Prevention Force

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Chapter 12

She grabs his wrist and twists and rolls on top of him, gets him in an arm lock with his face to the ground.

“Get off me you witch!”

“Getting mad only makes it worse.”

“I’m going to get you for this.”

“Are you mad at me, or your father?”

He struggles and screams but can’t get out of her grip. Breaks down sobbing.

“It’s okay. It’s okay. Let it all out. This is part of the healing.”

Half the squad rushes in. Smoob snatches Lu by the scruff of the neck and holds him in midair. “What are we going to do with you?”

“Let me down.”

“When you get control of yourself.”

“Okay.” He says to Healy, “I’m sorry.”

“That’s better.”

They set him in a chair and put the e-tape around his wrists and activate it.

He tries to move his arms. “Oh come on, are you serious?”

“What did you think was going to happen when you strangle a police officer?”

Smoob adds, “We’re picky about stuff like that.”

“I don’t like talking about my father.”

She chuckles. “I can see that. Well guess what? Now we’re gonna be spending even more time talking about him.”

He shakes his head.

“Take it easy.” She puts the helmet back on. “We’re going to help you feel better.”

“You people are something else. You know that?”

She works the console, and he falls asleep.

A team of doctors and nurses come in with medical equipment.

“Isolating the prefrontal cortex.”

One watches a screen showing cells at great magnification and works a joystick moving the camera along the brain surface. The pink cells look like bald-headed men crowded closely together.

A second doctor monitors sine waves that increase and decrease in magnitude as the probe passes over neurons. Banks of dials indicate electrical activity, adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin levels. The surgeon probes each bald head. When he reaches one with no distinguishing marks the micro amps spike. “We have a hit.”

The rapidly shuffling photographs which Healy monitors stops on the father’s face. “Playing memory.”

They see the yelling father’s face from the child’s perspective. “What did I tell you?” A smack is heard and the picture shakes. Chemical indicators of fear and pain spike. They hear the son crying. The image bobs as the boy runs away. A teddy bear drops next to his feet. The father demands, “Come back here.”

Healy takes a deep breath. “Okay. Zap it.”

“Erasing.” The picture fades lighter until it isn’t there. “Continue scan.” It doesn’t take long before they come to another spike.

“Don’t you ever talk back to me!” Lu’s father looks like a monster. Then it fades into a field of pure white.

They turn down the yelling and turn on some relaxing John Denver music. “We’re gonna be here a while.” The doctors and nurses chit chat while doing the procedure.

“So, did you have a good weekend?”

“We went tree climbing.”

“Nice. Best exercise in the world.”

“Where did you go?”

“Brazil.”

“Did you go natural?”

“No, artificial. Trees with branches spaced out perfectly for grabbing. They even have fruit you can pick. And the view is unbelievable.We just did a beginner tree. My arms are so sore.”

After a few hours of erasing bad memories they quit for the day.

“Let him sleep it off.”

“Poor guy.”

* * *

When Lu wakes, LIesl is standing over him. “You were in surgery for two days. You had a ton of dysfunctional programming, don’t worry, we got it.” She reads the chart. “We found a subject of interest. Do you remember this person?” She points to one guy in a picture of five teens. “You were eleven.” Lu is five years younger than the others.

“Kurt? Oh yeah. What a scumbag.”

“You witnessed a physical assault.” She plays the scene of delinquents in an abandoned lot bantering with each other. A shove leads to a punch, which leads to one on the ground with the other pounding him repeatedly. The sight sparks a hot flash through Healy’s face down through her spine. She restrains the impulse to cry.

“I forgot about that. Stitch punched the crap out of Beans. I never saw anything like it.”

She tries not to let her voice quiver.“You blocked it out, but it was still inside your brain affecting your thought patterns.”

He maintains his macho by laughing.

She clears her throat. “The fact you are laughing shows how deep the pain is.” She punches commands. “This young man will be referred to counseling. I guess he’s not so young anymore.”

