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Tangled Threads, Tangled Strings

by Michael J A Tyzuk

Table of Contents
Part 1 appears
in this issue.

part 2 of 11

After a long moment Tamara turned away from the window and returned to her chair. The expression on her face was much gentler than it had been, and a faint ghost of a smile seemed to tug at the corners of her mouth. She turned to Mike and leaned in close to him, looked into his eyes. “If you’re right about the connection between Alan’s murder and today’s incidents, then that means we have a serious problem, and it’s one that needs to be solved very quickly. If you’re in a position to help us then I would be grateful.”

Mike smiled. “And maybe when we’re done Alan will rest a little easier,” he suggested.

“Maybe he will,” Tamara whispered.

Jeremy stared into the back of Tamara’s head for a long moment while he mulled over her last comment. Then his eyes widened as a piece of the puzzle snapped into place. My God, he thought, it’s no wonder she’s been getting worse!

* * *

Mike pulled a data card from his pocket and inserted it into the reader in Kevin’s desk terminal. He tapped a series of commands into the keyboard. A painting that adorned one wall slid gracefully aside to reveal a concealed screen, which came to life. The seal of the Terran Empire faded from the screen to be replaced by the image of a small electronic device. The measuring guide beside the device showed that it was very small, less than a centimetre on its longest side. The device had several small filament-like wires extending outward from it.

“This is implant that your medical examiner found in Alan’s head,” he explained. “It’s a neurological implant that is inserted into the victim’s cerebral cortex. The filaments extending outward from the implant are tiny wires which carry microelectric currents to various segments of the brain. The implant itself is primarily a small-scale transceiver. When the appropriate activation signal is sent the implant comes to life and begins sending microelectric currents to whichever part of the brain it is instructed to stimulate.

“Intelligence believes that the Underground is using implants of this type in conjunction with a program of hypnotic conditioning to foment and incite dangerous crimes all over the Empire. The implant stimulates certain portions of the brain, thereby causing the victim to perceive certain emotions or sensations. The hypnotic conditioning instructs the victim to carry out certain actions when they begin to perceive these emotions or sensations.

“Intelligence first became aware of the existence of these implants about a year ago,” Mike continued, “when your doctor found it in Alan’s head.” He tapped another command into the keyboard. The image of the implant faded to be replaced by the image of a man in his middle years with deep set eyes, a Julius Caesar nose, and salt and pepper hair. “Intelligence believes that the implant was originally devised by this man, Doctor Alfred Collins. Doctor Collins was a prominent experimental neurosurgeon at the Imperial University on Earth when he was abducted by parties unknown while on vacation some thirty years ago. At the time of his abduction he was known to be working on a similar device which he intended to be used to assist doctors in identifying and correcting chemical imbalances in the brain. The doctor theorized that such devices would also be especially useful in identifying tumours early in their development, when they can be most easily removed. He theorized other uses as well.

“Intelligence now believes that the Doctor was abducted by Underground forces and coerced into altering his proposed implant into the device you discovered. Intelligence also has a report which describes how the Doctor was taken from the resort at which he was staying and spirited off to an Underground base on Parnassus. It was there that he was coerced into altering his researches.

“His body was discovered among the dead when a combined Navy-Marine Corps strike force seized the base some two years after the Doctor was abducted. Alan served as a Marine during the war and was captured by the Underground on Dyer. The Underground operated several listening posts and a prisoner of war camp there. The prisoners were subjected to numerous medical experiments. Intelligence believes that this is where the implant was inserted into his head.”

“So we now know who created the technology,” Tamara summarized, “and we also know that he was taken by the Underground to develop the technology for their own uses. All well and good, but how does that help us now?”

Mike tapped in another command. Doctor Collins’ face disappeared and an image of a rather nondescript man replaced it. He had a hook nose and deep-set grey eyes. “This man has been identified as one of the Underground’s senior research and development types. Among other credentials he is an expert in human neurophysiology. Intelligence believes that he’s the one working on developing the implant. Intelligence also believes that the work is being done right here in Acheron City.”

