Welcome to Golden, Chapter 10
When Billy finally awoke, he realized that he wasn't at home; and a groggy glance at the bedside clock told him it was nearly noon. That meant he'd been asleep for more than five hours. The crew must have just knocked him out so he would get a night's sleep, but that thought sent a shiver of panic up his spine. He knew he didn't say anything to anyone before going to sleep, not that he could anyway. There was no telling what assumptions had been made in that time, there was no telling if the attacker in Golden had already been identified.
He had to talk to Jenny.
Trying to move his arm to throw back the blanket covering him, Billy found it wasn't the simple movement it usually was. He had to will his arm to move, and even then it was as if his muscles would not react to his commands. This was a direct result of spending too much time in Golden, he knew. He could think, but his body wouldn't respond in kind, as if he was slowly being afflicted in the same manner of his patients. Billy didn't find the difficulties so hard to understand, it only made sense that Golden, in the long-term, would have adverse effects on the physical body; and from experience, it also messes with your mind. It would only be a matter of time before he would no longer be able to go to Golden and that day seemed to be soon approaching. Not only were his patients part of a study, but so was Billy.
Eventually, his senses and movement returned to him, and it was fine that it took several minutes. He was able to swallow the anxiety and fear that had bubbled up from his stomach. By the time he was able to make it to the bathroom to take a shower, he was quite calm, but he felt like he'd spent a night drinking and fighting instead of sleeping.
He knew that his first order of business was to assure the staff that Lily's condition was a result of nothing that had happened in Golden. Billy didn't want to lie, that was something that could result in him spending time in jail, but time was important, not only because of the real world implications, but because there was something serious going on in the town.
He started going over in his mind what he would say when asked about what had happened. It was not unusual for people to just die when they were in Golden — the town's residents were of an age and physical condition that it was rarely a surprise — the computers and medical equipment could keep someone alive and predict someone's demise, but it wasn't a perfect science. Regardless of the circumstances, there was paperwork and investigations to go through. Billy just hoped all the evidence pointed in the direction of a normal unattended medical emergency so he could have a little time. The sad part was that Lily would never get to return to Golden.
As he finished his shower and got dressed, Billy knew he had to talk to Jenny before the government investigators could make up their own minds about what happened. Being asleep for several hours past sun-up might not bode well.
His walk down the hall was brief and no one else seemed to be around. When he got to Jenny's office he opened the door and walked right in. She was sitting behind her desk looking over papers in a manila folder.
“Why didn't you wake me sooner?” Billy said, with more panic in his voice than he wanted to let on. She looked up calmly.
“Dr. Watson, I'm glad you’re awake, you are just in time to add anything you need to for the investigator, which I should point out, is our friend, Mr. Jordan.” She motioned across the room to where Jordan was sitting uncomfortably on a ratty sofa.
“As I'm sure you are aware, an unattended death in Golden sets in motion an investigation. You are to cooperate fully with Mr. Jordan's inquiry as outlined within our charter.”
“Death?” Billy asked. Jenny sadly nodded, she didn't need to say more. Lily Perez had not made it. Jenny herself looked as though she had spent a long night with no sleep.
As a child, Billy was prone to panic attacks. They could happen at any time, in just about any situation. A switch seemed to turn on in his mind that made the rest of his body revolt. He was lucky enough that a school counselor actually recognized he had a problem. He went to doctors, where his interest in psychiatry was sparked. The doctors helped, and Billy trained himself to avoid the attacks. It got to the point where they went away completely. It had been years since he felt that tightening in the throat, the increased heart rate and the flushing of his cheeks.
The thoughts of Lily's assault, an investigation by Jordan and the fact that he was getting ready to attempt to lie to a government agent started the panic bus down the mountain. But he was able to step on the brakes. Jordan knew nothing of went on in Golden, only Billy did. There could be evidence that Lily had been assaulted, but Jordan wouldn't recognize it. Making him go away on this would be as simple as sticking to the story and making sure no one blabbed. There was no one Jordan could talk to who knew anything different than what Billy said.
“Yes, Dr. Watson, so glad you could make it,” Jordan said, his voice dripping with government inefficiency and incompetence. “Ms. McKenzie was just going over the record of Mrs. Perez's vitals leading up to her...ah...incident.”
