Read F Paul Wilson - Sims 02 Online

Authors: The Portero Method (v5.0)

F Paul Wilson - Sims 02

The Portero Method

 

1

 

 
          
MANHATTAN

 
          
OCTOBER 19

 
          
“Well, it’s been two weeks since the
inspection,” Romy said, “and we’re still in court trying to get SimGen to open
its basic research facilities. So, net gain thus far from all this effort is
zip. Or maybe I should say zero —if you’ll pardon the expression.”

 
          
“Any time,” Zero said.

 
          
They had assumed their usual
positions in the dank basement under the abandoned storefront on
Worth
Street
: Zero backlit behind the rickety table,
swathed in a turtleneck, dark glasses, and a ski mask this time; Romy sitting
across from him. She’d walked twice around the block today to assure she hadn’t
been followed.

 
          
Romy knew she’d been in a foul mood
lately; she’d spent the past couple of weeks snapping at everyone in the
office.
And with good reason.
The organization was getting
nowhere with SimGen.
Lots of movement but no forward
progress.
Like jogging on a treadmill.

 
          
And she resented Zero too, with his
corny disguise and his secrets and his damned elliptical manner. She could
sense him smiling at her behind the layers of cloth hiding his face. She wanted
to kick over his crummy folding table, snap his dark glasses, rip off his ski
mask, and say,
Let’s
just cut this melodramatic
bullshit and talk face-to-face.

 
          
Usually she didn’t like herself when
she fell into this state, but today she relished it. She wanted someone to push
her buttons so she could tap dance on a head or two.

 
          
“But ‘zero’ isn’t quite accurate,” he
said. “Your inspections confirmed that SimGen is treating its
sims
as humanely as advertised.”

 
          
Romy nodded. That had been the plus
side. Though the young
sims
led a barracks-style life
of multilevel bunks and regimented hours, their environment was clean and they
were well nourished.

 
          
“Humanely,” she said. “After spending
all that time with so many of them, the word has garnered new meaning in
respect to sims.”

 
          
“How so?”

 
          
“Well, so many typical chimp
behaviors are missing. The mothers don’t carry their young on their backs like
chimps, but on their hips like humans. And I saw only a rare sim grooming
another. Chimps are always grooming each other. I’d think if SimGen wanted to
keep the public thinking of
sims
as animals they would
have allowed some chimp behavior to carry over.”

 
          
“First off,” Zero said, “it could be
learned behavior. If they’ve never seen or experienced grooming, they might not
do it. Plus,
sims
don’t have anywhere near the amount
of hair as chimps, so it’s not necessary. And if it’s genetically linked
behavior, it might have disappeared when SimGen ‘cleaned up’ the sim genome by
removing most of the so-called junk DNA. Or the company might have engineered
it out of them because it would interfere with their work efficiency.”

 
          
“That last sounds typical. Too bad,
because it seems to give chimps comfort.” Romy shook her head. “No grooming, no
sex, no joy, no aggression, no love, no hate…it’s like they’re half alive—less than
half. It’s unconscionable. Chimps laugh, they cry, they exhibit loyalty and
treachery, they can
be loving
and murderous, they can
be born ambitious, they can fight wars, they can commit infanticide. A mix of
the good and the bad, the best and the worst, just like humans. But
sims…
sims have been stripped of the extremes, pared down to
a bland mean to make them workforce fodder.”

 
          
She closed her eyes a moment to hold back
a hot surge of anger. No use getting
herself
worked up
now.

 
          
“How
do
sims
feel about it?” Zero asked. “Ever wonder?”

 
          
“All the time.
I signed to a lot of the young ones during the inspection tours, asking them
just that: How do you feel? And Are you happy? ”

 
          
“How did they answer?”

 
          
“They answered ‘Okay’ to the first,
but they didn’t seem to know what ‘happy’ meant.”

 
          
“Tough concept.”

 
          
Romy shot to her feet and walked
around in a tight circle, grinding a fist against her palm.

 
          
“Maybe I should quit this.”

 
          
“Romy—”

 
          
“No, I’m serious. My life is one
tangled mass of dissatisfaction. I should quit the organization, put in my time
at OPRR, settle down, marry a fellow bureaucrat, buy a house, have kids, and
forget all this crap! Life would be so much simpler and I’d be so much
happier!”

 
          
“Would you?”

 
          
“At least I wouldn’t be so damn
frustrated!” You’re losing it, she thought. Keep a lid on it. But she couldn’t.
She needed to spew. “Everywhere I turn, someone’s hiding something from me:
couldn’t find anything useful at SimGen, you won’t show me your face or let me
in on who else is in the organization. Hell, for all I know, OPRR’s got a
secret agenda they’re keeping from me too! I’m sick of it!
Sick
to death!”

 
          
Zero said nothing, merely sat and
waited for her to cool. Good move.

 
          
With a little more circle walking and
fist grinding, the heat seeped away and she dropped back into the chair.

 
          
“Okay,” she said. “I’m back.”

 
          
“What can I do to make this better?”

