“HERE WE ARE. SUBJECT J829P. CUTTER, HUGO. FORMER REBEL SPY. INDOCTRINATION PROGRAM BETA GAMMA TWELVE. CARE TO HAVE A LOOK?”
The hospital administrator who insisted on escorting Brixie and Sully around was named Trevane. He was a font of information, insuring he was featured in a positive light. He never referred to the facility as a prison, but Brixie knew better. Trevane used words like “holding center”, which was bureaucratic double-talk for incarceration. If patients were confined to cells and carefully watched by guard droids, that wasn’t treatment. That was jail.
With his crisply pressed administrator’s uniform, stringy brown hair plastered to his head and trim moustache decorating his upper lip, Trevane spoke with a righteous-sounding accent common to the Empire—a snotty bureaucratic tone. Tigereye would have knocked him out in an instant if it wasn’t for the two battle droids that tagged along behind them.
“This is an honor beyond words, Doctor Ergo.” The man again graciously managed to weave yet another compliment to her during the tour. “Once the project was transferred here, we lost contact with the Alignment. They had been absorbed, so I was told, by remnants of the former Imperial Navy led by a Grand Admiral….”
“I don’t need a history lesson, Administrator Trevane.” Brixie curtly cut him off, avoiding discussions of the past. “Communications were lost. Emergency protocols were initiated. That is why I’m here. The project is all that matters.”
“I’m quite sure the arrival of the First Order was a reason for concern for Agent Zult. He never did trust those zealots.” Trevane sniffed, arms clasped behind his back. “We’ve kept the project going all this time, following your exact instructions. Every scrap of data, every result, has been recorded. I hope Agent Zult will be pleased.”
“I’m the one you have to deal with,” she eyed the man with a whiff of contempt. “And I hold people accountable for their actions, Administrator.”
Trevane noticeable paled. He tugged at his tunic’s collar, perhaps imagining she was choking him through some mastery of the Force. Glancing towards Sully a few steps behind her, Brixie spotted a modest crease at the corner of the Trunsk’s mouth. He approved of her acting performance.
They entered an turbovator keyed to Trevan’s own comlink badge. This was how access was granted throughout the facility, a badge would open a door or deny it based on the wearer’s security level. Since each badge was keyed to the wearer’s biometrics, stealing one and trying to use it would amount to thieving a useless souvenir.
As usual, silence pervaded the turbovator. It was a curious social custom throughout the galaxy; no one liked to engage in conversation in a confined space. The three of them and the two droids had nothing of interest to say. Trevane, however, insisted on breaking the social custom.
“I must say,” he mentioned to Brixie in a low voice. “Considering your reputation, you’re much younger than I expected, Doctor Ergo. And far more attractive, if I might add?”
Having known the man for less than fifteen minutes, a sense of ick filled Brixie’s stomach. Was he flirting with her? Realizing her deception was at stake here, she stared him down.
“How do you think I avoid attention from the Republic, Administrator? And how quickly you seemed to have forgotten the medical arts can alter the body and the face. Your compliments are wasted on me. But if you like, you can ask my bodyguard out on a date.”
A chuckle came from somewhere deep inside Sully Tigereye’s throat.
Administrator Trevane quickly faced the front of the elevator again. Brixie exhaled a sigh of relief. Any further questions about her youthful appearance had been neatly diverted.
The doors opened and thankfully, except for the droids, everyone was grateful for more personal space. Walking through the corridors of this facility, Brixie could not help but feel she was inside the confines of an Imperial base. Ord Mantell was a Mid Rim world and had been under Imperial occupation for some time before the Republic liberated the world. This hospital, if one could call it that, was from the Imperial era: dark metal slabs for walls, thick conduits and pipes snaking through the ceiling, heavy doors more suitable for a starship, and a pervasive oppression among the staff and droids they encountered.
Unanswered questions flooded her at every step on the hard tile decking. How could the Republic let this place continue to function? What was this project and its purpose? What did this Agent Zult want to accomplish with Hugo Cutter?
Trevane stopped at a door and placed his right hand on a panel that read his biometrics, including fingerprints, pressure points and capillary mapping. It was a secondary door access mechanism. Brixie exchanged an uneasy glance with Tigereye. There was no fooling that kind of door lock. Trevane would get them inside the labs. But would they need him to get out?
The door slid open with a loud clang.
“This way, Doctor.” Trevane motioned to Brixie, all business now. The KX droids standing behind them made sure there was no easy way for either Brixie or Tigereye to back out. Appearing unruffled, Brixie strode inside with Trevane and Sully following right behind. The droids, their rounded black heads almost too tall for the door’s top arch, remained outside.
