Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Scream Machine: A Story What I Wrote.

Scream Machine

The benefit of being locked in an office is that I have paper and a pen so that I can make a record of what I know and there are plenty of places to hide this letter once I’m done.
            I’ve been working at WebbEllison since they built the second Dream Machine. They were still only conducting medical procedures at that point, small DNA hacks to treat illness, or prevent people from contracting diseases for which they had genetic pre-dispositions. We encode our patients’ DNA and then use our data centres to find healthy codes and construct a new DNA sequence. We then inject the patient with microscopic robots which recode the DNA throughout the body. On average it takes a month for the body to realign after a hack.
My job is to secure the patient in the Machine, apply the treatment and monitor their vital signs while the microbots make the initial changes. I trained as an anaesthesiologist, and we do try to numb the pain, but when every single cell in a body is changing, there’s very little we can do to dull the agony. We call it the Scream Machine in the office, where the patients can’t hear us. I listen to those screams for hours every day. It wasn’t too bad when the treatment was helping to save someone’s life, but now…

Six months after I started working here, Allison Webb called a meeting to announce changes within the company. Rumours had been flying around for weeks that we were going to start offering non-essential procedures. Roger Ellison, the man who had discovered the DNA hack technique, had been against it, stating that it was wrong to perform such an intense procedure for the purpose of rich people’s vanity. At the meeting Webb claimed that he had been bought out. She had commissioned four new Machines to be built and said that we would be moving to new premises, with more space and more staff to process the increased work load.
            That was on the Monday morning. On Friday night our team worked around the clock to move to new data centres. Over the next week the machines and medical equipment were transferred, and three weeks later I did my first DNA hack that wasn’t to save someone’s life. The patient was an actress who I’d seen in a film only a couple of days before. She was beautiful and successful, and as I listened to her screams I wondered what the hack was doing. I saw her six months later, a little thinner with a feline look to her eyes and wondered whether she thought the pain had been worth it.
            Soon I was doing far more vanity hacks then medical procedures. I thought these people were crazy, but our pay kept going up and it was easier to ask no questions and just smile at the millionaire making himself younger and better endowed or the eccentric pop star leaving the clinic with purple skin and butterfly wings. By that point we were even advertising on television. The name “Dream Machine” no longer referred to the fact that it granted people’s wishes of a healthy life, but because it could “create the you you’ve always dreamed of being.”
            I feel ashamed of myself for not becoming curious sooner. I started seeing a lot of young women in my Machine room who were barely old enough to have legally signed a consent form. But it wasn’t until a young woman was wheeled into the machine room already unconscious that I started to dig around. That was maybe a fortnight ago.
            I befriended a man from accounts. I won’t say who, I don’t need anything else on my conscience. We got talking about how much the procedure cost, and he let it slip that these young women weren’t paying for these operations, but were mostly being paid for by a single organisation, MaximCorp. As far as he was concerned, they were just some soulless company who probably had investments in a modelling agency. I nodded agreement, but my curiosity had been peaked.
It was shockingly easy to find the relevant information on MaximCorp, and from there easy enough for someone in my position to discover the truth. A night on the internet was enough to inform me that MaximCorp are a subsidiary group of March & Philps International. MPI, in turn, are major share-holders in WebbEllison. So, what were a multinational corporation doing paying their own company for women only just past the age of consent to go through a procedure that cost hundreds of thousands of pounds? If my suspicions were right, the answer wasn’t going to be available on the internet, but I had other means.
I flirted a little with a programmer from the data centre, and took him out for a drink. Again, no names. A couple of bottles of wine later he confided that he was thinking about leaving the company, that he didn’t like the direction things were going. I managed to steer the conversation around to the young women, admitted I knew they weren’t paying for the procedure themselves. He looked nervous, his eyes darting around the room as if someone might be listening.
Eventually he told me that he had programmed the DNA hack for some of these women, and that they always had the same thing done. Some of the things were fairly regular for a vanity hack, increased metabolism, body shape, that kind of thing, but there were two things that made them stand out. Their DNA was hacked to make them more obedient and increase their sex drive. My worst fears were confirmed. He was, we are, a party to sex trafficking.
He looked pale when he told me and I felt sick. I asked him how he could do it, knowing what was happening to these women and he told me that he was scared. He knew people who had raised objections to Allison Webb herself and been sacked. That didn’t seem like such a bad thing to me. I’d already decided that I wasn’t going in to work the next day, but everything changed with what he told me next. Not only had a colleague of his been fired, but he had tried getting in touch with them afterwards and they seemed to have vanished off the face of the planet.
That’s when I started thinking about all the things the Machine could do. It could change someone’s DNA beyond all recognition, change their appearance so their own mother wouldn’t recognise them, make them so they were no longer human, no longer physically capable of being of revealing the truth. They wouldn’t even need to kill them, but if they did, no one would be able to identify the body.
We left the restaurant and went our separate ways. There was clearly no point in complaining. I needed proof, something that I could take to the police, and I had an idea of where I could get it. The Machines are little more than chairs. They mould to the patient’s body and restrain them while twenty needles, embedded within the chair to correspond with vital points in the body, inject the microbots throughout their system. The Machines don’t contain a record of how the DNA is changed, but they do hold a memory of the original DNA of everyone who has sat in them. It was a safety measure in case the patient’s DNA needed to be reset for any reason.
I went straight back to the clinic and into the first Machine room. That was where the original Dream Machine was kept, the Machine that Allison Webb used. I accessed the panel and started searching through the memory, hundreds of names, thousands and there it was, a record that Roger Ellison had been hacked on the same day that Webb had announced Ellison’s departure. I couldn’t remember hearing anything about him after that, but I’d been too busy to give an ex-colleague much thought. I collapsed on to the floor and was still sitting there, trying not to throw up, when Allison Webb entered the room with a security guard and I realised that in the horror of my revelation I had completely forgotten about anything as banal as CCTV.
Now I’m here, locked in this office. I presume Webb is trying to work out a way to delete someone from the Machine’s memory, and I doubt it will take long, given that she’s the genius who invented it. Then they’ll come for me and it will be my turn in the Scream Machine, and who knows what they’ll do to me there. They might destroy me completely, as I have helped to destroy those girls. I can only hope that whoever finds this letter will take it to the police and that the truth will finally be known.


I wrote this story for the Sci-fi London 48 Hour Flash Fiction Challenge. I didn't win, but ho-hum. I like to think it holds the gem of a good idea and I may turn it into something longer and better someday. Meanwhile, I heard on the news a few days after I'd finished it, that scientists have discovered a way to alter people's DNA in order to treat genetic disorders. I'm sure it will have better results in reality. Fingers crossed.

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