Derek Brown died at 2:32 in the morning without ever regaining consciousness.
"I thought we got the chip out in time," Shen said brokenly when he finally called it.
Nelson patted his father's shoulder awkwardly. "He made it twelve hours longer than Cooper. That's improvement, Dad."
"Not much of one," Shen retorted sharply, looking down at the still form. He'd liked Brown, liked the man's cool competence and sly sense of humour. "He's still just as dead."
He waited until the next morning to report the death to Lillian.
She took the news without blinking. "I'll notify his family," she said. "Let me know when you're ready to pick the next candidate."
"He had a wife," Shen said. "I don't know what I was thinking, picking someone who had wife."
"You picked the best candidate you could," she said. "He knew the risks." She got up from her chair and walked around to his side of the desk, studying him. Whatever she saw seemed to concern her. "His wife will be taken care of," she said gently, as if money could possibly make up for the loss of a husband. "Shen, you did the best you could. Next time will be better."
"Right," Shen said and stumbled back toward his lab.
He barely left the lab over the next few weeks, spending his days poring over test and autopsy results, trying to figure out where he'd gone wrong, and how those mistakes had led to men to die.
He'd expected bumps along the way, of course. Multiple failed attempts. Maybe a few minor catastrophes. He hadn't expected the chip to kill people.
Six weeks later, Lillian tracked him down.
She took in the state of the lab without comment. "When do you think you'll be ready for the next trial?" she asked.
"I don't know," Shen said. "I still don't know what wrong with the last trial."
"But you have a theory."
"No," Shen said.
"All right, yes. I have several theories. I just don't know which one is right. And until I do..."
"Is there any way we can find out without testing them?" Lillian asked. "Would it help to go back to monkeys?"
"No, no," Shen said. "It isn't...none of the primates died. So whatever's happening, it's only happening in human brains." He got up and paced across the lab. "People should not be dying, Lillian. If the chip isn't working, it should just sit there, not kill them."
"Well, clearly it's doing something," she said. "So figure out what. And pick a new candidate to try your best theory on. I want a name by next week."
"Next week!" he protested. "I can't...Lillian, I don't think I can do that."
"How long, then?" she asked.
"You don't understand. I don't think I can do this again at all."
"You're a doctor," Lillian said. "You've lost patients before."
"Patients, yes," Shen said. "People who were sick. People who were dying anyway, who would have died without intervention. There's a difference between losing someone and killing them. These men were healthy. If I hadn't intervened, they would have both lived long, productive lives."
"They were volunteers," Lillian said firmly. "They knew the risks."
"How could they know the risks? We don't even know the risks. Even if we find a candidate who survives, we have no idea what will happen. We have no idea if the chip will work. We have no idea what it will do to a man's mind to have all that information flooding through it. We don't know anything, Lillian."
"And if we give up now, those two men died for nothing," Lillian said.
"How long do you think people are going to keep volunteering for a project that keeps piling killing them?" Shen asked.
"You let me worry about that," Lillian said. "I will keep finding you volunteers as long as there's a reasonable chance that this could work."
"And when we run out of reasonable chances?"
"Then we'll stop," Lillian said. "But not before that." She touched his shoulder. "I believe in you, Shen. You can make this work."
Partners (Gabriel & Riley, Gen, 673 words)
Gabriel was waiting outside her apartment door when Riley got home from her impromptu run.
"I heard," he said, straightening up as she approached. "I'm sorry."
Heard. More likely he had some sort of search alert on her name. Or maybe the names of everyone in her family. Riley hadn't read the obituary yet, but she had to assume she hadn't been included.
She resisted the urge to call him on it. She'd probably do the same in his place. Besides, maybe Lillian really had told him.
"Thanks," she said, pulling out her keys.
He stepped to the side to let her unlock her door. "You going to the funeral?"
Riley sighed and let Gabriel follow her inside. "I don't know. I barely knew the man. My mother still wasn't talking to me when she married him. I'm not sure he even knew I existed until a few years ago."
She still raged a little at the unfairness of that. She'd saved her mother, saved them all, and been exiled for it. Cast out from the family. No gratitude from her mother, no relief, no regrets for her failure to protect her children--just rage. And maybe a little fear.
Well, and who'd ever said that life was fair?
"We don't go to funerals for the dead," Gabriel said gently.
"Yeah," Riley agreed. She'd been to enough of them to know that.
"Were your brother and sister close to him?"
"Yeah. Apparently he was a good guy." Her sister had told her that he'd been the one who'd talked her mother into breaking the silence and re-establishing contact.
"How long since you saw them?"
"Too long," Riley admitted, moving to the kitchen. She eyed her refrigerator, then checked her watch. Barely noon. She shrugged and pulled out two beers, offering one to Gabriel, who'd followed behind her. If she was going to have this conversation, she wanted more than a latte to fuel it.
He accepted the bottle with a raised eyebrow, but popped the cap off readily enough.
"I've been busy," Riley said. It was the excuse she used every time she talked to her siblings. Conveniently available for every birthday and holiday she missed, and who could disagree? Protecting the president was an important job.
So was protecting Gabriel.
"Twenty-four/seven job. I know," Gabriel said. "But don't you think it's about time you paid them a visit? You haven't been out there in over a year."
Damn chip. And damn airlines for keeping records.
"How do you know I didn't drive?" she challenged him.
"You haven't used enough unaccounted-for vacation time for that," Gabriel said.
Of course. Riley wondered sometimes what it would be like to have all that information instantly available. She also thought Gabriel could use the chip to be a hell of a con artist, if he wanted to. Screw cold reading - he could pull backgrounds up on anyone.
"So is that why you're here?" Riley asked, leaning back against the counter. "To tell me to go visit my family?" She tipped her head back and lifted the bottle.
Gabriel shook his head. "No, I came in case you wanted company on the trip."
"You know what my family's going to think if I bring you along to the funeral."
He shrugged and swigged his beer. "Let 'em. Or tell 'em they're wrong. Whatever works better for your family."
Riley walked over to the window and looked down at the window to Gabriel's apartment. 24/7. "Why are you doing this?"
"You watch my back all the time," he said. "I figure I can do the same for you."
She wondered just how much he'd figured out about her relationship with her mother, to put it that way, and how much of that was from the chip and how much was from his sometimes uncanny ability to read people.
Either way, it was a generous offer. And he was right, he had been too long since she was home. "Okay," she said.
"Okay," he agreed.
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