Tamara straightened at that. “Where in Acheron City?” she demanded.

Mike shook his head. “We don’t know exactly where, yet,” he answered. “However, Intelligence has furnished us with the locations of all the known Safe Houses in Acheron City. It’s a good bet that if we launch an operation to take down those houses then we stand a good chance of finding that scientist and stopping the research.”

Jeremy frowned. “That’s an awfully big risk,” he observed.

“It’s an awfully big operation too,” Kevin seconded. “There have to be dozens of safe houses in Acheron City. We’ve got good SWAT teams at every station, but even if we field all of them we don’t have anywhere near the manpower to take on an operation of this magnitude.”

“I know,” Mike said. “That’s why I’ll be contributing Marines from the local garrison and from my ship, the Rising Star.”

Jeremy turned to Kevin. “With the Marines along there’s a good possibility that we can do it.”

“I agree,” Kevin said. “However, before we launch an operation like this we need a lot more than what you’ve given us.”

Kevin’s office door opened and Doctor Gerald MacGregor, the Medical Examiner, stepped inside and dropped a data pad on the desk.

“What’s this?” Tamara asked as she picked up the pad and started reading from the small screen.

“I just finished preliminary autopsies on the people behind today’s incidents,” Gerald explained. “The details are in the report but the only physiological abnormality that I found was an identical in all cases was a brain chemical imbalance. Leastwise, it was identical in all cases that still had their heads.”

“A brain chemical imbalance?” Kevin asked. “What does that mean?”

Kevin shrugged. “It could mean any number of things,” he said. “In the past, chemical imbalances were often the physiological causes of what used to be termed mental illnesses. More often than not, this term was used to classify depression, or manic depression before it was renamed bipolar disorder.

“Now, if I were to take two victims of clinical depression and perform the same set of tests on them, the brain chemical analysis would be similar in both cases but not identical. There would be minute differences from victim to victim. However, in this case the results are identical from one victim to the next, and that makes me think that the effect was produced artificially.”

Mike and Tamara shared a look, and then Tamara turned to Gerald. “Did any of the victims have a neural implant in their heads?” she asked.

“You mean like the one we took out of Alan last year?” Gerald responded. “No, none of them did. At least not one that my scanners could detect.”

“Is there any other way that this effect could be produced?” Mike asked.

Gerald shook his head. “Not to this degree of precision, no,” he said. “You could introduce chemical compounds into the bloodstream to stimulate the brain into producing the imbalance necessary, but there would be variances from person to person. The only way to achieve the effect that I noticed is through the use of a programmed implant.”

“So,” Jeremy jumped in, “each victim would have one of those implants, and each implant would be identically programmed.”

Gerald nodded. “Exactly.”

Jeremy turned to Tamara. “What do you think?”

I think that my worst nightmare is about to come true, Tamara thought to herself. She turned to Mike. “You said that the Underground abducted the scientist responsible for the initial discoveries that made the kind of implant we found in Alan possible, yes?”

Mike nodded. “Yeah, that’s what Intelligence is telling us.”

Tamara heaved a heavy sigh. “In that case, it’s logical to assume that the Underground has scientists of its own that are at least as skilled as that fellow, and certainly capable of continuing his research. The implant we found in Alan provides us with all the proof we need to testify to that fact.”

Jeremy grimaced as he picked up on Tamara’s train of thought. “Therefore, if they have scientists who are sufficiently skilled to continue the Doctor’s research, then it’s also logical to assume that those same scientists are capable of finding a method to improve the implant and make it more difficult for us to detect.”

“And that,” Kevin interjected, “means that each of the people we have in our morgue right now could have an implant in their brains and we would never know about it.”

Gerald smiled a grim little smile. “Exactly.”

“Maybe not,” Mike cut in.

“What do you mean?” Gerald wanted to know.

