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Authors: Walter Greatshell

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BOOK: Mad Skills
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Perusing the shelves, she knew the books were just books. They did not beckon like insanely addictive fruit. She couldn’t crack them like coconuts and drink their words in one gulp. Proof of that was in the fact that she barely recognized most of the titles, much less remembered their contents. Maddy had never been a big reader; books were not high on her list of favorite entertainments, and these looked especially dull: mostly kids’ books and elementary study manuals. Plowing through the whole library sounded like the worst kind of drudgery. She couldn’t imagine doing it. And yet …
There were her bloody fingerprints. Volume after volume imprinted with her own dried blood, irrefutable DNA evidence of her very recent lunacy. Pages torn and taped together—like her fingers. A great many books missing, replaced by new ones.
Maddy picked up a pristine copy of
The Compleat Shakespeare
and flipped through it. She had always found Shakespeare unreadable, but this was clearly a moron-level abridged version, the watered-down Kid Lit edition. Skimming
Titus Andronicus
, she flinched, ripping out a handful of pages.
Ow. Damn.
There was a bead of blood on the exposed base of her thumb—a paper cut!
Sucking her hand, Maddy thought,
What kind of sadistic shit is this?
Likewise, the “computer” was bogus. It resembled a real computer on the outside but was some sort of cheap imitation, agonizingly slow and clumsy, with limited Internet access and a keyboard that was basically a medieval torture device. She would think she was getting somewhere only to have the picture abruptly scramble. No wonder she had been so frustrated. Whether or not she had ever really taken the device apart, at the moment it was whole and showed no sign of having been fiddled with … except that its CPU was locked in a metal cabinet. That was new.
Out of curiosity, Maddy took two paper clips from the desk and picked the lock. In minutes, the computer was laid bare. As she tinkered with its circuits, she suddenly realized there was someone watching her. A guy.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
Flushing red, trying to cover the evidence of her shame, she said, “Nothing.”
“Is that a computer?”
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”
“Did you take it all apart like that?”
“It’s supposed to come apart.”
“Yeah, with tools. You use your teeth, or what?”
“Ha-ha, very funny.”
“Sorry, I don’t mean to bug you. I don’t know if we’ve met before. Are you a patient here?”
“No, I’m a brilliant junior neurosurgeon. Duh, I’m a patient. Which I assume you are, too, unless you shaved your head for kicks.”
“No, I’m a patient.” He held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you. My name’s Dev.”
“Maddy Grant.” She reached to shake, then hurriedly retracted her bandaged hand. “Sorry.”
“What happened to your fingers?”
“Nothing,” she said. “Couple of paper cuts.”

Paper
cuts?”
“Sometimes I cut myself.”
“How?”
“It’s because the pages are too sharp.” Annoyed by his concerned look, she said, “It’s not on
purpose
.”
“What do you mean, they’re too sharp?”
“The paper is wicked sharp and brittle. I think it’s been heat-treated or something. It’s some kind of stupid dexterity exercise.”
“Where is this paper?”
“Up my butt. Where do you think? Inside the books!”
“Which ones?”
“All of them!”
“Wait—you really got all cut up like that just from
reading
?”
“I told you, the books are weird. You’ll see. You don’t notice at first, but all of a sudden the pages start ripping out, and next thing you know, there’s blood all over the place. And those cuts
sting
, man. It’s obviously some kind of stupid test because the computer is just as bad—you ever get cramps in both hands at the same time? That’s why I’m simplifying the interface. The doctors deny it, but the purpose of their experiments is obviously to make every task here as hard as possible, so we have an easier time recovering back home.”
“That sounds a little messed up. Death by a thousand paper cuts?”
“It’s the only thing that makes logical sense. And it works—I swear, I am so psyched to be leaving tomorrow.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Over a year. But I’ve only been fully conscious for a couple of days now. Before that, it’s all a big acid trip, complete with flashbacks. What about you?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?”
“I mean I don’t know. I can’t remember anything for more than a few hours at a time. That’s why I’m here, so they can hopefully cure me.”
“That’s horrible!”
“It’s not so bad.”
“How do you remember anything?”
“I remember basic stuff like my name. Anything else important I write on my arm—see?”
“Wow. Huh.”
“Yeah. So you’re some kind of mad genius or something?”
“Oh yeah, that’s me.” She scoffed. “I’m a real Young Einstein.”
He looked at the intricate circuit board she was soldering with a glowing twist of live wire from a cannibalized light fixture. “No kidding.”
She shook her head. “Anyway, it’s not like there’s anything else to do around here. I’d kill for a TV. Just make sure you tape up your hands before you try reading any of this kiddy lit. You should actually write that down.”
“Thanks. Maybe I’ll just browse for now.” He obviously thought she was a maniac.
Maddy reassembled the computer while Dev scanned the shelves. She stole glances at him while she tinkered. With his hospital pallor, shaved head, and blue and black scribbles on his left arm, he looked very punk; but there was something endearingly childlike about him. Innocent. Physically, he might resemble a creepy skinhead … but so did she. Other than that, she would have never guessed he had such a serious problem. Actually, he was cute in a skinny way—he had the rangy build and slight twang of a Southern farm boy. Both of them were wearing the same baggy green scrubs, nothing underneath, and Maddy was struck by the intimacy of that, as though they were in their pajamas—or their underwear. For all she knew, he could be a dangerous psycho, but they wouldn’t let someone like that roam around the hospital, would they? It suddenly occurred to her that she was alone in a room with a mental patient. Of course, so was he.
“Kiddy lit, huh?” he said, interrupting her thoughts. “I don’t s’pose you got any recommendations?”
Wary though she was of the library, his snide tone made her defensive. “There’s some good stuff, yeah. I like
James and the Giant Peach
. Or
Matilda
—did you ever read anything by Roald Dahl?
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
?”
“I saw the movie.”
“I also like
Bartholomew and the Oobleck
,
Pagoo
,
The Clambake Mutiny
,
The Pushcart War
,
Harriet the Spy
,
The Egypt Game
,
The Magus
,
I Claudius
,
Ulysses
,
The Golden Bough
,
Sexual Personae
,
Gray’s Anatomy
—” She unconsciously began talking faster, as if rolling downhill. “—
Applied Kinematics
,
Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche
,
Strength of Materials
,
Fundamentals of Acceleration
,
Chemicals and Compounds
,
Molecular Engineering
,
Probability in Engineering
,
Principles of Mechanical Design
,
Automotive Engineering
,
Velocity Problems
,
The Coriolis Component
,
Algorithms and Computing Machines
,
Anatomy of LISP
,
Pattern Recognition
,
Cybernetics and Motor-Neuron Compatibility
—” She was blazing, the syllables all running together. “—
Neue Bahnen der physikalischen Erkenntnis
,
Computability and Logic
,
Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica
,
Engineering Thermodynamics
,
The Joy of Cooking
,
Behavior of Slaughter Plant and Auction Employees to the Animals
—”
“Whoa, stop, I get it. Damn.”
Maddy’s mental gears spun down. “What, sorry?”
“No, it’s cool—you’re a brainiac. That’s awesome.”
Feeling tears spring to her eyes, she said, “You’re a jerk.”
“What?”
“I know everybody thinks I’m retarded.
I’m not retarded.
I may not be as smart as everyone else around here, but I’m not stupid.”
“Wait, I don’t—”
“At least I’m not an asshole!” Maddy ran from the room and along the corridor. The fluorescent ceiling lights were all strobing, making her feel like she was running in slow motion. Not wanting anyone to see her cry, she ducked down the fire stairs to her floor and walked casually past the nurses’ station. Once safely inside her room, she fell sobbing on the bed.
Why, Ben?
she thought.
Why did you have to leave me here all alone? I wish you’d taken me with you. I wish we were together right now, and this was all just a bad dream.
SEVEN
 