Of course, Brixie told herself, to prevent the droids from recording what was inside. The labs—and their contents—were kept isolated from the rest of the facility.
The long corridor they entered was an access-way with large windows fronting each separate laboratory environment room. The interior was all sterile white and stainless steel. Long glass partitions, several inches of a shatter-resistant transparent polymer, separated the corridor from each of the environments.
“I’m rather surprised you want to take possession of this subject, considering his past history of psychosis. We released the other five some time ago, per Agent Zult’s instructions.” Trevane remarked as they strode past the labs. Looking inside, past the glass, Brixie noticed each was empty. They were arranged in very strange configurations, comfortable-like apartments on one side and medical treatment beds, with immersive holo-theater canopies and analysis equipment on the other.
Brixie didn’t know where to begin, the design of the lab environments or the fact that there were six subjects and Hugo was the sole remaining?
“Where are the other five subjects?” Brixie asked, trying to make her words sound like she knew exactly what she was talking about.
“Unknown. But their background data are in the files.” Trevane reached the last of the lab rooms, what lay beyond the glass was in darkness. He put his palm on another access reader and brought up an information display. “Here we are. Subject J829P. Cutter, Hugo. Former Rebel spy. Indoctrination program Beta Gamma Twelve. Care to have a look?”
“Just download the files,” Brixie waved off the readout. “I want to see the subject.”
“Of course, Doctor.” Trevane pressed a few switches controlling the lab environment. The lights flickered on inside. A figure could be seen under the covers in the bed on the apartment side, his head on a pillow. Because of the angle, Brixie couldn’t tell if this really was Hugo or not. Trying not to appear anxious, her gaze flickered to the lab environment displays.
“He’s relatively normal physically, but his brain alpha patterns are highly disturbed. Part of the Beta Gamma program. He’s at the low end of the cycle.” An overhead camera built in the recess of the ceiling showed a man snoring. “We induce sleep in the subjects to keep them on a regular schedule. Exactly to your requirements.”
What was the Beta Gamma program? What had they done to Hugo?
“Excellent, Administrator.” Brixie fought to keep her voice steady.
Trevane inserted a data cylinder he carried in one of the slip loops of his bureaucrat’s tunic and inserted it into the panel. With a few quick key presses, he started downloading files and other important information into the cylinder.
“Can you have him prepared for transport?”
“Absolutely.” Trevane started working the controls. “The medical droids will handle everything.”
Two different droids appeared from a recessed panel. One was tall and long-armed, a medical version of the KX enforcer droid programmed to handle intern duties, such as the heavy lifting of patients. The other was a barrel-shaped Astromech medical assistant droid. Brixie had to pinch herself not to think that this unlikely duo faintly resembled the protocol and Astromech droids that belonged to a certain Jedi master and his equally famous sister, a former senator and Rebel leader of some regard.
“And the medical droids’ memories?” Brixie asked, remembering the enforcer droids ordered to remain outside the labs.
“Wiped at the conclusion of every shift. We leave no trace here,” the administrator confidently replied, sounding like a used speeder salesman. “They will have no recollection of what transpired today.”
He paused, not pulling the data cylinder from the socket, nor did he continue ordering the droids to work on moving the patient’s bed.
Brixie, not knowing what to do, stood there. There was a long, uncomfortable pause as she and the administrator stared at one another.
“Doctor?” Trevane gestured to the hand-identity access panel he had just used. “I need your confirmation to release the patient and the data.”
Brixie bit the interior of her cheek, thinking hard. Sully had reprogrammed her comlink badge to transfer her mother’s identity and clearances to the security systems. But if she put her hand on that scanner, the system would know she did not possess her mother’s biometric profile. The whole facility would come down on their heads.
She glanced at Tigereye. He offered an encouraging, if menacing, nod as if to suggest…
Take charge, girl.
“You do it, Administrator.”
“But…” Trevane’s eyes widened and he coughed. “That’s not proper procedure. Your identity must be confirmed…”
Hospital staff loved procedures. They lived by them. It would take more than talking to get them to ignore it. Fortunately, Brixie had brought along a Trunsk.
“I will not be subjected to ridiculous scans. My security is more important than your procedures. Droid memories can be wiped. So too can people’s. Just ask my bodyguard.”
Trevane’s terrified gaze slid past Brixie. Sully Tigereye had kept silent, until now. He lifted a hand, truly large and hairy, up to the administrator so Trevane could see the long talons extending from his digits.
“The Doctor told you what to do,” he growled. “Or maybe I’ll just tear off that hand of yours and do it for you.”
