves. Who wouldn’t? Nevertheless, the main draw still remained the fact that the Derma would revolutionize the way that men and women saw sexual assault, sexual harassment, and rape. The severity of the entire project propelled Billie and Nicole to look past what works and remember the tiny details that would go into the skin.
The ticking clock seemed like a time bomb. Would their work blow up in their faces? Billie and Nicole shunned thinking about it. They engaged themselves in the hustle to piece together all of the components and have enough time left over to clean up the laboratory. The skin floated through space one last time. Now, the ladies put the final adjustments on the garment. For all of the tests that had yet to be performed, one remained: what it felt like to wear it. Nicole opted to don the creation. Billie waited for her business partner to change into the skin. She could barely tell that the skin was on Nicole. The microphone and video recorded remained discreet as well. Nicole flexed. She jumped up and down and swished from side to side. She stretched until the garment broke, nearly. Her hands ran over the smooth surface of the skin. Sensors picked up on the pressure and recorded where her hands went, exactly. Both women became convinced.
Suddenly, the suit became constrictive to Nicole. It wrapped too tight around her midsection and chest and made it difficult to breathe. Billie snapped into action. She knew that the skin could not be damaged by fire, ice, cutting, or any of the conventional ways of damaging or destroying or altering a garment. But the skin came with computer directions. Nicole hyperventilated. She gasped for air as the skin grew tighter and tighter around her. She teared up and her face contorted into a sour frown. Billie’s efforts needed to be precise and timely. She instructed the computer to lessen the grip of the skin. Once the command entered into the software of the skin, it relaxed and allowed Nicole to drop to the ground, one knee on the deck. She inhaled for great amounts of air and rushed to the ladies room to change back into her laboratory attire. Upon her return, Nicole found Billie with a stern face looking at the computer models, wondering what went wrong. We can’t have this occur again, Billie thought her hands flitting through air to change the functions of the computer system. Why did it do that? Nicole asked herself. She still breathed in a heavy way. She sipped some water and returned to the task of improving the skin. She looked at Billie. Billie still had the severe look on her face but it melted away when she looked up at Nicole.
A half hour remained before the grand unveiling and this snag in the development might’ve spelled troubled for lesser women. These two bonded together to produce the most efficient, safe, and effective pieces of apparel that the world would ever see. They stood on the precipice of mind and matter melding into one stable substance. Though they were in their thirties, their forever young spirits allowed them to take on the problems of the product and all of the fallout that might occur in its wake. But the issue remained: how to prevent this from ever happening to whomever might wear the skin. Billie and Nicole both went to the computers. At those thinking machines, they found a flaw in the design that had gone unnoticed with the shaping mechanism that goes with the skin. The level had been misdirected to fit a woman’s body that was a bit more petite than hers. As the two ladies redid the whole computer system, they tested and retested the skin for anymore insufficiencies. They threw sizes from zero to twenty at the skin and allowed to expand and contrast with a few taps on the tablet. This skin proved to be rather responsive.
Billie motioned to Nicole that she would now put on the skin. After a short time in the ladies room, Billie entered the laboratory. She breathed great, deep breaths, challenging the suit to cut off her oxygen the way that it did with Nicole. It acted accordingly. No fits of restriction ever surfaced again. Nicole monitored the computer and allowed her fellow inventor to be the second runway model for the suit, just minus the breathing issues. Billie then took off the skin and put her clothes back on in the changing area. With only twenty minutes remaining, before this skin had its debut, the women banded together as sisters in the struggle. Though not bound by blood, they recognized how they came to be tied by experience and spirit. Their love of problem solving; their tireless efforts to bring perfection into the world; their endless quest for beauty in a sometimes ugly place to live; all of these attributes defined them. Their power in creating a product that would safeguard the lives of the would-be defenseless now would have a voice to keep them from falling as prey. They would be infused with the power to decipher whatever advances that may arise and rely on the sensors, cameras, and video to tell the tale.
Believability became Billie and Nicole’s way of expressing themselves. The fact that the components of the skin would stand in for a witness too shocked or embarrassed by what they encountered would alter the court system forever. Any attempts at tampering, disengaging, or rewriting the code embedded in the skin would cause for criminal punishment. The skin would stand for the strong, the confident, and the brave to allow police, juries, and judges to understand better a given incident of indecent exposure, assaulting a man or woman by an aggressor, or any other forcible actions, the skin would provide full and utter protection.
Ten minutes remained. The skin just needed some trimming and ironing (in a literal sense) and ironing out (in the figurative). Billie hung the skin on the mannequin. The garment looked unimpressive with the body cameras and the video glass. But that was until the lights struck it just right. It appeared as a sculpture or like Producer’s Holiday. It was beauty and an end in itself. The skin and components all formed to create an object in harmony with itself. Nicole and Billie smiled with five minutes remaining in the time frame from where the laboratory and the private inspectors would check out the skin. For being up for close to two days straight, their bodies became weary. But their minds grew more active by the second. Nicole keyed in some final bits of code while Billie pressed the skin with an improvised iron. Both women became so intertwined with this project, that they had no time to sleep. Rest to them would not come until the final private inspector left the laboratory. Instead of resorting to narcotics, the caffeine and nicotine that they imbibed and inhaled, respectively, took care of their nervousness and jitters. They approached these final stages of the project with a sense of “I did this, and it’s going to work.”
