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by Jeff McCoskey



==Cuze me.==

==Dont wory abowt it.==


==This is the hardest part. Cant look gilty. Cant cach aniwons I. If yue look bored and confident thale glans at the baj. Thanck yue. Glans at the Dineamax coverals. Sie detecters silent. Metal detecters gow off. Put it al in the basket. Cmon Brien. Yue came this far. Camra looks like a flashlite. Thats rite barny fife. Its shift change. No time to look to closly. Recorder looks like a walkm.==


==My god ime in. Back in the forte. This wuz a much beter idea fore owers ago.==


"So, you have any plans for Christmas?" asked Sharon pleasantly.

"Not if you're offering," responded Brian with a smile.

"Brian you promised...." warned Sharon. Since they worked the same shift at the carpet mill, she had carpoolled with Brian. Which was mighty generous considering Brian's dirtbike would not be useful until February if the weather men were accurate, and was only a one-seater in any case. In exchange for the free ride, Brian had promised not to continue his high-school-vintage flirtation. And he got to deal with solicitations for Sharon's latest pet project, the Big Brother/Sister program.

"Sorry. Old habits die hard. Yeah, I'll be staying with my folks in Charleston—Denise, Chip and Bo are swinging through on their way."

"Your sister living with Chip now?"

"Ever since her husband ran out on her. Right before y'know, the Shiva thing."

"What an asshole."

"No one's heard from Pattie-boy. Ah, he was always an Omega-groupie putz. It's Bo I feel sorry for. 'Y'kin pick yer friends but ya cain't pick yer Daddy'."

"Mmmph," chuckled Sharon. "Yeah, I'd forgotten Pat's 'I'm an Omega' phase."

"He never grew out of it. Still told it to his clients, anybody that would listen. I kept tryin' to tell him, card tricks don't count." They shared a comfortable laugh as Calhoun rolled past their windows. The street had the city's 1950's decorations on the lamp posts, which somehow never seemed out of place in Calhoun. Brian was warmer than the little car's heater could account for, until a radio announcement caught his ear. He went instantly cold.

"What is it Brian?" asked Sharon as he jerked up the radio.


"...from Peach State Public Radio has the report.

"Today yet another tentacle of convicted Mafia-kingpin Louie Manetti was brought to light. But even for Manetti, this operation was in an unlikely place—sleepy Calhoun Georgia. Most famous for its proximity to the Omega Penitentiary, Fort Deliverance, it seems Calhoun can add another dubious tourist attraction: major drug corridor.

"By routing through Atlanta, Manetti's organization bypassed the notor- ious, and toughly enforced, I-95 pipeline. Manetti's organization funnelled untold millions of pounds of narcotics through Atlanta. But the most curious aspect of this story was how the connection was revealed in the first place. And in Calhoun of all places.

"Calhoun police received an anonymous videotape that led to a combined police-FBI arrest of long-time Manetti crony Sylvester Cassel. By all accounts the local police acquitted themselves admirably, which is comforting consid- ering they're the first line of defense if there's a breakout at Fort Deliv- erance. But the origin of the videotape that tipped them off is still a mystery. Who is the self-styled 'Eye of Justice' that recorded the evidence? Does Atlanta have its own Omega?

"For Peach State Public Radio this is.....

"Drugs in Calhoun?" blurted out Sharon.


"...tomorrow for reflections on baseball. The Omega of America's Pasttime. At the top of the hour still more shocking revelations from the Rolling Stones concert in San Francisco..."

Brian never would know how he kept a huge grin from his face. That evening his celebration was tinged with a nagging frustration over his lack of followup ideas.

«FF» <00101>

Brian looked at himself in the bathroom mirror before going into a stall he knew from experience was hidden from the cameras. He'd cut his hair short and died it jet black, along with his newly-grown grungy goattee, and wore an unfashionable, thick pair of clear glasses. He still felt naked in the building and the pillow he'd slid into his coveralls to widen his rear seemed more than a little stupid now that he was breaking several federal laws.

Calhoun was such a small town, and his disguise so minimal, he'd had to count on not getting more than a cursory glance from the other Fort employees. He'd had to time his entrance to avoid several people he knew well enough to speak with. It helped a little that the layoffs had brought in a lot of yankees that wouldn't know him, or that he could be dismissed as. The disguise was more for the security cameras anyway, as was his old clearance badge. He'd covered his name with an array of meaningless shapes that suggested letters, then attached it where it would fall half into his pocket. If the guard had checked it closely, or noticed that it had expired, Brian would have gone to prison, and not as a security technician.

