“He’s sleeping,” the nurse said.
Emma paused with her hand on the doorknob though it was not for fear of awakening her grandfather but more for the fear the care home’s staff. Turning to face the attending nurse Emma steeled herself behind a business-like face.
“He’ll be expecting me,” she replied firmly “it’s three o’clock.”
The nurse did not back down.
“All the same I’d rather you waited for him to wake up.”
Emma eyed the single chair against the near wall and then looked back to the nurse. Her mind reeled with conspiracy but she sat and watched the door impatiently. Minutes of rustling paperwork offered no distraction and when, at last, the gatekeeper moved to check on her resting charge Emma was quick to move behind her, crowding the woman’s back.
“See!” Emma declared triumphantly “he’s fine.”
Her grandfather beamed at her as he struggled to rise from the bed and Emma dumped her bag on the floor so that she could help him, pushing the nurse aside when she would have moved to do the same. Holding up her hands in defeat the nurse left the room, though Emma could hear her mumbling to the other nurses at the nearby station.
“How are you?” she asked him and though she didn’t expect a reply she busied herself with inane chatter as she helped him into his armchair.
“I still can’t get passed those issues,” Emma continued and placed his slippers on his feet.
“So, are you going to help me? Can we try this again?”
Her grandfather tapped the arms of his chair playfully and Emma stared at the well-worn fabric beneath his fingertips. Grabbing for her bag she ignored the fidgeting and hoped that today would be the day for answers.
“Ok,” she began “we’re still having issues with test subjects E through H. They’re complaining of migraines when using the Interface. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern in the timings between the onset of pain and the start of the testing protocol and neither Petri nor I can pinpoint it. Petri himself has started experiencing these now so I’m really eager to fix it since he’s determined not to let it halt his progress.”
Emma flicked through her notebook for the supporting data and finding the scans she placed them before her Grandfather.
“See these?” she asked him “these are the scans before or after the session. There’s just no difference so the pain certainly isn’t causing any long term damage. What I’d really like to do is to get scans during, but since the process still isn’t wireless I don’t see it happening.”
Emma held her breath as he lifted the scans before the light of the window and though her heart beat wildly she tried not to get her hopes up. A few moments later he replaced them on the table and then stared back at her as if waiting for her to continue.
“Well next we have the more worrying of the two really. Test user L has tied himself in a loop? His programme was running correctly but when the Interface proposed an answer that he couldn’t answer he was unable to proceed. We’re worried about forcing a disconnect in the programming in case we cause full brain damage but I don’t know how long we can leave him that way.”
Emma looked through file belonging to test subject L and though she was comforted by the protection of the release form he had signed upon entering the study she couldn’t assuage the guilt that bloomed inside her. Casting it aside she looked once again to her grandfather who had slowed his tapping to stare at her. Waiting for something though she didn’t know what. Banishing the tears from her eyes she shook herself and replaced the file in her bag.
“That’s all for today really. So what do you think?” she asked hopefully and took his hand in hers so that she could draw his attention.
“23, 14, 19, 6, 20, 19,” he said and for a moment Emma did nothing but stare at him. It was the first thing he had said to her in months and in in her shock she at first absorbed only the sound of his voice and wallowed in how she had missed it.
“What did you say?” she asked quietly.
“23, 14, 19, 6, 20, 19,” he repeated.
Quickly she scribbled the numbers down in her notebook.
“And what do those numbers mean granddad?” she asked and looked to him for more information.
“23, 14, 19, 6, 20, 19.”
“23, 14, 19, 6, 20, 19.”
“Its ok granddad,” she said and patted his hand, returning it to the arm of his chair with a deflated disappointment that she couldn’t quite hide. Slowly she packed away her things.
“I’ll see you tomorrow ok?” she replied.
“You should stop it now,” he said quietly and Emma dropped her things to return to him.
“What did you say?”
“It brings out the worst in people,” he continued and Emma stroked the side of his face as she watched the moment of lucidity fade away into daydreams. Her shoulders slumped and she kissed him on the forehead as she rose. When she closed his bedroom door behind her she sank against the cheap wood.
“It’s unfair of you to use him this way,” the nurse said from behind her station and though Emma couldn’t see her she quickly marched towards the desk for the confrontation that was sure to distract her from her disappointment.
“I’m sorry?” she asked hotly.
