Barb and Jimmy watched as the woman reached up to her stack of lenses and brought one down in her hand. The datatab rested under her seat now. With her free hand, she reached into her pocket and pulled out what appeared to be a syringe. It was only then that Barb noticed the white rabbit in the woman's lap; it blended in with her flapsuit. They watched in horror as the woman pressed the syringe down into the rabbit. A metal tab popped out near the top of the syringe, and a violet dark liquid started to creep up inside. A light blue indicator strip on the side of the tube started to glow.
Barb’s hand flew up to cover her mouth.
When the clear tube was full, the woman squirted a small dab of it onto the lens. She placed the syringe on top of the tank and stood up holding the rabbit in one arm. Holding the lens in the other hand, she lowered the rabbit back into its tank. Then, she retrieved the syringe and turned towards the back of the room, disappearing into darkness.
As soon as she was gone, Barb ran across the window and grabbed Jimmy’s arm. He was transfixed, mesmerized, watching after the darkness like he was still hoping to see her.
“What, are you waiting for her to come back?” Barb hissed. “Let’s go!”
Jimmy nodded absently, still holding his gaze. “I know her.”
Barb yanked him as hard as she could, causing him to stumble backwards. “I will beat the shit out of you if you don’t move.”
Jimmy blinked a few times, his trance broken. Barb stood in front of him, urgent and clear-minded. She reached into his chest pocket and stuffed the comm piece into his ear. “Now turn that fucking thing on and tell your friend to get us out of here.”
“Talk to me.”
“I have good news, and I have bad news.” Pause. “Which one do you want first?”
“Running out of time, Adams.”
Adams cracked his neck to the side, somewhat unsurprised by this terse response from his supervisor. Former supervisor.
“Okay…” He thought carefully about how to sequence the next few sentences, but he had never been known for careful thinking. “The bad news… is… that you’re a Class 2 Murderer. The good news is –" he rushed.
“Hold on. What?”
Adams swallowed, feeling his aptly named apple bob lightly against his collar.
“The… stunner you used… that you confiscated… was a completely unModerated device, one that nobody’s ever seen before.”
“It burned her?”
Adams felt his comm heat up through the back of his ear, like it was burning a hole right through it.
“Yeah. You were right. It's called a Flame. I’d never heard of it before. Have you?”
Davis sat on the line. After a moment, she replied, “No. Not of it actually being made. I’d heard rumors of designs, but… I thought for sure the designs had been Abolished.” Her sentence trailed off, a touch less definitive than usual. The implications of something like this were enormous, on all levels – social, scientific, political…
“I’m… really sorry.” Adams tried to wait an adequate amount of time before proceeding. “The good news is –
“Why Class 2?”
“You said Class 2 Murder, why Class 2 and not 3? I thought 1 and 2 were for intentional acts. It was purely defensive – I’m sure that before a forum I could argue –
“You could argue for unintentionality,” Lisa’s voice broke in, “but burns nullify the argument around intention altogether. They’re the…exception to the rule. Burns always result in a 1 or a 2.” Lisa paused. “1 if…the person actually dies. And 2 if…”
“Adams!” Davis’s voice came barking through the line. “Adams, you there? If I needed a law lesson from your girlfriend –"
Lisa’s eyes widened as Adams pushed her away with his arm.
“Sorry, MB Davis,” Adams rushed to reply, “I’m really sorry. It’s just –"
“Who else do you have in on this? Mosher? Karnak? The whole EIU? This isn’t just my life that’s at stake, it’s –
“THE GOOD NEWS IS THAT SHE’S NOT DEAD YET!” Adams gasped, then silently let his lips pucker closed. Did he really just do that? Yell at his superior? He turned to look at Lisa for emotional support. She shrugged in apathy, feeling rebuffed herself. Former superior.
“And,” Adams went on, appropriately timid, “Lisa has… been researching your options. The good news is, you still have some. Options. At least while you’re Class 2.”
MB Davis let the phone touch her forehead. Had she really burned that poor woman? Since she’d been Outside, she’d never caused harm to another living breathing soul. “How bad was it?”
Adams’ shoulders sagged. MB Davis had never been one for good news. “It was bad. She… she got a complete burn. So it’s all gone.” He went on. “What’s strange is because it was so uniform, we don’t think anyone’s even noticed she’s been burned yet. Across the board, her levels look exactly the same as a stun unless you’re looking for it. Everyone’s just expecting her to come out of faze in half an hour. And when she does, they wanna ask her some questions.” He could hear Davis’s unvoiced thought. “But she won’t. I ran her neural against two Mod I databases and found multiple matches. She's not coming out of faze.”
“It gets worse,” he said finally. “I’ve been monitoring her labs – and it looks like… there might have been actual physical damage. To the cortex.”
A painfully long silence hung in the air. For a second, Adams wasn’t sure if MB Davis was still on the other end.
“What did you say her name was?”
Not only a pessimist, but a masochist as well…
“Her name was Shruti. Shruti Madhnapartham.”
None of them knew her, but she was still one of their own.
“Huh.” Davis said finally, almost to herself. “So that’s my good news... I mentally incapacitated a woman, possibly caused her permanent brain damage, and my least favorite student is researching my options.”
This time it was Lisa’s turn to sag. “Yep,” she said finally, bravely, voice vibrating. “We’re all you’ve got.”
Davis let another brief moment of silence act as her acknowledgement. “So these options…lay it on me.”