Billy now was swallowing the desire to roll his eyes.
“Well, as I was telling Mr. Jordan, Mrs. Perez's heart rate, respiration and adrenaline rose by 35, 54 and 23 percent, respectively. Mr. Jordan had asked what this indicated and I was just getting ready to tell him that there may be several reasons for that. The first is that the patient could have had an accident in Golden, possibly triggering a traumatic event such as a heart attack, or panic attack.”
Jordan leaned forward and looked at Billy as he asked his question, “How is it possible to have an accident in Golden, it's not real?”
Billy didn’t back down from Jordan’s aggressive body language.
“While it is possible to control the computers so that no one can get harmed, the goal of Golden is to have an environment that carries the same risk of Real Life,” Billy said. “There are many things they can manipulate in Golden, but many choose not to. They choose to shop for groceries, they prefer to cook, use the bathroom.
“Because of our goal to make the town as real as possible, there are also risks in Golden. If you get run over by a car, it usually causes a reset in the patient’s program, like an electrical breaker that needs to be reset. But we've found that every time someone has an accident in Golden, they come back a lot more cautious. Being in an accident isn't fun in Real Life, and it's not that great in Golden.”
Jordan opened a portfolio with a yellow legal pad and began to write. To him, there was no awkward silence as he scribbled away.
“As I was saying,” Jenny said tentatively, “one reason we see vitals like these is because of an accident. But as of yet, we've never seen a death tied to it. What's most likely the cause is that she was old and diseased, sometimes we see a jump in vitals before they die. I've got records showing this out, you can have the report if you like, but I summarized it and put in your packet.”
Jordan leafed through a few sheets to find Jenny's summary. Billy was familiar with the report, he'd written most of it, and it was true. He relaxed even more.
“I will need to see this report,” Jordan said. “Is this what you found in Golden, Dr. Watson?”
Billy looked and found that the only available chair was by the door he had just entered. None of the furniture in Jenny's office was close to her desk, a fitting metaphor for her personality — she just didn't like having people close by. But the two of them were connected whether she approved of it or not. Now Billy was about to essentially getting ready to commit perjury for both Fred and Jenny McKenzie. He felt oddly calm.
“I suppose I can skip the preliminaries, but after receiving a call at approximately 10:40 p.m. I immediately reported to work. By 11:10, I was suited up to go into Golden. All protocols outlined by the Golden charter were followed, there was a lockdown of Lily Perez's portion of Golden. From what I understand, she was pulled from the computer program. I'm not sure when she died — Ms. McKenzie will have information about that, I assume.
“Upon entering Golden I immediately located Lily Perez's ghost. She was lying in her own bed. The blankets tucked up to her chin. There appeared to be no signs of foul play. As further outlined in the charter protocols concerning unattended deaths, I interviewed the last three people to see Lily alive. She had dinner with friends and complained at the time that she wasn't feeling well, that she was feeling a pressure in her chest, again, not unique to behavior of heart patients in Golden.
“I determined that her death was of normal circumstances and returned to Real Life.” Billy leaned back, a little too confident. Jordan stood and went toward Billy, towering over him.
“If everything is just peachy, as you say, how come the lockdown hasn't been lifted yet?” Jordan asked.
“I don't know,” Billy said, “maybe because I haven't given the authorization yet, I just woke up and have not filled out the paperwork. According to the charter, I am following proper protocols.”
“What makes you think I should believe you?”
Now it was Billy's turn to get indignant. Without standing, his voice raised in mock anger.
“Because, Mr. Jordan,” he said in a terse tone, “I have no reason to hide anything from you or anyone else.”
Jordan backed away, moving toward his own stack of paperwork on the sofa. He packed up his papers and efficiently snapped his briefcase closed.
“I don't believe you, Dr. Watson,” Jordan said with a smirk. “I believe there is something going on inside of that abomination of Ms. McKenzie's. And I think it is a something that will permanently shut it down and result with long jail terms for the both of you.”
He headed for the door, neither Jenny nor Billy stood for his exit.
