Roland is mad at me. He thinks that I’m being mean to get him back for paying attention to Nela. I refused to argue with him because it would upset the rest of us and that only made Roland madder. Well if he has to be mad, then he has to be mad.
He started off being angry because I asked Nela what she would go for if she ever got to take an aptitude test. That started a conversation about the requirements for getting a prosthetic or a limb transplant. Roland hadn’t been thinking too much about the future and now is mad because I brought it up and now Nela is thinking about possibilities.
Then it got worse and he isn’t talking to me at all because Nela told him information she’d heard from Johnson. And when Roland asked Johnson how he’d found out Roland learned I’d told Johnson before I told him. Only I’d tried to tell him but he and Nela had been taking a walk through the solarium and he said it could wait until later. Only later never came. He’s acting just like Mr. Russell did when he found out his wife wanted a D-I-V-O-R-C-E.
This couldn’t happen at a worse time. I know what they are doing in the South Wing. How I know is awful. I feel like I’m going to have an episode and I’m really scared. And sad too. But scared mostly.
There’s only one other person I can tell this to. He’s going to curse a long time but I have to talk to someone. I need to warn them.
Johnson nearly levitated out of his bed when he woke to find Georgie bending over him. “Dammit! How did you get in here? Did Peterson let you in?!”
“Shhh. No. Peterson is having an attack. Chaplin is with him trying to talk him down. Archer is on duty but he’s playing cards with himself and I just crawled around where he couldn’t see me.”
Grumpily Johnson asked, “Who the hell put Archer on the duty roster? The man doesn’t even know his name half the time.” Johnson got out of bed and quickly pulled his pants on. “What’s wrong Kid?”
“Can you come with me? It’s important and we have to hurry.”
“Is someone sick?”
Desperately Georgie answered, “No. Yes. Just come with me. You’ll see. I wouldn’t bother you but Roland is mad and not talking to me and my head …”
“Whoa there. I’ll get …”
Sighing Johnson said, “You don’t even know what I was going to say.”
“Yes I do. Every time I make you uncomfortable you go straight to calling for Nela or Tracey. Well there’s no time for that and Nela is half the reason Roland is mad at me. So please, just come with me. I … I need help with this. I don’t want it to be true but I think it is.”
Georgie was more agitated than Johnson had seen her in a long time. Whatever the cause was he wanted to get to the bottom of it. They left the same way she had come and then he followed as she led him up to one of the least used areas of the entire complex.
Looking around the empty fifth floor Johnson whispered, “I didn’t know this floor was even accessible. The elevator doesn’t come up here and the stairwell is blocked off.”
“I know. No one ever comes up here but me. They closed it off when one of the Staff fell off this part of the roof when we were little.”
“Then why the hell do you come up here if it’s dangerous?”
Shaking her head to keep bad memories at bay Georgie answered, “It’s not dangerous. And I come up here because the best views are up here and because of the laundry chutes.”
Confusion evident in his voice Johnson asked, “The laundry what?”
“The old laundry chutes and pharmacy elevator. At least that’s what they used to be according to what Nurse Cassie told me. Now they’re used as ventilation shafts. But to me they’re the information highway. Now be very, very quiet.”
Georgie removed a panel and whispered, “They only renovated the first two floors of the South Wing. They’re thinking about opening the third floor but only if the program is profitable. I think the Director is getting a cut of the profits.”
Thinking that Georgie was bound and determined to give him a heart attack he asked, “What program?”
Georgie look at him with haunted eyes and then without answering crawled into the old shaft used to move medicine carts between floors. Johnson forced passed his claustrophobia and followed her down the old metal maintenance ladder to a narrow ledge three floors below. It was a surprisingly silent move as someone – probably Georgie – had wrapped rags and old padding around the ladder rungs. The only light in the shaft came from a series of vents on each floor where the elevator doors used to be. When he got his breathing under control Johnson realized he could hear people talking. In the faint light he saw that Georgie was looking through one of the vent panels and in real distress. He carefully moved up beside her and looked through the same panel.
Johnson found they were looking down on a large open ward that reminded him of the warehouses where injured soldiers were stacked after a battle like cordwood until they could be triaged and transferred to a medical station.