Ever the optimists about their projects, Billie and Nicole elevated their game to new heights. This Derma material would be a death knell to their competition. But that’s not why they accomplished such lofty feats. It was not the destruction of a competitor which compelled them to do the hard things (and do them well). Their own selfish satisfaction of going through the process of creation and achieving the goal and seeing that creation to fruition prompted them to craft such innovations. Unhindered by the unknown and unknowable, the two women knew that their productive accomplishments did not spring from some fount from heaven. Instead, their ideas came into existence through the exercise of their minds and the exertion of their limbs.
Nicole finished the code. Billie put the last bits of material on the Derma. The two women stepped back. They observed their finished project like the skin was a cathedral, or high performance sports car, or rocket ship. This moment signaled the final second before the inspectors would observe the Derma. They entered the space, the droves of robots. They pored over the data that the computer compiled to craft the skin. They stretched and pulled and burned and iced the skin, just as Billie did. A consensus came about from the top inspectors that made up the teams. It read that the Derma was “the most durable, comfortable, responsive, and intelligent garment ever to be produced within the last thirty years.” Billie and Nicole withheld their enthusiasm during this last phase. They knew that expressing their joy just as the inspectors roved around their work stations would somehow alter the positive feedback that had just been broadcast to them on their smart devices. Tears of splendor streaked their faces. At last, the final inspector vacated from the laboratory. Joy erupted out of the two women with a ferocity and sincerity that befit championship teams winning a match, game, or contest. They knew that the reviews rang true. Each of them didn’t have to experience infighting over who should have pulled her load or why didn’t the other one complete the data on time.
This meant celebration. For over a decade, Nicole and Billie had put money, time, and energy into this project. This Derma stood for bringing all people who wished to not be violated the opportunity to protect themselves. Derma would be a bellwether for the next few decades of which situations that this skin would find itself. From the smallest child to the oldest grandmother, each of them would be assured that their Derma would safeguard them from most hurt, harm, or hazard. The two didn’t burst out the champagne on this victory. Rather, they shared a cup of coffee that was smoother, cleaner, and more robust than any other coffee in the world, despite it being over six hours old. But it was hot and strong and Billie and Nicole did not mind the fact that their cups symbolized a job done well. They video phoned their families. They talked about how the inspectors gave them a passing grade that surpassed most any other teams working on projects similar to theirs. They promised that they would keep the brand Praeclarus not only afloat but with engines roaring; the ship would be voyaging with drive and purpose. With this latest addition to their host of inventions and innovations, they would be able to secure even more deals with outfitters and beyond. The possibilities mounted. There seemed like no stopping for Billie and Nicole. While wiping the sweat from their brows and putting all of their gear away, they stopped and looked around their stations. Each surface sparkled like internally flawless diamonds. With all of the work that they had completed, they cleaned up after each progression of work. They prided themselves on cleanliness which they said was close to godlessness.
“You know Billie,” Nicole said. “I think it jibes rather well.”
The leather straps were the toughest. Their difficulty made up for their tan blandness. They had a weird way of snaking across the abdomen and restricting the wrists. Bulkin Leathers manufactured them in Wilmington, Delaware, not too far away from this Veterans Affairs (VA) mental institution also in the city. The company had been bought out by another bigger company which would take the small, local company international. Garvin Metal had produced over two million of the clasps that attached to the restraints in its heyday. The company boasted twenty-three hundred employees. They also made metal that applied to jackets, coats, and belts. That company, too, saw its shares being liquidated and chopped up into bitsy pieces by a corporation called GradenTech. Now, with the two businesses being taken over by other bigger businesses, the profits in both the leather and metal making industries in Delaware increased. Shareholders received significant dividends and found pleasure in their wealth.
Their collective net worth climbed to somewhere near three hundred million dollars. Royland Rew wanted to stop thinking about the income and revenue and assets and equity but the figures kept a constant reel in his mind. He peered down at his feet. “Mastodon Sneakers traded well this quarter” a shred of information flashed in front of his eyes. By observing the objects that defined his confinement, scores of financial statements about the companies enmeshed into his awareness. Aged twenty six, he stood at six feet four inches and two hundred and thirty pounds. His skin color resembled the amber resin in which fossilized mosquitoes found themselves. His haircut resembled a jar; the barber had shaved the sides and back and left about six millimeters in length on top. He wore a gray sweatshirt and blue slacks and sneakers with the laces removed. But it was his mind that drew the most attention to itself. Like a flickering film through a projector, images of sales figures and fiscal documents flashed in his thoughts. This occurred all the while he fought and wrestled to undo the restraints. His grappling with them produced bulging trapezius as his neck flexed against the gurney.
