R e v e r i e
by Politic X
 
 
13: the microchip

 

When Melissa was twelve, she had an accident.  Charlie and I were on our bicycles, trying desperately to keep up with our older sister, who was a block ahead.  She turned to check on us from time to time, and the last time, her hair was in her face and when she pushed it away, she veered right into a parked car. 

She suffered only minor injuries, but it wasn't apparent at the time she was on the ground, tangled with her bike, unconscious.  As soon as I reached her, I got off my bicycle and stood transfixed by the blood.  Charlie did not stand transfixed.  First, he yelled at me in his high-pitched voice to go get Mom.  Then he dismounted his bike and bent down and pulled Melissa into his arms and began carrying and dragging her home.  He was only seven, the youngest and smallest of us all, yet he managed to get her to safety.   He got her to our lawn by the time I got Mom. 

When Dad came home that night, he asked Charlie how "such a shrimp" managed to carry his big sister, and Charlie just shrugged.  "I don't know," he said.  "I got scared."

Charlie was a shrimp most of his life still is, compared to Bill.  But he has the biggest heart of any one of us.  I have never understood how he managed to get Melissa home that day, but I always attribute it to adrenaline.  And his big heart.

When Monica came running into the woods for me this afternoon, swatting tree limbs out of her way, taking long leaps and bounds to get to me, I watched her from the ground and thought of my little brother.  I lost consciousness before Monica reached me.

There was no tattered woman.  She was merely a hallucination, just like the rolling ground was a hallucination.  But waking up in Monica's arms was not a figment of my imagination.  Somehow, she carried me out of the forest.  She's not tiny like Charlie, but I never would have imagined she could actually carry me.  Adrenaline.

She stopped when we were outside the woods and smiled tenderly at me, lowering me to the ground.  Her face was so chalky that her eyes looked like deep black holes.  "Hi there," she said in a hoarse voice, and took her sleeve and began wiping my nose with it.  "Your nose is bleeding." 

Her look and voice and touch was so gentle that tears welled in my eyes.  "When is this going to end?"

She shook her head and sat in the grass and held me until the bleeding stopped and the dizziness faded away. 


We sit at the table in Monica's motel room again, our makeshift headquarters.  "So you think that these women went insane and came here to commit suicide?"  She toys with a coffee stirrer.

"I don't think it's that cut-and-dried, but yes, that's the basic idea."

"That's a nice little catch-all theory," she says sarcastically.  "If you can't explain a person's actions, then they must be insane."

"And if you can't explain a person's actions," I argue.  "Then there must be mind control going on."

"Give the mind control thing a chance."  She pokes at my sleeve with her coffee stirrer.  "Open your mind."

"It's open."

"Is it?"

"Yes."

She leans over and kisses me softly on the lips.  "Mmm.  An open mind is a good thing."

I'll say.  So is an open mouth.  I part my lips to see if she'll take the hint and kiss me again, but she doesn't.  She sits straight in her chair and clears her throat and gets back to business.  "Okay.  The microchips control actions, that's the theory.  And we've seen some evidence to suggest this - like in your report about Ruskin Dam."

"That was years ago." 

"All of those people, including you, visited Ruskin Dam that night for no apparent reason.  I think that whoever created the device is testing it.  They want to see how effective it is, or what flaws it has, before selling it or mass-producing it."

"Testing it how?"

"By running tasks for the subjects to perform.  Altered behavior.  Manipulating brain signals in a proactive manner; not just toying with how a person thinks, but how they act.  For example, driving to a dam in the middle of the night, or moving to a city you've never even seen before -"

"Or getting tattooed," I say quite suddenly. 

"Right.  Not unusual behavior unless we're talking about someone like you."  Her lips twitch and her eyes twinkle and she pokes me again with the coffee stirrer.  "You getting a tattoo would be like me getting a .... hmm... it'd be like me...."

"Becoming a vegan?"

She flashes a grin, her eyebrows knitted.  "I can go without meat just fine, thank you very much."

I take a swig from my bottle of water.  "Sure, but could you go without leather?  Even for a day?"  I bump her foot with mine and begin wagging it back and forth lazily.  

She blushes.  "Yeah, well.  Back to my theory."