“You’re going to arrest Kurt?”

“Counsel.” She brings up another memory. “Then there’s your uncle Frederick.”

“Crazy Freddie?”

“That’s a nice way of putting it. He did every drug under the sun in front of your impressionable eyes, and said things that transferred dysfunctional attitudes into your developing mind. He will have to undergo extensive counseling.”

She puts down her screen. “There’s a lot to absorb. Let’s take a break.” She takes him to the meditator.

Liesl and Lu sit in a steam room with walls that play scenes of a rain forest. The sound of a waterfall and birds surrounds them.

“This is nice. I like this.”

“Now, let’s dial it down a notch.” She presses a button, and strong, pleasant hum resonates throughout their bodies to the spinal level. They relax like lime jello. They converse like old pals.

“How you feeling champ?” She puts her arm around him.

“Okay. How are you feeling?”

“Not bad. You’re making excellent progress. The team wants you to know how proud we are of you.”

“Thanks. So I’m done?”

She laughs. “We’re just getting started. We have to track down everyone you may have infected with negative thinking.”

“Okay.”

“Everyone you had a close encounter with.”

“Okay. Let’s see.” He scratches his head. “There’s JJ from the bowling alley.”

“That won’t be necessary. The recollector will handle it.”

They return to the office and she puts the helmet on him and brings up a map of the city. “See this big red blinking dot? That’s you. Location: Strong Memorial Hospital.”

“What am I doing there?”

“You’re being born.”

The timestamp reads, “February 5, 2083.” The simulation proceeds through time. The dot moves to Hudson Avenue.

“That’s the street I grew up on.”

“Okay, let’s speed it up a bit.” The dot darts and dances around the map, fast-forwarding through everywhere Lu went in his 37 years on this Earth. Around the red dot are many black dots, which indicate people who came within a distance of six feet from Lu. “Ooh look at this. October 2, 2089. You went to Albany.”

“Albany?” He scrunches his face. “I never went to Albany.”

“You were six years old?”

He smiles. “Oh, you know what that is. Our school went on a field trip to the state capital.”

“You were in close contact with a lot of kids on that bus. A lot was said at an extremely formative age.”

“This time I was in Flushing, Queens. That’s where my grandparents live. We must have been visiting them.”

“Here you went to Lake Ronkonkoma.”

“My uncle Arnie.”

“November 27, 2095, you went to Livingston New Jersey.”

“Thanksgiving at Aunt Edie and Uncle Larry’s.”

“You went to Buffalo once. Charlotte Beach many times in your teens.”

“That was the big hang out spot in High School. Good days. Drinking beer on the beach. Cook-outs. Getting laid.” He flashes a big grin at Healy, who remains serious. He drops the smile.

They follow the dot’s wanderings for an hour until it reaches 740 University, the police station at the present day, and the playback ends. The computer spits out a list.

“11,984 people. That’s how many lives you touched.”

“I don’t remember touching that many people.”

“Well, you did. Let’s look at some of the highlights:

On October 23, 2092 you were riding your bicycle, and you cut off an old lady crossing the street.”

He has no recollection.

“You yelled at her.”

He shrugs. “Okay. So what? I don’t remember everything I did.”

She plays the movie of 25-year-old Lu barreling down the road on a bicycle. He looks innocent by comparison. The years of pain have not written lines on his face yet. His eyes are on fire, glassy and red. He wears a dirty Cheech & Chong t-shirt and jaggedly cut-off sweatpants as shorts. The bike is rusty and old with one flat tire. He frantically cuts off cars and curses them out. Weaves in and out, breaking every traffic rule.

An elderly woman carrying a bag of groceries steps out into the street. Lu buzzes past her so close it ruffles the brown paper. He is ten feet gone by the time she cries out, “Oh!”

Lu yells back, “Get out of the way, Grandma!”

The picture freezes on his face.

His face reddens. He laughs embarrassed. “I was bad in my younger days.”