The chip in his brain provided him this considerable strength. It helped to subside the irrational thinking but instead only drove him more insane with all of the reports on pecuniary matters. The only benefit remained the increased amount of physical strength. He laid with his back on the gurney. Sweat welled up at his armpits and chest. Again, more news from the Wilmington Stock Exchange (WiSE) about how the stocks were tumbling, or rising, or confidence was tanking, or how markets rebounded. He flexed his biceps. The leather strained. Metal clasps began to warp and twist. Leather expanded and shredded. The straps for his arms had fallen to the floor. Triumph. Rew breathed. He gave out great puffs and gasped for more oxygen.
He continued to hyperventilate as he undid the straps to his legs. Those restraints fell, too. Rew stood up from the gurney. He looked around the room. The walls showed no sign of padding but looked like any other generic hospital room; pink and yellow tiles and white walls made up the tiny space known as the quiet room. Rew looked at the door. He rushed over to it, jiggling the handle. Locked. He could have just torn the door from its hinges, but he didn’t want to make a fuss. He went back to the gurney and picked up one of the Garvin Metal shards from the restraints. He returned to the door. Another news report saying that the stocks continued to soar based on producer confidence. He shook off the image in his mind. The metal piece worked up and down in the keyhole. Rew struggled to get the improvised key to click all of the links within the lock. After a few jimmies, some jerks, and a final push, the door creaked open. Rew didn’t savor his victory. He didn’t have time. He made his way past the day room. It represented a dismal scene. Here he witnessed utter dilapidation and malaise. Older men in hospital gowns and loungewear of various hues from brown, to red, to teal with a patch reading “Property of Veterans Affairs” on their right chests, paced in circles, their hands wringing, or still or toying with some puzzle piece. Some sat idle staring into forever. Others shouted out cadence, their palms slipping through the strands of their hair. One older man with dementia eliminated from his bladder in a paper bag in the corner of the room. Then he noticed younger guys. They sat at a table playing cribbage. They laughed a carefree, buoyant laugh about some encounter with a past girlfriend that went awry. Each laughed as if they were not under complete control of the psychiatric ward.
They sipped ginger ale and ate crackers. The television played a baseball game but Rew never knew the score because his brain continued to produce financial news. A CEO in Bangladesh just bought more equity in the Delaware Mint, the state’s major league professional football team. The updates subsided. He maneuvered to the space with a telephone attached to the wall adjacent to the nurse’s station. A patient completing his laundry opened the door to find Rew. The patient bent his head in a sort of odd fashion, as if to say, “don’t you belong in the quiet room?” Rew put his left index finger to his lips. The patient shrugged. He took his basket of clothes and went to his sleeping quarters. Rew looked around him. He saw a certified nurse’s assistant (CNA) making his rounds. He carried an electronic tablet and tallied off all of the patients that inhabited the ward. Rew stood by, crouched against the telephone and the door to the laundry room. He calculated something. He knew that a doctor would be on the floor in about five minutes. It was after lunch so he was not expecting anyone to come to the room from which he escaped for a meal. He waited and as the minutes went by information on securities, exchanges, policies, prospectuses, regulatory agencies, and quotes all broadcast in his head. Once the final clip had rolled about the WiSE adding new companies, he saw the huge, steel, double doors open. In walked Dr. Magnolia Metcalf with two burly CNA’s. She stood at five feet six inches with skin the color of coconut shells. She had graduated from Delaware Institute of Technology (DIT) with dual doctoral degrees in psychology and medicine. Patients shuffled past her and some said hello. A smile sneaked its way across her face. Rew anticipated the time that Dr. Metcalf would leave.
He noted the physical build of the CNA’s. He stayed cool. Rew knew that his timing needed to be precise once more. After Dr. Metcalf had counseled with the registered nurses (RN’s), she filled out a digital form and turned to head back to the massive double doors. One of the two CNA’s pulled out his card to unlock the door. Rew crept up behind the nurse’s assistants and the doctor. Once the two enormous doors swung open, Rew sprinted in between the three of them and found the stairs with speed. The CNA’s chased after Rew. With every step that they pounded, they could not catch a man with the strength of five men. Rew flew from the fifth floor up to the roof. Again, another locked door. With his palm against the steel knob, Rew twisted it until it contorted and he broke through with relative ease. The nurse’s assistants barreled through the door with their hands out indicating that they had no weapons.
“It’s okay, Mr. Rew. We’re not going to put you back in the quiet room this time. Just come with us. It’s alright. We’re not going to hurt you, now come back inside,” said CNA Teddy Philson.
Rew spun around on the gravel roof. He darted one way. He shifted his weight and spun around the two CNA’s and charged toward the door, this time jamming it shut against the frame so that the CNA’s were trapped on the roof. Rew knew that he had to act with the quickness. The CNA’s would be on their cell phones signaling for help from hospital engineers and the VA police. Instead of heading toward the exit on the first floor, Rew dashed a few stairs down to the executive suite on the eighth floor. He had never been on this level. The flags of the United States Armed Forces stood in immaculate display on the well-polished wood floors. In glass, scenes of veterans participating in sports activities enticed Rew. Other photographs of veterans singing, acting, and drawing paintings motivated him. He looked about the space. The doors boasted heavy oak and the thresholds showed brass. Rew looked about the pristine hallways. On the walls, military memorabilia of Lady Liberty called troops to fight; Marines beckoned for civilians to enlist; Army soldiers asked for bonds for the war effort; and Uncle Sam wanted anyone willing to carry a firearm to enter the ranks of the US military. Images of commodities and people in the pit raced through his mind. Rew didn’t have time to dillydally. And those images of finance continued to haunt him. He headed straight for the executive suite where the director of this Wilmington Veterans Affairs Medical Center worked. He walked with a gait of assurance and agitation all at the same time. He found the glass double doors leading into the suite. An office assistant sat at the entrance of the executive’s office. She noticed Rew entering through the glass hatches.
