By request, I was drawing up plans for creating literal “sleeper” agents, who would wait hidden like living mines (or, more appropriately, statues) until reactivated to carry out orders. Those orders might be administered through sensory deprivation programming, which the suspension process made particularly effective.
Galena Hoff, who was human test subject number one for both processes, was now assisting me as a writing table. She leaned forward, legs spread for stability, arms at her sides. One hand held a cup with pens, the other a small light. For my own security, I left her in the solidified, suspended state so she could not know how many hours I put in or even comment on how her back felt as I wrote.
When a knock came at the door, I put my papers in the desk. I left “Gally” Hoff as she was. Anyone with security access to knock on my door certainly knew my test subject was both office assistant and office furnishing. Opening the door, I wished I’d put Galena in the closet.
Crystal Guest was, like Galena, pretty, energetic and intelligent. Unlike the former sub commander, Crystal was actually pleasant. Crystal even managed to stay pleasant around Galena, which was quite a challenge. Gally Hoff’s principal military achievement had been accumulating animosity. Gally’s hostile abrasiveness got her relieved of her command (to the relief of those she commanded) and ultimately led to her blundering destruction of the research facility where both Crystal and I had enjoyed working. The general response to Ms.Hoff’s fate, turned to a bronzed statue dependent on others to restore her to helpless life for brief periods, was enthusiastic approval.
I did not expect Crystal to volunteer to share it.
“You know about my meds, right?” Crystal enjoyed a combination of epilepsy and schizophrenia. Both were controlled to some extent with medication. When the meds weren’t working, or when the side effects were too harsh, Crystal took some time off, creating schedule complications. As boss of our old lab, Galena Hoff had resolved the issue by firing Crystal. As boss of the new lab, I hired Crystal back. “The meds aren’t working like they used to, without increasing the dosage. And if I increase the dosage, I get worse side effects. I’m screwed, unless your process can help me.”
She answered my flustered ‘how?’ with a reasonable explanation. The suspended animation process worked, essentially, by trapping electrons in their shells. No electron movement, no chemical reactions, no biological processes. Crystal was thinking – hoping – that the process of entering and exiting suspension would act on her synapses like a reboot on a computer. “Galena doesn’t sleep, does she?” Crystal pointed out, looking over at the solidified woman. “You feed her when she’s hungry, let her go the can when she needs to, but she never even yawns. That’s evidence that the suspension is acting like a long sleep somehow. Maybe I can benefit from that.”
I reminded her of the trade-off. If it worked, and I repeated the ‘if,’ then she would be trapped like Galena was now, dependent on embedded circuitry, and regular recharging, to return to life. She would also lose her normal human appearance for the literally bronzed skin the subdermal layer created.
“Lose my body or my mind? Which would you pick?” she laughed. “Besides, you take good care of Galena and you don’t even like her. And being trapped in the lab? When do any of us textbook workaholics even leave? And let me show you how sure I am about this.” She tapped something in her cell phone and said, “check your email.”
She had written out three documents. One was a statement that she was volunteering for my process of her own initiative, knowing all the risks and absolving me of any legal consequences. One was a proposal for merging our two lab spaces, including a possible list of joint research projects. The last, which really surprised me, was a script for the programming she wanted to receive via the sensory deprivation brainwashing. Like Galena, she would be compelled to obey me.
“It’s a back-up. If my brain starts to go, if this doesn’t work, then it’s a mental straitjacket as opposed to a physical one. No one has to wrestle me to the ground. And I’d rather say ‘yes master’ to you than go on medication to the point of drooling, or just collect dust in the corner because no one wants to wake up the loony.”
At the end, I agreed for the same bad reason I agreed to take custody of Galena Hoff. Complete ownership of a human being is an enormous temptation.
Galena assisted, although she grumbled as much as ever. I did try to make her more polite to Crystal but it did not take. “I have to take orders from you. I don’t have to take orders from her. I have to obey you because you have that little box. If she’s going to be like me, she has to obey the box, too.”