==Whoohoo. Titest security in the western world. Nuthing to the I of justis.== Of course, he had only gained entrance to the maintainance and admin- istrative wings. The Dynamax wing was another matter entirely. God forbid he needed access to the ops center or worse, the cell blocks themselves.

Brian pulled a sandwich bag from his pocket, filled with brown goo. It was camera make-up from his High School production days. He made himself three shades darker, donned work gloves. On the way out he picked up the large data- analyzer he'd commandeered. It would serve the dual purpose of gaining him entrance to the security doors it could 'test' and shielding his face from passers-by. The makeup looked effective on camera, but hideously suspicious in person. Then Brian walked out towards the Dynamax Restricted Area. Thank- fully, the stage makeup was sweat-resistant.


Greg and Brian wandered through the mall, the press of holiday shopping making them a little desperate. That claustrophobic feeling was not lessened by the determinedly cheerful Christmas carols blaring above the pushing and shoving. To think they drove all the way to Atlanta for this. Well, and to pay too much for everything.

"How many you got left?" asked Greg.

"Just Mom, Chip and Denise. Three."

"So you got mine?"

"Four. Ah-ah! Don't say another word. I can't afford to go up to five. Hey, lets pull in here. Chip'd like the Stones disk, if we can get it."

"Yeah, after the riot, there's not too many people buying it."

"You see the guy that started it? He was a grandfather, fer crying out loud. What's next, an Omega baby?"

"No wonder the AARP is so powerful," quipped Greg. "I'm Harvey Hauptmann, and even on the run, I'm the AARP."

"You're thinking NRA dimwit. Yup, Stones sold out. Back to the combat zone." They re-merged into the press of shoppers in the central walkway. "How's it going out at the Fort?"

"Gettin' crazy. Y'know those prisoners we thought went off to the Hole? A bunch of 'em are turning up at the Fort. Dead of suicide." The Hole was a Maximum Security facility that Fort employees had speculated about for years. Periodically, the strongest and most intractable Omega criminals had disappeared from their cells. Fort workers figured they had been too dangerous to remain at Deliverance, and the 'Hole' was the name they called the place these convicts were transferred to. No one knew its real name, let alone if it even existed. They did know such things were Top Secret, and only spoke of it amongst themselves.

"Geez, weren't there two suicides this year even before I got fired?"

"Bri, we're averaging three a week now."

"Are you kidding?"

"Guesstimating maybe. But we've definately had a run. Dynamax' turnover deadline expires December 31. We figure they gotta return everyone from the Hole before they go. I tell ya all it'll take is for one of these guys to find a civil libertarian lawyer. I mean how bad is a place that people hang themselves after they get out?.

"Either that or one'a the convicts can override the supressors and is settling a huge old score."

Brian involuntarily shuddered.

«FF» <00236>

==Leme getthe dorefore ya.==


Brian had carefully timed his progress to the security door. He had just enough time to struggle awkwardly with his his badge at the reader and juggle the heavy monitor to draw a helpful hand from a passing technician. The deep red warning light outside the High Security door distorted his facial makeup enough to allay suspicion. People are always the weak point of a security system. He slowed his stride to let the other get ahead, then turned back to the wing's electrical room. This one had a hand print monitor to enter. Brian looked both ways.

==Lets do it Brian. Yore here to do more than walk arownd.==

Criminals say the first overt act is the hardest.


Brian slipped a jeweler's screwdriver from his pocket, and held it in his hand along side a cable from the analyzer. This was the riskiest part of his operation. As soon as he touched the palmreader, the camera would zoom in on his face. They wouldn't see exactly what his hands were doing, but it darn well better look like reading a handprint. Brian punched some keys on the analyzer device he carried, and knew intimiately well from his six years of service. He ran the connector cable through his coveralls out his sleeve with the connector in his palm next to the slim screwdriver. Brian looked at the camera.


He stepped forward. He was ON THE AIR. With his left hand angled away from the lens, he leaned on the side of the wall-mounted box and levered the jeweler's screwdriver against a receive pin in the maintainance port. Simultaneously, he jammed the cable connector home with his palm. The shorting communications pin would prevent the palm reader from thinking it had a device on its maintainance port. Brian hoped he had done it nonchalantly. His right hand waved his expired, demagnetized ID card for the audience in the security booth. He might as well have tried to activate the reader with a George Jetson paperweight. Meanwhile, the timer on the analyzer he'd just programmed kicked off.

