He always hated the buzz of the lights.
Something about that off-tone, buzzing noise just didn't sit right. It shouldn't be that way: a low, droning buzz, while reading through file after file, in a claustrophobic little office.
But it was.
Doctor McBride sat at his desk, like he did every single Friday, in his tiny office, in Site 22. For the last three hours of every week, he reviewed the files of potential subjects, which may or may not require additional investigation. It seemed so much more interesting when he first started. Somehow, it had become routine.
He leaned back in his chair, and stared up at the buzzing fluorescent light above him, frowning slightly. Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. It just never ended.
He sat up, reached for his coffee, and grimaced as he took a sip of the slightly stale, overly sweet liquid. He looked down at the cup for a moment, frowning. He shouldn't be drinking coffee at this hour. His doctor warned him about his caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon.
He slipped his glasses off his face, and sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. He was vacillating. There were still six files to get through, and it was already four thirty.
He thought to himself, that he should feel lucky. He gets to leave every day at six. He wasn't like one of the research scientists down in the labs. Just an A&D evaluator. He was fairly happy with that arrangement, if it wasn’t for the damn buzzing.
A&D. That's what they called it. Acquisitions and Development. Such a clean, sterile way of saying "Lifelong imprisonment of people who scare us." Of course, he knew why these things were contained. It's not like there wasn't a reason. A good reason, actually. But it still was what it was.
He slipped his glasses back on his face, and looked down at the file in front of him.
Subject, a bunch of scribbled black marks over the name, redacting the information. No names. Never names.
A quick physical description. Young. Tall. Thin. Poor kid was barely out of college. Supposedly showing signs of psychokinesis, consistent with exposure to an object, which had slipped containment last year.
Doctor McBride scanned the page quickly, looking at the supposed evidence. A few eyewitness reports of things moving around the young man. A fire in his dorm room. A car accident. Nothing concrete. His shoulders relaxed, thinking that there was nothing there, and flipping to the last page, with the notes section to recommend that no action be taken.
His eyes slid over the damning line, as he went to check the "Do Not Detain" box:
"Subject was observed undergoing a ritual prayer consistent with 'Church of the Broken God' worship. This was positively observed by remote viewing through embedded camera, consistently since potential exposure date."
The doctor's shoulders fell, and he checked the "Detain Immediately" and the "Level Gamma" boxes. He jotted down a few notes, and cross-referenced the object containment procedures for the object in question.
He set down his pencil, and frowned down at the report. With a few quick notes, he'd condemned this young man to either life imprisonment, at the outside, or god forbid horrible testing procedures. He considered this for a moment, and looked down a the "Do not Detain" box, carefully. It was always tempting to just check the box, and let people get on with their lives.
Unfortunately, he knew better. He put the report in the finished stack, and pulled out the next, letting the young man slip out of his mind.
He methodically worked through the reports, until the last neatly stapled pile came to the front. Four of the others had been "Do not Detain". It made him feel a little better about the first case, but he wouldn’t lose sleep over having to make that call. Not anymore at least.
He looked down at the last report. He was a little surprised, the name wasn't redacted.
Subject: Daniel McBride
He froze for a moment, his breath catching in his throat. The physical description listed his age, height, weight. Everything down to the last detail.
He flipped to the description section, a cold sweat breaking out on his forehead. Why would his name appear on an A&D report?! He skimmed the section quickly. Connections to the Chaos Insurgency? Unauthorized access of Foundation Resources? Obvious exposure to multiple objects manifesting a variety of mental and physical abnormalities?
He felt his anger rise. Someone was playing a pretty sick joke.
He flipped to the last page, to see who'd prepared this report. Of course, his own name was on it, who else would be listed. Some jackass from records had been pissed off at a request he made.
It must have been Jackson. The guy took everything personally. He picked up the report and stormed out of his office. He mashed the elevator button, and pressed the floor.
He leaned against the elevator wall, and huffed. What the hell were they thinking? This is exactly why he was considering a transfer. It was bad enough having to deal with stressful work without every Tom, Dick, and Doctor Harry trying to recapture the glory days of pranking other researchers.
The door opened, and he walked quickly down the halls, nodding at a few familiar faces, most on their way out of the administrative wing at this hour.
He walked past a few unmarked doors, to the one labelled unceremoniously "Records."
Inside, the bored looking clerk at the desk looked up from his magazine, and blinked sleepily. "Can I help you?"
"Yeah. You can tell me who actually prepared this report, and how screwed they are." He handed over the now-crumpled pages.
The clerk skimmed the report, and looked up, "Doctor Theodoratos. Is something wrong, Doctor McBride?"
Doctor McBride froze for a moment. He snatched the report back, and looked down at it. It still said his name. The words hadn't changed.
"I don't…I must have been mistaken. Yes, this report looks fine now, long day."
The clerk leaned back "Sure doc. Anything else?"
"No. Of course not."
Doctor McBride walked calmly out of records, and back up to his office. He quickly threw the report in his desk drawer, and tried to forget about the whole thing. Maybe he just needed some rest.
Doctor Theodoratos sat in his office, along with Doctor Matok, looking over Doctor Theodoratos' last A&D report of the day. "Detain Immediately" was off-putting enough, without having to do it to one of their own.
Subject: Daniel McBride
"Cognitohazard? Really? I mean, I guess we all know they're out there, but…how?"
Matok shrugged. "Not really sure how it got in. We suspect something coded in to a report by a mole."
Doctor Theodoratos grimaced. "So how did they realize he was infected by it, again? I didn’t see anything…"
Doctor Matok flipped to a page in his copy of the report, shaking his head slowly. "Complained about buzzing, and he was short multiple assessments. We found them in his desk with all of the 'Detain Immediately' boxes rubbed off the page completely. Erased until the paper shredded."
Doctor Theodoratos looked puzzled for a moment, "Buzzing? I saw he put in a maintenance request, but I didn't think much of it for evidence."
Doctor Matok stood, and walked out the door frame, "Come on, Alec. They replaced all the ceiling lights with LED's last year. Better for the environment, yadda yadda. They don't buzz like the old lights. McBride was raving about them for six months."
Doctor Theodoratos laughed, and said "Of course. Of course, that makes sense. Thanks Jim. So, what did they do to the guy?"
He watched Doctor Matok walk to the door, turning in the door frame. "From what I've heard, he's been detained at Site 18. Keeps repeating the same phrase. 'Judge, Jury, Jailer, no more!' Whatever the hell that means. They're probably experimenting to figure out how it happened. Usually they just end up disposing of the subject, and dissecting the brain to figure out what the original cognitohazard was. Poor guy."
Doctor Theodoratos managed to keep his hands from shaking until Doctor Matok left the room.
All he could think all day, was how much he hated the buzzing of the lights in his office the past couple weeks.