"You already know, Seth," said Katie. "Think about your dreams."
"So you think they really are repressed memories?"
"Not merely repressed," she responded. "I think maybe LaBelle intentionally deleted some of your memories."
"But, why? And how?"
"I'm not sure about the how of it, but I'd guess the why has to do with the fact that they canceled the tests. Well, that and the secret and probably illegal nature of the whole program."
"You mean this TIER thing?" Lewis asked. "Why didn't they wipe my memories, then? And why don't I remember this O'Keefe guy at all? Oh, wait … " His voice faltered.
"You two have probably never even met before now," replied Katie. "I doubt they bothered with your memories, Wright. You were only involved in one small, failed trial. Seth was recruited for the larger program—Strange Animal, I mean—not just TIER."
"So what is Strange Animal?"
"It's an enhanced combination of two other programs. TIER was one of them. The other was called WEIRD."
"Weird Tier," interjected Mary. "'Tier' is German for 'animal', so …"
"Exactly," said Katie, though she pointedly refused to look at Mary. She was focused on Seth. "The government has a funny sense of humor when it comes to naming black-box projects. And they love acronyms."
"So what, exactly," asked Mary, "was WEIRD all about?"
"DNA?" Lewis, Nita and Seth all exclaimed together. Seth added, "So not just my memories … they were messing with my genes, too?"
"So it would seem," Katie turned to Lewis before he could ask. "And no, Mr. Wright, you weren't part of that program. At least I haven't seen any evidence to suggest so."
"Why not?" Nita asked.
"Probably because the trial in which he was involved failed."
"More than failed, I'd say," said Lewis. "Seems to me it backfired—at least in my case."
"Yes," replied Katie. "You could say that. But I think yours was a unique result. And before you ask—no, I don't know why. I didn't find any evidence of anyone else having undergone your particular … challenges."
"So you're not having problems with weird dreams?" Seth asked Lewis. "Because that seems to be all I'm left with."
"I don't think so—" began Lewis.
"No, Seth," interrupted Katie. "He's just got some minor neuroses. And you have more than just the dreams."
"Yes," Katie went on. "You have some problems with intermittent egotism, not to mention paranoia—"
"Paranoia?" Seth gave her a look of astonishment. "But … you just said I was part of a secret government program, that I had my memory erased, and that you actually were hired to watch me! It seems my fears were justified!"
"True," said Katie, "but just because they actually are out to get you doesn't mean you're not paranoid."
"Wait just a minute here, lady," began Lewis, his voice full of righteous indignation. "What do you mean by 'just some minor neuroses' anyway? You people have caused me untold grief! You've made my life—"
Katie cut him off. "Again, Mr. Wright, I wasn't involved. I'm a contractor hired to keep an eye on Seth."
"Fine. So it wasn't you, per se, but it was the LaBelle people," said Lewis. "But that wasn't my point. I was calling attention to your dismissive attitude concerning the problems LaBelle caused me."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Wright. I didn't mean anything by it. I'm sure your problems are quite difficult for you. My point was that they pale in comparison to the bundle of psychological mess with which LaBelle left Seth."
Nita frowned. "How so?"
"Well, to put it simply, Ms. Herrera, all he needs is some perspective. A little counseling and bit of travel should do the trick."
"Perspective!" Lewis's face grew red. "A little counseling? Do you have any idea how much I've spent on therapy? And on ... on drugs? And I've travelled plenty! But I still get hung up making decisions, which—"
"Let me just give it to you straight, Mr. Wright. Here's what you need to understand: Your decisions don't make a lick of difference in this universe. You are a speck of life sitting on a mote of dust we call a planet, floating around a little star on the edge of a galaxy zooming through the vast, mostly empty, cosmos."
"I know, but I—"
"Let me ask you—what difference do you think your decisions make? You do realize that the universe doesn't even notice your existence, yes? Hell, most other people don't notice your existence."
"Put it this way," she continued, "when you read a book, like a biography—of someone who did something important, something historical, like an inventor or an emperor or an astronaut, say—if it's written well, you start to feel like you're getting to know this person and you think about what it would be like to actually meet them. Alan Shepard, for example, took his first flight into space almost a decade before you were born. He was walking on the fucking moon while you were still toddling around in a diaper. Do you think Alan Shepard ever thought about you? No—of course not! He never even had any idea you existed—and he never will. And not just because he's dead now. There are literally billions of people out there who will never know anything about you. And there will be billions more born over the next century who will never know Lewis Wright ever drew breath. Do you think your concern over petty little decisions like what movie you're going to see this afternoon are going to make the slightest bit of difference to any of these people? Much less the universe at large!"