A pre-programmed 'test' code and handprint, used to validate these machines' operations, fed into the device. As far as the host computer knew, Brian had a valid ID card/hand print combination for access to the room. Brian pantomimed reading his hand, careful not to actually touch the pad, then disconnected everything as the door opened. The camera went off above Brian, who felt its termination like the closing of an oven.

==Ime in. Awhoo. I nue it wasnt hard. But this was ezy. Thats the problem with this cuntry. To ezy to comit a capital crime. Heh.==

The bank of security equipment hummed silent and imperious. Brian removed the cable from his sleeve, set down the analyzer, and walked to the array of video recorders. They all turned 04656, not quite in unison. Three hours, thirty-six minutes was all he had. Brian rewound the tapes for the Dynamax medical wing, punched play, then swapped the record and playback feeds. The control room guards were now watching the previous three hours instead of current time. He hoped nothing dramatic had happened in the past three hours.

==Three owers. Hel. Wat if there's nothing ilegal going on. Wat if the Dynamax manager duznt kepe anithing on paper. Grate time to think of that.==

Brian's last two acts were to connect the data-analyzer to the intrus- ion sensor controller and detach the small screen. On the analyzer, he punched in another program that emulated the sensor devices, so the controller wouldn't react when he unplugged the actuals. He might trip all the sensors in the wing, but the security booth would never know it.

Brian nearly fumbled the connection when he glanced at the psi sup- pressor array. Someone had disabled all the suppressors in the medical facility. And no alarm had been raised.

==Shit. Oh shit.==


==Wel I gess I no ware to go first. Shit.==

Brian ascended a maintainance catwalk that gave him access to the entire Dynamax wing.


"Thanks for the ride, Sharon. Give Roger my regards." Sharon gave him a funny look, and Brian instantly regretted his words. Roger and Sharon had been high school sweethearts, but Roger had ended up marrying the daughter of an influential Republican Party official. He was sure mentioning Roger's car in Sharon's drive would be a big mistake, so he lamely patted her shoulder. "Uh, and Tempest and Barney and Allan Shepard if you see them." Sharon winced in pain at Brian's contact with her. "Geez, sorry. You bruised?" "Yeah, a little. Just started a new aerobics program." The funny look hadn't left Sharon's face. After a just-too-long pause, she said, "well, see you tomorrow." Brian mentally kicked himself, as had become habit in his dealings with Sharon.

Greg jumped out of his warm car as Brian approached his trailer home. "Dude! Whiskey Wednesday!" Another of those traditions that seemed like a good idea at the time, but now survived on sheer momentum. Greg and Brian randomly surprised each other midweek with the 'Whiskey Wednesday' call. In the old days it meant getting plastered but recenty had become an excuse to hang out.

"D'oh!" The traditional response.

They hustled out of the December chill, downed a pair of Jim Beam's Belly Warmers, and settled into the ratty couches in front of the tube.

"Guess who dropped by the Fort today."

"Sirhan Sirhan?"

"Aw, who told you? No, better. Big Taz himself."

"I thought the Fort was his bastard step-child."

"Well, he just wanted to send us all off with a Christmas address. It was pretty classy, actually, for a guy that got outmaneuvered for the contract. I tell you, that guy can work a room. His address was downright inspirational. No kidding. I may actually miss the guy."

"Taz? 'Scuse me and my trailer if we don't join his fan club."

"The new boss, Travis Celaya'll be glad to see him go though. He used to work for Dynamax before making off with some patents and the Fort contract. Man was he sweating a storm."

"Looking the Dragon in his eye?"

"You got it."

Brian changed the subject. "Hey what's the deal with those suicides? Still haven't heard anything in the papers." "The what?" Greg was only half listening as he worked the remote control feverishly. "Suicides you told me about. Guys from the Hole?" Greg looked confused, but Brian had all his attention. "What the hell are you talking about Brian? The suicide rate has jumped a shade, sure, but what's this 'Hole'?" Brian was exhasperated. "The Hole? You know, where they send the worst of the worst? The Omega jail from Hell?" "You're serious aren't you?" "More serious every minute." "The Hole. Sounds like a bad Italian women's prison movie. Brian, we're the Omega Maximum Security facility. We have Dynamax' latest and greatest equipment. Nobody leaves the Fort before parole. You know that." Greg's expression said "wake up McFly." "You've never heard that word before?" "Not when it wasn't referring to one of Roger's girlfriends." Greg waggled his eyebrows outrageously, then went back to working the remote. "Hey, aren't they rerunning 'Charlie's Omegas' somewhere?"

