Monitoring: Meifeng Wu
Sanya, Haian Province, China
7:00 a.m. China Standard Time
Monday, June 23rd, 2014
23:00 Coordinated Universal Time
Sunday, June 22nd, 2014
There is both leisure and order in Meifeng’s life. She awakens at 07:00, washes up and has breakfast. If she has been good, and she usually is, then her parents are there. At 08:00, she begins her studies—Chinese and English, mathematics, various sciences (physics and chemistry on even-numbered days, biology on odd-numbered days), history, calligraphy, and programming, plus a few things that come and go, in accordance with the whims of her instructors. She gets a break at 13:00 for lunch, and then she can usually find someone to play badminton with, assuming that she is allowed to go outside that day. At 13:45, or 14:00 if she has been good, she comes inside and returns to her studies until she is needed. That usually doesn’t come until 16:15, to make sure that she has enough time to study, and then, assuming that this is the time, she takes an oxycodone between 16:30 and 17:00 and spends most of the rest of the day with her parents, watching sports or programs on CCTV-14. She has dinner when she feels up to it, usually around 18:00, and may take a walk outside after that or return to the television before going to bed.
This has been her life for one hundred and thirty-five days. Meifeng has been good today, and one of the officers played badminton with her after lunch, and for the past couple of hours she has been able to study in a windowed room with plenty of sunlight. She normally enjoys it, but the time is past when she should have been retrieved, and that is making her nervous. Sometimes nobody comes for her, but sometimes it just happens later than usual, and she doesn’t like getting her hopes up but it happens every time that they’re late.
She doesn’t blame anyone for this arrangement. No one would volunteer for this, but the government could hardly pass up on what she has to offer, either. Meifeng is important to them, and they did not have to set up such accommodations for her. She is not free to leave, but she could be a more uncomfortable prisoner.
At 16:42, there is a knock on the door. Meifeng startles, and puts away her books as the door opens. The soldier at her door leads her down hallways until they reach the little room with no windows, where Doctor Xue is waiting for her. As he adjusts his glasses with one hand, Doctor Xue shakes her hand with the other, and then they sit down at a clear plastic table, with Meifeng sitting on the far side, opposite the door.
There is another seat on Doctor Xue’s side.
Meifeng inserts a mouth guard, modified to make speaking easier. She buckles herself in and closes straps around her legs and arms. The cords attached to these straps are long enough for her to reach, but if she moves too quickly then the cords will lock in order to prevent flailing. These things done, she looks back at Doctor Xue, who is organizing papers on his side of the desk.
“Bring in the transmitter,” he says to the soldier at the door, and another man is brought in. There are cuffs on his wrists and ankles, and when he is strapped into his chair there is no slack. Unlike Meifeng, he is not permitted to move. The gag is checked, to make sure that he cannot distract anyone, and the soldier leaves and the door is closed. The three of them are then alone.
Without requiring instruction, Meifeng reaches over the table to demonstrate that she can touch the transmitter. She has been told that these people are prisoners, ostensibly deserving of their ultimate fate, but the one does not imply the other. Having had their experiences for herself, she isn’t sure if there’s anyone that deserves such things.
“Thank you, Meifeng. You may begin.”
Meifeng prepares herself and, reaching over the table again, touches the transmitter.
The experience is, every time, both visceral and otherworldly, like she is having an out-of-body experience but without the dulling of sensation that this description might imply. Every moment is as vividly real as a hot iron pressed against her throat, even if the screaming always seems to be coming from all around her and not from herself.
It passes, and she returns to her body.
“L-L-Left leg,” she stammers, still trembling.
“Specific location, please,” reminds Doctor Xue.
“Calf. Inside. Piercing deep, very deep, slicing me open.”
“Slicing open the transmitter, you mean.”
“R-Right,” she says, and the other man’s eyes widen with a combination of fear and confusion.
“Burns,” she says, still feeling it, like an afterimage of pain that hasn’t fully faded yet. This is what the oxycodone is for. The pain has not been inflicted directly on her, but it seems that her body reacts to it all the same and, especially after repeated rounds, is apparently convinced that it ought to still be experiencing that pain. The doctors have suggested that it might work on the same principles as phantom pain in amputees or chronic pain in other cases. Whatever the cause might be, though, strong painkillers seemed to reset her body and prevent the pain from returning at random.
“Where were the burns?” Doctor Xue asks, and she tells him. Meifeng feels lucky that he is patient with her and understands that the details need to be drawn out piecemeal.
Eventually, though, she cannot remember enough and she has to touch the transmitter again. Meifeng has considered lying before, but sometimes they send a message that they already knew, to make sure that she is accurately relaying it.
She feels pain, but it is pain that hasn’t happened yet. It isn’t just certain types of pain, or the pain at a particular point in time, but all pain, from the entire future life of the person that she has touched. On its face this isn’t a very useful form of precognition, but the Ministry of State Security figured out a system anyway. There were many details involved, but the crux of it was a complex code whose bits were made out of pain: each combination of location and sensation carried meaning.
Meifeng didn’t know the meaning that lay behind the code, only the pain that made it.
After she has touched the transmitter a third time, the message (or this component of it) has been relayed. The transmitter is replaced, and the process starts over again. Each day that she comes to this room, she touches between five and fifteen transmitters.
Today, it is only six.
“I’d like my oxycodone now, please,” she mutters as the last transmitter is taken away. The final experience had involved severed fingers, and she keeps clenching and unclenching her fists, as though to remind herself that hers are still attached. Doctor Xue doesn’t even look at her as he hands over the pills. He’s too busy jotting down notes, writing in a cipher that’s as incomprehensible to her as the pain signals.