All the box could really do is control the circuits that disrupted the suspended animation field the bronze coating produced. However, Galena was hyper-sensitive to power issues, and assigned to science broad, dark powers in the manner of ignorant people. Galena’s sensory depro brainwashing had capitalized on those notions to implant the idea that the box functioned as a broader remote control, compelling obedience.
Crystal, unlike Galena, had a good sense of humor. “Relax girl, we’ll have the same skin after this.” Did I mention that Crystal looked a lot like Lt. Uhura on Star Trek? I still think that was part of why Galena wanted her gone. As Crystal once said, “I’ve met some crackers, but that girl’s a saltine.” Back in the present, Crystal cocked an eyebrow at Galena’s lack of clothing and said, “Say boss, do we get matching outfits?” Crystal will pick on anybody, even herself.
She knew she would be naked through the various baths: the bath that introduced the subdermal layer that induced the suspension field, the bath that helped firmly attach the small circuits that could restore her to life, and the sensory deprivation tank where she received her programming. Galena assisted me every step of the way, and I monitored everything Galena did in case somehow her natural venom overcame her programmed obedience.
Crystal came out identical in skin tone to Galena, and of course identical in suspended stillness. Unlike Galena, Crystal’s personality was value added. “Hey, I’m an academy award. Quick, present me to Halle Berry!” The third strike against Crystal, from Galena’s perspective, was her sexual orientation. I was one of the many males who regretted it myself. Crystal once promised me that I was on the short list of men she’d consider if she ever turned. Then she smiled and said “I don’t promise that to all the guys, just the ones who won’t ask if I promise that to all the guys.”
With both of them awake and paying attention, I made a show of speaking into the magic box. “Unit Crystal inserted into network as top priority unit. Unit Galena subordinate to Unit Crystal.” That got the expected yelp from Galena, but I kept going. “Unit Crystal’s standing orders and daily functions take precedence. In the absence of orders from box, orders from Unit Crystal are binding.” Dropping the wizard-into-microphone voice, I said to Galena “that means that what she says, goes.”
‘That’s not fair!” Galena complained. “This drugged-out crazy woman is now my boss?” I do not quote exactly. There are some things I refuse to type.
“That outburst from you is what makes it exactly fair,” I told her.
“Don’t pick on her, master,” laughed now-bronze Crystal, “she’s just being another brassy broad.” Crystal, of course, knew from experience that Galena took both teasing and compliments as hostile, demeaning acts.
Life got worse for Galena from that point on. Crystal was of the “any laugh in a storm” school and she was always accumulating for a rainy day. One time, Crystal announced she had discovered magnetism. She had managed to magnetize some flexible composite materials that would adhere to skin that had received the bronzing process. She came into the lab wearing front and back “bikini” pasties that were made from the stuff. Another time, she came up with erasable markers that could write on their skin.
Dr. Crystal Guest was a materials scientist. This was almost as bad an understatement as calling Albert Einstein a physicist. She claimed she could almost imagine the interaction between nanoparticles the way Nikola Tesla was supposed to be able to design elaborate electrical systems in his head. She always wondered if her intellectual powers were linked to her neurological problems, but our best neuro guys could only speculate. The bronzing process owed a lot to both her insight and her generosity in sharing ideas. And she was benefitting from it, as she hoped. After the treatment, she dropped her meds and her neurological symptoms stopped altogether.
Once Crystal was set up, my lab space saw the same surge of popularity that came when Galena was installed. However, the charm of annoying Galena quickly wore thin. Crystal’s charm was more persistent. The influx of people, and of good cheer, meant that Galena had to be displayed a bit differently than before. Again, Dr. Guest was prepared.
Crystal got them matching outfits, all right. Belly T-shirts that said “brassy broad alpha” for Galena and “brassy broad beta” for Crystal. Galena said, “that’s right, alpha comes first!” with triumph. Among the many things Galena Hoff never absorbed was the difference between alpha and beta software. No one ruined the joke by tipping her off. They both also got matching cargo shorts and flip-flops. The net effect was outright cute.