Brian downed another shot, all the while staring at his childhood friend. He became very conscious of the video equipment in the next room.

«FF» <00335>

==First. Things. First.==

Brian connected the tiny camera/flashlight to the walkman/recording unit. With shaking hands, it took a few tries. Until he'd spotted the the disconnected psi-suppressors, Brian had actually savored being back at the place that had let him go—despite or because of the danger of discovery. But somebody else had blazed this clandestine trail, and he was most likely an Omega.

A velcro strap secured the camera to his wrist, and he held the LCD screen from the analyzer in his other hand, which he connected to the recorder's line out. His speech recognition bar was the first thing that resolved on the screen.

==Now lets see...hel. How long has this thing been on. Well, better.

==Erase al before. Marck. The quick brown fox jumpt over the lazy dog. Ime in the Dynamax wing of Fort Deliverance. Trying to find owt whie the sooicides of returning convicts is beeing coverd up. The sie supresors have ben disconected in the medical wing. Thats mie first stop.==

Brian walked along the catwalk above the drop ceiling, navigating from memory. He was painfully aware of the infrared, motion and pressure sensors he was tripping on his journey. Even picturing the disconnected cable, he knew their wires were buzzing with his presence.

==Wat if sumbudy conects it back up. O thares a helthy line of thot. Shut up and kepe woking.==

Voices from below told him he had arrived, and to keep his movements minimal. Brian pressed his tiny camera lens to half a dozen holes in the cork- board ceiling before he found one that offered sufficient view of the operating table.


==O mie god.==


A patient was opened up throat to groin on the table, with several flaps of skin peeled back along his biceps and thighs. His face and chest were opened like Christmas Cards, revealing the festive-colored organs and muscles inside. A few of these were unattached, and laying in rough approximation to actual anatomy.

==Herk. Hun. Hun. Quinsy just duznt prepare yue fore this.== Voices were loud and shrill from below.

"Coroner! Last one. Wouldja close this guy up? He stinks." A pale man in a Dynamax lab coat strode forward, the few hairs on his head were slick with sweat. He ignored the two interns completely.

Brian watched his screen, mesmerized, though the picture shook from his unsteady hand. As Brian stared, the Coroner flexed his fingers like a pianist, then began caressing the corpse. Brian's face turned in revulsion, which quickly cycled to disbelief.

Brian glanced to the drop ceiling, as if to verify by seeing through the corkboard what the screen was telling him.

==The gie is heling a ded man.==

"Hey, call us when you're done. This is a little nasty, y'know? We gotta get the rope anyways." Brian didn't even track them as they left. Centered on his screen was the corpse. Under the disconcertingly gentle caress of the Coroner, Brian recorded the body's flesh kneading together. Bones reforming, organs inflating and returning to their original hues and connections.

==Thare going to think I plade this in revers. Focus on the hand. No nife.==

The last step was the gentle folding of the page-like flaps of skin. The skin knit together behind the Omega's hand as he traced the incision lines. The site was pale for a moment, then blended perfectly with the rest of the skin. The Coroner's eyes fluttered and he licked sweat from his upper lip.

==Heze going to raze the ded.== The voice recognition chip couldn't catch the dread in Brian's voice. The corpse even took on a healthier pallor, but it failed to move. The Coroner caressed the dead face with the back of his hand, then called out.

"It's done." He left by an alternate exit.

Moments later, the interns returned.

"Man, that's creepy, no matter how many times I see it. Y'figure if he can do that much why don't he just bring 'em back to life? Y'know?"

"Why bother? They're just going to hang anyways." The second brandished a noose made of a bedsheet. The two giggled, though not with a great amount of humor. They hoisted the body of a twenty-nine-year-old Omega who had died with a scream on his lips. Brian closed with a closeup of the man's agonized face as they fitted a noose over his neck. The Coroner's ministrations couldn't or wouldn't erase that expression. Brian sat back on his pillow and thumbed off his recorder.

He tried to find some way to force his mind to grasp the enormity of what he had just recorded. Eventually he gave up and tried to force his mind to hold itself together so he could get out of the Fort. Far, far out of the Fort. All he came up with was the security principal "Easier to break into prison than out of it."

His mental chaos was compounded by the fact that the video tape had become a glass scorpion cage in his hands—sinister beyond its scale, unnerving to handle and terrifying not to. The Eye of Justice had struck again, but the expected exhilaration was conspicuously absent. In its place was a profound dread of the question, 'What next?'

If a video records, but no one sees it, does it make a sound?

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