“Sir, do you have an appointment? Excuse me, sir, you must have an appointment. You cannot go in there,” she said. “Sir,” she stopped once Rew had already burst through a meeting of the top brass of the hospital.
“I want it out, now,” Rew said. He stood there, sweat stains still covering his shirt.
Executive Director Lakeisha Pruitt stood up from the head of the large oak table. Everyone in the room displayed a black cross in the middle of their foreheads that looked like daggers between their eyes. It was Wednesday, March eighth and these men and women had looked run-down from the first day of fasting. It appeared as though they wanted a filet mignon and au gratin potatoes but knew that they would just get a fish sandwich in two days. Men in suits and women in pantsuits looked at the tall, young man with astonishment and disbelief. One of the men, Dannon Tester attempted to go toward the door. Rew blocked this exit.
“All of you are going to sit down and wait until I’m heard. I’ve been suffering from,” A news flash about the WiSE corporations experiencing new highs flashed across his mind. He began again. “I have been tormented by this chip ever since it was implanted into the base of my skull. I have horrific, lucid dreams of stock market crashes, and economic panics, and depressions, and recessions, and inflation, and stagflation. My waking hours are continuous streams of news about what the markets are doing. I know that this experiment was designed to treat my mental instability, but I want out. I want this thing out of my head, now.”
An executive named Barbara Barrett who rose through the ranks from being an RN to a clinical physician stood up. She attempted to reassure Rew.
“I know that this whole process has been rough for you. But you must not take it out on us. We’re here to help you,” Barbara said.
An executive reached for the phone to call security. Rew ran over to the phone, picked it up, and smashed it like a shoe stomping out a water bug.
“You will not leave this room. You will not use your cell phones or tablets to call for security. In fact, give me all of your mobile devices and communications devices.”
Rew zoomed around the room confiscating all of the electronics from the boardroom members. “I want answers. I demand that you,” a message reading, “stocks decline in early trading” flashed across his mind’s eye. “You will not leave this room until you arrange for me to have an operation to remove this thing.”
“We understand,” said Dr. Jorge Sabala, a primary care physician. “You’re upset. But we’re not the enemy. We want to help you get the best care available at the V–”
“Shut up! I just need to have this thing removed before I go completely crazy,” Rew said, his hands on his head. “Micronics coming off fourth straight week of declines” the image of a ticker tape ran across his mind. Rew took a breath. “I don’t want to hurt any of you. I just want to know what it would take for me to get this chip out of my head.”
A retired Marine colonel named James McClellan now a high level administrator at the Veterans Affairs hospital looked at Rew.
“I know you’re angry, son. We’ve met before. I know your story. But this is not the way to go about it. You’re a Marine. You’re a sergeant who needed some help and the adverse effects took a toll on your psyche. You’ve got to let us get on with our meeting, our lives, son. We will find you the aid that is necessary.”
“Respectfully, sir, I’ve not got the time to sit here and discuss whether or not I need the help that you’re talking about. There is only one way to get me the assistance that is required.”
“We can set up an appointment,” Lakeisha said. The other board members nodded in agreement. “There’s a Dr. Tarvis that can reverse the effects of the chip and put you on medica–”
“I don’t need anymore drugs. That’s how I got to this point. I was taking them and the made me feel, dizzy, nauseous, and paranoid. So, I was asked to participate in an experimental procedure where a chip would be implanted into my brain and regulate my thoughts. For the first few days I did not experience any harmful effects. Then as the weeks past, I started getting messages from financial institutions and news service agencies. Every time that I looked at an object, I would be inundated with a slew of information about the origins of the company, their profit margins, whether they were bought out or not and a whole host of other bits and pieces of figures and statistics. The nightmares, though. They just wear me out. I can never get any sleep because a stressed out banker who just lost all of his savings on a trade on the WiSE would be found hanging in his closet. That would be when I would wake up. I don’t know how these images and sounds became associated with the chip, but they must stop.”
“And we’re going to help you with that,” Lakeisha said.
“How can I trust you? How can I trust any of you? You’ve all got the mark of a torture device on the center of your foreheads. You subscribe to the unknown and the unknowable. That much I do know. How in the world are you supposed to help me with my problems?”
“Well,” a media consultant for the hospital named Cornelia Newberry said. “We’re Christians. Catholics to be exact.”
“All of you?”
“Yes,” they nodded. The seven of them seemed agitated and a bit wearisome of this intrusion.
“And in what way can you direct the health of an atheist like myself?”
“We treat all races, colors, creeds, and religions here. Even those patients who lack religion,” Lakeisha said.