“I said that it’s unfair of you to use him this way,” the nurse carried on and stood to go eye to eye with Emma. “You don’t come to see him, you only come to talk about your work. That man has been through enough without you using him this way.”
“You don’t know anything about me!” Emma responded aghast.
“This isn’t about you,” the nurse replied calmly “if you’ve nothing to offer him than why do you come?”
Emma shrugged sadly and shook her head at the nurse. She knew that this was not a battle she would easily win.
“You don’t know him,” she replied at last “you only know what’s left of him.”
Distracted, she did not dwell on the words of her grandfather but rather on her duel with the nurse. Emma was troubled by the conversation in the way that the guilty replay events to assure themselves of their righteousness and it stayed with her long into the evening. The soft release of the lab-door indicated that the last subject had left their work station and she afforded Petri a weary smile as he entered their flat.
“Are you as tired as you look?” he asked her as he approached the kitchen table at which she sat. Removing her feet from the chair opposite he sat and replaced them in his lap.
“I have had a very trying day,” she replied.
“You didn’t get anywhere with your grandfather?” he asked.
Emma shook her head.
“Not that I truly expected to,” she confessed “though it would have been a welcome break.”
“Well?” Emma asked, steering them aware from her lack of progress “have you made any in roads?”
“Not as such,” he replied “though the headaches have been less today.”
“And in the other subjects?” she asked.
“Still no move with L,” he replied knowing that she was primarily interested in one.
Emma sighed “I don’t see how we can possibly hand over the project to the client in this state.”
Petri rubbed her feet soothingly.
“We’ll get there. I’m sorry you didn’t get anything from your grandfather.”
Emma rubbed her weary eyes and spoken into her hands.
“Well he did say something,” she mumbled and reaching across to her Petri pulled her hands away from her face. The movement was slow, as if what she had to say was of the upmost importance.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she said “you put too much pressure on me.”
“Then tell me what was said and put me out of my misery,” he hurried.
“Honestly it was nearly nothing,” Emma replied moving away from him “just a random bunch of numbers.”
Petri got up to follow her and though she hurried away from him to her study she felt his fast approach. Rummaging through her bag she produced the numbers and showed them to him.
“In our line of work how can you think anything random?”
“He’s a very old man Petri,” she explained “his mind is almost completely gone.”
Petri scanned the numbers over and over again and as he did she lost herself in thoughts of her grandfather, revisiting the fear that she would one day face the same fate.
“I mean, how much can he really remember from that time anymore?” she asked quietly.
“Well you obviously hope that he can remember something or you wouldn’t continue to see him.”
“Hmm,” she replied and wondered if she should confess her fears to Petri. If she couldn’t tell him then who was she to trust?
“You know when I was younger my brother and I would pass notes to each other using numbers. It was always through a book we shared and the receiving brother would have to guess the book.”
“That sounds impossible.”
“We didn’t have many books,” he confessed “but the game made them useful even after they had been read over and over again.”
Emma listened to him patiently though she didn’t hold much hope for the suggestion.
“Do you really think that this could be the same thing?” she asked him though her voice was flat and unoptimistic.
“It’s worth a try,” he said “what books does your grandfather have on his shelf?”
She cast a glance at her own bookshelf and back at Petri.
“I don’t think he has many,” she replied “a handful at best.”
“Let’s phone the nursing home and ask them,” Petri suggested gleefully and Emma winced at the memory of her argument which had laid dormant until then.
“I’d rather not,” she confessed “I had a bit of a run in with a nurse there today.”
“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” he replied smiling “I’ll call instead then, I have no problem with facing your dragon if you’re afraid.”
“I’m not afraid,” she replied indignantly “I’m just not doing it.”
Petri huffed and walked out of the study. Thinking that it would be the end of their discussion she returned to her work but moments later Petri returned.
“Well that’s the end of that then,” he replied and replaced the phone to the charging cradle.
“You didn’t call?” she asked aghast.
“Yes I did but it was no use,” he replied “the nurse on duty said that patients tend only to have one book in their rooms,”
“The Bible,” they said at once. As Petri voiced it his voice was deflated. As Emma said it her voice was filled with excitement.
“I don’t know what you’re so excited about,” he grumbled.
“We have the book!” she exclaimed “we can figure it out!”
“No one reads the Bible Emma,” he muttered “it’s like having it in a hotel room.”
Emma stared at him mouth open.
“You’re continuing the man’s work and you really know nothing about him?” she asked.
