“Captain! Blue Team's pinned down by machine gun fire. They can't flank. It's too exposed.”
“Get air support on station. For God's sake don't let them hit the wrong end of the IR.”
“And tell Forest to get the rest of his men off that road!”
Doc opened his eyes.
He sat up, but slowly.
Everything was complicated because his head hurt.
That one again, he thought. Deep breaths.
After a groggy attempt to relax his jaw and neck, his head cleared and he didn’t recognize the room he was in. What was it? He glanced around. …It was a sitting room …that smelled like vanilla, of all things.
He wasn’t anywhere he expected to be.
The room was about four meters by six and felt vaguely familiar. Its furnishings were the sort of things he preferred; they appeared modest but well-made and comfortable—and coordinated if you ignored the exercise walking machine in the corner.
There were two doors, and he eased off of the sofa to try them. The door ahead was locked. The one to the right opened on a very clean bathroom. He went in. Listening carefully, he heard muffled sounds—carpenters, possibly. Then he felt the gentle breath of HVAC—with a hint of vanilla. He couldn’t decide whether the air was H or AC, so it was V.
Stooping for a look in the mirror he finally saw something he expected. That deeply tanned craggy face was getting a little easier to look at, and his children, now grown, loved it as “interesting.” He wiped off the sweat.
The medicine cabinet had a bottle of pills; the label called them aspirin. If they were poison he might die.
He could live with that possibility, and took one with a handful of water.
He thought about crying out, but resisted. More reconnaissance first.
Pressing his better ear against the wall… There were two workmen, maybe more, and one of them laughed easily.
Doc stood in the doorway and surveyed the sitting room. To his right were the exercise machine, the locked door, a wardrobe and, in the far corner, an armoire. At his left hand was an end table with a sturdy lamp on it. Next was the sofa, angled toward the TV in the armoire.
He tapped at the perimeter wall. It felt too solid for what it appeared to be: roller painted drywall of a home or non-commercial building. He fetched the lamp and scratched at the paint with an edge of the lamp base. It showed drywall beneath paint that seemed dry but fresh. He put the lamp back.
“Good morning, Doctor Little,” said a thin, raspy voice. It startled him and he knocked the lamp. “I’m Sorry,” it said, “I wanted to avoid that, but I suppose giving you a start was inevitable. How’re you feeling?”
Doc steadied the lamp. The raspy voice was probably male and seemed to be coming from a stuffed but empty easy chair in the far left corner of the room. He ambled toward it.
A small table stood between the sofa and the stuffed chair. He stopped to look it over and decide what to say. It was walnut. Very nice—perhaps even expensive—and suitable for playing bridge or supporting dinner for two. Its top was disgraced by a used microwave oven.
That voice… it was…. He had an easier time deciding what it wasn’t.
It wasn’t family. It wasn’t from TLC, or MTM, or any other place he had worked. Possibly it was from his military past? Doc called on his memories again, but still came up empty. Perhaps a name would emerge soon. No. A voice like that he would remember instantly.
He decided to play along, but with his own twist. Casually canting his head and staring at the chair, he moved just enough to tell whether the voice would stay put. “Where am I?” he asked, faking a yawn that turned into a real one. “Who are you? What’s going on?”
“Yes,” said the voice—still from the chair, “we’ve not been properly introduced, and we’re not going to be for a while, I’m afraid. But we can talk, and you can ask me any question you wish. Let’s start with ‘Where am I?’—or rather: ‘Where are you?’ The answer is: ‘I can’t say.’
“As to ‘Who am I,’ that’s not important. And ‘What’s going on?’ … You are in protective custody. Consider this a safe-house.”
Doc didn’t buy it. For one thing, he didn’t feel safe. He gauged the wall looking for a spot that was most likely between two studs, and banged it hard with his fist. The blow left a faint imprint of knuckles, but not a dent or hole as one would expect. “With only a room and a half and no windows,” he growled, massaging his hand, “it seems more like a cell than a house.”
“Windows wouldn’t be safe,” said the voice. “But we’re working at giving you another room. It won’t be long.”
“How long?” Little asked.
“Another rich question,” answered the voice in a tone that suggested a smile. “Probably about…”
There was a muffled pause, as if the owner of the voice had covered the phone and looked inquiringly at someone else for the answer of: “Two, maybe three days; it’s not as easy as you might think. You’ve been here for about… Actually, I’m ashamed to say how long. And how long you stay is dependent mostly on you, but on others too.”