The thing that really surprised me was that Galena was gradually improving. She was still ignorant, opinionated, tactless and generally mulish. But somehow the mule was behaving like less of a jackass. The mule kicked less and was more willing to be led from one place to another. People visiting our lab space were less likely to call for her “mute button” or throw things at her.
Crystal explained it in a note she left for me. She and Gally were usually both alive at the same time, so Crystal hid it in one of the technical reports Galena ignored.
“Boss, what’s the first line of the report the scientists gave to the farmer? ‘Consider a spherical cow.’ We always simplify to avoid complexity we can’t handle. Is it possible that Galena was feeling overloaded when she was an officer? Maybe losing all her authority and responsibility gave her a chance to breathe a little.”
I had the authority and responsibility to review Gally Hoff’s personnel file. She grew up in the military, her grandparents had been military, and all her siblings were military. She was the only dud, and what a dud she turned out to be.
It was normal for me to hand back a report with handwritten notes. By Crystal’s entry regarding Galena, I wrote, “What about giving our military brat a second childhood?”
Shortly thereafter, one of the lab shelves contained a stack of board games. The classics: Candyland, Monopoly, and so on. No Risk, obviously.
Crystal explained it to Galena. “This is to fill the time when we’re waiting for the analyses to finish.”
“Why not just turn me off?”
“It’s my decision, and I don’t want to. Let’s play. Pick one.”
I then had to take a week out of town. You work for the government; you occasionally have to visit DC. Crystal and I worked out a timer schedule for when the two of them would be animated, including contingencies like “someone rings the doorbell” or “the fire alarm goes off.” They would do routine work – clean the lab, check voice mail, etc. – while I was gone.
When I got back, routine work was the last thing on my mind. They were both suspended, but Crystal was standing naked with her arms out, holding dangling flowerpots. Galena had been frozen drawing farm scenes (I think those were cows) on Crystal. Galena herself had a motorcycle drawn in great detail on her back.
I took down the flowerpots so Crystal wouldn’t drop them upon waking up, then woke both Crystal and Galena, planning to ask them if they knew who had posed them like that. It was my lab space, I resented other people disrupting things.
Galena of course immediately complained. “It was still my turn! She lost last time!”
Crystal agreed. “Sorry, Gally. I guess the boss’s schedule overrode ours.” (Gally?)
“I would certainly hope so,” I said, “since I’m the boss.” I paused a bit to make sure we had all re-absorbed that crucial fact. For some reason, I had felt it slipping away. “Now what’s this about turns?”
“I lost the bet,” Crystal explained, “so Gally got to pose and decorate me. That’s the usual stake.”
(Gally again?) “What was the bet on?”
“College basketball.” Gally (?!) and Crystal smirked at each other. All right, I never read the sports pages. Crystal and Gally discovered they both liked watching ESPN. Crystal’s sense of play and Gally’s need to win led them to make bets. They had pictures. In some cases, they had video. I saw Gally turned into a chandelier over a college game, and Crystal being a towel rack and a back scratcher for Gally.
“Looks like fun,” I said. “Does the boss get to play?”
“Hell, no!” Gally said fiercely.
“We’d already discussed this. You don’t,” Crystal said.
“Why not?” I said, taken a bit aback.
“What do you have to bet with? You’re already in charge of both of us.” Crystal calmly pointed out. “Our complete and total lord and master.”
“So butt out!” said Gally.
“All right, you two uppity pieces of lab equipment,” I said, warming to the game. “If I could offer you something, what would it be? Chocolate? Booze?” They smirked at each other. “OK, you planned on that one, too. Did you plan on what I can claim if I win?”
“Consider it a challenge to your creativity,” Crystal replied. She and Gally grinned at each other yet again. I don’t know how close those two got, but I have noticed what looks like edits in the security camera video. Once every few days, they take about an hour or two.
So far, those two hustlers have taken me for three sets of tickets to rock concerts, and four sets to sports games. Of course I have to chauffeur them. But I’m ready for the first time I win. I’ve already got the wheels and axles for turning them into go-karts, and they’ve already got a side bet over which one sets the better speed record.