“Big old piece of machinery,” Jaden said.
“Indeed,” Baqer answered, his head still buried in his work.
“Too bad it’s not smaller. We could do splitting house calls, without all the heavy equipment.”
“Indeed, my friend,” Baqer said.
“But I bet it’s not possible. Too much infrastructure to reproduce . . . ”
Baqer finally looked up. “That is where you are wrong, my friend. The chair doesn’t do much but immobilize the patient. You could do that with a drug, or just a good set of restraints wherever you were.”
“But placing the probe is a delicate matter—”
“Sure, the chair adjusts, defining the measurements integral for placing the probe precisely, but the same thing could be done with a bit of a head contrivance. Not as classy as a nice leather chair, but it would do the trick.”
“Seems you’ve already been cogitating on something like this,” Jaden said.
Baqer grinned. “Tuning up splitters isn’t the most challenging job in the world. It affords me ample opportunity to think.”
“Could you perhaps think me up a house-call version of the splitting equipment, then? Uh, speaking hypothetically of course.”
“I would love to develop any product Management directs,” Baqer replied amiably.
Jaden paused. Could he trust Baqer enough to tell him that the project was his and not Management’s? If he told Baqer what he was planning and Baqer didn’t accede, his plan could be foiled before it even started. Baqer would have to turn him in.
He should just dismiss the entire discussion as speculative. But Jaden wasn’t about to forsake Ally, and if he went ahead with the project on his own and someone found out, his conversation with Baqer could point the finger at him.
Forget it—at this point he was doomed either way. He’d just have to trust his friend.
Jaden picked up a pencil and scribbled softly on Baqer’s notebook. What if it wasn’t a Management project, bro?
Jaden knew the enormity of what he was implying. Private practice and free enterprise were strictly forbidden by The Corporation. There were no projects other than Management projects.
Baqer opened a drawer and flipped a hidden switch deep inside.
“It’s safe to talk now,” he said. “I’ve rigged a bypass around the security and monitoring system. It doesn’t last very long, but it turns the lab into a temporary safe room.”
“Ingenious! How’d you do it?”
“As I told you, my friend, I have far too much time on my hands,” Baqer said, his eyes sparkling. “So what on earth have you gotten yourself into?”
Jaden told Baqer about his fading powers, and about Ally and the others who had returned for second treatments.
“I need to figure out what’s wrong with me before I mess up more people,” Jaden finished.
“And before the auditors find out there’s something wrong with you, huh?”
“Well, that, too,” Jaden admitted.
“So you can see why the portable splitting apparatus is the linchpin in this project.”
“So how long do you think it might take you to put it together?”
“Not long. A day, maybe. I’ve actually worked out most of the details already. I was planning on putting something together to show Management—”
Baqer nodded. “I—”
Suddenly the lights cut off, leaving them in unmitigated darkness.