Early the next morning, Brittany felt nervous as she knocked on Chief Herbert’s door. She didn’t know why he had summoned her to his office, but he didn’t sound very happy. The comments Officer Brown had made yesterday loomed ominously in the back of her mind.
“Come in!” he bellowed.
Chief Herbert stood to greet her as she entered. He looked quite upset.
“Close the door and sit down.”
She nodded and obeyed.
“I’m assuming you heard about the jailbreak last night,” he said.
She nodded. “I saw the report on the late-night news. They haven’t released the fugitives’ names yet.”
“There was only one.” he steeled his gaze. “I’ve been investigating the incident. It has come to my attention that you visited Allan Young last night.”
Her face flushed. “Yes…”
“Why did you break protocol?” he demanded “His attorney must be present for every visit, or else we risk our evidence getting thrown out of court!”
“Sorry doesn’t cut it.” he seethed as he held out his hand. “I’m putting you on probation. Give me your badge.”
Her jaw fell open in disbelief. “Please, Chief! Just hear me out first!”
“Fine.” he retracted his hand. “Enlighten me.”
“I wasn’t there to question him about the murder,” she explained. “My visit was completely unrelated. I was trying to figure something out. I wanted to get my facts straight before I presented the information to you.”
“Is that why you snuck away from your desk while you were still on duty and visited him in civilian attire?”
She nodded. “Exactly, Chief. I didn’t want him to get suspicious, and I just needed some clarification from him.”
He raised an intrigued eyebrow. “And what exactly were you trying to clarify?”
“Have you read my report from yesterday?”
“I skimmed it, yes.” he acknowledged. “Did you get a DNA match for the blood found in his home?”
“Well…” she exhaled. “Yes and no. I ran the forensics scan and it seems the blood belongs to a woman by the name of Lillian Thatcher who has been living with him for several years. At least, that’s what the database originally indicated.”
A disconcerted look fell across his face. “What do you mean?”
“Well… before I got a chance to save the data, the database malfunctioned. Now it seems Lillian Thatcher never existed. Instead, her profile identifies her as Jamie Davenport from Tallahassee, Florida.”
The Chief’s eyes narrowed. “Who else knows of this?”
“Just my partner.”
“What exactly did you say to Mr. Young?”
“Not much. Visiting hours were almost over. But I confirmed that Lillian Thatcher was indeed a real person.”
He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Did you upset him?”
Her gaze fell to her shoes. “I think I might have, yes.”
“Allan is our escaped fugitive.” he stated bluntly.
Her eyes shot up to meet his. “What?!”
“Within an hour of your visit, he used some type of explosive device to escape.” he sighed. “So I need to know: what exactly did you say to him? And did you give him anything?”
“Are you suggesting I helped him escape?” she asked, appalled. “I did no such thing!”
He stared at her for several moments as he deciphered her reaction. “I believe you. But I’m still placing you on probation.”
Her shoulders slumped. “But what about the woman? Don’t you find it odd that one minute her profile says her name is Lillian, and then the next minute it completely changes?”
“That’s no longer your concern.” he tapped his finger on the desk. “Turn in your badge. You’re off the case.”
“Shouldn’t I at least brief someone about my findings?” she pleaded. “I think we should at least consider the woman as a possible suspect in the Jason Bridger case.”
“No.” he stated. “And you are not to speak of this to anyone.”
“I don’t understand. Her first profile indicated that she was the primary developer of CyberBolt’s Law Enforcement Terminal. Isn’t that suspicious? She most likely had sufficient access to change her profile information. Why would she do that?”
“You are making this very difficult.” he lowered his voice. “You are a good officer. Please, just drop it.”
“Chief!” she begged, “Just give me a little bit of wiggle room, and I’ll make sure I get to the bottom of this.”
“You leave me no choice. This is a matter of national security.” he sighed. “I’m amending my decision. Turn in your badge. I’m suspending you from duty until further notice. Report to the Decommissioning Chamber immediately.”
Brittany didn’t know what to expect when she entered the infamous room inside the precinct with the ominous label “Decommissioning Chamber” on the door. She had heard rumors about decommissioned officers experiencing memory loss, personality disorders, manic depression, severe anxiety, and dementia after undergoing the procedure.
But those were just rumors, right?
The room was lit with fluorescent lighting, and what looked like an old MRI machine nearly filled the small room. A technician wearing a lead vest greeted her.
“Please put this vest on,” he handed her another, “and then lie down on the mat with your head closest to the machine.”
Her anxiety piqued, but she did as she was told. Lying down on the uncomfortable foam mat, she took several deep breaths to calm herself. The technician approached and handed her a pair of earplugs.
“The machine can become quite loud.” he explained.
She inserted the earplugs, and then the technician proceeded to strap her head into a harness.
“This is to help protect you from moving.” she barely heard his muffled voice. “Too much movement while the machine is running has been known to cause permanent brain damage.”
Her eyes nearly bugged out of their sockets, but she didn’t respond.
The technician pressed a button on the side of the mat, causing it to start moving her along a conveyor belt inside the belly of the machine. A feeling of claustrophobia overwhelmed her. Soon only her legs were sticking out of the machine, and it was such a tight fit that she wasn’t confident she’d be able to shimmy out in the case of an emergency.
“Please remain perfectly still while the procedure is underway,” came the technician’s voice through a speaker. “You will hear a loud humming and some clicking sounds. You may also feel a slight tingle or warmth on the right side of your head. This is normal.”
The machine activated, and was excruciatingly loud. She continued to breathe deeply, forcing herself to remain calm. The air inside the small chamber tasted stale. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine herself lying on a beach, replacing the sound with giant waves roaring and washing on the shore.
An uncomfortable warmth broke her out of her self-induced trance. Her right temple was getting warm, and she felt the onset of a migraine coming. The warmth grew into a searing heat.
Despite her resolve, she cried out in pain. The cries quickly escalated into screams, and she couldn’t control herself as her entire body began convulsing.
An angry technician’s voice came over the intercom. “I said to remain still!”
The pain was unbearable. She felt like a drill was boring into the side of her head. She let loose a final scream before passing out.