“How do you mix science and religion like that? In what way is the hand of science supposed to be mishandled by the clutches of,” “Light sweet crude is trading up at this time” entered his thoughts. He closed his eyes, attempting to block out the monetary messages. “I don’t think that you can help me.”
“Yes we can,” McClellan said. “You’ve got all of these folks ready to get you the treatment that you deserve.”
“But you believe in fantasy lands called heaven and hell. You worship saints. Saints that for the most part bowed and scraped and sacrificed living good, full lives in order to feed the poor and keep them that way to encourage more suffering. I’m not buying it.”
Cornelia looked straight at Rew. “I can assure you that our faith and our willingness to help those in need, veterans like yourself never clash. We see that our belief in God is of prime importance in our lives. We provide care in order to satisfy the Lord and make life a little bit easier for vets. We however, do not mix our faith with our work. We keep the two separate.”
Rew walked around the table. He held onto the electronic devices under his right arm. He turned to Lakeisha.
“How am I supposed to know that you all will help me if you’re just mystified members of a society that upholds unselfishness and immolation. I mean when I was in the Corps, we were browbeat with the same stale platitudes that our parents and kindergarten teachers and professors instilled in us. “Put others first.” “Think of yourself last.” “Don’t be selfish.” But if I’m thinking of myself last, and the next guy is first, isn’t he being selfish for being thought of initially?”
“You’re missing the point completely. Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the wicked, the downtrodden, and the morally opaque. His sacrifice provided us the chance to have our sins redeemed and the chance to meet up with him in the clouds.”
“Are those clouds on this Earth or the Moon where there are no clouds? Or Mars? Because the Lunar and Martian missions have proved that man can survive on the satellite and both planets, I’m saying that it is a sign of moral bankruptcy to place faith above reason. You sit here with your business attire in heated rooms, with electricity and robots at your command. Yet, you look to some spirit in the sky to guide your “heart” while damning your mind. It’s that deadly mixture of thought and feeling that has lead me to this– “Stocks are heating up again,” he said aloud this time. He paused. “You know, I just got a bit about the markets again and I’ve never been able to act upon these news flashes. I should be a billionaire right now but I don’t know what they mean.”
“I hear you talking, son. Another thing is, just because you know the market wouldn’t make you a billionaire, necessarily, son,” Colonel McLellan said.
Anyway, there is no such thing as the supernatural. There is only the natural. So, when I see all of you with your crosses sketched on your foreheads, I see the vicious combination of unreason and logic. Of medical know-how and mystical revelation. How do you live with yourselves?”
The air was stagnant. Each executive looked about one another. Lakeisha said, “What we believe does not bleed into our work. We worship the Lord Jesus Christ with all of our hearts and do our work based on the foundation of the science of medicine.”
“How can you say that when you take a man of perfect virtue, according to your myths, and if he were tried and found guilty and sentenced to capital punishment today, and have him sit in an electric chair or lay on a gurney waiting for a lethal injection? And those would be more humane than the horrific and dastardly death that Jesus experienced. How can you sit here and say that you accept and espouse a code of morality that is totally against what you do as physicians and administrators? You know, ‘do no harm’? Well, that just is thrown out the window once it comes to your Saviour. And how do you keep your sanity with the knowledge that a man died and came back from the dead. How is that even rational? Did he use cold fusion? Anti-matter? How did he raise from the dead and present his wounds from being on the cross? How?”
“We keep our religious lives and professional lives separate,” Lakeisha said.
“Not with those crosses between your eyes,” Rew said.
“We got these from the chaplain,” Cornelia said.
“So, that’s what makes it all better? Mixing government force with ideas in a man who wears the cloth? Are you serious? While I respect the chaplain, I cannot, as an atheist, accept his way of life or the things he says and does including marking your heads with a crucifix. It is totally improper for a man of faith to have any dealings with government. And while we’re on the topic, the VA ought to be abolished. Once warriors are done their service, they should be able to receive care from private hospitals and receive the best care on the free market. If they have been injured or experienced illness, then the government can take up the bill. Otherwise it should be up to private care. Now, back to chaplains. Chaplains all over the globe who don the uniform of the military ought to be decommissioned like a Naval ship. What purpose do they serve but to comfort, allegedly, the mystified? Why would a federal agent need to don a cassock and provide last rites to a fallen warrior? What is it with this combination of State and ideas? Bad, evil ideas like Christianity? With all these rites and confessions and any other function that the chaplain is supposed to do, allegedly, he ought to be taken out from this medical center and all the rest like him across this world. And the fact that you seek repentance instead of joy in this beautiful Earth is a travesty. You may say that I have been brainwashed because of this chip in my head or my paranoid schizophrenia, but I will tell you that I know the difference between the truth and make-believe.” “Stocks off session lows,” crept into Rew’s consciousness but he did not speak what he saw and heard in his mind. He shook his head in violent way. The anxiety in the room increased.
“Mr. Rew. I’m glad to finally sit down with you. I am Dr. Hernandez. I will be overseeing your surgery and post-op care. Your profile reads that you have a serious form of mental disorder. Your paranoid schizophrenia is a result of your time in the military. You spent how many years in the service?”
“Six and a half before they threw me out.”
