But M wasnt addictive. It didnt need to be. Power, however fleeting, was too great a draw.
Two years later, Morris still stood in the parking lot of his high school, the first victim of his own creation, his legs smoothly melded with the concrete, the left side of his body turned to stone, the right side any typical black steel street lamp, a sturdy black pipe where his right arm would be, ending in a flickering light bulb. His stone face smiled peacefully at the ground as though he had just set down a heavy weight. A memorial had been built around him, a reminder to all who might dare touch M. Every few months, there was a small ceremony to change the bulb, a new call for the end of M, and every few months, little had changed.
And as the summer wore on, it seemed as if M abuse had become the major news headline every day. Teenagers in jail with their bodies mangled. Parts of cities ruined beyond recognition. Des Moines. Detroit. And then the love-in in Central Park, when a clot of hippies accidentally turned themselves into a circle of trees on live television. Something had to be done, shouted society. This cant continue, they cried.
To their surprise, the government answered on a crisp September morning in a wholly unexpected way. Not more police, not an anti-drug campaign, not bigger jails. There was a plan underway, they said, a plan to make things right. On Long Island, they said, a team of researchers had been working hard for the last three years, using notes recovered from the Philadelphia blast zone. Not all of the information had been recovered, but there was enough, they said. They didnt mention the part about their own involvement in the Change, of course. No, that was an illegal, secret project, carried out by scientists who would surely, easily have been stopped had the Good Government People known.
On the northern shores of Long Island, they said, the Long Island Research Project had progressed for three painful years, and it was nearing its culmination. Theyd built a new machine, a wonderful machine, based on the work of the original Bad Scientists, a machine that would give enough control over the Change to make things Right. They couldnt stop the Change, they said, but they could make it better. The Change would be under control. People could be restored. M would be gone. The world could be finally livable again. All would be right, just wait and see.
It was the night of October 2nd, and they were ready. The initial drills had been run. The initial tests had checked out. Every i had been dotted and every t had been crossed. The experiment was deep underground, buried under five hundred feet of cement shielding to keep the public safe. And they were going to start simple, and just do a very little, tiny little test of the equipment. A small black wooden box was going to be turned white. Nothing more.
The crowds gathered around the perimeter fence, holding up candles, as armed military personnel watched from every angle and guarded the installation with their lives. Nothing could let this go wrong. The crowd sang songs, told stories, and held up banners, none in protest, oh no, never that, but in support for the wonderful thing these men were doing. No-one loved what the Change had made of the world, of them, of their lives, of their families or at least no-one who was there.
The appointed time arrived. 9:00 PM. 9:01. 9:02. The crowd held its breath, waiting on pins and needles for the newsmen to report something from within the compound.
The last thing any of them ever saw was a great black ball rushing at them faster than the speed of sound.
* * *
The Long Island Research Project was a failure, one of the most celebrated failures in history. Five thousand people had been presumably killed in an instant as the singularity generated by the government machine expanded and then collapsed, leaving a great gaping hole in the earth, five miles in diameter, and in the middle, there is still today a tiny black ball, surrounded by whirls and eddies of light and electricity as anything that approaches is sucked inside. It wasnt a black hole the scientists were able to prove that much later on but it was colored black, and it had swallowed everything nearby, and it looked very hole-like.
No-one, no government or institution anywhere in the world, would dare ever again to toy with that technology. Anyone could be powerful, but no-one could play God. And the world then knew that the Change was here to stay.
* * *
Caitlyn was unceremoniously dumped in her cell by the four guards, and the door slid shut. Arms rushed over to her and helped her up.
Yo, girl, how you doin? said Kim-na.
Ive been better, she said. She looked up at Steven. You were right, she said.
I was? About what?
My sister, she said, and her voice trailed off.
Im sorry, he said, and she suddenly hugged him, her head leaning against his shoulders.
He stood there a moment, looking awkward, as she leaned against him for support.
Then she blinked, and blushed, and stepped backward, wiping a tear from her eye. I... sorry... I just needed something to lean against.
Er, quite alright, he said, swallowing hard.
I dont know what happened to my sister, said Caitlyn. She was normal growing up. She was always the good one. She was smart, you know. Really smart. Not like me. She got bumped up a year twice when we were in school, and she graduated the same year I did. She finished law school in three years flat. She was a go-getter. She was indestructible. I dont know who that person up there is, but shes not the Ellen I grew up with.