“I can't pin anything on you right now, but believe me when I tell you this — I will. And by the way, since you have ruled this a natural death, I'm going to go ahead and insist that you wipe the Lily Perez diorama. As a matter of fact, I'm going to give your techs that order as I leave.”
With a dramatic flair, he opened the door and exited. Billy and Jenny stared at one another.
“Is he gone?” Jenny asked. Billy nodded. “Good, let’s go get something to eat.”
She got up and motioned toward the door.
“But I...” Jenny put a finger to her lips to shush him, then looked around as if the room had ears.
He followed her silently out of the warehouse and to her car. She held her fingers to her lips once again as they got in and she drove to a fast food hot dog joint several blocks away. Once there, she motioned him to the outdoor seating area. It was loud from the traffic.
“Sorry for all the James Bond stuff,” she said as they sat. “I'm not unconvinced that Jordan didn't have my office and car bugged. Actually, I'd be surprised if it wasn't. People like him don't bother with civil rights. He seems to know a lot about what we do from his brief visits around the warehouse, he knows a lot about Golden and he knows a lot of Foundation business. So he's either got bugs or an informant inside the organization. We've got to be real careful about what we do.”
“Is there anything we can do to preserve the diorama?” Billy asked. Jenny shook her head.
“Not if he carried out his threat, which I'm sure he did; Jordan doesn't mess around. How important was it?”
Billy told her about the attack on Lily and how they had found the spoon with the reflection. He added that he thought Fred and Ruth might find more clues in the apartment, and if they did, the clues would disappear once the diorama was shut down, the most important being the weapon.
“We're hoping our killer doesn't know about lockdown, it's not a well-known fact in Golden,” Billy said.
Jenny's whole body sagged, hit again with another blow.
“He's right, you know? Jordan. He'll find out eventually, there were too many people in that control room last night who heard and saw that this wasn’t just an unattended death. Once one of them talks, it'll be all over.”
They sat in silence, neither noticing the children playing around them, their meals sitting still in front of them.
“Doesn't Golden have any heroes on Capitol Hill?” Billy asked.
“There's a couple advocates, not anyone with any real power though.”
“What about the Foundation?”
“Ha,” Jenny snorted, “those old farts won't even reveal their names in public, they're already at the point where they could pull financial support, it wouldn't take much for most to take their money and write it off as a bad investment. They've got much bigger fish to fry, bigger government contracts to worry about. If Congress or the president sway support away from Golden, the board will follow its own interests and bail. No money, no Golden.”
“Then we've got a lot to work to do,” Billy said, finally taking a French fry.
“What have you got in mind?”
“We may not be able stop Golden from being shut down, but we still owe it to Lily Perez to figure out who did this.”
“You aren't suggesting we call in the cops, are you?”
“No,” Billy said. “That would make everything worse than it already is. The people who know Golden best should investigate this and I think we can figure it out before all of this comes to a head.”
Jenny bit her lower lip and looked at him with worried eyes. For the first time he had ever known her, she wasn't talking in run-on sentences.
“Billy,” she said, “we found out this morning that Senator Peterson has called hearings on Golden. We've all been subpoenaed, including you. The hearing starts in a week. More than likely, Jordan will be looking to get a shut-down order from a judge before the end of the day, or by tomorrow. We've got to get a handle on this by then.”
“That's why we need to get working,” Billy was eating his meal now. “You need to maintain secrecy on this, keep the tech crews from looking too close at it or helping Jordan, if you can. Me, I'm going to do a little profiling, see if I can't narrow down our list of suspects, although Jordan made it difficult to do that. The reports I've filed already should be a good starting point, but off the top of my head, I can eliminate nearly half the population, I've got at least three who show signs of psychosis.”
Jenny gave a weak smile and grabbed Billy’s hand and held it.
“I like this about you,” she said.
“Your passion about this; the way you want to find justice for Lily. You’re looking for solutions instead of worrying about what might happen.”
Billy laughed, “Oh, I’m plenty worried. I could lose my job.”
She smiled broader at his joke and leaned over to kiss him.
After the fast food joint, they parted ways, Jenny back to the warehouse, Billy back to his own apartment, where he kept copies of all his notes.
