Double Blind(3)
Author:Brandilyn Collins


    I nodded, trying to take it all in.

    “Regarding our focus, it’s not been on physical brain injuries, like Darpa is doing, but on emotional issues such as depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. How to stop the trauma without erasing actual memories. The result is a person who knows his past and can learn from it but is no longer tortured by it. With the Empowerment Chip, we’ve seen this happen immediately.”

    Immediately. My life—changed. Energy renewed. The terror gone. My fingers curled into my palms. It was too much to hope for. Like wanting to steal a piece of the sun. Could this amazing thing happen to me?

    Jerry held up a finger. “Of course we need to remind you that the chip isn’t a cure-all. It does help people deal with past trauma and grief, but beyond that, the emotional strength you use in dealing with life comes from you.”

    “Yes. I understand that.” One of the screening people I’d seen previously described depression as trying to run with a broken foot. Healed bones wouldn’t make that person a bionic runner. It would simply return him to his own normal ability.

    I took a breath. “What about side effects?”

    “Well, of course there are the chances taken with any surgery.” He went down the list.

    “But can the chip itself hurt me?”

    “Not that we’ve seen. You might experience some tingling in your hands. We’re not sure why that occurs. A small percentage in the first trial reported memory loss.”

    My head drew back. “I thought it wasn’t supposed to harm your memory.”

    “It isn’t. And it usually doesn’t. The reported cases had to do with insignificant recollections, not major ones.”

    I focused out the window. I didn’t want to forget Ryan. My incredible husband. He didn’t deserve that.

    Jerry shifted in his seat.

    “Why me?” The question popped out of my mouth. “Why am I a good candidate?”

    Surely I’d shown severe signs of depression and grief. Paranoia and fear. Was that why? Because I needed the chip so badly?

    “You’re physically healthy, for one,” Jerry said. “You’ve shown a strong desire to proceed, and we think you’re someone who could possibly benefit very highly.”

    In other words, yes, I desperately needed it.

    “But, Lisa, you don’t have to continue. It’s your choice.”

    I looked from Jerry to Ice Queen. “How long do I have to decide?”

    She raised her thin eyebrows. “A day.”

    “One day?”

    She nodded. “Jerry and I are meeting with candidates until nine o’clock tonight. Tomorrow we start another thirteen-hour day. Many people are excited about this opportunity, and many more qualify than we can accommodate. If you decide not to go forward, someone will quickly fill your place.”

    I focused on the floor. One day—for such a decision? That was impossible. I could spend an entire day just trying to get out of bed.

    This was beyond me. I couldn’t do it. Why had I even come here?

    Why had God let Ryan die? Why did He do this to me?

    Jerry tapped the arm of his chair. “Before you decide, we’d like to go over the actual procedure with you.”

    And the babies I lost—why did they have to die? And why was I attacked?

    “Lisa?”

    Years ago in Sunday school I’d memorized verses from Psalm 139: “Where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there. If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there . . .” God had once been a sustaining part of my life. He was always there for me, a comfort and a strength. But I hadn’t felt His presence in a long time. That absence was like falling into a deep well. I’d lost everything. And now even God didn’t care.

    “Ms. Newberry?”

    I blinked. “Sorry. I’m listening.”

    For the next ten minutes Jerry went over the rest of the important information. The procedure would take place at Hillsdale Hospital in Palo Alto—at the full expense of Cognoscenti. The doctors would drill a small hole in my skull and attach the chip to the cerebral cortex—the outer sheet of neural tissue covering the cerebrum. A two-inch patch of hair would need to be shaved on the top left side of my head. The procedure would take place on Friday morning. I’d stay in the hospital two nights.

    Two nights? After that I’d have to go home. Alone. Then . . . what? Would I be renewed? Or implanted with a placebo and worse off than ever?

    “If I get the real chip, you say I’ll start to feel better right away?”

    Ice Queen nodded. “The light pulses work immediately. If the chip proves beneficial to you, yes, you should feel the difference quickly.”

    My chest fluttered. The very thought of that . . . I had to have it. It had to come true.

    I folded my arms, chilled, and stared at the table.

    Jerry paused. “Any other questions?”

    I nearly laughed. I had questions that could keep us in that office all night—most of which no human being could answer. So many unknowns crowded my mind that I couldn’t articulate a single one.

    My gaze landed on the box. I gestured toward it with my chin. “What’s in there?”

    “Ah, thought you’d never ask.” Jerry leaned forward. “Want to see what the chip looks like?”

    Oh! “Is one in there?”

    With an almost reverent air, Jerry opened the box and handed it to me. “This is a replica of the EC.”

    Gingerly I took the box and held it close to my face. There, against a white fabric bottom, rested a dark chip. This could be my salvation? I didn’t want to breathe on it for fear I’d whisk it away. “It’s so small.”

    “Yes.”

    “Can I pick it up?”

    “Sure.”

    I lowered my forefinger into the box until it touched on the chip. Then turned the box upside down and lifted it away. The EC sat on the tip of my finger.

    I gaped at it. How tiny it was. This little thing could alter an entire life? My life?

    This had to be the most important invention on earth. Computers, the Internet, cell phones—all the latest technology amounted to nothing compared to what this chip could do. Just think how many emotionally crippled people it might cure. They would go on to lead productive lives. Not to mention the millions of dollars saved from their medical bills.

    This chip could change the world.

    I gazed at it a minute longer, not wanting to part with it, even though I knew it was only a replica. Finally I replaced the chip in its box with care. Set it on the table. “Thank you.” The words were a mere whisper.

    I stood, unable to say anything more.

    Jerry and Clair rose also. Jerry held out his hand. “Thanks for coming in, Lisa. Remember, we need to hear from you by 5:30 tomorrow. Should you decide to proceed, we’ll need you back here to sign the necessary papers.”

    “Okay.”

    “Hope to see you again.” Ice Queen tried to smile.

    I picked up my purse, mind still spinning. “No need to see me out. I know the way.”

    Numbly, I walked out of the office. I reached the elevator and stared at the down button. My finger wouldn’t rise to push it.

    Out of nowhere my mother’s voice rose from childhood. My haunting, oldest failure: “A picture for me? Here’s how you can make it better . . .”

    Would the Empowerment Chip save me from the painful memories of my mother too?

    I tried again to lift my hand—and couldn’t. I could only stare at the gray elevator door, thinking of the shaft behind it. Empty, like my life.

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