The kid’s breathing remained rushed, and he kept swiveling his head in search of something to grab. “Don’t you have water? A first aid kit?” he asked, and Hardwick sped out to the car to get the items. Or just to get away.
“My body was still hooked up to the machine, so I could return,” the kid said once I repeated my partner’s question. “With criminals, they just unplug the machines right away. Keep ‘em stuck.”
“What do you mean? What criminals?”
His smile, filled with plastic looking teeth, bothered me. “You’d think the police would know more about the government’s secrets than an eighteen-year old.” He laughed. Cocky college kid. “They use this equipment for criminals. Murderers, to be more accurate. In place of the death penalty.”
I hated asking questions, letting him think he had knowledge I needed. But hell, I did need it. Maybe not for the job, but for myself. “What happens to them?” I asked.
“Their consciousness gets transferred into a program. It’s a virtual reality thing.” The hand holding his wound tightened. “I couldn’t handle it. I tried, but it’s like a bad drug.”
A drug. The word made my skin tingle, my mind moan. Before I’d joined the academy, I’d tried every drug on the market. Heroine, cocaine, meth, oxycontin, angel dust.
I was never an addict. Only tried each thing once — but I had to try it. Even as an officer, whenever we’d find something new (an altered form of Molly, a new type of mushroom), I’d have to get a taste.
I’d be fired if they ever saw me slip evidence into my pocket, but I never took enough for anyone to notice. I hadn’t tried anything in a while, had no new experiences to lock up in my mind, and the Mechanical Mutilation mumbo-jumbo started to sound like something fun and fresh. My teeth gnawed at my bottom lip, trying to bite away a smile.
When Hardwick returned, he bandaged up the kid’s arm, muttering to me as he did so. “I wish I could go in there. Maybe get her back,” he said. “But my girls… They’re too young to be left alone if I… I can’t.”
“The kid just told me you can’t come back to this reality unless the body’s still plugged in,” I said softly, my lips barely moving.
“She is plugged in,” Hardwick said, playing with the torn patch on his shirt. He did the same thing whenever he didn’t have the files the boss needed on time. “I did my research. I knew I couldn’t bury her. She’s still at the house. In the basement. I couldn’t tell anyone. I never even told her family she was gone.”
Well, that settled it.