"Well, no, but I—"
"Then shut up about it. Just shut up and get over yourself."
The worsening look of shock and hurt on Lewis's face finally got to her. Sometimes truths are were difficult for people to hear, and she realized she may have been a little too harsh.
"Look, Mr. Wright," Katie added, softly. "I don't know you personally, and I'm not a qualified psychologist. I just know what I read in your files. "
"Where are these files, by the way?" Mary's voice took on a heavy note of skepticism. "Where are you getting all of this information about us?"
"Some of it from LaBelle," answered Katie. "But most of it I obtained through my own sources. I've been in this business a long time."
"All right, then" Seth chimed in, "let's see what you have."
"Well, I don't have it with me, silly. It's all back at my hotel."
"Oh." Seth thought a moment before turning to the rest of the group. "I can go get them, if you want. If you don't trust me, one of you can tag along. You could drive, even." He turned towards Mary.
"No way," she said. "I'm not going anywhere with you."
"Besides," Katie winked at Seth. "They're not in that hotel room."
"What do you …" Seth began. His face went suddenly crimson at the wicked grin Katie showed him.
"What's this all about?" Nita snorted. "I thought he wasn't your boyfriend."
"I'm not," said Seth. He turned to Katie with a sly twist to his mouth. "So, you must mean the one downtown, then?"
"Ah," she said. "So you did follow me all the way back that night. I have to say I'm impressed."
"It wasn't that hard, actually," boasted Seth. "I can be pretty crafty, too."
"That's probably your subconscious, you know." Katie grinned at him. "Some part of you still remembers your military and covert ops training. That's why you were able to escape being taped into that chair and disarm her so easily." She nodded to where Nita sat.
"Yeah … I guess that must be … wait, what?"
"LIsten," Katie said to the room in general. "I've told you what you want. My job with LaBelle is ruined now, and so, probably, is my reputation. So do you mind, please?" She indicated her bonds. "This really is quite uncomfortable."
"No," said Nita and Mary together.
"I disagree." Seth pulled the knife from the wall and began cutting her loose. "She's no threat to any of you, and neither am I," he added, as he handed the knife to Nita. "Now put that thing away. You won't need it."
Seth sat back on the couch, this time a little closer to Mary.
"I'm sorry to have mixed you up in all this," he said to her. "But surely you understand why I had to track you down. When we met at the BMV the other day, there was a … I don't know. A connection, I guess. Surely you felt it, too."
"Are you serious?" Mary shook her head in disbelief before standing up and moving over next to where Lewis stood. "Because if you are, you're in need—"
Before she could finish her sentence, the front window of the house shattered. There was a bright flash and the room filled with smoke while more sounds of shattering glass filled the air.
Nita leapt up and in what she thought was the direction of Lewis and Mary. She was faced with more than a little difficulty in determining her direction in her blinded and confused state until she banged her knee on what felt like a kitchen chair. She bumped into a pair of bodies and gripped them around their waists, pulling them down to the floor. She tried to yell instructions to them, but all she could hear was the muffled sound of voices shouting. She crawled along the floor, pulling at the two people with whom she'd come into contact, hoping they were the right ones.
Nita could feel vibrations in the floorboards—presumably the result of a number of people stomping about house. She continued crawling in the direction of the kitchen, past the refrigerator and, she hoped, towards the back door. Just as her eyesight was beginning to return, she saw that the door was open and that there were a pair of large black boots in her way. She rolled to her left and changed direction, heading for the basement door, instead. Something tugged at her jacket—someone was, in fact, trying to yank her off the floor and away from her friends. She pulled herself out of the garment and grabbed for her knife. The case was empty—she realized she must have dropped it in the confusion. Rolling further, she spun herself and kicked out blindly at whomever had been pulling at her. Her bare feet made contact with what she thought might be a leg. There was a loud thump as whoever it was fell to the floor, then the sharp, deafening sound of gunfire followed by more breaking glass.
Nita jumped up and felt around in the fog. Upon hitting the refrigerator door with her outstretched hand, she knew which way to turn. She squatted to the floor again, noting a large man, all in black riot gear, on the floor near the back door. He was trying to stand up.
She opened the basement door and took the first few steps down before turning again and poking her head through the lower part of the doorframe. In the clearing smoke, she made out Lewis and Mary on the floor, lying still. Crawling back towards them, she reached out. Mary looked up at her immediately, but Lewis remained motionless.
As the two women pulled Lewis towards the basement door, he began to stir. Nita released a breath she hadn't realized she had been holding. More men in body armor were entering through the back door, though it was difficult to tell just how many in the remaining smoke. The three of them, squatting, made their way down the stairs.