“And what have you been doing since your discharge?”
“I’ve worked construction. I did some bartending. Anything to keep a roof over my head, the lights on, and the car running. That’s on top of the 100% that I get. But I’ve been fired from my last job.”
“Oh, Compensated Work Therapy. You were working here doing what exactly?”
“I was painting lines on the asphalt. I got into this argument with another vet and I had an episode where my thoughts were racing and I just lost it. They told me I couldn’t work here anymore.”
“I see. Are you married?”
“My little boy she took in the divorce.”
Dr. Hernandez changed the course of the talk. “Well, It reads here that you had been taking tablets of Zygra to ease the intrusive thoughts. It also reads that you attempted suicide and in your unsuccessful attempt, checked yourself into the VA medical center,” said Dr. Victor Hernandez. “We’re sure that this procedure will aid you on your journey and eliminate your delusions and terrors. It is a mild, painless, surgical procedure which my team will carry out. The idea is to implant a miniature chip into your brain. This chip is a way for us to see if this will wipe out your symptoms while preserving your consciousness and other brain functions. Is that clear?”
Rew nodded. “Yes.”
“Now, this experimental procedure does have its limitations. We cannot guarantee that you will not experience any side effects or not yet proven abilities. We anticipate that the operation will take about eight to twelve hours and we should allow at least three days to a week for your brain to accept the implant. Is that clear?”
Another nod. “Now, don’t you worry. Everything’s going to be alright. My team of physicians and nurses are highly trained and professional. We can assure you that you are in the best of care and will be treated with the utmost respect and dignity from pre-op to the recovery period. Do you understand that, Mr. Rew?”
“What will the side effects be?”
“In laboratory tests on mice, we’ve observed that they gained extra strength from this device. That should be a plus for a big Marine like you, no?”
Rew smirked. “Are there any other effects that might be associated with this surgery?”
Dr. Hernandez frowned. “We tested some human subjects, now don’t be alarmed, but they have reported that while the voices stopped talking about killing themselves or others, they had been replaced by unwelcome news clips and information. This should be a minor part of the experience with you. You’re a hardcharger. You won’t let a few bits of media get you down, will you?”
Rew shook his head no.
“So, we can get you prepped. We’ll just need you to fill out these forms to protect us and yourself. We will begin the operation tomorrow morning. Is that clear?”
Colonel McClellan had had enough. “Alright, now son, you’ve made your point. No one here wants to see you hurt yourself or anyone else. There’s a time to voice these ideas with professionals who will provide you with the best care. We’ve got to put an end to this subversion. You can get your chip out. That’s fine. We can talk about that happening and spur the process of that being done. But do not take your pain and misfortune out on these kind ladies and gentlemen who only seek to put you on the right path.”
“There is no right path for me. Not with these updates every few seconds. I need to know for sure that you can find the right doctor to reverse the procedure so that I can get on with my life.”
At this moment, Rew failed to remember that the CNA’s had radioed for the Veteran’s Affairs police. They had been locked out of the building for about twenty minutes before two housekeepers opened the door. He had also forgotten about the office assistant who had phoned for the police to come to the executive suite. With a team of officers employing the elevator to the location that the office assistant had described. A pounding at the door startled the women and men at the table. Rew stood still. He placed the electronic devices in a corner and asked who was at the door.
“It’s the police. I’m Lieutenant Joel Gosby. We’re going to come in and have a chat with you, Mr. Rew. We know your situation and we have medical staff here who will be able to get rid of that chip in your head.”
“How do I know that you’re not going to come in and shoot me?”
“We have a stun gun, but that’s only if you get unruly.”
Rew ruminated. He looked around the table. Cornelia was crying; her hands clung to her head, shaking. Mr. Trent Wells pounded the table, anticipating the cavalry. Sue Nettles sat erect, calm. Abby Jenkins looked around the room, anxious about what was about to transpire. Colonel McClellan sat with his arms folded, his face a slab of granite rock. Dr. Sabala just looked on with a stoic face as well. Lakeisha seemed placid, relieved that the police would neutralize this ordeal.
Rew approached the door. He undid the lock and the door burst open.
“Get on your knees.” Four policemen leapt into the room and descended on Rew.
In the early afternoon, the patients eligible for leaving the psychiatric ward and the hospital boarded a bus for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 156. Winter had brought frigid temperatures. Volunteers at the local high school provided blankets and coats for the patients of the ward and had prepared meals for them. On the bus ride over, a week after the chip had been implanted, Rew’s thoughts of hurting himself or others had subsided. He could focus on small tasks and go about the day in a normal way. But a vision of a graph with numbers on it popped up on his psyche. He looked around the bus to see if anyone else had seen what he saw. Their faces seemed so worn, so tired. He wondered if someday there would be some apparatus to identify your state of mood and mental condition; big bubble letters would hang in the air and announce your inner world, your thoughts. They arrived at the VFW and battled the gelid wind. Once all of them had found their seats and waited for the blessing of the lunch food, Rew’s heart began to thunder in his chest. “Stocks take a turn downward” beamed in his brain.
