Jim Baen's Universe Vol 1 Num 4: Dec 2006


particular brain chemistry might hallucinate under certain conditions



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However, augments exhibiting your particular brain chemistry might hallucinate under certain conditions.

The Service doctor had made it sound so innocuous.

extended episodes of extreme stress, for example—

What would he have considered extreme? The near occasion of death? Years spent hiding, lying, stealing?

sensitivity to the color red—

Less said about that, the better.

at those times, the implanted gland itself may require resetting in order to maintain proper function. I'm sure you've heard the word 'takedown' around the place. These need to be performed periodically, otherwise—

Otherwise . . .

Bless me, Doctor, for I have sinned. It's been—Jani counted on her fingers—five years since my last takedown. She walked back down the hall and reentered the locker room. Into the bathroom, and the stall two doors removed from the one currently occupied by the scolding clerk. Assuming she's in there. Assuming she wasn't another artifact of a neurochemical cascade gone haywire.

augmentation psychosis—

Jani dragged the cubicle door closed, then slumped against the cold metal wall. Did I just hallucinate? The girl, the woman, the men at the end of the corridor? Fellow augments had always told her that if you thought you were hallucinating, you weren't hallucinating, but she had always chalked that up to wishful thinking. If you think you might be crazy, you're not crazy. No. If you thought you might be crazy, you needed to see a medico. Except that I can't. Because if she ever walked into a hospital, they'd never let her out. Except to transfer me to the nearest Service brig. Because the Service had been looking for her for a long time.

Five years. That long since she'd worn a uniform. Snapped a salute. Five years since she'd answered to the name she'd been born with. Jani Moragh Kilian. Born in the city of Ville Acadie, Acadia Colony, twenty-nine Common years before she had taken to seeing girls who weren't there and hiding in station bathrooms to assess her sanity.

From two stalls down, the stopped drain sounds of a flushing toilet. Coughing, followed by muttering about the workload.



Would I hallucinate the sound without any visuals? Jani knew augments who had, but they were rarities according to the Service doctors. Of course, it had occurred to her more than once since that time that the Service doctors had lied through their collective teeth.

The sounds of the stall door opening. The workings of the sink. Footsteps, followed by the opening and closing of the bathroom door.

Jani counted to ten, then pushed open the door to her stall. Walked to the sink, washed and dried her hands. Ignored the mirror, catching only the barest flashes of her short, black hair, her brown skin. Then one more time, out of the bathroom to the locker room, the locker room to the corridor. Sounds seemed duller now, colors less sharp. Her heart tripped, then sped into its more usual rhythm. She'd feel tired as hell in an hour or so. As soon as she got to the office, she'd make coffee strong enough to etch metal, then wait for someone to confess to the spill. After that, she'd file, clean, run errands. Anything to keep moving, keep from falling asleep. The last thing she needed was for Royson to catch her snoring at her desk. Royson, her new best friend. There always seemed to be one at every dock, an inevitability she could have happily done without.

She checked the company's slot in the mail drop, collected the thin bundle of paper missives resting within. Palmed through the dock entry, and walked out onto the floor to find Delmen supervising the spill cleanup. He'd commandeered Salay and Boudamire, the Rodent Twins, Royson's partners in crime. Royson himself was nowhere to be seen, which meant only one thing.

"Oh, hell." Jani drew alongside Delmen and watched the two stevedores shovel berry muck into a rolling trash bin. "He's in my cube, isn't he?"

Delmen grinned. "He confessed right after you left." He edged closer and lowered his voice. "I don't know if he really did it or if he drew the short straw, him being the new guy and all. I don't really care, either." He looked at her, the grin wavering. "You feeling OK?"

Jani shrugged, tried not to look him in the eye. "I just needed to get away from the stink."

Delmen sniffed. "I think my nose has gone numb." He pointed to the shoveling stevedores. "I'll take care of this. Go take confession."

"Yeah." Jani started toward the office compartment, a prefab rectangle that ran along the dock's far wall. A coffin with windows, Delmen had called it during her interview, which had proved the most perfunctory she had ever experienced. Take a good, hard look around. If you can control your laughter, your cube's in the back.

Jani walked past the leaky watercooler and pushed through the old hinged door, which had put up a valiant fight against the olfactory onslaught from without but came up short. Even so, I've worked in worse places. She walked past the shelves crammed with smashed cartons, rolled-up clothing, cups, and baseball caps.





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