The ninety days were running out. Barry Haden had not been able to get his fix. The fix consisted of a shot containing mRNA proteins designed to shut down the ForeverCorp Turbo Cell. Turbo Cell possessed what by working Oncologists consider a hallmark of cancer. His body over-produced cells that emitted graphene oxide at a rate that would line his arteries until he suffered a fatal blood clot.
Ninety days was not a lock. It was a statistical benchmark. Haden once learned that the distribution of Offswitch times had a tight shot group. Haden started an injection cycle with 90 plus or minus two days. He was now down to ten days or perhaps a tad less. That had happened because ForeverCorp had become a toxic workplace. He needed his Chlorine Dioxide shot and a hostile boss seemed hell-bent on making sure Haden’s paperwork to get the curative was not being processed.
He was supposed to be scheduled thirty days out for a shot five days early. It ensured he was 99.999% likely to get his curative before the graphene oxide could reduce the radius of a major artery to the point where he would suffer his Offswitch stroke. Toma Maritious kept “losing” Haden’s paperwork. Now it was getting down to crunch time.
Haden probably had it coming. People that play stupid games win stupid prizes. Cocaine, Heroin and Barbiturates made for a fun but lethal mix. Haden’s first stupid prize was an all-expense-paid vacation to the Live Oak Hill Federal Penitentiary. Use, Possession with Intent to Distribute (like any junkie Haden had ever met was into sharing), Involuntary Manslaughter, Corrupting the Morals of an Underage Youth, and Public Defecation in a Restricted Area as the cherry atop his Life-F*ck Sundae.
Haden rocked the bank account you would expect from an inveterate drug abuser. He received about the least motivated Public Defender that the Federal District Court of Denver, Colorado could find to represent him. This slug attorney went up against a District Attorney running for The House of Representatives based on conviction rates of dirty thugs like Mr. Barry Haden.
The trial was no John Grisham novel. Haden would complete his prison time about when The Yellowstone Caldera would blow the roof off. The other prisoners told him to get nice and comfortable. “Haden, you need friends.” Gonzalez told him. “You’re gonna live here, Esse.”
Then ForeverCorp felt like buying his genome. They did some dope deal with some corrupt /pol-hack. They then made Haden an offer he could not even understand, much less refuse. He had no clue what was in those two shots he got in biannual cycles. He knew he got a shot, they drew some blood, he got another shot, and they drew some additional blood. He also got out of jail free as long as he wore an ankle bracelet and lived in a studio apartment provided by ForeverCorp. Miss either shot and Offswitch protocol would occur. Hasta la vista, Baby!
Haden knew some people at ForeverCorp other than Toma Maritious. They were not nice people, but it had been a few years of jail time since Barry Haden had known very many particularly nice human beings. They were people who would give Barry Haden his shot. For a price, of course.
Haden had his hook-up two days later and was given an address to plug into his phone GPS. It was written on a hamburger wrapper that he had to keep and not enter into ForeverCorp’s phone until 30 minutes before he left to get his new shot. A man more judicious about what he cooked over a kerosene hat, mixed with tap water from some dirty sink, loaded into a needle, and then fired into his pitching arm would never do this.
The new shot would be administered in an offsite location. He was playing some form of genomic roulette. It came to mind when it came time to enter that address into his GPS and drive his rolling wreck to a place he had never been to before. It came to mind along with the philosophical realization that he had not made any unconstrained choices for the better part of a decade. Contra America’s Constitution, he was a doped-up slave.
The address went into the phone and the GPS activated. A text went to Maritious. Martitious tried ignoring it at first. He was lining up a miniature golf shot as he sloughed in his large, executive office. The phone buzzing caused him to slice wide right. His mood improved when he read the text. Haden had done what Toma thought he would. He bought junkies as experimental subjects for a reason. Zombies were forever predictable.
Haden approached his destination. “Take a Right onto Well Haven Blvd. Your destination will then be on the Left in 0.8 Miles.” Droned the moronic female voice of his phone GPS. If Nurse Ratched from One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest gave you driving directions, this was what you would have to put with. He was driving towards a dying urban area like every other place he had ever gone to buy an indeterminate and possibly unsafe mix of drugs.