Another guard leads her back to her room. She feels up to having dinner that night, but every now and then she remembers the feeling of her fingers being severed and the utensils drop from her hands. Meifeng goes to bed early, and in her dreams she is free.
The next day, at 10:07, her studies are interrupted by a knock at the door. Without explaining anything (except that he doesn’t know what’s going on, either), the guard leads her down the halls to another room. It is small and mostly empty, like the “reception room” in which she performs her work. Sitting there are two people, Doctor Xue and someone else whose name she doesn’t know—not a soldier, but someone in a suit, like Doctor Xue. He is a short man, with a narrow nose on a face that Meifeng thinks is shaped rather like an egg, with the big end at the top. He does not look stern so much as impassive, or intentionally stoic. She thinks that she has seen him once or twice before, in the compound’s halls, but isn’t sure.
Wordlessly, he and Doctor Xue exchange a glance, and then Doctor Xue departs, taking a stack of papers and photographs with him. Meifeng is seated in Doctor Xue’s seat, and then the guard closes the door, leaving the two of them alone. It is as though the world has been cut off from them, because of the quiet that fills the room, and the man does not disturb it by speaking until a few more seconds have passed.
“My name is Mister Bao. I am the one that is in charge of this program, Miss Wu,” he says. “On behalf of your country, I extend gratitude for your service and regret for what must be done, even if you did not volunteer.”
“Am I able to go home?”
She tries to not be disappointed when he shakes his head.
“I have to explain something to you. We found you because I was told of you. Two people, two very unique people, arranged to meet with me. They told me who you were, described what you could do, and let me know where to find you. They described themselves as informants, and told me to not speak of this to anyone else because, as they put it, my mind is my own, but everywhere I am being watched.”
He adjusts his collar and glances to the side, as if to assure himself that there are no cameras here, no way to spy on him in this little room. He has overseen its use, perhaps even its construction, but Meifeng, at least, wonders if perhaps a bug or something else was somehow put in this room.
“They were strange people. The man cut himself in the palm and down his left forearm as we talked, and he did it as unconsciously as if he were scratching an itch on his face. The woman would make noises with her mouth every so often, imitating the sound of the ceiling fan or the rustle of paper. They called themselves Mister Takitini and Miss Giathi, and despite all of the information that you have provided, we have found out very little about them.”
“What have you learned?”
“They do not work for China, which was evident from the start but good to confirm. They are resistant to torture, perhaps unsurprisingly in the case of Mr. Takitini. They have met with other governments around Asia, including India. They are not the only representatives of…whatever group it is that they work for.”
He sighs. “The most important piece of information, which anyone could have guessed, is that they are not working for the benefit of our country. They have their own agenda, which we have struggled to learn more about. The fact that this had to be true has made me wary about my program from the start, and I promised myself to end it under certain conditions. I am afraid, you see, that even though your precognition has served China in many ways, it is at the same time serving them. We have found and collected many other children who have extraordinary abilities like your own, but have we simply collected them for our one-time, two-faced informants?”
“Then you’re just going to leave me here, but not use me for anything else?” asks Meifeng. That isn’t great, but it’s better than nothing. She would still have badminton, hopefully, and even if she only got to study all day long, that would be an improvement over the current state of affairs.
Again, though, her hopes are dashed against the rocks. “No. The message that you relayed yesterday was a report that you had escaped,” he says, and she looks away, both worried and ashamed. “With foreknowledge we can prevent that particular attempt from being successful, but the fact remains that it was successful, and if you could do it in one possible future then you might be able to do it in another one, or maybe someone would break you out. You don’t know our codes and I doubt that you could remember the raw details of every message that you have received, but codes can be broken and there might be any number of people out there with a power that, in one way or another, would allow them to retrieve the memories from your head.”
Mister Bao takes out a little bottle from the inside pocket of his coat. Meifeng wonders if this is some new medicine that they’re going to make her take, to somehow induce amnesia in her so that she cannot say anything. That specific possibility is ruled out as soon as he continues.
“Perhaps there is someone who can make you remember, or someone who can travel to your past, or someone who can enter your mind and experience everything that you have ever experienced, in discrete slices of time. The information that we have acquired may not be secure, which calls for drastic measures.”
An awful possibility comes to Meifeng’s mind, but she cannot bear to think long on it, even knowing, intimately well, the caliber of person that she is working for. Uncomfortably sure that she already knows the answer, she asks, “Then what are you going to do?”
He gestures to the bottle. “This drug has three ingredients: sugar syrup, ethanol, and nine grams of pentobarbital sodium. It is used to perform euthanasia in some countries, and by all accounts it is very peaceful. You will fall asleep, and then your heart will stop, and after a funeral your body will be cremated and the ashes scattered in various places that even I won’t know about, just in case something can be done to your remains. There will be no pain,” he assures her. “I am sorry that it has come to this, but our informants were relying on you for something. You have to be removed from their plans. You, and indeed every one of your peers, must be removed from the playing field. However much you could benefit China, or even the whole world, you could just as easily devastate it.”
Meifeng takes the bottle in her hand. “My parents?”
“They will be cared for. All of you have made great sacrifices for our people.”
She looks up. “What reason do I have to believe you?”
Mister Bao frowns. “What reason do we have to lie? The drug is for their benefit, not ours. A bullet to the head would be just as painless, not to mention quicker, but there’s no reason to make this harder on your parents than it has to be.”
Meifeng encloses the bottle in her hands. “You’ll really take care of them?” she asks again, knowing that it doesn’t make a difference either way.
“You are dying in the service of our country as much as any soldier ever did,” he says, and Meifeng unscrews the cap with a press and a twist.