“Listen, Cain, it’s nothing personal. Just something that has to be done. Protocol, and all that.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine. Just…can you turn the lights down a little? It’s starting to feel a bit…”
The Gestapo were Germany’s ‘Secret State Police,’ led by the SS national leader, Heinrich Himmler, who was himself appointed to the position by Adolf Hitler. This group operated carte blanche without judicial review, essentially above the law. This resulted in a group that used many questionable tactics and methods of intimidation to sow fear among their enemies, and anyone else who might get in their way.
“…Gestapo-like in here.”
The lights that were burning my retinas were turned down a little, lessening the burn but increasing my awareness of it. The rest of the room was visible again; the familiar flashing lights and flickering wall panels of Dr. Steinberg’s lab. Ever more familiar of late, because I’d been stuck inside the lab for three days.
It all seemed like a bit of a joke, at first. An automatic security protocol went into effect, sealing the underground lab off from the rest of the world, and me inside it, with only Dr. Steinberg, a dozen or so tiny ball-shaped robots, and the two voices in my head for company.
That sounds like a lot of people to interact with, in retrospect. But most of the denizens of the lab didn’t make for very good company.
The doctor was only really interested in scanning my brain, and as a result, we did twice as many brain scans as usual. This increase didn’t require much additional effort on Steinberg’s part, but was moderately taxing for me, due to the discomfort of the helmet I was strapped into every time he decided to see what my brain was up to.
Cain often wondered, while confined to the chilly brightness of the lab, what it might be like to be a prisoner, kept in isolation for life. It would be lonely, certainly, and although the voices in his head might make the solitude easier at first, he imagined that the constant mental companions that would help him survive the first few years would be what made him take his own life sometime thereafter.
The voices shifted from interesting to annoying, depending on which was speaking at the time. Instinct did its best to teach me things I might need to know, both in the immediate future, and once I was out of the lab, back in the sunlight and a world full of possibilities. The Narrator poetically rambled about the confines, seemingly less comfortable being stuck underground than I was.
The little robots were only interested in scanning anything and everything they could, rolling about, inside vents and up walls, pausing from time to time to taste the air for an errant signal, which is what shut the lab down to begin with.
I was fairly certain the signal in question, the source of all the problems, was coming from my shoe. A group in opposition to the doctor and his work, The Commons, had a pretty girl put a bug in the heel of my wingtips, and it seemed likely that’s what had the lab in a tizzy. Unfortunately, I had no way to know that for sure, and couldn’t think of anything I could do to make it stop, even if I was.
Plato was a recent arrival to the laboratory shut-down party. He had spent two days trying to clear his slate so he could make an appearance, seal himself in with the rest of us, and help bring the situation to a close. That was kind of his thing.
“So, Cain. Sorry again about the lights, but it’s standard procedure. And we’re all friends here; I just have to ask a few questions about the lab, the work you’re involved with here, that kind of thing.”
“Sure, no problem.”
“So are you enjoying working with the doc? He treating you well?”
“Yeah…well sure. I mean, it’s definitely interesting work. I’m learning a lot just being involved. I’m not doing any work myself, of course, but, you know, I wear the helmet and he talks at me. Hopefully that’s helping a little.”
“It sure is. The doc’s been telling me how helpful you’ve been. Really great work, Cain.” He looked down at his hands, then back at me. “So, Cain. Buddy. How has LA been treating you? Big change from Smithton, right?”
“Oh yeah, very big change.”
“You having a good time, though? Enjoying yourself?”
“Yeah, I suppose. It’s been better, having Rainer around. I mean, any place can be alright with a good friend nearby.”
“So true. So true. Have you been to any more parties recently? Like the one where you picked up that pill?”
I must have blushed with embarrassment, because Plato laughed. “It’s fine, buddy. Like I said, this isn’t a serious thing, and the pill was an honest, if pretty stupid, mistake. But please answer the question, if you don’t mind, and we can get out of here and back to doing something useful, eh?”
“No, not really. It’s actually been tough, getting too social out here. I’ve got a few friends, but they’re people from Strauss’ crew, mostly. Associates more than friends. Good people, but we don’t have much in common.”
“Any…ladies…in your life?”
“Any…ah…young men…in your life?”
“No! I mean, no. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but, you know, I’m into girls. I just…well…they’re not always into me.”
“Ha! That’s fine, Cain. Just have to check. I have to go through the checklist for this kind of situation, and part of it is assessing what you’re up to in your free time, who you’re associating with, that kind of thing. Helps determine if there’s any chance you’re being used by someone as an unintentional spy, or if you’re joining some kind of renegade fringe group.”
“Ha!” I hoped the laughter sounded legitimate, because as strange as it sounded, he was exactly right as to what was happening, on both counts. “Yup, that’s me. Cain from Smithton, spy-craft fall-guy and freedom fighter for the fringe.”
Cain could feel his pulse quicken, his inhalations turn raspy, and a bead of perspiration appear on his brow.
Plato smiled. “Yeah, seems a bit unlikely. Maybe if the revolution was fought with a game of Go…” He narrowed his eyes a bit. “So nobody in your life at all, outside of Rainer? Nobody’s, you know, caught your interest?”
For a moment, I thought about the girl from the cereal aisle, the one who had bugged my shoe. It must have shown on my face, because Plato said, “Ah! There is someone. Spill it, Cain.” His words were still friendly, playful even, but it was clear that I should spill it. Spill something, at least. That I might be holding back even some small detail meant that I could be holding back other details. He’s got to see that I have trouble holding back, so he can feel confident I’m not holding back…all the other stuff I’m holding back.
“Wellllll,” I said, playing up the embarrassment in my voice. “Yeahhhh. I mean, kind of. There’s this girl.”
“She works at a shoe store.”
“What? Why do you…?” He noticed the new shoes. Damnit. “…Kinda. How did you know?” Play dumb. Play lovestruck. Playact anything but the actuality that you’re stuck in an underground lair with an augmented, corrupt-as-hell cop without scruples, and with very bright lights. And he’s interrogating you.
“New shoes. Those are pretty high-end footwear, too, so I assumed. You learn to notice things like that as a cop, and learn to put two-and-two together.”
“Well, it’s impressive. Though she was at a shoe place, not working at it. I kind of just…”
“Wanted to impress her.”
“By buying some fancy footwear.”
“How’d that work out for you?”
To tell a convincing lie, it’s best to stick as close to reality as possible. This makes it less likely that physical ‘tells’ will give you away, and makes it less likely that you’ll be found out later. It’s easier to remember a lie that closely aligns with the truth, and if you are discovered, it’s far easier to weave a new tale with another small lie, unifying the stories, than if you tell a large mistruth to begin with.
“I ended up following her to a park.”
“Oh. What happened?”
“I sat next to her on a bench.”
“Whoa! Did you talk to her?”
“I, well, kind of. Briefly. Then she left.”
“Did you get her number?”
“Her…name? What did you talk about?”
A convincing lie has elements of the truth.
I looked at my feet. “My shoes.”
Plato tried not to smile at my obvious discomfort, but mostly failed. “Ah. Well. That’s rough, kid.”
“Well…ah…I think that’s it for now. We’ve gone through the checklist, and it doesn’t really sound like there’s much…external influence on you at the moment. Nothing to worry about, at least.” He stood up and turned away, flicking off the bright lights before the laughter could escape his smile.
“Are we good? Can I go?”
He turned back, smile mostly gone. “We’re good, but you still can’t go. No one leaves, not even me, until we figure out what’s set off the sensors. We’ll stay down here forever if we have to.” As he walked out of the room, he mumbled, “Though hopefully it doesn’t come to that.”