“I know everything there is to know about the work,” he replied defensively “I don’t see why that means I should have to know everything that there is to be known about the man himself.”
“His father was a vicar,” Emma said impatiently as she rummaged around her office.
“Do we even have a Bible?” Petri asked as she about the room.
Frustrated at her fruitless search Emma shook her head.
“Well then let’s look it up,” he said and reached for the tablet on her desk.
“Read the figures to me again,”
“Stop,” he halted her as he read the search results.
“Ok 23:14 says ‘You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell’,” he read slowly “Christ Emma what did you ask him?”
Affronted, Emma picked up her notes.
“I only mentioned the pain and the subject L?” she replied questioningly.
“Well I don’t see how that fits?” he replied “what’s the next one?”
“19 and 6?”
“’Many seek the favour of a generous man, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts’,”
“This doesn’t make any sense,” she huffed out.
“Maybe he wants you to bring him a gift or he won’t tell you anything useful?” Petri offered lightly.
“This isn’t working,” Emma complained.
“Now, now. Let’s try the last one.”
“20 and 19,” she read.
“Ok,” he said “this might work ‘whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets: therefore do not associate with a simple babbler’.”
“How does that help anything?” she asked and through her hands in the air “what version of the bible are you using?”
“I hardly see how that matters,” he replied “the general tone will be the same even if there’s some variation on the styling.”
Emma re-read the text and flickered between the different results, begrudgingly she admitted that Petri was right.
“Then we have the wrong book,” she replied and returned the tablet to Petri.
“Give it a chance,” he said “you asked him about L, yes?”
“How can that possibly pertain to L?” she asked angrily.
“Maybe he was going to reveal secrets?” he offered weakly.
“Interface doesn’t work like that,” she replied.
“Well then maybe he was trying to hide a secret?” Petri replied.
Emma reached for the file they had on L. Admittedly he was one of the candidates that she was unsure of but Petri had assured her of his brilliance and that he had a wide and varied history. He was a good subject for Interface to interact with and she had learnt a lot from studying him.
“That would mean that L did this to himself,” she said quietly.
“Maybe he did?” Petri said softly though the words themselves were heavy and damning.
“Why would anyone do that to themselves?” she asked.
“I think that was rather the point; that we not know,” Petri replied “and it’s done now.”
“Why would Interface allow someone to do that to themselves?”
“Well I rather think that L manipulated the programming as opposed to the other way around.”
“That’s not much comfort,” she replied “we’ll have to go back to the basics and figure out how to stop it from happening again,” she muttered.
Petri’s eyes widened.
“You can’t do that!” he exclaimed “it’d take us months to get back here!”
Emma waved him away dismissively.
“Why would my grandfather build something like this into the framework?” she muttered “it doesn’t make any sense.”
Petri approached her angrily.
“Emma are you listening to me?” he asked “we cannot go back to the basics on this! We’re too close to completion.”
“Petri you can’t be serious?” she replied “how could we possibly release this if it causes this many issues?”
“It’s one subject!” he shouted.
“It’s not one subject,” she defended “what about the headaches? Your headaches?”
“That’s just settling pain,” he replied “it will go away.”
“I don’t think it will,” she replied and looked back to the tablet “maybe that’s the first one? What was it again? Something about beating someone to deliver them?”
Petri watched as she searched through the previous pages though his blood began to boil at her need to absolute perfection. His limit was close.
“Yes,” she said at last “it was ‘You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell’.”
Slowly he moved so that he stood behind her and read the text over her shoulder, pleased that her absorption in the puzzle hadn’t alerted her to the maliciousness of his intentions.
“That seems a bit harsh,” she replied “what could you possibly have been thinking that would make it want to hurt you?”
He loosed a heavy breath and reached to grab the letter opener from her desk. Distracted as she was Emma missed the action and continued to scan through the other possible associations.
“That this never should have been your study to begin with,” he replied viciously “and I’ll be damned it I let you take it away from me now.”
As she turned she saw the glint of the metal racing down to her body and she lunged to be free of it. Not quick enough in her flight the blade thrust into her skin with a heavy weight that told of the strength behind the action. It lodged there, between her shoulder and her neck, and she knew that her movement had taken it off course from the near artery. As she fell to the floor in pain Emma knew that it would take a long time for her to die this way.
Ignoring her Petri picked up the tablet and browsed through the recent entries.
“You know I think I understand the second one now,” he said “this information probably would have been a gift. You were just too close to see it.”