Rew looked about him with a face of fear and consternation. What is this? Why is is this happening again? I’ve checked myself into the hospital. They gave me this chip. This stuff is supposed to stop all of this madness, he thought. Why are these thoughts intruding constantly into my consciousness? That doctor was right. But I didn’t think that the side effects would be this bad. He got up from the table, never touching his spaghetti and salad. He rushed to the exit where the frigid air blasted him across the face, forcing him to cover it with his coat. He looked at the sky. It showed a greyness with a yellow dot of the sun in the slate of the firmament. “Big tech out of favor” broadcast in his mind. He put his two hands up to his head and closed his eyes shut. Whatever this chip was, it represented something displeasing. He thought why would something that was supposed to correct my condition make me feel worse? Just then, a music therapist named Gayle Grimes, responsible for arranging trips for the veteran patients, came outside.
“Boy, it’s blustery out here, Royland. Why don’t you come back inside where it’s roasty toasty?”
Rew looked at Gayle. “Something’s wrong.”
Gayle’s concern shown on her face. “What is it?”
“I don’t know how to explain it, but I keep getting messages from the news. It’s like all about money and stocks and different things like that.”
“Let’s get you inside to warm up a bit. Come on.”
Rew followed Gayle back into the banquet hall. Then, he exploded in rage. “This thing in my head is driving me crazy,” he exclaimed. He circled the tables of veterans that chomped on pasta and sipped from hot tea. He ran around the room like a surge of electricity coursing through a wire. Two CNA’s grappled with him and one held him down with a table after close to fifteen minutes of trying to pin down Rew. The rest of the veterans looked on, stunned. The volunteers began collecting the plates and wrapping the remaining food. The veterans utilized their new blankets. They all confronted the cold and returned to the bus while Gayle called an ambulance for Rew to be escorted to the hospital. The Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’s) went to the table in the corner where Rew had been detained. The EMT injected a sedative to relax Rew. In his unconscious state, he dreamt of mergers and acquisitions and “hostile” takeovers. Once he had regained consciousness. He found himself strapped to a brown and grey gurney. Standing over him was Dr. Maynard Biltmore.
“Good morning, Mr Rew. Are we feeling better now?”
Rew made no attempts to speak.
“We injected you with a sedative because you showed signs of mania and became disruptive at the VFW hall. We are monitoring you and will be taking your blood pressure and other vitals. We expect that you will be better in a few hours time. So, you will remain here until further notice.”
Rew looked around the room. He looked down at the straps. He had it in his mind that he could break them. He wriggled his left wrist, then his right. The straps seemed too solid to undo. Rew ceased his work on the restraints. In his mind “Lesane Laboratories had just reported its second quarter earnings at fifteen billion dollars.” On the gurney, he lay still as water in a pool untouched by any wind or animals or humans or debris. He waited for the moment to break free.
The executives at the table raised from their seats. All of them focused on the safety and well-being of Rew.
“Now, don’t hurt him,” Lakeisha said.
Rew refused to take his knees to the ground. The four policemen tried to restrain him, but his maximal strength proved to be too overpowering for them. He maneuvered around the quartet of Veteran’s Affair police and bolted for the door.
Lieutenant Gosby attempted to shock Rew with his stun gun but failed. The three other policemen chased after Rew. He descended the stairs and got from the eighth floor of the medical center to the basement in a few minutes time. He had more episodes of the financial statements with every step. “Stocks avoid third straight day of losses” shot through his thoughts. But he kept running. He ran to the morgue. Much like the previous locks, this door stood as no match for Rew. He slid into the open door as the policemen passed by. “Stocks pick up steam” flashed in his brain. His search for a place to hide came to this. This tableau of corpses and the spectre of death hung over him. He walked around the desolate space. Bodies on slabs looked like statues laid in horizontal final repose. He looked over them with a queasiness juxtaposed with a sense of wonder. One elderly woman with a sheet up to her neck caught Rew’s attention. “Did this woman fight in a war?” “Who does she have left that will bury her or cremate her or memorialize her?” By asking questions in his mind, Rew figured that the reports would stop. They didn’t. “Orange juice is trading higher,” the clip read in his thoughts.
Rew looked about from the entrance door and saw that the halls remained clear of police. He then walked over to the elevator and pressed the button for the eleventh floor. He returned to the top of the building and then went back to the exit door to the roof. This time he ripped it from the jamb. There he found police officers gaining toward him. Rew moved like an assassin, but he held no weapons.
The VA officers had reached the roof. Rew turned to the officers. "'The man in blue is a friend to you?’ Is that right? What a joke! It’s more like ‘the man in blue will shoot you.’ Am I supposed to believe all that talk about the police being the good guy? In what world do the police represent the virtues and values of the individual? How come there are so many instances where the policeman guns down an unarmed man, no matter his color or nationality? Why should I continue to support the police force that kills and maims people without regard? How can the boys and girls in blue help someone like me? Huh? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. With all of the many too many names of people who have been unarmed, deemed not a threat, but still received a bullet at the hands of cops, do you expect me to go along with that line of thinking? The police I know only trample over rights and fail to serve and protect. Even I know, that in my mental instability, it is not cool to kill cops. I would never condone that. I actually had an uncle die in the line of duty. That much I know. But it’s also not right for police to shoot down people who pose no danger, to themselves or anyone else."
