Avery Drew is an excellent patient in his waking life. In fact, if the good Dr. Hines were to be of a mind to pick favorites among the subjects in this particular experiment, Avery Drew, aged nine years, would definitely hold the top spot. Hines is cautious about his fraternization with the patient, and for good reason. Dr. Hines realizes that his interference with the subject, on any level, miniscule or major, could very well ruin the experiment.
“And what did you do with the bird, once you caught it?” Dr. Hines prompts his patient.
“I broke it,” Avery says in the sort of innocently frank voice you would expect from him if he were to tell you the sun shines brightly.
“I see,” Dr. Hines replies, scribbling on his clipboard. “Is this the first time you’ve broken a bird, Avery?”
“No, Dr. Hines,” Avery replies with a smile. “I do it all the time.”
Dr. Hines nods his head. “That’s good, Avery. Would you like to play with birds again?”
“Oh, yes, please,” Avery replied. The excitement was plain on his round face. “I would like that ever so much.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Dr. Hines teased with a polite but plastic grin. “And maybe, if you’re a good patient this week, we can let you have a mouse or a squirrel.”
Avery’s eyes went wide, but he very obviously pulled his excitement back in check before saying, shyly, “Can I break the mouse, too, Dr. Hines?”
“Yes, Avery,” Dr. Hines said, rising from his chair. With focused and deliberate movements, he tightened the straps on little Avery’s straight jacket and lifted the boy from the floor into his bed. “Sleep well, now.”
Avery beamed a smile at Dr. Hines as shiny and pure as the plastic padding that lined the walls of the nine year old’s cell.
“Goodnight,” Dr. Hines said, locking the door behind him as he left.
“Is it boys or girls this time, Randal?” Dr. Hines asks.
The sweaty hands writhe over themselves in spasms as Randal Quinn spins a lie in his head.
Hines stares unblinking into Randal’s eyes, reading the creation taking place, interpreting every minute movement of Randal’s face and body as the patient desperately attempts to squirm out of the obvious answer.
“Randal,” Dr. Hines prompts.
“B-both,” Randal spits, turning his head away in shame. “It’s b-b-both. I’ve been taking both, doing it with both, both. And,” Randal licks his lips as he digs fingernails into the skin of his hands. “And, I killed a, uh…”
Dr. Hines sets his pen down on the desk for a moment, regarding Randal with something like pity. Randal is different than most of the subjects in this place. The Board would even suggest Randal’s progression puts him too far gone for the experiment to reveal any meaningful data. The truth of Randal’s actions before coming to the research facilities, a feat in itself that defies explanation given the states’ strict regulations on punishment for murderers of Randal’s caliber, has turned the convicted killer into a wreck. Even within the confines of the Alternate Reality Suite he is given free reign in as part of the experiment, Randal is timid and careless. On many occasions, he does not follow through with the scenarios set up for him. He once turned himself into the virtually intelligent security forces within the simulation, explaining to them that he had been having disturbing thoughts about the girl construct that had been engineered specifically for him to abuse.
“Randal,” Dr. Hines says sympathetically. “Don’t you like it here? Is this not what you want? We are giving you the freedom to act on your fantasies without boundary.”
“I do like it,” Randal replies quickly. “I do. I do want it. I do.”
“Is it that the ARS is not realistic enough for you?” Dr. Hines asks him. It is a complaint rarely vocalized to the administrators of the experiment. With the advanced immersion suits and pro-simulation drug cocktails, the virtual world these murderers, serial killers, and rapists live in is indistinguishable from the real world.
“I want to get caught,” Randal says suddenly. “I want to be shamed for it. I want to be punished, and you won’t do it! You don’t even care! I can’t take it!”
Dr. Hines scribbles something on his clipboard. “We’ll see what we can do.”
The entity floating in the void is in a constant state of mutation. Dr. Hines can see a multitude of images within the mutations from the obvious phallus to fractal patterns and even the E8 Lie Group. The creature’s head, or at least the portion of the mass containing the most number of eyes is similar in appearance to Ganesha.
It is not a surprise. Somayaji is a devotee of the Hindu faith. The majority of his sessions in the ARS revolve around that particular pantheon of gods, regardless of the objectives Somayaji has been tasked to complete.
“Does it always come to this?” Dr. Sommers says to Dr. Hines. They are both regarding the monitor showing the visual matrix of the ARS as Somayaji perceives it within the simulation. “I mean, how does this have anything to do with interplanetary and colony logistics management?”
“Just wait,” Dr. Hines replies, his smile unhidden and brazen.
A computer monitor to their right shows activity. Massive amounts of data flash by on the screen in seconds, so quickly that neither of the administrators can read a single line or series of numbers.
“What the hell is that?” Sommers asks, puzzled.
“That is the production and logistics plan for the next seventeen years for the Lunar, Martian, and Jovian colonies,” Dr. Hines answers with a satisfied grin. “And I’ll wager it is beyond peak efficiency, something even the quantum computers have had trouble accomplishing lately.”
“He’s autistic,” Sommers replies incredulously. “He can’t even count or speak.”
“Not in our version of reality.” Dr. Hines switches off the monitors, one by one. “It has potential beyond rehabilitation, and I want you to push that to the Board.”
Sommers shook his head and turned to leave. “It’s not the game, Hines.”
Dr. Hines grabs Sommers’ arm and spins him around. “Do you not see what this means? Think of all those people out there that are unable to function because their brain is tuned to a different frequency, this gives them a chance to do something meaningful, to make a difference. It gives their life a purpose, can’t you see that? Can’t any of you see that?”
Sommers jerks his arm away from Hines, glaring at his subordinate. “Get back to the serial killers, Hines, or get off this project.” Slamming the door behind him, Sommers exits the monitoring room.
For several seconds, Dr. Hines does nothing but stare at Somayaji’s brain monitors – the man is alive like he has never been before, using his brain to its fullest potential.
Sommers bursts back into the room. He barks, “Get him out of this facility. And, if I catch you bringing an unauthorized and unscreened subject into this project again, you’ll be imprisoned for security breach and treason.”
When the door slams the second time–
—same thing each time,” a voice says somewhere nearby. “He’s the only one like this.”
Another voice echoes from across the room. “How many sessions has he been in?”
“At least a hundred,” the original voice replies.
Hines opens his eyes and is assaulted by bright, painful light. They still have him strapped down. In his mind, he can still hear the echo of Sommers, a figment of his imagination, slamming the door.
“And he’s never even attempted to go after the bait?”
Hines’ vision begins to clear and he can see his therapist, Dr. Holloway fiddling with a monitor on the wall. She has not spoken yet. He recognizes the other two voices – Remington, a technician, and Dr. Lazslo the administrator in charge of the ARS facility.
It is Lazslo who speaks next: “We’ve given him plenty of opportunity. Basically throwing it at him, but he hasn’t touched a single woman. We know his preferences, his obsessions. Nothing works.”
Dr. Holloway speaks up, saying, “Obviously, this is what he wants. We’ve given him a reality that suits his perception of the world. Our reality doesn’t fit it, and the result is that he’s a serial rapist and murderer. This one fits, and he gets to be what he wants.”
Lazslo and Remington both laugh at this. The sound echoes off the walls and pierces Hines’ ears offensively. The real world asserts its abusive position around him. He wants to kill all of them, gruesomely.
But, deep down, where his real voice lives, Hines struggles to scream at them:
“I want to help people.”
Hines, like Somayaji from his sessions, has never spoken in his life.