Damn, I’m cranking these out. I’ve got a nice little pattern going on with my writing right now, and I’m hoping it will hold up. I know the posting rate doesn’t reflect it (I’ve been doing that purposefully, to make a bit of a safety buffer), but I’ve been writing a Mostly Hidden chapter around every three days or something. Anyway, here you go.
Michael laid on his cot, riding out the remaining torture of the predominantly-faded diazopralm dose. Bursts of pain and anxiety flooded him at random intervals, and lasted only a few moments, but they still brought back dark memories of the time a day or so earlier when that had been constant.
He shivered, and not from cold.
The question passed through his mind of whether Gerard was out there, watching him, right now. He had no idea. He could have no idea. No matter the answer, though, he wished he could burst through the exit door, grab Gerard by the neck, and throw him in here in his place.
He could’ve had the option of doing that, once, a long time ago. If only he had. But that opportunity was gone, dead, and would never come again. It had been taken by someone else, and Michael had to pay for it.
Clyde closed the book in front of him, closed his eyes, and pressed lightly on his eyelids, then slid his fingers together and squeezed the bridge of his nose. He sighed.
Why did he do this? Why had he started? Why did he continue?
Some shallow part of him wanted to quit, but he knew that wasn’t what he actually wanted. His true desires and motivations lay much deeper than that shallow part that, for some inexplicable reason, was the part that responded first. It was his autopilot, of sorts, some piece of biological programming that Clyde hadn’t left behind long ago. A piece of his humanity that lingered on, and there was no hope of ever leaving it.
He opened the book again. The lettering was small, cramped, wavering. A hand that felt the pain of writing for hours on end but continued going on, knowing there was something greater to be found at the end than could be achieved by quitting too soon.
He flipped to the beginning of the book, skimmed a retconned index, then turned the page and began reading from the start, once again.
His hand remembered all of it – this bump, that squiggle. It was a memory in both body and mind, but even though he knew every last word of it, he still read it. It reminded him there was “something greater to be found at the end”. It was hope.
Clyde almost slapped himself. Fuck, that was so sappy. It was just in his mind, only he knew, but that was horrid.
While he read, he kept a pen in the hand that didn’t turn pages, making small notes in the – almost nonexistent – margin, telling of how this or that went, and how things could be changed. The pages were covered with similar notes from past read-throughs.
The pain was finally gone, completely. Michael was relieved. Three days, or four, it had taken. It was hard to keep accurate track of time in this cement room with no windows or clocks.
Although he was relieved at the lack of pain, the fact that it was gone meant that, soon enough, he would have to return to his cell, and, within a few days, begin another trial. He prayed it would be something less drastic as this one had been. Something like fentimetaproxil, a new and possibly more potent analogue of metaproxil they were developing. From what he heard, it was damnably nice.
Or perhaps he’d get similarly lucky, and test a “no-effect” drug; it was more of a safety precaution for the company than anything else. They wanted to make sure their anti-heart-disease drug wouldn’t kill anyone in some other way. The testers were administrated a typical dose of the drug every day for a week or so, and as long as nothing bad happened, the drug would continue along on its path to release.
The door opened, and another nameless guard stepped through. Michael stood up, let himself be handcuffed, then was led to his cell by the guard.
It wasn’t that his cell was worse than the testing room, exactly, and he certainly didn’t enjoy a lot of the tests, but returning to his cell always filled Michael with dread. A dread of knowing that he was a prisoner here, and would be for God-knows-how-long. It was a horrid feeling. He had the feeling while he was in the Keene State Correctional Facility, but there it had been a constant, dull feeling in the back of his mind while he was in there. He had been there long enough that it became a commonplace feeling, and he almost didn’t feel it any more.
But having to come back here every few days was much worse. A shocking wave of the feeling overwhelmed him as he just saw his cell sitting empty there ready for him, a hungry beast of cement and iron ready to consume him and his soul.
He went into the cell, and the guard drew the iron gate shut behind him, then unlocked his cuffs. Michael sat down on his cot – the same cot as in the testing room, but this one was filled with restless nights instead of drugged bliss – and began counting the hours until the next test could begin.
“Quentizapoline, I think,” Gerard said to the test planner. “Diazopralm isn’t kind to anyone, and we needed a final run of testing with that anyway.”
The planner nodded and scribbled something down on a notepad. Gerard stood where he was, watching, until the planner was done. She looked up to him, confused, and asked, “Anything else?”
Gerard shook himself. “Uh… no. No, just wanted to tell you that.”
He turned and walked out of the room stiffly.
It was all he could do for Michael, he thought. He didn’t know why he wanted to help him, or, even less so, why he did. It could all be justified, though; he wasn’t helping Michael, he was helping the company, finalizing a new drug. But justifications could only go so far, and that wasn’t far in his own mind. He saw through the curtains his own mind threw up almost immediately, trying to hide that all-important secret behind them. He knew why he helped Michael, and that reason would never change. Guilt.
That one word, ironically, summed up all that both held him back and what pushed him forward.
After the first week or so, the withdrawals were almost entirely gone. That was good, for Jem, but also depressing to him. Though he knew he should crave a good dose of tripencorquine, and he did to some extent, but not near as much as he wanted to crave it.
He thought back to when he had first started with it. No, before that. Before tripencorquine, back when he was snagging a few drinks here and there from his father’s ludicrously massive liquor cabinet. Soon enough, though, the excitement around that began to fade, and he looked for it in other places.
A few friends at school – they weren’t friends at the time, but would be soon enough – gave him a little bag of stuff that looked like crunched-up maple leaves from the previous fall.
It hadn’t been that, though.
Stonebalm, as it was called, hadn’t interested him very much. After that, his interest in drugs died down just as his interest in girls began. Those were a few interesting years, not entirely without fun, but mostly filled with a sort of dread of the inevitable end.
After that time, he began experimenting again. Somehow he got a bottle of corquine pills, which he enjoyed extensively. After they ran out, he discovered tripencorquine through one of those “friends” from high school, a guy who seemed to wear the same grey hoodie every day, and had enjoyed an off-and-on courtship with it for a year or so before he really began getting hooked.
Shortly after that, he met a man named Dave Stephens, who supplied him with the highest quality stuff he had seen. He had been mystified by its supreme quality, and asked Dave where he had gotten it. Dave, of course, wouldn’t give away his sources, but told him he got it from a large supplier, who said they got it from some chemistry savant who made it from scratch.
Jem had always wanted to meet that guy, if only to give him admiration for the product, but such meetings were almost impossible in his world.
To support his tripe – what tripencorquine was usually referred to as – habit, he began dealing in small amounts.
That hadn’t been going on long before he got caught, then in a whirlwind of papers and police cars, had landed here, in the Keene State Correctional Facility, a washed-out would-be dealer.
Jem was snapped out of his reverie by his cell door opening and a guard stepping through. Jem stood up and looked at the guard.
“You’re wanted somewhere,” the guard said, and pulled out a pair of handcuffs. Jem put out his wrists for the guard to put them on, then stepped out of his cell and followed the guard, no idea what was going on.