The Kisser

So there I am making out with Alicia Silverstone behind a stack of Deepak Chopra books at the Southwest terminal of LAX, and in walks Kristy McNichol.  She’s so shocked to see the sight of me making out with Alicia Silverstone that she dumps her entire cup of Starbucks white chocolate macchiato on my bitchin’ Hawaiian shirt with a pineapple motif, which I had just got at a surf shop in Santa Barbara.

Okay, okay, that’s a complete lie.  I wish it were true (except for the part about Kristy McNichol), but I made it up in order to get your attention.  It worked, didn’t it?  Rest assured that everything from here on out is true.  No more lies, I promise.

Everybody’s familiar with the CIA, of course, and I imagine most people have heard of the NSA, but I’ve got news for you:  There’s a lot of military/intelligence/espionage agencies that nobody knows anything about.  I used to work for one of them–the NOC–and if you think the CIA and the NSA are secretive, you’ve got your head in the sand (no offense).

I wasn’t one of the cloak-and-dagger guys at the NOC.  They hired me, as a civilian, to be a technical writer.  My job was taking statistical information and research findings and putting them into some kind of sensible paragraph form, in case we ever had to present it to a governance panel or a Senate subcommittee.

I don’t think that any NOC project that came my way was ever completed.  They either got terminated, because they cost too much and weren’t getting anywhere, or they just played on forever and forever, getting renamed and redirected to other agencies.  I’ll give you a few examples:

  • Can sea-slugs be genetically modified to assist in surveillance in the South China Sea?
  • Are Senegalese Coptic Christians predisposed to psychic abilities?  (Specifically, remote viewing and precognition.)
  • Can common cats be outfitted with transceiver implants and used for domestic eavesdropping?
  • Is it possible for American and allied astronauts to focus their upsilon waves into a beam that could destroy offensive submarine and air traffic?  (Project GASER–you might have heard of it when the IG Times leaked the story.)

I know they all sound pretty crazy now, but bear in mind–this was back around 2085, and we were desperate.  By far, though, the craziest project I ever saw is one that you sure as hell never heard of:  Project Shade, which involved a very unfortunate man named Col. Collum.  He was an Air Force guy who’d been almost killed when he fell asleep at the wheel and ran off a mountain road in Colorado.  I saw pictures of the accident scene, and it was pretty gruesome.  He was tossed out through the side window and landed on some rocks, folded up like a business letter, his back broken in three places.  He could literally have kissed his own ass.  Thank heaven his wife and his daughter weren’t with him.

He just barely survived at all, paralyzed from the neck down.  The SC Hospital tried every rehabilitative thing they had–electro-neuron therapy, myelin transplants, ganglio-anastomosis.  Even mitochondrial modification, which was in its infancy then.  All this stuff cost an incredible amount of money.  Nobody thought too much about it at first–if anything, it was something to be proud of.  Our government was pulling out all the stops to take care of a man who had served his country.

After a while, though, people (nurses, therapists, and technicians–not a word from the doctors) at the SC Hospital in Colorado started to talk, to ask questions.  What it all came down to:  Why are the feds spending all this money on somebody who’s obviously going to die soon?  The poor guy was blind, deaf, diabetic, paralyzed, had cancer, and, worst of all, a raging infection that was taking out his organs one at a time.  Some of the water-cooler gossip was that his deafness, diabetes and cancer came from the “treatments” he was getting from the government, and that he should just have been left alone to die.

Like I said earlier, I was a technical writer for the NOC and not a scientist.  I didn’t know much about medicine, and I still don’t, so I’m not really in a position to comment on what might or might not have happened.

All I do know is that the NOC asked Col. Collum to volunteer for Project Gator, which had him trying to receive upsilon waves from astronauts.  The astronauts were supposed to concentrate on a series of simple pictograms, and the NOC wanted to see if Col. Collum could reproduce the sequence.  For hours and hours, day after day, he sat there in a TR room in his wheelchair.  “Square.  Square with a dot inside.  Circle.  T.  Cross-hatch.  Triangle.  Half-moon.”  I had to transcribe it all, and that was pretty stultifying.  I can just imagine how poor Col. Collum must have felt.  On the other hand, I guess he didn’t have much else to do.