Mike smiled a wan smile. “Well, you said that the scanning equipment you have here couldn’t detect the presence of a neural implant, and we’re working under the theory that the Underground has sufficient brain power at its disposal to have improved the implant and make it more difficult to detect. So, it seems to me that what we need is access to more advanced scanning equipment than what you have down at the morgue.”

“Reasonable,” Gerald agreed. “But where are we going to get this more advanced equipment?”

Now Mike was grinning. “Even though she’s classed as a Battle Cruiser, the Rising Star is actually the first truly multi-purpose starship the Navy has fielded in more than a hundred years. Our sickbay has scanning and diagnostic equipment that would make the best-equipped research hospital in the Empire go green with envy. I’m willing to bet that if we transport those victims up to the Rising Star and you re-perform those autopsies then you might just find those implants.”

“Assuming that an implant is responsible for what happened today,” Kevin clarified.

“Assuming that, yes,” Mike agreed.

Gerald thought about that for a moment, and then turned to Kevin. “When do we leave?”

* * *

Gerald retired to the morgue to arrange for the transport of the corpses while Tamara and Mike made arrangements with the garrison landing field to accommodate the shuttles that the Rising Star would be sending down. Jeremy decided that he really didn’t need to be a part of that process and excused himself. He went to Kevin’s office and knocked on the door.

“Come,” Kevin bellowed.

Jeremy opened the door and stuck his head in. “Have you got a moment, boss?” he asked.

Kevin tore his attention away from his comm terminal and gestured for Jeremy to come in and take a seat. “Yeah, I think I can spare a minute or two,” he answered. “What’s on your mind?”

“I’m a little concerned about Tamara,” Jeremy explained as he sat down.

“How so?” Kevin wondered.

Jeremy took a deep breath. “I don’t think she’s strong enough and stable enough emotionally to be a part of this assignment,” he said. “Not yet, anyway.”

Kevin frowned and leaned back in his chair. “You’re concerned about what she’ll do when she finally meets up with the people who put the implant in Alan,” he ventured.

Jeremy nodded. “Yeah, pretty much,” he admitted. “Look, boss, I don’t know how much experience you have with grief and depression, but my experience tells me that you have to hit bottom before you can get better. Exactly where that bottom is varies from person to person, but I don’t think that Tamara has reached that point yet. That whole Tanya Brown affair brought her closer to that point, but it didn’t drive her over the edge. I think that there’s a very real possibility that this case could conceivably drive Tamara past the breaking point, and there’s no telling what she’ll do then.”

“Alan was very important to her,” Kevin mused. “Losing him must have been a lot like losing a part of herself.”

“Exactly,” Jeremy agreed. “Boss, she’s a very emotional woman, but she can also be very repressed. She contains what she’s feeling until she can release it safely, but since Alan died she hasn’t been releasing anything. That woman is a ticking time bomb and when she goes off it’s going to be in spectacular fashion.”

Kevin thought about that for a moment. “If she does go off do you think that you can keep her from hurting herself and those around her?”

Jeremy shrugged. “I don’t know, boss,” he answered honestly. “I just know that when it happens it ain’t going to be pretty.”

Kevin nodded and leaned forward in his chair, rested his arms on the desk top. “Tamara Tomson is the single best investigator I’ve ever seen come through those doors,” he said. “If something were to happen to her it would be a tragedy not only for the division, but also for the department. And, more importantly, I have to admit that I’m somewhat fond of the little minx myself, so it would be a personal tragedy for me if something happened to her. I think we need to do whatever it takes to makes sure that she’s not alone when she explodes.”

Jeremy nodded. “I’ll stick to her like glue,” he promised. “But I still don’t think that she should be anywhere near this case.”

Kevin shrugged. “You may be right,” he admitted. “However, it isn’t my decision anymore. The Navy is willing to help us out with this one, but there’s a price tag attached.”

“And that price tag has auburn hair and green eyes,” Jeremy added.

“Exactly,” Kevin finished. “Do what you have to do to keep her alive,” he ordered. “We can’t afford to lose her.”

“You got it, boss.”

To be continued...

Copyright © 2005 by Michael J A Tyzuk

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