Monday, May 2, 2016

Non-Participatory

"No way."

She was the worst kind of parent. Absolutely my least favorite. She wasn't undereducated or slow or poor or rich; those parents all came with their own challenges, but there was always an approach that tended to work.

No, this lady was well-informed, and that was a lot harder to work with. Lots of times it involved telling them the truth, but I wasn't quite ready to do that, yet.

"Mrs. Green, I can't guarantee your son's safety." I took a sip of water. "I can't guarantee anyone's. That's the whole problem." I swiveled my computer screen around. It was open to an article in the Globe. The headline read 124, 32 ABDUCTED DEAD IN LATEST ATTACK. "This is what's happening."

She didn't move. She didn't nod. She didn't respond. Damn it.

"It's actually worse that this," I said, lowering my voice. "These are the visible attacks, the ones that happen when they feel secure enough to go loud. The worst ones, there aren't any headlines about those, because the numbers are more like 'zero dead, hundreds abducted.'"

This time she nodded. Her pursed lips softened, the wall cracked a little. Good. She still didn't say anything, though.

"We've had a lot of successes with this program, but we can't publicize it. For one thing, due to the nature of the tech involved, the more people who know it exists, the more variables we have to account for in the calculations. If that gets out of control, we honestly don't know what happens." I shuddered. It wasn't an act. Dr. Al-Oakdi had run those numbers our first day, and his left eye hadn't stopped twitching since.

"And this is all supposed to make me feel better about giving you my 8-year-old son, so you can take his brain and-"

I didn't let her finish. It was rude, I know. "No, no, no. We're not doing anything with his brain, nothing his brain can't already do. We're going to train him in using his brain. And it only works because he's so young."

She dropped her eyes. I don't pray, but I found myself thinking please don't make me tell her the truth. Not because I didn't think it would work, but because the more people who knew the truth, the more likely it was that someone who screw that truth up.

"Well," she said. "What if he's an analyst? Like, what if he learns something he can do here? You need people with those skills, right?" Damn. Very smart.

"Sure," I said. "And we can ask that of him. But you have to remember - it's his head. Ultimately, there is literally no way we can force him to learn communications tech, or the invaders' language, or computer sims, or targeting systems, or any number of things he could do from here rather than out in the field." I took another drink. It gets dry in here; biohazard protocols and all. "But if he wants to learn sniping, or lockpicking, or driving, or stealth, or anything else than an 8-year-old boy might find cool...then that's what he'll learned." What he will have learned, as Dr. Ramirez would say, but I'm not as much of a stickler for the grammar. "We had one kid - Mei - who went forward and learned to make candy. Like, she's amazing at it." I nodded at the dish of hard candies on my desk. "Those have lavender and lemon in them, they're fantastic. But it's not much of a help against the invaders."

Mrs. Green is quiet for a minute. "What if I give Marius the choice?"

"You mean, explain it to him and ask if he wants to do it? Sure, that's fine. I'd just suggest we let one of our recruits explain it."

"Why?"

Because the kids make it sound awesome, I thought. "Kids relate to other kids better, and the kids who have actually gone through it can explain it in experiential terms. I can't do that, all I can do is explain it in theory, and then it seems too abstract."

She nods. "OK. I'll bring him in tomorrow, if that's all right."

"That's fine. I'll make sure someone's free to talk to him. There's a playroom we use for this kind of thing. No video games, just space to run around, some toys, basketball hoop, that kind of thing."

"He likes superheroes," she whispers. She's tearing up. I don't blame her, but I need her son. His scores on the NPAT were 87th percentile, highest I've seen in weeks.

"OK. I'll get Tim up here, he's Marius' age and I've never seen him without a Batman t-shirt." Except when he's in uniform.

Mrs. Green leaves. She doesn't know the truth, which is just as well. I breathe, and pop one of Mei's candies in my mouth.

They really are fantastic.