“Does it depend on you?” asked Doc impulsively, moving toward the chair.
“I don’t think so. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.”
The only thing in Doc’s surroundings now that didn’t fit into a named bucket was the voice. It didn’t sound at all like anyone he knew, including TM3—or TM2 for that matter. His inquiring mind suggested those two possibilities, and there was a sure way to find the truth. Both TMs were artificially intelligent machines his company had built. They could not lie.
“Are you Timothy?” he asked, plopping into the stuffed chair.
“No. Timothy who?” The voice seemed now to be standing beside the locked door.
Doc smiled slightly at the pas de deux and resisted the temptation to continue it. He clarified: “Are you TM3, TM-3000. Or TM2. Or Robey?”
He couldn’t decide quickly enough what question to ask next. The voice added, “I’ve put magazines and books you might like in the end-table cabinet. There’s food in the armoire, and changes of clothes in the wardrobe. We’ll talk more soon.”
Little called out a rambling question but got silence.
…This is an interrogation, he realized. They must want my secrets—but which ones? Doesn’t matter. They’d have to kill me first—although torture could be in their plan, and I don’t know how I’d stand up to that. But what kind of a life would I have if cracked? I’d have lost my dreams too...
Suck it up, soldier. This is an interrogation; that was the Approach—or the start of it. But what kind of approach?
He let that question cook as he inspected the armoire, keeping its doors open just to see the TV screen the next time the voice spoke. Then he began a detailed search for audio and surveillance apparatus that must exist.
Returning to the medicine cabinet, Doc opened it with a petulant yank he immediately regretted. Relaxing his face and neck again, he grabbed the aspirin bottle and mulled over his recent business troubles. He wondered if this current predicament was in any way connected to them. Probably.
He downed another aspirin with a glass of water.
His meticulous inspection of the two rooms had gotten him several results: First was the glass: It made taking aspirin more convenient. Second, there were no sensors to be seen or felt anywhere. And third: The nameless voice had spoken to him through an array of tiny speakers that could make a voice seem to be anywhere; it was a curious feature for a safe-house.
He didn’t think he had enemies of the sort who would do this to him. But there had to be at least one. With nothing better to do, Doc decided to just sit in the comfortable chair and review things, beginning about six years ago—the day he lost his job at MTM and soon thereafter became Doctor Maynard Little III, president and CEO of TLC, Inc.—although that period now seemed too short for what had happened in it....
 IR, i.e., Infra-Red light. IR beacons identify friendlies. IR lasers paint targets.
 HVAC, i.e., Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning.
 Dear Diary: Here and elsewhere Doctor Little recalls parts of US Army FM 34-52, a manual on interrogation techniques current when he was in military service. Little was a line officer, not an intelligence officer. His recall of the 19 approach techniques, and of rapport and other protocols is indeed fuzzy, but is correct as far as he refers to them in this book.
A Literary historical science fiction mystery
Table of Chapters
Chapter 0. Problems
Chapter 1. Headaches ------------------------------>
Chapter 2. Happy Holidays
Chapter 3. Mr. Nice Guy
Chapter 4. The Brainless One
Chapter 5. A Little Crazy
Chapter 6. Grave Consequences
Chapter 7. Core Directives
Chapter 8. Expect Difficulties
Chapter 9. Caveats
Chapter 10. Mister Machine
Chapter 11. Good News, Bad News, El Cheapo
Chapter 12. New Memories
Chapter 13. Little Problems
Chapter 14. Lasers, Language, and Happiness
Chapter 15. Chatterbots
Chapter 16. Ready Or Not
Chapter 17. Not a Turing Test
Chapter 18. Reality Test
Chapter 19. Chess, Anyone?
Chapter 20. FOM
Chapter 21. Chairman of the Board
Chapter 22. The Usual Suspects
Chapter 23. M. God
Chapter 24. Walkabout
Chapter 25. Why
Chapter 26. First Blood
Chapter 27. More Machines?
Chapter 28. POV
Chapter 29. ROI
Chapter 30. Last Blood
Chapter 31. Don’t Want to Talk About It
Chapter 32. Round Table
Chapter 33. A Change of Mind
Chapter 34. Threes
Chapter 35. Knight Moves
Chapter 36. Little Combinations
Chapter 37. Can We Talk?
Chapter 38. Pas de Deux
Chapter 39. The Jig Is Up
Chapter 40. Good, Bad, Ugly Chapter 41. Function Goes On