Dr Collins drew the curtains round the bed and came and sat next to Verity.
It was evening. She had had all day to work out how she was going to do this. There wasn't even any need to go and find somewhere private to talk.
Because, for Verity, there was nowhere private to talk.
“Well it’s good news: your E.C.G. shows you’re back to sinus rhythm. Everything’s working as we’d hoped.”
“Oh, thanks.” Verity smiled.
“How are you feeling?”
“Great. Only...I’m sorry, I always end up asking you so many questions, but... it’s about the Enhanced Heart. I’m still thinking about it. Can you tell me, er, do you know, all the things that it does?”
Dr Collins started to explain about the electrical signals that sparked each heartbeat. Verity mentally compared it to the ignition spark in a car engine cycle: no spark and the rest would stutter and fail, or take on a slower rhythm from a ‘spark’ generated elsewhere in the heart. There were two or three of these: they were called ‘Escape rhythms’.
But that wasn’t what Verity was after.
“Doesn’t it store a lot of data as well?”
“Yes: each time it has to cut in, it keeps a record. Then every six months, when you come in for your check-up, we can use a device to_”
You know I’m scared witless. I can see it on your face. Cassie’s Oxytocin is still helping me...thank you, Cassie, you’ve done me a massive favour. With a ‘u’.
Dr Collins was searching the Reference on a small screen.
“Oh, might it have the instruction manual on there?”
“Yes: that’s what I’m looking for.”
Verity pushed her glasses up into her hair so as to see the details. Sure enough, there was the entire manual. It described the functionality just as Dr Collins had outlined it.
And then it came to an end.
Nothing about G.P.S. Or audio. Or the most terrifying part of all, that Verity had overheard at the presentation.
“Er...is that it? Wait, there’s a continuation arrow at the bottom there, look”
They clicked on it.
You do not have permission to access this page
Verity pulled her notebook towards her on the over-bed table and grabbed her pen.
“Sorry. Another question, then. Can I draw a diagram?...”
And she started writing.
I am wired for sound!
So writing, not talking.
Taken at knifepoint! 3:30 a.m. The Colonel. A.M.P. are here!
She looked up from the page to check that Dr Collins was following the words. Her hand covered some of them as she wrote; she didn’t often find herself wishing she was right-handed.
Forced me to have Enh Heart installed. Forced me to sign consent form! 3:50 a.m.
Pacemaker team don’t know all its functionality, only Instructions that you showed me. They think I’m happy about it. I’m not!!
She looked up again: Dr Collins wasn’t looking as shocked as she expected. She resumed.
There’s more! Overheard presentation by A.M.P. My G.P.S. and audio are picked up and sent to the Listening Station. Heart-rate and muscle activity together: they can tell state of emotion.
He still didn’t look shocked enough.
Verity wrote out the final function of the Enhanced Heart: the one that put her in fear for her life.
There was something wrong. She had just told a doctor, her Cardio whom she knew cared about her, that her life was in danger from something unexpected, and he looked totally calm.
I’ve heard of Professional Detachment, but this is ridiculous.
She had no choice but to carry on writing.
They want to do this for all UK’s ‘dissidents’. Track them all, listen, control them all.
Verity looked Dr Collins right in the eyes. Perhaps there was a simple explanation.
“Do you already know all this?”, she asked out loud.
There was an awkward silence.
Dr Collins started gently
“About those four blackouts. That was only the night before last.”
Verity found herself wondering whether even those had been faked somehow to fool her own team, but kept the thought to herself.
“Yes, night before last night.”
“And, when the first one happened, and the nurse had to come in and check that you could be woken_”
“Yes, I remember. I felt it: felt there was something amiss. And I’d had a nightmare_”
she stopped short.
Damn, Player. Walked right into that one...
Dr Collins was expecting her to say the obvious conclusion out loud. But she didn’t: only thought it. She didn’t want to put the idea in his head.
He indicated Verity’s writing on the page.
“That’s what’s happened this time, too. You had a nightmare_”
Verity shook her head. Covered her face in her hands.
Make sure not to cry. The medical profession despise an emotional woman...
She brightened: tugged at the left side of her collar. There was the characteristic scar from the incision, just below her left collar-bone.
“I meant to ask you about that: ask if you could still remember it. You were put under sedation. You’d asked not to be, but it's the usual procedure and no-one had told the team. I’m sorry_”
“I’m sorry they_”
“No, I mean...”
Verity reddened, but managed to force her voice to stay calm.
“If...I’ve been talking about nightmares, then...what are you saying actually happened?”
Dr Collins explained, “You agreed to go ahead with the Enhanced Heart. You asked for a consent form and you signed it this afternoon. Just before four. And the pacemaker team carried out the procedure shortly after that. You were back here in time to eat.”
Verity remembered eating. It had been just after five.
She also remembered exactly what she had been doing at 3:50 p.m.: so easy to alter one letter on a consent form. She had made certain to be surrounded by people: it was the easiest thing in the world. Visitors’ hours two till four: her birthday. Her entire family had come, and they had spent the crucial quarter-hour right in front of the nurses’ station, with all the staff coming over for pieces of birthday cake. Neither her file, nor any yellow sheets of paper, had been anywhere in sight.
She had been expecting a battle with Cassie, or possibly the Colonel, over this. Not a battle with somebody from her own side: the Progressives. The Cocktail Party. She was thrown.
She found herself wishing she had a handkerchief to hide her face.
Oh wait. I forgot my borrowed talent...
She looked once more, carefully this time, at Dr Collins’ face.
He knows I’m not delusional, and he knows I’m not lying: there it is, in his eyes. There’s only one possible reason he could be denying what he knows to be true.
She decided to put it to the test.
“I know, you told me, the Enhanced Heart takes four weeks to bed in. It's four weeks, isn't it, for the wires to bury themselves in the rough surface on the outside of the heart. So can it be taken out, without too much danger, before that happens?”
Dr Collins’ face changed slightly, but the change was so minimal that even Oxytocin couldn’t help her decypher it this time. Or perhaps its effect was beginning to wear off.
“Er, yes or no?”
“Well, unless doing it puts my life in danger, I’d like it removed, please. I’ve changed my mind about it. I don’t want it.”
“Verity, you were given a very strong sedative before the procedure. It was an error, and I apologise on behalf of the team. You can file a complaint later, if you want. But the upshot here is that you'll still be under its influence for a day or so. And that means you can’t necessarily trust your judgement for the time being. So it would be irresponsible of us to go ahead on something you ask now_”
The expression on Verity's face caused Dr Collins to fall silent.
The expression which said, “You’ve changed sides, haven’t you?”