"Back to your theory."

"So the subject performs tasks that would be considered out of character for her.  Once the series of tasks is completed, the chip is programmed to cause suicidal tendencies.  But the victim can't kill herself in a convenient method; she has to do something that will be entirely against her will.  The death has to be slow and painful."

I understand what she's getting at.  "And this lets the experimenters know that their science is at work, and not outside factors."

"Exactly.  All of the outcomes they plan for must be salient ones.  If this is an experiment, then someone's monitoring the outcome.  Each task has to be something that the subject would not do under normal circumstances.  It has to be an action that stands apart from other actions.  Suicide by gunshot or sleeping pills or even slit wrists has a low salience factor, because it's a common occurrence - maybe the subject killed herself because she wanted to.  But no one willingly cuts their arms and legs into strips."

"What I'm bothered by isn't the idea you're trying to sell here, Monica, but the parameters of it.  There are too many loopholes."

"Such as?"

"If somebody went to such great lengths in designing this chip - and I'm not even going to question its value -"

"You know how much governments would pay for this technology?  To be able to manipulate people through a computer programmed microchip?"  Her leg starts shimmying, vibrating the table.  "Soldiers, politicians...."

"Why go to so much trouble placing the implant when the obvious first reaction for most people would be to remove it if they ever discovered it?"

She shrugs.  "It's just one of the risks.  How many people are going to find it, anyway?  How long did it take you to find yours?  I'm not saying that the study isn't flawed...  But they obviously thought out the chip removal scenario.  When it's taken out, it sets off a biological reaction - cancer.  And not just any cancer, but a specific one.  A nasopharyngeal tumor."

"And a nasopharyngeal tumor is salient?"

"More so than lung cancer, yeah.  More than a heart attack.  How many heart attacks happen every day?  How many people are diagnosed with lung cancer?  Think about it.  No one I've ever heard of except you has developed this kind of tumor.  You can't get any more salient than that.  So you've got a very specific, conspicuous death when the chip is removed."

"But what about the harvested ova?"

"For cloning purposes, the whole alien-human hybrid scenario."

"But there were men at the dam that night.  They had implants.  They were found in the autopsies."

She nods.   

"What?"

"I'm sure there are male subjects.  Maybe there are more experimental groups still out there Dana.  Maybe the men won't be systematically killed off like the women.  Maybe the men are not going to be killed at all.  I don't know."  She chews the coffee stirrer.   "Maybe the men aren't programmed to get tattoos and move across country and slit their wrists.  Maybe they're programmed to rob banks or something.  Think of the most horrific crimes of the past ten, twenty years.  The ones that you don't hear about often.  Cannibalism, butchery."  Her wide eyes widen.  "Mass murders.  Bombings.  Suicide bombers.  What if these people are programmed to-"

I hold up my hand.  "Enough."  The effects of my adrenaline rush are wearing off.  I'd been quite excited when her theory made some sense, but there are too many questions.  Still, I don't see any answers staring me in the face.  Well, one.  "If you're right, if the implant is doing this, you realize what it means?"  I stare at my hands.  "There's no living through this for me.  There's no way out."

She covers my hands with one of hers and shakes her head.  "I don't believe that.  There's a way, we've just got to find it."

"Well, at any rate, the cancer is already there, growing as we speak.  Taking the implant out isn't going to change that, but maybe it'll stop the self-inflicted injuries.  Maybe it'll help me sleep at night."

"You didn't have any extensive tests run to determine the nature of what showed up on the film.  It could've been a shadow."

"That's wishful thinking."

She touches my cheek with the back of her hand.  Fear can only be sustained for so long before giving way to other emotions.  I've run the gamut these past few days, angry and sad, frightened and weary, but now it's gratitude I feel as her touch glances over my face.  "We're going to beat this thing," she whispers to me.  "We'll find the answer."

"Sometimes the answers aren't what we want to hear."

Her eyes are vehement.  "It's not your time, Dana."

I tangle my fingers in hers.  "I want to believe you."

"You need to.  You should."

I shake my head.  It isn't that simple. 

"I know it isn't your time." 

The conviction in her voice gives me some strength.   "Monica, I can't turn a blind eye on the tumor.  It's there.  It's inoperable.  I will die from it."

