This story is proving to be a lot of fun to write. I hope you’re enjoying reading it as well. This week, things look dire for our main characters as they go up against incredible odds to try to reverse what’s happening. I’m also introducing another interesting character that will prove to be important in the remaining parts of this story.
You can catch up with the first four parts of this story here:
Please enjoy No Pain, No Gain – Part 6
Joyce felt pain in every muscle in her body. The human cattle prods that the man in the shiny suit’s men had used on her were painful, but she was recovering. She woke up on the same mattress that she had been on earlier, but instead of plastic ties securing her to the frame, she was now shackled to the concrete wall with heavy manacles and a short length of thick chain. She tensed her muscles trying to pull the metal cleat from the wall, but the residual pain from the electric shock was still too much. She would try again later.
She would spend her recovery time thinking about her situation.
What was happening to her? What was she turning into? Why did these people want to keep her prisoner?
Joyce was a contradiction in feelings. Physically, she had never felt better in her life. She felt stronger, sharper and more aware than she ever had and it had happened in such a short period of time. Mentally, however, she felt a bit fuzzy. The fuzziness was causing her to give way to a sense of rage that was bubbling up through her consciousness. She felt sorry for whoever the rage was directed toward.
Hanson paid the check and got up to leave the table.
“Where do we go from here?” Haybrook asked.
“Once we start down this path, we can’t meet in public,” Hanson answered.
“Yes. I will get you whatever clearances you need to disable the tech. As for devising a cure, you’re on your own in the lab.”
“I’m not sure I can do either on my own. The tech can be sabotaged and I can likely buy us a week at best, but after that, they’ll get it turned back on and trace it to me.”
“So that gives you a week.”
“That’s not enough time to go through all of the permutations on my own. It just can’t be done.”
“Is there any way I can help?”
“You don’t have the specialized knowledge I need.”
“Is there anyone in the lab you can trust to help with this? The stakes are high, Dr. Haybrook.”
Haybrook felt the anger rise in him.
“Why weren’t they high when I first brought this to you? Why did you wait so long to wake up to this?”
Hanson didn’t have a good answer. Haybrook was right.
“I know. I was stubborn. I had to see the potential consequences for myself. Those poor souls…it was awful.”
Haybrook’s anger subsided. Even if he had convinced Hanson earlier, it wouldn’t have changed the situation drastically other than preventing a few people from becoming affected. The challenges would have been the same.
“I may have someone in the lab. I have an intern, a graduate student that I taught when I was at the University. She is brilliant and a quick study.”
“Can you trust her?”
“Absolutely. I’ll just need to get her some additional clearances to help me. Because she’s an intern, she can fly under the radar for a while. No one will be expecting her to do the advanced work I’m going to put her on. Also, I’ll need to examine at least one of those affected. I need a blood sample and to see what I’m dealing with. An MRI would be ideal, but I’m not sure that’s possible.”
“I can get the clearances for your lab assistant, Dr. Haybrook. I’m fully behind you on this. I’ll do my best to get one of you in to the sub-basement on San Mateo. A blood sample might be possible, but an MRI, that would be very difficult. I’ll give it some thought. We have to do whatever we can to stop this.”
The two parted ways in the parking lot. Hanson had to go back to the office and work as if nothing had happened. Haybrook had no time to lose and needed to bring his co-conspirator up to speed in what they’d be doing.
As Haybrook drove back to the lab, he thought about the change in Hanson. What had this cold, corporate shill seen in the sub-basement that had put so much fear and purpose in him? Haybrook wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
Joyce patiently worked the cleat in the concrete wall back and forth. It didn’t budge at first, but the more she concentrated her strength into her hands and arms, it began to move a miniscule amount after about an hour of trying.
Finally, after three hours of focus and determination, Joyce had worked the cleat loose from the concrete wall. The toggle bolts that were extended behind the concrete had proven difficult to dislodge, but, somehow, Joyce had bent the wings of the fastener backwards which allowed them to pass through the hole.
Now that she had her hands free, but still fastened by the heavy-duty cuffs, she wasn’t sure of her next move. She was aware of the camera that still watched her every move. She had blocked her work on the cleat with her body, but moving off of the mattress would likely ensure the return of the men with their electric shock sticks. She would have to be patient and wait for her opportunity.