“Where were you going in such a hurry?”

“How should I know?”

“It must have been pretty important.”

“Probably scoring some drugs.”

She listens.

“I was dealing with a lot of problems back then.”

“So that’s her fault?”

“I don’t do drugs anymore.”

“You don’t?” She looks at his blood analysis. “Your THC levels are pretty high for someone who doesn’t do drugs.”

“Give me a break. Weed is legal.”

“It’s still a drug. Alcohol is a drug. Sugar is a drug.”

“Come on lady. Give me some credit. I quit crack. And I don’t do gronk anymore.” He grimaces. “I was young and stupid.”

A picture of how she looked in her twenties flashes through Healy’s mind. Back in the nineties the popular hair style was “troll doll.” Hers was fluorescent blue, pointing straight up a good two feet. For fashion, buttons were the rage. Her body was clothed by hundreds of biomagnetic buttons with affirmations like LIVE, LAUGH, LOVE and DWELL ON WELLNESS.

“That was twenty years ago. Why are you trippin’?”

“I’m tripping?” She zooms in on his picture. “Your pupils are as big as coffee cups.”

“What does it matter now?”

“Every small act has consequences that ripple throughout the universe forever.”

“Ooh forever. That’s a long time.” He wiggles his fingers in the air and says sarcastically, “Who cares?”

“Who cares?” She shoves a woman’s photo ifn his face. “Vivian Small.”

“Never seen her before.”

“Your memory isn’t too good. I wonder why.” She makes a joint toking gesture. “This is the lady you almost ran over.”

“Sorry.”

“Did you know she was so agitated by your little drive-by that she had heart palpitations and had to go to the emergency room?”

“Get outta here.”

Healy gets tough. “No, you get out of here!”

He thinks seriously.

“She had to take medications and see doctors for years.”

“Look I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“Oh well, you didn’t know. Then let’s forget about it. Not your problem, right?”

He looks blankly.

“Wrong! After that incident, Mrs. Small was afraid to go outside her house for months.”

“Okay I feel bad, but what can I do about now?”

“I’m glad you asked. For starters you should apologize to her.”

“Okay. I can do that.”

“Oh, wait. You can’t--because she’s dead.”

“That’s not my fault. Is it?”

“Many factors contributed, but you are partially responsible.”

He looks worried.

“Do you understand now how powerful your actions are?”

“I understand I’m a scumbag, but I already knew that.”

“Let’s focus on the positive things we can do. You can start by apologizing to the Small children and pay a portion of their child support.”

“All right.”

“And there will be community service.”

“You mean like picking up trash?”

“We’ll design a program based on restoring the damage you caused. You’ll donate money to medical research for the diseases she suffered from.”

“Let’s move on. There are a lot of incidents to cover. In this one, you trampled flowers in somebody’s yard. You’ll have to put in time working in their garden.” She takes a printout from the computer. “All the details are here. This is a list of all the reparations you have to make.” She hands him a paper that unrolls twenty feet long.

He is overwhelmed.

“Don’t worry, we’ll coach you the whole way.”

“How long is all this going to take?”

“At a rate of ten hours per week, you should be all done in … about seven years.”

“Seven years!”

“It took 37 years to do all that damage. It’s going to take time to repair it.”

“I don’t know.”

“Seven years is going to pass one way or another. You might as well spend it doing something good.”

He shakes his head to digest the information. “I really am a monster.”

“Don’t say that. Words have power. Everyone influences everyone else. Everyone deserves healing. It works both ways. The people who hurt you will be treated as well. We have a whole unit of contact tracers devoted just to your case.”

“Nobody hurt me.”

“They didn’t? I see 714 people who contributed to your delinquency. People who modeled counterproductive behavior in your presence. People who planted negative attitudes in your mind. All of them are partially responsible for that bank robbery.

But it doesn’t stop there. Those people went out and infected who knows how many thousands of others. Every one of those is going to have to be healed.”

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