The building he stopped at may have once been a functional factory in what have may well served as a prosperous industrial park. It was now societal and economic detritus. The windows had all been partially or totally broken and hunks of metal had been torn off the walls. A fence around the property barely clinging to a picket line of bent and subsiding metallic poles.
Haden drove slowly and cautiously into the courtyard. He heard small, solid objects go pop under his tires. He hoped none of these things would render any of his tires flat. A disabled vehicle here was an ambush waiting to happen. He saw a large bay door that opened into an unadorned and dirty room with a cement floor. The room contained a parked, yellow van with the happy, green ForeverCorp Biotechnology logo on both sides of its body.
The back of the van opened and two large, ugly men casually disembarked. They took a minute to carefully handle rifles. They pointed the weapons at the floor and walked towards Haden. One of the two Cro-Magnons signaled him to a stop. “Get out of the vehicle slowly.” The other gunman ordered Haden.
Barry had dealt with this before in life. He emerged slowly and carefully. He made sure the shooters could see both his hands. He approached slowly. “Stop there, Mr. Haden.” Commanded one of the two orcs.
Haden complied. It would happen on Martin Felder’s terms. It was too late to worry about whether this whole trip had been a major life decision made poorly. The two men approached. One went behind him. “Frisk him, Jake.” Commanded the other.
“One knife, left jacket pocket.” Haden informed Jake. “Yep.” Confirmed Jake as he found and removed Haden’s butterfly knife. “He’s clear.” Jake announced in a more amplified voice.
Martin Felder then emerged from the van. Felder had neither the dress nor the demeanor of a man who spent time in places like the one he now stood. He moved with a certain hesitant disgust. His shoes were formal, instead of the utilitarian Redhawk 817s that a disordered shop floor would favor. He wore a very nice pair of slacks, an oxford, and a red and white stripped tie that stood out the way a Flamingo would draw attention atop a glacier. He clearly hated this place.
“David, get his phone please.” Felder requested.
Haden told David. “On the front seat next to the shift.”
Felder turned to the van. “Get the chair, Nurse Chapman.” He continued. “And the toolbox.”
Haden was invited to have a seat in an unadorned folding chair. It was a cheap card table chair, but he was not here for a few hands of Gin Rummy. Chapman opened a plastic box and removed a rubber strip that would serve as a tourniquet while the shot went in. Haden offered up his right arm. The tracks had mostly faded on this arm. Haden must have felt a pointless vanity.
Haden closed his eyes in preparation. He did not know it would be a long time before they opened again. The shot went. This stick was brief and not abnormally painful. Then the lights in Haden’s head went out.
“Get the bolt-cutters, Jake. Mr. Haden needs his ankle back.”
“Drop the phone, David.” Felder continued. “Got it.” David replied.
Haden was loaded into the van and driven far away. It would be a long while before Toma Maritious noticed that Haden’s phone and bracelet were still at the secret location. Haden was now far beyond his control.
Haden woke in a dark and cold room. He felt as if he floated in space. Meat in a cold, cold locker hung in suspension. A tame and soft light gradually came on around Haden. Yes, he hung suspended. One chain held up each arm and leg. A cloth sling hung beneath his waist, attached to two tense cables, which reached up beyond the range of his vision in the imperfectly illuminated room. His pupils dilated, his pulse accelerated, and then screamed.
“This is your brain on drugs, Mr. Haden.”
“Huh, wha, where am I?”
“Hell, Mr. Haden.” Responded a man Barry Haden recognized as Martin Felder. “You are repulsive human chattel.”
“Why? What did I do?”
“You did what your genetics programmed you for. You failed. Miserably.”
“What is happening to me?”
“You are now a human Petri dish.” Felder gloated. “Look to your left. Look to your right.”
Haden did and saw what had to be the dim outlines of other suspended human beings. He heard them groan.
“This is your future, Mr. Haden. You are just another one of our experimental vessels. We have a new round of vaccines to fine tune so to speak. It’s part of why we call ourselves ForeverCorp.”
The lights went back out. Haden heard Martin Felder turn and begin to walk away. Brief conversations and lamentations sounded around him. “Shut the f**k up!” One hanged man yelled. “Just shut the f**king f**k up!”
Perhaps the angry, yelling man had a point. Silence was the closest this new nightmare would have to an off switch.