Ollie was waiting for Jenny when she got back to the warehouse. The large engineer looked more agitated than usual. Normally, he would only talk to Jenny when absolutely necessary. She didn't care much for him or his attitude toward his work; he acted as if Golden was just another piece of technology that either worked, or didn't. When it didn't it was his concern, and any time things went wrong, Ollie had a habit of giving lectures about amateurs messing with things they shouldn't have been messing with. Like most computer techs, Ollie lorded over his abilities to the “civilians” associated with Golden. Ollie's biggest target was Billy, who did have a habit of breaking equipment and complaining of glitches.
Jenny left the two of them to their devices and tended to side with Billy against Ollie, although she would make sure that neither knew, Billy could be thoughtless about some of the equipment and the people who kept things running. On the other hand, she was suspicious of Ollie, not because he didn't do good work, but because he didn't seem to show any loyalty to the company, nor to her. Her father was responsible for Ollie's involvement and the tech did give up fifteen years of his life to project, but she still wasn't sure if she could trust him.
“Are the feds going to be hanging around much longer?” he asked right after Jenny key-carded herself into the warehouse.
“I don't know that this is the place to talk about that,” she said, breezing by him, which was not an easy task. She headed toward her office, but Ollie grabbed her by the arm. She whirled around on him.
“I know that you would have no problem breaking me in two if you wanted, but if you don't get your hand off me right now, you will be looking for a new job.”
They stared each other in the eye and Jenny felt the enormity of the threat she had just made. She just wasn't in the mood for another one of Ollie's complaints. He let go of her arm and stepped away from her.
“Look,” he said. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean for you to feel like I was threatening you. I just need for you to answer some questions for me. I think I deserve that.” He waited patiently for her to make a move. When after a long pause in which she said nothing, he added, “I know I don't come across as the best employee — maybe it's because I'm the only black man here. But I'm part of the team, an important part, I think. I have your father's respect and I deserve yours as well.”
Jenny immediately felt guilty for not trusting Ollie more. Her father was maddening, but he was also a good judge of character — he chose Ollie for a reason.
“I don't know how safe it is to speak around here, Ollie,” she said in a whisper. He nodded and motioned for her to follow him. He led her through several corridors and eventually opened the door to the Golden control room. He led her through the room and into his own office. He slid into a chair behind a console and Jenny took an empty chair next to him. In front of her was a bank of monitors, each had a patient name, and listed the vital signs of each one. She saw her father's screen, his heartbeat regular, temperature a little low and respiration doing just fine. At the bottom of the screen was three lines that tracked his brain waves bouncing all over the place. Fred's brain was in active mode.
“I sweep the control room for bugs at least once a week,” Ollie said. “We worry more about industrial espionage than the government.” He noticed she was looking at Fred's monitor. “I watch that one very closely every time I'm in here. I owe him.”
“What is it you owe him?”
“My life,” Ollie said. “It's not an easy thing for me to talk about, but I think I better so you know where I'm coming from.
“When I was younger, I was a hateful person. I grew up poor. I never knew who my father was, and my mother did all she could for me. I had a talent though. I was a math prodigy, still am I guess, I just got older. But I was also big, a natural defensive lineman. I wanted nothing more than to go to MIT, but as you may or may not know, MIT doesn't have a football program. Princeton does, but once my knees gave out, I found myself without a scholarship. And even if I did have a scholarship, it wasn't going to pay for graduate school. I loved the numbers and football was just a means, when football was gone, it looked like my chances were.
“But your father paid for my college. One of my professors contacted him and before I could even heal from my surgeries, I was enrolled at MIT and Fred got me a job at the campus computer lab. One thing led to another and next thing you know, I was an associate professor. We were doing ground-breaking work, but I had this debt to pay. I don't like having debts.”
“Knowing my father, I suppose he used that debt you felt to his advantage. He's like that.”
“Sure he did,” Ollie said, laughing. It was the first time she had ever seen him smile. “He needed someone to build all this for him. He put me through that training. Your father is a genius, the smartest man I've ever met. More than that, he was a visionary. He created Golden in his mind forty years ago, but he needed the right people to develop the right technology. He didn't want to hire them, though, he wanted to create them. He created you, he created Dr. Watson, he created me. On one hand, I'm bitter about that, at times I don't feel like my life is my own, that the choices I made were all part of someone else's design.”