"That’s your job to fight crime and keep the peace and uphold and protect individual rights. That’s your sole mission in your life as a cop. Now, you’re trying to come at me with your restraints and your sedatives. You think that I’m a menace; you find me to be flagrant because of my mental state. What is it with these,” “ThinkSink hits ten billion dollar run rate.” The report washed over his mind. He restarted. “What is it with these cops who are high on authority, have a badge and gun and little education? How is that even possible? How do you just graduate from high school and leap into the force? I know that your training isn't as rigorous as military training. I also know that a good percentage of you already served in the armed forces. And you VA cops should be held to a higher standard. I mean all you have to do is have a year in law enforcement? One of you might have a bachelor’s degree...which one?” Just then, Rew hopped upon the ledge of the building.
Lieutenant Gosby stepped toward Rew. “I actually have dual masters in forensics and criminal justice. But that is not the issue. We are not here to talk about the politics of police work, sir. We represent the highest degree in professionalism and conduct. I cannot speak for every occurrence of wrongful death or injury perpetrated against the citizens by police. Nor do I approve of everything that every cop on the force has done. But I can assure you that my team and I want to see you succeed. We want to see you live a life despite the fact that you have a mental disorder. We want you to seek the supervision of medical professionals. We are not here to discuss the failures of the past and any other incidents that you may deem to be unsavory as put out there by law enforcement. There exist far too many outlets for you to peaceably assert your frustration.”
“Once you get out of the psych ward, you can go on the Internet and put up blog posts, write to the editor of your favorite magazine, join up with others and fight for justice within the context of the law. At this moment, right here, we are willing to not use any force to take you down from that ledge. We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing now: talking. This talk is to prevent you from doing something awful. We are here to bring balance to this situation. You will comply with our requests and everyone will come off of this roof unharmed and in good standing. Look, I don’t even have my stun gun. We’re not tasked with attacking you or harming you in any way. You served your country with honor. Unfortunately, you experienced a mental illness during your service. We understand that. But that doesn’t mean you can’t live a great life. Once that chip is removed and you’re placed on newer, safer drugs that will not leave you lethargic or have any other adverse effects, you have the chance to be happy and live a full life. All we ask is for you to slowly back away from the ledge,” Officer Grosby said.
Rew tip toed around the concrete. He moved in a slow, methodical way. “Advertising revenue way up.” His movements stood in stark contrast to his thoughts. He seemed controlled, almost free. Rew spoke with his hands. He was at once expressive and reserved.
“You look about you, one out of three cops who has degrees. What’s the sense in that? Your training isn’t that extensive and you have little to no experience.”
“You will get down on the ground, now, Mr. Rew,” Officer Kidd said.
“Or what? I’m completely unarmed.”
“We know what you did to that door and to the straps on the gurney. That chip gave you enough power to take us all out. I’m not willing to hurt you, but I just ask that you come back from there.”
“Or what?” Rew said, he walked along the strip of concrete that lined the gravel on top of the building. “You think I won’t just bounce right back up? I’ve got enough of this strength to do that, don’t I?”
“You’re not well. You will not survive a fall from these heights. No matter how much the chip has given you strength to break from our hold, it will not stop you from splattering onto that pavement. The plan was for you to accept the chip and be rid of the your mental disorder. That didn’t happen. You have every right to fight in court your case about how this thing has affected you. There are plenty of lawyers who will be more than happy to represent you in a court of law. But please. Let that happen. Don’t do this. Let us take you back inside and we can talk to the doctors about possibly removing it. Okay?”
Rew stopped. He looked down at the ground. The people appeared as specks moving about in a Petri dish. The wind whipped at the officers and Rew.
“If you come down from that ledge, we will have the finest doctors available to rid you of that worrisome chip. Now, we will need you to comply, Mr. Rew.”
“And if I don’t?”
“We will have to use force in order to get you down. Now, we don’t want to do that. We want to make sure you’re safe and that we’re safe. Right now, you’re refusing a command from an officer of the law. We don’t want to have to use any force. You’re too close to the edge for me to even to attempt to stun you. All of our night sticks and firearms have been placed on the deck. Now, just come back from the ledge, buddy. We’ve got you. You’re safe.”
Rew spread his arms. His wingspan made it appear as though he could fly. He tiptoed around the ledge, his arms stretched wide. The ledge had come to a joining part with the other ledge. He paused. Rew looked at the officers, flashed a V sign to the side of his waist and leapt into the air.
“No!” the officers screamed collectively. On the descent to the ground, the financial reports rattled off non-stop. “More jobs are being created in the private sector,” one report broadcasted in his brain. “Oil markets surge on strong earnings reports.” His body twisted and contorted in the wind. He fell like some balled up mass of emotion and regret. “Stocks close at new highs.” His plunge meant an end to a man who thought that he could find assistance or at least understand the thoughts in his head. He knew that he could not tolerate the constant updates about financial matters over which he had no control. His body just continued to sink all the while news reports blasted in his ears at high decibels. “At closing bell, stocks are way up.” “No laggards to report, all sectors are witnessing massive growth.”