We Apologize for the Interruption – Part 6

Peg remembered how crazy everyone was the day the jury reached a not-guilty verdict in the Ginger Louis case. Post-syn Ginger couldn’t remember committing the crime.

The question no one wanted to ask was had she committed them? Peg understood the problem better now, the layers of mass delusion slick as oil on the whole mess. If post-syn Ginger wasn’t responsible what happened to the real criminal?

The psychiatric community unveiled a new category of mental illness: Generalized Dissociative Dysphoric Mania. Like labeling something, putting it into a neat little package, means it’s all under control.

Peg had called the police. Following the advice of every movie she’d ever seen she demanded to speak to a lawyer before giving a statement. She called Nana and Sonar for help.

Nana got her a lawyer who met her at central booking. He explained that the post-Ginger legal reforms meant that the District Attorney’s office had to decide whether or not to bring criminal charges against an In-Between before a scheduled upgrade—in Peg’s case, immediately. If they were going to charge her, there wouldn’t be any surgery. They’d lock her up until the trial.

Peg repeated to the Assistant DA what she’d rehearsed with her lawyer.

“I was on my way to meet my shrink, but I stopped at a bar looking for a friend—Jayden. Darien was there, and he said he knew where Jayden was, so I followed him, but he didn’t take me to Jayden. He tried to rape me and I fought him off.”

She knew what she was leaving out. Knew what it meant about her.

She waited outside the big oak doors as her lawyer and the Assistant DA conferred. NYU must have supplied them the video from the building’s hallway. Even in the next room she could just recognize her own muted scream as Darien pushed her into that room.

Peg watched the sunrise through an antique, wood-framed window. Her thoughts settled on her mother and what Nana had said about her. Nana had been dead-on.

“You stupid, selfish, irresponsible bitch,” she whispered. “I needed you. I need you.”

For what seemed like the hundredth time that day, Peg let herself collapse into hopeless tears. How had she become this… person who hated the memory of her own mother—the kind of person who could kill another human being?

A sunbeam curved through the window momentarily blinding her and she closed her eyes.

“They’re cutting you loose.” The voice of her lawyer startled her. She hadn’t heard the door open. She looked up. He looked tired, his eyes tinged with curly-cues of red veins rising to the surface of the whites. Just like Darien’s had been.

What did he want her to say? Thank you for helping me get away with murder.

“He had priors for sexual assault. You’re not being charged with anything. You get it?”

She nodded, exhausted, and saw Sonar step into the corridor. Knowing at last what she needed to do, Peg rose to meet her. But first, she zapped Jayden a message: Tell Peg what she needs to know. See you on the other side.

***

“I was an In-Between?” Peg laughed and waited for Sonar to crack a smile. But her shrink was barely making eye contact. Oh, holy shit. “Did I say why?”

“You said you didn’t know.” Sonar hesitated. “I told you to keep a diary. Maybe you’ll find some answers there.”

There was something worse than what Sonar was saying. She had come to think of her shrink as a friend, but now she was barely making eye contact.

“Where’s Nana?” Peg asked, looking around the room. Her grandmother had promised she’d be here when she woke up.

Sonar blinked a few times and sat down. She was clearly exhausted and worn out.

Peg took a sharp breath. “Sonar, what did I do?”

***

The undergraduates in her pre-calc tutorial were uncharacteristically quiet when she entered. She could hardly blame them; she had been all over the talkies, probably would be for a month or more. There had even been reporters outside the building this morning. She strode to the front of the classroom and tried on a bashful smile.

“I suppose some of you may have heard that I was an In-Between.”

Every set of teen eyes stared at her, unblinking. A few giggled nervously.

“Well, I don’t remember any of it. Not even the exciting bits.” Their faces paled. Peg had been having a lot of these moments since being released from Mt. Sinai. She cringed at her words. Exciting bits? What was wrong with her? This Darien guy had been an NYU grad student too. Someone in this class might have known him, and even if no one did, an In-Between killing someone wasn’t funny. Especially when she was the In-Between.

“Okay,” she clapped her hands. “I see that Professor Harris kept you busy in my absence. Let’s start with the first example from your practice set.”

Keying the console behind her, with way too much enthusiasm, Peg displayed the first graph.

“Piecewise functions! Chapter 9! Can someone provide an equation for this curve?”

She smiled at Jaisel as his hand shot up. Good, back to normal. Unimportant things. Everyday things.