The bunks were little more than cots stacked three high running the lengths of both walls. Unlike in the Wounded Warehouses the people in these beds were utterly silent. Then Georgie touched his arm and indicated she wanted him to watch the beds on the far end of the room. As he watched, each bed slowly rotated until the bed was upside down and the patient only stayed on it because they were held there by heavy straps. He also noticed tubes and wires that ran from monitors beside each bed under a sheet presumably to be connected to each patient.
Johnson looked at Georgie and she motioned to various parts of her body then pointed to the patients. Each patient had a tracheotomy, a feeding tube, monitor wires, and tubes that could be for nothing other than carrying off human waste.
She got Johnson’s attention one more time and pointed to two specific patients. One was a young man with dark hair, a heavy brow ridge, and a nose that had obviously been broken more than once. The other was an older woman.
Johnson looked at Georgie and shrugged to indicate he didn’t understand what she wanted him to see. With a sad frustration she pointed an ID tag affixed to the foot of each bed. Then with a closer look he understood. The woman’s tag read “Kilpatrick.”
The sound of a chair moving across the floor directly beneath their position had them both instinctively leaning back and crouching even though the likelihood of them being seen was extremely low. A male voice could be heard asking, “Did all the beds turn this time? I thought they are supposed to cycle in shifts.”
A woman responded, “The timer needs to be reprogrammed again.”
The man grumbled. “This place is a wreck. I can guarantee we’ll lose one or more a week if they don’t fix the bugs in the system. I still can’t get alarms to go off when we get a code. Number 19 expired and no one noticed for two shift changes and most of the organs had already been promised because of the rare blood type. The Director was not happy.”
“Only because she had to refund money that had already been spent. I thought my mother was cheap but the Director makes her look generous to a fault. We ran out of bed straps for the inventory that came in last night and you know what she says?”
“Use duct tape … that there should be a roll in the janitor’s office. But not to waste it.”
“You have got to be kidding.”
“I wish I was. And now on top of everything else she says we have to bring our own lunch and stay in this wing.”
“Yeah well, if she didn’t give the run of the place to the defectives …”
“I wouldn’t say anything about that. Donaldson complained and look what happened to him. He quit and gave up the bonus pay.”
There was a brief silence then in a different tone the man said, “And just left all his stuff behind including his ID and credits car that I know for a fact has all his savings on it.”
The woman paused then asked, “ID and credits card?”
“Yeah. And that cloud of lame music he was always listening to hasn’t been accessed since he disappeared either. So … the less said the better.”
“No one said anything about this being a Special Program.”
“And no one’s saying anything about it now so no need to even bring it up if you get my meaning.”
“Oh I get it. Before this gig I knew a girl that used to work at McCallister until that fire that went through it. She was pretty damn jumpy, always looking over her shoulder and refusing to talk about anything work related after a while.”
Nothing else was said and after another five minutes Georgie led the way back up and out of the shaft.
Johnson noticed tracks in the dust on Georgie’s face. “OK, the woman was DW. Who was the guy?”
“Victor Minke. He’s one of us … was one of us … maybe he …” Georgie shook her head in confusion. “He got sent to Lockdown right after you came to live here.”
Johnson had suspected something along those lines. “You sure it’s him?”
“Yeah. He’s lost a lot of weight but it’s him. I recognized his eyebrows as soon as they loaded him onto the bed.”
With compassion he’d forgotten he had once possessed Johnson asked softly, “you know what they’re doing in that wing don’t you?”
Georgie nodded. “It’s a harvesting hub like they’ve shown on the Tri-V. They collect transplant material. Skin, hair, bone, and everything else. Earlier today I heard some other people talking and they said once the infrastructure is stabilized and a market is developed they’ll open the third floor up and bring in tanks of growing medium and clone sacks.”
“That’s right. People can sign up to be donors and their families get a tax credit to offset their death tax. Most people think it’s the right thing to do rather than letting the body they don’t need any more go to waste.”
“But DW and Victor were permanently triaged. Why would they be in a harvesting hub? And what happened to Victor in Lockdown that he would wind up here?”