Seq # 32
Fri 03/23/2018 2:24AM
12 sw Bacon
Comment: DELIVER TO ROOM 5
Jennifer barged into the observation room and shoved the note into my hand. “Drop everything and get two plates up here,” she gasped. “There’s probable cause, but…”
“…but the reception’s too weak. I know. We’re only receiving sporadically, and what does actually transmit is so low-resolution that I can barely–“
“Fix this!”, she growled, her sneakers squeaking out tiny whistles as she moved back towards the door. “He’s in the weeds and only half coherent, and no one any fucking idea how long the window’s gonna stay propped.” I’ve never attempted to slam a pneumatic door, but I imagine it’s challenging. Somehow, Jennifer always manages, and I admire her tenacity. I listened for the feeble frantic click that was her signature and exhaled slowly when the sound reached my ears, a jagged stream of anxiety sputtering out of my throat. Alone again, thank God.
My eyes remained glued to the monitor bank, where they’d been stuck since the second my screen spat DREAM INTERCEPT at me. I peered in at my patient. Detective Murillo was muttering to himself and appeared somewhat disoriented, but that was normal, considering. He’d been sleeping for approximately four hours and 12 minutes. At some point in the past minute or so, he’d woken from REM sleep and realized that he needed to sit up and scarf two colossal plates of maple-cured smoked bacon. However, he also needed to ensure that he stayed drowsy enough to immediately drop back into a dream state as soon as he finished. In an alternate timeline, he might’ve made a talented acrobat. As always, the oversized neon red Call button lay within easy reach, should he need my assistance. As always, he ignored it.
In the next few seconds, I was legally obligated to start frying enough bacon to boost Sleep Detective Murillo’s brainwaves, making it possible for him to steal and record the dreams of a serial murder suspect down the hall. Even as a Specialized sleep tech with generous compensation, I couldn’t afford to treat Bella’s illness without the cash LussenCorp offered. If I sabotaged Murillo’s investigation and helped bury evidence linking the corporation and the suspect, I’d cure my little girl. I’d also be partially responsible for any future homicides the woman in Room 6 might commit.
Time refused to bend. I had to decide who to betray.
Only the hospital director, the mayor, and half the judiciary knew the detective’s true identity. He held incalculable value as a hostage, so information about him ran small and incredibly tight. Most entry-level criminals who claimed they’d learned something worth selling were peddling speculation and rumor. I’d met him a dozen times or so. After dripping paste into his hair and slathering sensor-stickers on him, I’d request that he blink his eyes three times or clench his jaw so I’d know the signals were transmitting properly. I’d ensure his mask was secured tightly enough. The hospital employed two other Specialized techs, as Murillo frequently appeared unannounced. One room, chosen at random, was kept vacant at all times in case he arrived. Like me, the other techs had proven unsuccessful at extracting any type of personal information.
I ignited the burner on the mini-stove in my office, retrieved the bacon from the fridge, and began pulling the strips apart. The cooking spray can felt too light–I assumed Jennifer had pan-fried her imitation crab cakes in here again. Were we irritated roommates in a college dorm or a clandestine team of highly-trained technicians assisting a detective with sleep superpowers?
The bacon popped, tiny droplets of hot fat sailing to the floor. I gripped my lapel microphone with one hand and gently squeezed both sides, rotating the spatula with the other. “How we doing, Detective?”, I asked softly.
He mumbled something that I interpreted as a shrug. “I’m…only brushing past. I trapped glimpses of a packed suitcase…maybe an airport terminal. There’s too much snow on the field,” he said, using our term for dream images obscured by an wall of electronic noise.
“Could be a weekend getaway.”
“Or an escape plan,” he stammered, fighting the urge to rub his eyes. “No telling how long her dream will last. I need–“
“The bacon, yes. It’s cooking now, and I’ll throw it on a plate as soon as I’m able,” I replied, unsure whether or not I was lying.
I watched in the monitors as his shoulders relaxed slightly. “Thank you, Brendan. I appreciate all your work.”
“Of course, Detective.” My stomach churned with fresh guilt. I flipped the bacon with more force than was required and thought about Natalie Goldberg, the shy, unassuming copy editor asleep in Room 6. I knew for certain what the detective had merely inferred–that she’d washed four murders worth of blood on her hands, and I had no reason to believe she’d finished.
