Connor Moore is a ten-year-old subjected to an insane experiment which is slowly killing him.
Can Ashlyn keep Connor’s mind intact as the scientists fight to save what’s left of his body – or has Connor found his own solution?
Wired was published in Aurealis 88.
Formats: ebook $2.99
Genre/s: science fiction
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Ashlyn Gates’s first reaction when she saw what was left of Connor Moore was shock, anger, and a deep, stomach-clenching pity.
She’d been briefed about him after the Australian Federal Police had turned up at her house at one in the morning and taken her away. Well, ‘briefed’ wasn’t exactly the right word. For two days she’d been kept in some bland, anonymous holding pen while they proved that they knew everything about her, from her parents’ deaths when she was eleven to the name of her first cat when she was five. They then handed her over to a Dr Grant Cavanagh, who asked her to sign so many damn confidentiality agreements that Ashlyn felt she’d never be able to talk about anything to anyone ever again. She thought he was being paranoid. After all, he knew she was a psychologist, he knew her entire job depended on confidentiality. And even though she’d only been in practice for several months, she would never jeopardise that job for anything.
She understood his caution after he told her about Connor.
Not that she knew exactly who Dr Cavanagh or his group of specialist techs were. She guessed they were government – the confidentiality agreements seemed to indicate they were – but he refused to confirm or deny anything. Instead he showed her the footage of how the AFP had stormed the bunker and found Connor.
Ashlyn’s heart had gone out to Connor, completely and unprofessionally, and she knew why Dr Cavanagh was so passionate about recruiting her – and so secretive about the whole project.
She guessed he had known what her reaction would be, had sought her out because Connor’s story was so close to her own. Connor had told his rescuers that three men had come to his house and dragged him from his bed, killing his parents when they tried to protect him. But while Ashlyn had been left crying beside her fatally-wounded parents, these men had taken Connor and ripped his life apart.
Dr Cavanagh insisted she take a day to become familiar with his team’s progress so far, both with the computers and with Connor. Then she’d been cleared to enter the bunker and the room where Connor had been found – and where he still was.
The bunker was beneath a warehouse in an industrial park on the outskirts of Sydney. The warehouse was small, its galvanised iron rusted in places, its windows glazed over with years of dirt. Dr Cavanagh parked his Honda Civic in the street, opened the purposely old-looking-but-unsurprisingly-sophisticated padlock, and showed her the square slab of concrete fitted into the floor in the corner. It too looked ordinary, a two-metre repair job on an old floor. It was only when Dr Cavanagh hit what looked like a light switch on the wall beside him that the slab trembled and began to sink downwards. Ashlyn had to brace her feet, using the year of tae kwondo lessons she’d taken at fifteen, to keep her balance.
The bunker spread out far beyond the bounds of the warehouse above, but that first day Dr Cavanagh had taken her straight to see Connor.
That room alone was huge, twenty-five metres by twenty at least, with seven huge black computer servers in a line against the stark whiteness of the right-hand wall. Ashlyn noticed several techs, one at a computer terminal near the door, another crouching beside one of the servers, working on its exposed innards, but her eyes were almost immediately drawn to the narrow hospital bed in the far left corner. Connor lay there, a small figure covered in a light blue blanket and surrounded by the hospital equipment which was keeping him alive.
Ashlyn walked steadily across the room, leaving Dr Cavanagh standing by the door. The soft, constant beeping of the machines, the astringent sterile smell and the coldness of the room had combined to bring back unwanted memories of her father’s last hours as he fought for life in the hospital.
But instead of a man with a bullet wound to the chest, this bed held a child, or what was left of him anyway.
He lay straight beneath the cream-coloured blanket, his blonde hair bright against the pillow. Beside him stood a drip machine, its steady gurgle and beep also bringing back uneasy memories. An oxygen mask hung from it. A small tablet had been left on the bed beside him, its screen dark. She couldn’t see the hair-thin wires which had been implanted in his brain, but she could see the edge of the metal device which had been surgically attached to Connor’s spine just below his skull, and which collected those strands together. From it a surprisingly thin cable led beneath his pillow, looped across to the wall behind him and snaked along it to the huge servers. The five hair-thin wires inserted into the back of his single misshapen hand ran up his arm and into the metal spider behind his neck.
Ashlyn knew, from the briefing, that more fibre-optics led from the servers out to a satellite dish situated in a depression on the warehouse’s roof. Not to mention the wireless feeds connecting Connor to who-knew-what-else who-the-hell-knew-where, which Dr Cavanagh’s team were still trying to discover and document after a week of around-the-clock work.
Thankfully the hardware wasn’t Ashlyn’s problem.
And, possibly, the cat which was curled against his side, its blue eyes in the striking Siamese-patterned brown face staring into Ashlyn’s own.