REPORT
 
POSTOPERATIVE ANALYSIS:
 
Subject, Madeline Zoe Grant, exhibits rapid cognitive improvement in all areas, including neuromuscular/response. Cortical sensitivity to stress factors nominal within test parameters—dopamine inhibitors at saturation. CT, fMRI, and EEG scans show subthalamic efficiency at 410% above normal. Patient exhibits confusion, fear, and frustration from increased neuroactivity, but attributes this to physical debility and external situational factors. Is largely unaware of accelerated performance; complains that the test regimen is “for retards” or “boring.” When asked why she started tearing pages out of the practice material, replied that she didn’t want to read anymore because “it hurts my hands”—by which she meant that she could not turn the pages fast enough to keep up with level of reading comprehension. Similarly, when given a standard computer, Subject soon developed mild tendonitis from manipulating the mouse and keyboard—her joints and tendons cannot keep pace with her neural processes. Likewise, at full engagement, her visual scanning capacity surpassed the scan rate of the computer screen, rendering it useless. Despite such handicaps, Subject was able to complete doctoral-level examinations in applied calculus, celestial mechanics, nuclear physics, molecular biology, advanced chemistry, statistical analysis, semiotics, political theory, and a number of specialized fields of study. Based on test results, she has memorized significant portions of the reference library, both printed and on disk. When provided with only the first proof from Euclid’s
Elements
, she was able to logically extrapolate the entire field of geometry, moving into levels of fourth-dimensional theory so complex that no one on staff is qualified to interpret it. We have forwarded her notebook to specialists for evaluation. Likewise, her Intelligence Quotient exceeds our ability to quantify it. But she herself does not yet recognize the change, in fact is unable to comprehend it … perhaps the one thing she can’t comprehend. When her brain is challenged, it automatically shifts the burden to the computer unit, which elicits greater and greater degrees of processing power from her own dormant neurons until she can solve the problem, thus giving her the illusion that every problem is equally simple. Reading a textbook of theoretical physics is no different to her than flipping through
The Cat in the Hat
. For that matter, her critical intuition is so acute that some of the staff have reported feeling uncomfortable around her because she is so adept at “reading” people, i.e., deducing from their clothes or manner (or any number of other factors) exactly what they may be thinking. I experienced this myself in regard to the Program. Nevertheless, Subject doesn’t yet grasp the magnitude of her own abilities, still thinks she’s a mediocre student, weak at math and Spanish, and because of this may be able to transition more easily back into the life of an ordinary teenager. Whether or not she can succeed at this—or for how long—will determine the next phase of occupational therapy. For the present, Subject is fit to be released to the care of her family. Get her the hell out of here.
EIGHT
 
DRIVE-THRU
 
THE car ride home was difficult. It didn’t start out badly—Maddy was just so glad to be out of the hospital that everything around her had a heightened reality, a saturated Technicolor brightness that made her feel like she was in some kind of Disney musical. Bright golden sunlight, blue sky, brilliant autumn leaves … even the stiff breeze was a joy.
BOOK: Mad Skills
13.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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