“F of x equals -1 as long as x is greater than or less than -2, and F of x equals 2, as long as x is greater than -2,” Jaisel said. A few other kids rolled their eyes.

“Right.” Peg smiled. “Questions?”

Jaisel’s hand shot up again. She didn’t usually call on the same kid twice in a row like that, but he was frowning, like he actually had a question.

“I know the answer, but I don’t get how it’s all the same equation. It looks more like two different functions.”

“A piecewise function,” she explained, “is continuous on a given interval. It doesn’t experience any discontinuity at its sub-domains. But it isn’t continuous throughout its domain. It’s interrupted. Just like this gap here at x=-2.”

Peg stretched the display to focus on the interval where the function diverged. The gap in the curve seemed to stare back at her.

The room regarded her with a mix of concern and renewed unease.

“The jump discontinuity…” she trailed off again. Why couldn’t she make sense? “It’s one function,” she said. “Don’t let it fool you on a test.”

***

She looked everywhere for a diary. Her handheld didn’t have any memos for those dates and her tablet was dusty from non-use.

The rest of her studio provided no more answers. An empty bottle of scotch seemed simple enough to explain. She had to smile at the pile of unlaundered clothes. Leave it to an In-Between to save the laundry for the syn to do.

But what really troubled her was her handheld’s GPS and zap history. It was a puzzle that painted an uglier picture the more she dug into it.

An accepted zap from a stranger, Robert Neville—a familiar name that she couldn’t place—inviting her to some radical anti-syn meeting on day one. And then, day two, she had looked up the address of Biomimetics in Weehawken and had actually gone there. The strangest thing was that after that guy, Darien, had tried to rape her, she had sent a cryptic message to the same random, Robert Neville. It looked like—and this was disturbing, even imagining herself as a manic In-Between—that had she referred to herself in the third person.

Tell Peg what she needs to know. Holding her breath, she zapped Robert Neville. He answered almost immediately.

“Hey there, Sunshine.” The voice was sad but disarmingly charming, a smooth Euro-African accent.

“My name’s Peg,” she said, confused all over again. “Is this Robert Neville?”

“Right, I forgot. How does this go?”

There was a pause. What was with this guy? Making up his mind about something Peg couldn’t fathom, he finally continued. “Robert Neville’s just my handle. He’s a character from this old book, I Am Legend. It was zombies in the movie version, which is what most people remember. Nobody reads anymore,” he complained. “My name’s Jayden.”

She felt her lips curl into a smile, but she was still pretty confused.

“Why did you just call me Sunshine? Do we know each other? Did we…?”

“It’s my nickname for you,” he explained, ignoring the sexual suggestion, which was gentlemanly of him. He chuckled. “I started calling you Sunshine and you sort of went with it.”

“Oh.” She tried to think what to make of that. She did like the name. And, come to think of it, lots of people changed their names after getting the syn upgrade. Why shouldn’t she? She was feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the multitude of Pegs that existed in her imagination. There was the Peg of before, the Peg of now, and the ghost of the Peg of In-Between.

“Okay,” she said. “Hit me. What is it I need to know? Did I tell you what happened with that guy?” She didn’t know who else to ask who wouldn’t give her a sanitized version. “The guy I… killed?” She hadn’t said the words out loud before and it was shocking to put them together.

“Sure,” he said, with a softness that touched her. “He was someone I knew, I’m sorry to say. It never would have happened if you hadn’t met me. He attacked you and you fought back and thank god you were able to defend yourself.” He stopped, and cleared his throat. “It wasn’t your fault and that’s all there is to it, Sunshine. All there is to know.”

His certainty was the sweetest kind of relief. She exhaled. “Thank you,” she said. It was what Sonar, the police, and everyone on the talkies were saying, but she hadn’t been sure. “Did I… do anything else? I mean, did Peg tell you anything else? Did I, I mean, did she tell you why she refused the coma?”

“I want you to know, I understand the pain you’re in.”

“I guess.”

“No, I do. You’re grieving her. It’s normal—no matter what they tell you. Nothing,” he said grandly, “is so painful to the human mind than a great and sudden change.”

That sounded familiar.

“Mary Shelley?” she ventured.

“You read books too?”

Sunshine had to admit that she liked this guy. She settled into her sofa and lit a cigarette.

“So,” she said. “You’re a communist. What’s that like?”

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