In my estimation, half the general public remained unaware of Murillo’s existence, with the other half disbelieving it entirely. A story whisked faintly through the streets two years ago, the fanciful tale of a detective with sleep apnea who’d begun his sleep test and somehow snatched another patient’s dreams. What he stole allowed him to gather crucial evidence, eventually leading to the patient’s conviction for grand larceny. Some of the overly-curious hospital staff had seen a bit too much, and a murmur hummed around the verdict that week. The police department largely tuned the noise out. When questions did break about a “sleep detective,” they were laughed off. The department’s web designer even constructed a deliberately horrendous-looking blog and wrote a series of conspiracy theories so ridiculous that any credible journalist would chuckle if they happened to discover it.
The man whose birth name was not Robert Murillo returned three weeks later, demanding an unnecessary sleep study. Within six months, the Dream Interceptor was constructed, which permitted us to record everything Murillo witnessed while in someone’s head. Occasionally, he failed to capture anything useful and more than once, the dreams actually convinced him of the suspect’s innocence–but I heard that most Persons of Interest who shared a floor with the detective found themselves arrested shortly afterwards.
STATUS, the text message bellowed, sitting accusingly on my screen.
A mammoth plate of bacon lay atop the portable room service cart in the corner, steam leaking out from under the chrome cloche. I checked the Dream Interceptor’s connections for the umpteenth time and glanced at my monitors. Detective Murillo seemed impatient.
He suspects, but cannot confirm due to interference, I typed back, knowing my responses would be delivered to an untraceable phone. About to deploy bacon and amplify signal.
A moment later: Our asset currently in dreamstate?
Unknown. She was dreaming a few moments ago, but another tech is responsible for her study. I’m not sure I can observe her without attracting attention.
No LussenCorp employee would risk communicating directly–they’d most likely briefed a subcontractor on the details of our arrangement, as they did for our initial meeting. I wondered again if they would honor our agreement. If I stopped Murillo from confirming Goldberg as the killer and then demanded my pieces of silver, what would actually prevent LussenCorp from withholding payment? I couldn’t report them to the police. I couldn’t hire an attorney. Bella’s symptoms would persist and potentially even worsen. And suppose the ruse was discovered–I’d have gambled my own freedom, locked away from my daughter, without any concrete proof that I’d acted on someone else’s whims.
But what choice had I?
Confirm method, my phone commanded.
I inhaled deeply, trying to stave off the constriction wrapping around my lungs. Still selecting. May rapidly fluctuate Interceptor settings to produce vertigo. Could bombard subconscious with unrelated images and trap in confusion haze, then doctor records to suggest detective was under influence of mildly hallucinogenic substance. I have options.
My interpersonal communication skills may be lacking, but as one of three Specialized sleep techs in existence–as far as I know–I understand my tech better than some of my friends understand their spouses. I have to. If something goes pear-shaped during a dream interception, I’m expected to patch it immediately. The company that built the Dream Inceptor staffs an emergency hotline, but I learned my first week on the job not to rely on it. There’s never ample time to pick up a phone anyway. I’ve been trained to solve almost any problem these machines hurl at me.
I’ve become exceptionally good at mastering glitches.
“Brendan?”, Detective Murillo’s tinny voice in my earpiece. “Are we ready to continue?” He tapped his fingers lightly on the hospital nightstand, and I tried to lower my gaze, tried not to consider this peculiar man with a handlebar mustache and plaid, boring pajamas, a man who never asked to spend his evenings storming through other people’s dreams. “I think I’m becoming more lucid. If I stay awake much longer–“
“…you’ll be unable to re-enter REM sleep for a while,” I said, my voice shaky as I squeezed the lapel mic. “It…should just be another few seconds, Detective.”
The phone buzzed in front of me, flopping on the table like an inebriated fish. If she is arrested, he will follow the breadcrumbs to us, the LussenCorp contractor had typed. And how will you finance your daughter’s treatment then? This delay is unacceptable. Confirm method.
I stared at the screen, then at Detective Murillo’s hardened but earnest face. The words of my oath repeated softly in my head. I saw Bella, my brilliant, tenderhearted Bella, no longer struggling under weight that should never have been hers to bear, a longer and healthier life waiting in the wings. I thought about the four victims and wondered how many more funerals would be enough for Natalie Goldberg and LussenCorp.
I mumbled something like a prayer, locked in my choice, and moved.
My friend Laura Parcel suggested a story in which a detective solves crimes with sleep studies and bacon.