“Welcome to my life,” Jenny said.
“But I still had that debt to your father, I had to pay that off.”
“And when will that debt be paid?”
“I think it was about three years ago. I could have left, I would have, too, if it weren't for you and Dr. Watson. You both really believe in Golden?”
“And not just because of Fred, but because what this could do for everyone. The work we do, not only are we helping people, but we are learning, too. It was Fred's dream, and everyone shares in that, even me. It's part of something … something important. I can't walk away from that.”
Jenny sat in silence, not knowing quite what to say. Ollie had never said these things to her before. And it certainly didn't explain why he was so surly, especially toward Billy.
“I don't understand,” she said. “If you feel this way, why haven't you ever said anything? Why do you treat Billy like you do all the time?”
“Dr. Watson is a funny guy,” Ollie said, smiling again. “He's taken the place I used to have in Fred's life. I know Fred's alive, I can see it right there. But I don't get to speak to him, I don't get to see him, I don't get to drink with him. I guess I'm a little jealous of Dr. Watson.”
“I'm sorry, I didn't know all this,” Jenny said.
“It's okay, I didn't make any effort to develop any sort of relationship with you or the doctor, but it seems to me like things have changed … that we may need each other.”
Jenny hesitated. Ollie had just opened up to her and what he said made a lot of sense. But the distrust was still there. He had never even shown this side of himself before, and that in itself was suspicious. She remembered what Billy had said, that there was bugs or someone on the staff was talking to Jordan. The question was which was the truth.
“I know something happened to Lily Perez and it wasn't just a natural death that everyone is saying,” Ollie said.
“What makes you think that?”
“I may just be a stupid ol' computer programmer, but I've seen enough of those brain waves to have a good idea what's going on with these patients. Lily Perez was going through some sort of traumatic event in Golden. It could have been sex or a fight or something, but it happened. Everyone knows I'm not an expert on those things, but Jordan has been asking me what the vital sign records mean. And if he’s been asking me, you know he’s been asking the medical team as well.”
Jenny bit her lower lip although it wasn't much of a surprise to her that Jordan had been asking questions of Ollie, and probably every other tech on the project.
“What'd you tell him?”
“I told him I didn't know anything, because I really don't know anything. But I think I've earned the right to know what's going on, I have a stake in this.”
“You're right,” Jenny said. “Lily Perez, it looks like, was assaulted and stabbed in Golden. Billy has Fred and Ruth investigating on the inside while he's going over his files and doing a little profiling of his own. Was there anyone else who had similar vitals at the same time?”
Ollie turned to one of the keyboards and typed in a few entries.
“Nothing that quite matched Lily's, but there are some anomalies among some of the other patients. Many of them had higher respiration and heartbeat.”
“I'm sorry, what?”
“Dancing, they were dancing. A lot of the residents dance at the lounge after it gets dark. Listen, Ollie, I'm sorry we've not been exactly friends, but to tell the truth, we really aren't sure what caused Lily to die, we're inside trying to figure out what happened. Fred was studying Lily's apartment for clues, but Jordan had you erase the diorama.”
“I erased it okay, but it hasn't disappeared.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I can still find traces of it in Golden, I just couldn't tell you where to look and I can’t open any of it myself. It's the damnedest thing. Usually I erase those things and there's no trace, but this time I erased it and was doing some regular maintenance on some other things when I came across a fragment of the diorama. I'm almost sure that the rest of it is somewhere. I don't know, I was going to wait ‘til the government guys left before taking too close of a look for it.”
Jenny bit her lower lip in concern. “I don't think you should be too obvious in your search,” she said. “I'm sure Jordan will bring in some computer experts of his own and we have to make sure we don't leave any bread crumbs.”
Ollie nodded in agreement, and smiled.
“I'm not worried about that, no one knows this system like I do,” he said. “There's one other thing that you ought to know, maybe you should pass on to Dr. Watson when you see him.”
Jenny was silent and expectant.
“Someone hid the files you guys have been looking for. It’s somewhere in Golden, but it's like the diorama, though, it's there, but I can't give you a location. It's almost as if someone in Golden has been helping us out.”