Ragini Gagrani was sterilizing test tubes in the Kongo Fit lab when Haybrook returned. She had been a brilliant student and was doing an exemplary job as an intern even though the duties were far below her abilities. Haybrook knew he could trust her, but as he thought about pulling her into this on the return, he had to weigh the potential danger that he would be putting her in with the ramifications of not getting the help he needed. At best, he might be jeopardizing her career, at worst, he believed he could be jeopardizing their lives.
“Gini, has anyone been by the lab while I was gone?” Haybrook asked.
“No, Doctor Haybrook. It has been quiet. I’m just cleaning up a bit while we have a lull.”
“Leave that for now. We need to have a talk. Walk with me outside, if you don’t mind.”
“What is it, Doctor?”
Gini was nervous. She had no reason to be. Her performance was exemplary as she outshined many full-time employees. Haybrook sensed her nervousness, but didn’t have to make her feel better. He just wanted to talk to her outside where the potential surveillance threat was diminished.
“Just come with me. I’ll explain.”
Gini followed Haybrook out of the lab and through the complex to the outdoor employee break area. There were picnic tables that were abandoned due to the time of day. Haybrook took a quick look around and saw no signs of surveillance.
They sat opposite each other and Haybrook began to describe situation while trying to avoid sounding like a lunatic. When he was done, he gave Gini time to digest what he had told her and, to his surprise, she didn’t miss a beat.
“I could see how this could happen. I looked at the data independently and reached the same conclusion that there is a certain segment of the population that is at risk. I was surprised that you didn’t alert the authorities about this.”
“I actually did and they resisted at first. That’s different now.”
“So when will Kongo Fit be shutting down the tech?” Gini asked.
“Well, here is where it gets interesting. After I explain this, you are free to decline participation. I just ask that you keep our conversation to yourself.”
Haybrook explained the off-the-record activity that would be necessary to shut down the tech and the effort necessary to reverse the effects on those that had been infected. He fully expected her to refuse, or worse, turn in him and Hanson to Kongo Fit management. He again gave her time to process his words.
“Dr. Haybrook, I cannot believe that Kongo Fit is so greedy that it would ignore your warnings and continue to proceed with this dangerous technology.”
“I understand Gini. It was wrong of me to ask for your help.”
“No, Doctor. I didn’t say I wouldn’t help. I’m just disappointed in the company. From what I’ve observed, however, it doesn’t surprise me that they acted in this way. I have always believed in your honesty and integrity. I will help you with this.”
Haybrook was both relieved and concerned what he was getting this brilliant assistant into at the beginning of her career. Hopefully they would both come out of this unscathed.
Once back in the lab, Haybrook and Gini quietly set to their task. Haybrook had developed a way to fool the delivery system into thinking that it was still transmitting commands to the existing Buff Cuffs to inject the tech into its users. The devices would still think they were delivering, but the delivery would not contain any technology. The users would start to notice the effects in the form of less energy and poorer eating habits, but hopefully Kongo Fit would not hear any complaints for at least a week. This would ensure that no one else would become infected while Gini and Haybrook investigated potential reversal procedures.
This hack into the system took much less time than Haybrook thought. Gini proved to be a competent hacker covering her tracks every step of the way.
“The logging system will still think the tech is being delivered as scheduled,” Gini said “Until someone notices, we should be okay.”
“That solves one of our problems,” Haybrook said. “The other thing we need to do is find a subject that we can test out our process on. I’m afraid getting a blood sample from any of the subjects in the sub-basement of the medical lab is going to be a challenge.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, first, I’m not supposed to know about them. Second, if they have lost their humanity, as Hanson said, we might have trouble not getting hurt trying to get a sample.”
“It’s likely that they are under surveillance, as well,” Gini added
“And there is the third problem,” Haybrook agreed. “How can we do this without being detected?”
“I might have some ideas,” Gini said. “Let me try a couple of things and I’ll let you know.”
Haybrook was now glad he had enlisted Gini’s help. He was glad she was on his side.