The NOC’s theory was that Col. Collum’s body wasn’t using his energy, so maybe it was redirected to his mind, making it more perceptive to upsilon waves.  He did pretty well with those experiments–a lot better than random guessing–but not 100%.  The NOC was disappointed and put Project Gator on hold for a while.

Then, on August 19, a bunch of civilian eggheads started showing up.  There were Cartesian philosophers, evolutionary biologists, hypnotists, linguists, you name it.  They tended to huddle together and look baffled, though a few of them seemed excited to be there.  Excited or not, a bunch of people in white coats with “Visitor” tags and clipboards doesn’t really inspire much confidence.  Their presence raised more questions than it answered, and it didn’t help that none of them had kissers.

A kisser was a little red panic button that everybody had.  You could wear it on your lapel or carry it in your pocket.  Some people wore it like a pendant.  I kept mine on a braided bracelet that my daughter made for me at summer camp.  If you hit your kisser, whatever people were on security rotation that day–Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force–showed up, guns drawn and ready to duke it out, even if it turned out to be Armageddon.  They were armed to the teeth and had their own version of kissers.  Theirs were purple, and God only knows what forces would have been called upon if anybody ever hit one.

The official name was Emergency Summons Device 85L-412112E.  I don’t have any idea why they were called “kissers.”  I’ve often wondered about that.

I should probably point out that, although Col. Collum was injured in Colorado, the NOC facility where I worked was in New Mexico.  That’s where they sent him after SC Hospital got him stable enough to transport.

Most of the eggheads came from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.  I only know that because I had to include their credentials when I wrote up my reports.

If you’ve been waiting for this story to get interesting, prepare to meet your reward.  It’s about to get very interesting.

Col. Collum volunteered to have his brain taken away and plonked into a jar (the doctors called it a “vitrine”) of saline solution.  They attached about a dozen electrodes to it, in strategic spots, so that they could monitor his limbic system, cingulate sulcus, corpus callosum, anterior commissure, so on.  When I first read about it, I thought it was creepy as hell, but then when I actually saw it, it was kind of cool.  There were a couple of tubes running into the base of his brain, where his spinal cord would have begun–pumping in nutrients, I guess.  There were also a couple of tubes coming out.

The tubes going in were red and the ones coming out were green.  To me, that was the creepiest part.  Some bunch of people sat around at a meeting and decided “Okay, it’s definite.  The red ones go in and the green ones come out.  Agreed?  All in favor, say ‘Aye.’”

And some poor Air Force med tech had to do the dirty work, the plumbing, all by himself at three in the morning, nobody else around (his name was Loadmaster Spec 4 Warren, by the way.  Not recorded as a med tech for obvious reasons).

Everything was going along just ducky for about three months before it all fell apart.  There was Col. Collum’s jugged brain floating around, sparking out the occasional wattage.  Eggheads stopped by to tap on the glass, say “Hm!” and scribble on clipboards, like he was a fish in an aquarium. Made me sick.

Even worse was the EBK monitor, which reeled out a tri-color line graph showing his activity, like you can put numbers on that kind of thing.

I don’t have any idea what the different colors stood for, but I can tell you that I saw some definite patterns.  The yellow line pretty much always stayed flat, but the red and green lines went way up whenever somebody else was around.  On the few occasions that his wife visited, the red and green lines pegged the chart (his daughter was too young to get in, but I wonder how that would have turned out).

When he was alone for more than an hour or so, all the lines dropped and flattened out.  When I was trying to put all the numerical data into paragraph form, all I could think was “Dang, this poor dude’s bored and depressed as hell.  Can’t say as I blame him.”

At one point, Gen. Goodman had me put it all into a PlexiPoint presentation, and I practically vomited.  I was getting sympathetic with the guy, which was a big mistake.  “Objectivity” is one of the Twelve Cardinal Rules of technical writing, and I failed miserably.  It got to the point that I hated seeing the eggheads tapping the glass and Mrs. Collum dabbing her eyes with hospital Kleenex.  “Leave the poor bastard alone” was pretty much all I could think.

There was a long weekend–Labor Day–and when I went in to work on Tuesday, there was an EBK chart on my desk, all three lines straight as an arrow and lined up at zero.  Col. Collum’s brain had crapped out and given up the ghost over the weekend.  There was a big spike before it went flat-line, but I don’t know why.

Spec 4 Warren had scribbled on the margin:  “Project terminated 0649.”  I wanted to hunt him down and kick him in the teeth.