She flinches, withdrawing from my grip.  "I don't believe that.   I think you need to have more tests run tomorrow.  I don't trust the x-ray you had in D.C.  It could've been a shadow you saw."

"It wasn't."

"If the implant were in my neck, would you be so quick to tell me to remove it?  No, you'd want to examine it; you'd want tests run.  You'd want to know what we're facing so that we could make the best decision.  This isn't any different."

She's right, but I just want the chip out. "Monica, it's making me feel trapped.  My body's a ticking bomb, and we've got to deactivate it.  Removing the implant is our only choice."

"I've never known you to give up so quickly," she says angrily.

"I'm not giving up.  I'm just trying to make the most expedient choice possible."

"Haste makes waste," she mutters and looks down. 

"Monica."  My voice is a command and her gaze slowly meets mine again.  "It's the only thing in my control right now.  It's a matter of standing and fighting, or falling and succumbing to whatever happens."  I reach out for her hand and grasp it firmly.  "It's time for me to stand."

Her eyes stay on mine for an eternity and then she places a kiss on my forehead.  It's the only affirmation I need.


The emergency room is almost empty, but it's after ten p.m. in this small city, and I'm not surprised.  If we were in D.C., I'd still have a five hour wait ahead of me, even if I am a doctor.  Even if I am an FBI agent.  I'm glad I'm here when the nurse takes my information. 

"How's the arm?" she asks, looking at my chart.

"Fine, but there's a piece of shrapnel in my neck," I tell her.  "It'll take fifteen minutes for a doctor to remove."

Monica stands straight, towering over the nurse.  "We want it out tonight."

The procedure is simple and would be straightforward if it weren't for the cancer.  My doctor wants to run an x-ray to get a better idea of the size of the chip and its location, and it's then that I warn her.  "You're going to see something on the film that has nothing to do with this.  Several years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer, a nasopharyngeal tumor.  It went into remission but it's back now.  It's about 5 millimeters in diameter."

She asks no questions, but sends me off to have the x-ray taken while Monica waits in the examining room.  When I return, Monica's alone, standing with her hands in her pockets.  "I've decided that in my next life I'm going to live in a small town in Oregon, drive a beat-up old car, and write for a living."

I sit on a stool and study her.  "Sounds fascinating."

She nods, jingling some loose change.  "I'll have a cottage.  It may be small, but it'll be paid for.  It'll have a fireplace in the bedroom and lots of books.  But no tv, no telephone, no computer."

My left eyebrow arches. 

"I'll marry my sweetheart and we'll spend our weekends going to barbeques and hoedowns and raking leaves.  We'll stay up late, drinking wine and discussing Stein and Steinbeck."

"I'm not sure you're going to find someone with such low expectations, Monica, not even in Oregon," I say lightly.

She looks chagrined.  "I think it sounds idyllic," she argues.  "We'd have our own little slice of heaven."

"We?"

She stubs her toe on the floor.  "My wife and me."

"And what would a wife of yours be like?"  I find myself asking.  My heart is tripping over itself.  "Cheerleader?  Prom queen?  Happy homemaker?" 

"No," she says softly, appearing to mull this over.  "She's more like the bookworm/science club president who never settled for anything she didn't want."

I stare at the faded tile her shoe keeps marking and picture the quaint house she's dreaming of.  Large windows.  Floors that are that rich, dark color of old hardwood.  "I bet she's a teacher."

She nods in my peripheral vision.  "She always liked to teach."

We stay lost in this vision of the future, silently conjuring our own images.  Unspoken words are tangled vines between us, but the thorns are few, and this garden can be tended.

Our reverie is interrupted by the attending physician.  Monica stares at me solemnly before I bow my head to the alcohol rub and the quick incision.  The doctor drops the chip in a jar without a word and sutures my neck herself.

When Monica and I prepare to leave, she stops us with the swish of a manila envelope.  "You'll want to take this to your oncologist," she says, handing me the x-ray.  "When's the last time you took a look at the tumor?"

"A few days ago."

"And you said it was about five millimeters?"

I nod. 

Her eyes reveal nothing, but her posture straightens.  "It's grown."

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 Posted 10/31/03