What happened to her? asked Steven.
Caitlyn fell silent. Ellen was so obsessed with perfection, and always had been; but she wasnt stupid, she wasnt clueless, she always seemed grounded. Would she really have snapped if shed found shed been pregnant with...?
Caitlyn shook her head. I just dont know, she said.
* * *
Life in the cell grew dull. Day and night were separated by their guards turning off the lights for what was presumably half of each day. Food showed up regularly during the light periods, pushed on trays through a slot in the door, and it wasnt good food, but it was somewhat edible, and acceptably nourishing.
They spent their time talking, telling stories of their lives. There was little else to do. Steven, it turned out, had traveled quite often and had seen much of the world, and he had a number of interesting stories to listen to. Paris, Rome, Prague, Moscow, Tokyo, Perth, a hundred different cities, each with its own unique history, each with events that Caitlyn never would have believed if they werent true. The unexpected parade of street performers in Paris. The mermaids dancing under the glass-bottom boats off the Great Barrier Reef. The furry acrocat shows in Beijing. A group of little naga boys in Warsaw begging for coins from passers-by.
Sometimes Caitlyn or Kim-na would be dragged away for questioning, but neither of them saw Ellen or van der Wals. Their questioner was always a hooded figure in a dark room, sometimes male, sometimes female, always probing about the same few events. Caitlyn hadnt told them anything new since the first day, but they kept asking.
And then, one night, Kim-na poked at her as they lay trying to sleep on the cold floor.
Hey, she said softly.
Huhn? asked Caitlyn.
Not so loud, said Kim-na.
Huhn? asked Caitlyn again.
You been watchin the guards? asked Kim-na. They got a new guy today.
So hes effin clueless. I been watchin him. He aint a day over eighteen, and he keeps messin up.
Caitlyn felt something small and cold press against her arm.
I got his badge, said Kim-na.
Caitlyn felt her heart stop for a moment.
Swiped it off him when he bent down to tie his shoelace.
They didnt search you?
Girl, I can hide shit anywhere, said Kim-na. specially somethin tiny like this.
There was a thump on the other side of the cell. Hey, keep it down over there, muttered Steven, rolling over. I need my beauty sleep.
Men, muttered Kim-na.
Kim, what are you gonna do with that thing? said Caitlyn.
What thing? asked Steven, growing interested.
Kim-na inched up to a sitting position and pressed the badge against Stevens barrel. His eyes went wide. You didnt, he said.
Im breakin outta here, she said. Girl needs her freedom.
Kim began Caitlyn.
You aint stoppin me, she said. If they kill me on the way out, its bettern bein stuck in this rat hole. No offense.
None taken, said Steven.
So you with me o what? said Kim-na.
Im in, said Steven abruptly.
Huh? said Caitlyn.
Just because I look like a wimp doesnt mean I am one. Ive been here for a year. Thats quite long enough. This is the first opportunity Ive had to get out of this hole, and Im not passing it up.
But... were thirty stories underground! said Caitlyn.
Twenty-seven, corrected Steven.
Your point? asked Kim-na.
My point is that were underground! Its not like we can just fall out a skyscraper window and run away, she said.
Well think of somethin, said Kim-na. Ill keep the badge. You two be on the lookout for an openin, okay? Aint no prison that cant be broken outta.
* * *
About two weeks after they first arrived, Caitlyn was taken from her cell, and instead of going to an interrogation room, the guards took her first to the showers and cleaned her up. The water was a little too hot and sprayed a little too hard, but then a clot of teenage girls came into the shower with soaps and lotions and towels and cleaned and dried her so well that she wondered if she hadnt been moved to a health spa by accident. In a moment they had her sporting a pretty polka-dotted red dress, her hair tied back neatly, and she felt almost ready for a picnic.
And then just as she was starting to feel a little more relaxed, the guards snatched her and whisked her off to the elevator. Up, up, up they went and stopped on the tenth floor. The elevator doors opened to new scenery. The same red and green chairs were still scattered about the room, and the elegant desk still rested along the far wall, but the window-walls now showed a quiet park, with trees waving in the breeze and children laughing and playing in the distance as picnickers nibbled on sandwiches. The broken window had been replaced.
Ellen and van der Wals were sitting in two of the chairs and were holding porcelain cups.
Hello, Caitlyn, said van der Wals. Care to join us for tea?