 
          
“Nothing.
It’s not you, it’s me. I always seem at odds with a world that I should be so
thankful for. Look what the genome revolution has done. We’ll all live longer
because so many genetic diseases have already been wiped out, and days are
numbered for the rest of them. Heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure,
certain cancers—if they ran in your family you pretty much had to resign
yourself to dealing with them at some point in your life. Not these days.
Germline therapy has seen to that. Cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, MS—hell,
nobody has those anymore.”

 
          
“Jerry Lewis finally stopped those
telethons.”

 
          
Romy had to smile. “There you
go—something else to be thankful for. And then there’s…me. You know about my
splice, I assume.”

 
          
Zero nodded. “Changed your life,
didn’t it.”

 
          
Oh, yes, she thought. You might even
say it saved my life.

 
          
She remembered adolescence as a time
of chaos. Under the influence of the new hormones surging through her maturing
body, her childhood fits of violence segued into other modes of acting out.
When she was Reasonable Romy she was an A student, but then somewhere in her
system a switch would be thrown and Raging Romy would emerge. If Reasonable
Romy had a fault, it was that she felt too much, cared too much. Raging Romy
cared for no one, least of all herself, and needed to go to extremes to feel
anything.

 
          
She stifled a groan as she remembered
the reckless sex—she cut a sexual swath through the willing males and females
in each of the three high schools she attended,
then
jumped into drinking, drugs, shoplifting, the whole gamut. When she was caught
dancing naked on the roof of the gym she qualified for emergency
institutionalization.

 
          
During her time in the locked ward of
the hospital, the doctors explained that Reasonable Romy was the real Romy, the
only Romy, but at times her neurohormones would undergo wild fluctuations,
causing her to act out of character. They said it was a form of what they
called bipolar disorder and they had medications that would keep her
neurohormones—and thus her behavior—on an even keel.

 
          
Wrong.

 
          
Oh, the drugs worked for a while. She
survived high school and her parents’ divorce—Raging Romy’s behavior playing a
major part in the breakup—And Got
Through
College
Without too many incidents. During grad school she started noticing
increasingly wide mood swings. She managed to earn her Ph.D. in Anthropology,
but shortly after that she was out of control.

 
          
A parade of doctors tried a wide
array of chemical cocktails to regulate her behavior. No luck. Finally someone
suggested a radical new treatment—gene therapy. A defective gene in her brain
cells had been identified as the cause of her disorder. Using a viral vector,
they could replace the aberrant base sequence in the gene and get it back to
normal functioning.

 
          
But no success was guaranteed. The
therapy was still experimental in those days. The virus would target only areas
of the brain that controlled her serotonin and dopamine levels; if it got to
enough cells, the levels would stabilize, normalize. If not…well, there’d been
all sorts of releases to sign.

 
          
Apparently the vector virus reached a
sufficient number of cells: Raging Romy never showed her face again.

 
          
But she wasn’t gone. She remained in
the unspliced cells, whispering, rattling her chains…a ghost in Romy’s machine.
And when Reasonable Romy was angry or stressed, she could feel Raging Romy
pushing her way to the surface, trying to break through to be reborn.

 
          
And the scary part was, sometimes
Romy found herself cheering her on, almost hoping she’d make it.
Because she’d felt so damn good when Raging Romy had the wheel.

 
          
“Yes, it did,” Romy told Zero. “I had
a genetic defect spliced out of me and I’ve never regretted it. I’m more my own
boss because of it. So why aren’t I overjoyed with our brave new world?”

 
          
Zero said nothing.

 
          
The perfect response, Romy thought.
If I don’t know, he sure as hell doesn’t.

 
          
She sighed. “Anyway, our inspections
were satisfactory—as far as they got. But they could be performing vivisection
in that basic research building for all we know.”

 
          
She’d had two ongoing problems to
contend with during the inspection tour. Lack of access to basic research had
been the major issue. The other had been the relentless come-ons from Luca
Portero; the man somehow had developed the notion that he was irresistible to
women, and that Romy’s repeated refusals of his invitations to lunch, dinner,
and even breakfast were simply her way of playing hard to get.

 
          
She didn’t mention that to Zero. What
was the point? OPRR would be locked in court with SimGen for the foreseeable
future and she probably wouldn’t see Luca Portero again for a long time, if
ever.

 
          
But just thinking about that man only
added to her edginess.

 
          
Zero said, “We’ll let the courts deal
with the basic research issue for now. The good news is that after many
man-hours of effort by a number a people, we’ve finally hit pay dirt on that
license plate number you so wisely recorded—a number we wouldn’t know had you
not thrown them a curve by showing up early.
A lucky day for
us when you joined the organization.”

 
          
She could feel his praise mellowing
her—a little. Always nice to be appreciated, but how sincere was he? Was it
that he had sensed her mood and was simply trying to placate her?
So damn hard to read him without a glimpse of his face or his eyes.
Almost as bad as email.
Worse—even email had those
annoying little smilies.

 
          
But she remembered his excitement
when she’d told him about the plate. He hadn’t been faking that.

 
          
“About time something paid off,” she
said.

 
          
“Not a big payday, I’m afraid, but
who knows where it will lead. The truck was leased from a firm in
Gooding
,
Idaho
, by a private individual named Harold
Golden.”

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