Needing no further incentive, Trevane put his hand down voluntarily on the scanner. The droids went into action, unlocking the bed with Hugo from its frame. The bed’s own grav-repulsors activated so it could be maneuvered out of the room.
“Follow the patient to the garage level, Doctor.” Tigereye told Brixie. “I’ll keep my eyes on our most helpful friend here.”
Brixie popped the lab door and went after the droids pushing the bed. Sully hovered over Trevane, making sure he was transferring data to the cylinder and not calling security. Following the droids, Brixie stopped to look over her shoulder. Tigereye was escorting the administrator into the lab, directing him to sit in the chair where the holo-theater hood and the analysis equipment were located. Having no clue what the Trunsk was up to, the corridor before Brixie twisted to the left. She was forced to catch up to the droids, leaving her friend and Trevane behind.
The KX medical droid pushed the bed with Hugo into a service elevator, the Astromech and Brixie right behind. As the doors snapped shut, the control panel lit up for the garage level. She could finally examine Hugo. The reason why she almost didn’t recognize him was that his usually wild head of hair had been shaved down to the scalp. His face looked drawn and terribly pale. Taking Hugo’s pulse at his wrist didn’t satisfy her, so she ordered the Artoo unit to plug into the bed’s onboard sensors to check on the patient. The Artoo chirped and beeped in response. Hugo was still fast asleep.
“Hugo?” she shook his shoulder gently, leaning close to his ear. “Hugo? Wake up.”
There was no response. She kept trying to rouse him while the floor indicator on the elevator’s control display ticked down to the surface level and then several levels below.
“Reaching garage levels,” the KX announced. “Shall I put the patient inside an ambulance speeder for you, Doctor Ergo?”
“Yes. Quickly now!”
“I didn’t know we were in such a hurry,” the medical droid sniffed. “Speeding up a task only increases the probability of error.”
“That’s good to know,” Brixie groused, ditching the dignified doctor bit, leading the way out of the elevator’s opening doors while fearing their ruse would be discovered any second now. “Move it, tin pants!”
“Tin pants? My legs are made of duraluminum and other composites…”
The KX moved the bed on its grav-lifts, maneuvering a still-snoring Hugo among a row of speeder craft designated as medical transports. Conscious of security cameras, Brixie picked one in the middle of the row parked between two support columns which partially blocked the cameras’ field-of-view. She popped open the speeder’s rear hatch, allowing the KX to slide the bed into the cargo bed and latch it down to the speeder’s floor clamps. She shooed away the Artoo unit, which tried to climb up the ramp to the back of the speeder.
“I don’t need you to come along.”
The droid beeped and hummed at her, insisting.
“I’m a doctor. I don’t need your help.”
The smaller droid was twitching now, mentioning something about the patient suffering from post-sleep shock effects…things Brixie didn’t want to deal with at the moment.
“Yes, yes I heard what you said. You and tin pants are to proceed directly to Maintenance and have your memories wiped.”
“That’s not procedure,” the KX mentioned. “We are to report for memory wipe at the conclusion of the day.”
“I’m giving you a direct order.” Brixie stammered. “Proceed to Maintenance and have your memories wiped.”
“We can’t do that, Doctor Ergo.” The KX and the Artoo chatted with each another in their own sonic vocabulary, making Brixie feel like the odd man out of a three-person comedy performance. The taller droid shrugged its large shoulders. “No. I don’t understand her hostility at all.”
“You will do what I say!” Brixie demanded, looking wildly around. A security patrol van was making its rounds through the garage level. Eventually, it would turn down their row and the occupants inside would start asking questions. Very specific questions. “Go to Maintenance!”
“I’m afraid we can’t, Doctor Ergo.”
“Yes, you will.”
The Artoo droid beeped back a stubborn-sounding, “No, we won’t!”
“Why are you two buckets of bolts acting like this?”
“My counterpart here is quite correct,” the KX affirmed, using the same annoying syntax another certain golden protocol droid was fond of using. “Sending us to Maintenance now is not part of our programmed routine. Doctor Ergo, you don’t have the authority to override our…”
A figure came up behind and swung a length of heavy piping. The KX’s head left the socket on top of its chest, bouncing like an exercise ball across the permacrete garage floor. The remainder of the tall droid toppled over like a tree. Before the Artoo unit could cry, “Murder!”, the heavy pipe came slamming down vertically atop its domed head. The pipe drove deep, tearing apart motivators and circuits. Sparks flew and components scattered, like electronic entrails, in all directions.
Sully Tigereye paused to ensure neither droid was functioning, then he tossed the heavy piece of pipe underneath another ambulance speeder.
“They just don’t ever shut up, do they?”