Chapter 15: Charity

Copyright© 2016 by Vincent Berg

“You’ll feel better now,” the ragged bum said. “The headaches and shakes should be gone. Best of all, you won’t crave the drugs so much. You’ll still want them, that won’t go away, but the cravings will be manageable.”

“Thanks, man. I don’t understand what you did, but my head is clear for the first time in ages.”

As the woman stood and wandered away, studying her hands, Leslie approached.

“I brought your meal, and new intel. Our friends in Florida really want to speak to you.”

Eric sighed, swiveling on the bench and accepting the sandwich from his sister. “How’s Becky doing?”

“As good as can be expected. It’s only her third day at this new school and it’s been tough. That’s why I visited now, while school’s in session. She prefers it when I’m at home when school lets off so she can rant. It’s difficult on both of us.”

“They’ve wanted to speak for some time, but we flew the coop again. Tell them to bring the new shots by and I’ll examine them. I’m interested in what they’ve uncovered.”

Leslie surveyed the park. “When we arrived, there were little camps here. Now the only ones here are tourists. If you keep clearing out parks, the politicians might give you a medal.”

Eric scowled. “They wouldn’t dare. Besides, by the time they notice, I’ll be long gone. But you’re right. As I grow more experienced, I’m doing it faster and more efficiently, which means we need to relocate more frequently. Even given the different homeless communities here, it won’t take long before everyone is healed.”

“Becky won’t appreciate hearing that.”

“Have you considered home schooling?”

“I’ve debated it. It would be easier, given how often we move, but I wanted to give her a chance to make friends. That’s clearly not working.” She paused, glancing over her shoulder. “What do you want me to tell them?”

“Just that I want to see the photos. I’ll decide whether they’re ready for the next stage and offer suggestions, but they still have a ways to go before I’ll consider anything else.”

She shrugged, handing him a newspaper clipping. “Everyone is still talking about you. The current theory is you’re working for the Chinese under an assumed name. There are sightings of you everywhere.”

“Not here, I hope!”

“How would I know? I haven’t been able to glance at a computer or phone in months. I peeked over a neighbor’s laptop when she started discussing you. She expected an answer, so I humored her, but that’s all I’ve discovered.”

“We’ll need to discuss this in more detail. This is no way for Becky to live. You’ll have to try home schooling, a boarding school or we’ll have to consider something else.”

Leslie rolled her eyes. “Yeah, as if the niece of the most hunted person in the world won’t raise questions. Without you there to protect her, someone’s likely to kidnap her to draw you out. As upset as she is here, she loves you and wants to help. Your treatments make a world of difference too.”

Eric scanned the article, folding it and shoving it in his pocket. “I’ll study it later, but I doubt there’s much I need to know. I’m not ready to show my face yet. Have CC send a messenger and we’ll figure out everyone’s next step.”

Eric leaned over the legs of a man lying across a park bench. “It’s not as bad as it appears. While it’s persistent, it’s in the process of clearing up and should be okay by the end of the week.”

The man pulled his pant leg up and stared at the wound, still blackish.

“You’re sure? The doctor told me they had to chop it off. I’m glad I didn’t wait around for them to do it, if what you say is true.”

“Normally he’d be correct,” Eric hedged, “but in this case, it was already recovering.”

The man swung his leg around, standing and putting weight on it. “It still aches, but it’s much easier to walk on.”

“It aches because it’s healing. You can’t always trust what doctors say. If anything happens, I’ll take another look, but I drift from park to park, so don’t wait.”

“I won’t, and thanks for the second opinion. I didn’t trust them when they threatened to hack it off.” The bum hobbled off, whistling a tune Eric didn’t recognize.

“Pretty impressive. I’d have physically restrained him and removed it myself. There was no sign of life in the tissue.”

Spinning, he saw an old friend. Like she often did, she’d dressed appropriately in dirty, threadbare clothes with a scarf wrapped around her neck. She’s applied makeup to appear dirtier, and mussed her hair so strands stood out at odd angles. It was quite convincing. She handed him an old newspaper.

He took it from her, unfolding but not examining the material within. “Wonderful to see you again, Sarah. It didn’t take you long to put your data together.”

“Everyone is excited. We’ve been following your script and we’ve learned a lot about photographing alternate energy. It’s hardly clear, but we think we’re on the right track. Still, we can’t make sense of the photos. The images are so faint and unclear, it might be nothing.”

He flipped open the stack of papers, glancing at the first image. “If it’s a matter of bad photography, I may not be able to help.”

“I’m particularly impressed with your results of late,” she said. “This is the first time I’ve witnessed you healing scar tissue, but your work with mental health and addictions are stunning.”

He glanced up, considering her. “The addictions are interesting. Clearly, the addictive tendency is DNA based, even if there’s not always a clear genetic link. Yet I’ve discovered a way of skirting around the DNA dependency. By boosting the spirit while stimulating specific brain regions, I erase the cravings while giving the addicts the drive to correct their behavior. I suspect I’m modifying aspects of their genes.” He shrugged concerning the other issue. “Like the necrosis, many of the mental health issues are based on physical damage to the brain which occurred decades ago. I trigger a positive response, correcting much of it, but it’s almost impossible to eradicate. We need to examine patients when they first note the onset of their illnesses. Waiting until they fall into despair guarantees it’s too late to prevent the conditions.”

“Dr. Baker is amazed at your results. When I first convinced him to accept your patients, he was sure you were a quack. He’s since become world renowned for his progress. He’s published papers on addiction based exclusively on what his patients relate of what you’ve told them.”

“That’s me,” he chuckled, “helping everyone else while living like a bum.”

“There are rumors the government is relocating the homeless to secret camps, your results are so positive. There are parks and shelters across the country bereft of the mentally ill. You need to be cautious of the trail you’re leaving. You disturb enough vessels; people notice even the smallest boat.”

“I’ll keep that in mind the next time someone’s about to lose a leg.”

Sarah glanced around, studying the few people within sight. “What about our results? Can you detect any more than we can?”

Eric held a transparent photograph up to the light, despite the risk of someone observing them. However, the park was empty of its usual residents. A couple poorly-dressed scientists weren’t as unusual as they once were.

“Like you said, it’s hard to be sure, but these,” he indicated a few scattered features on the image, “are intriguing. There’s definite evidence of life, but the images are so weak we can’t determine their extent. This entire region is where we need to focus our research. I wouldn’t venture any closer for fear of pissing off our hosts. While they’ve been patient, I don’t want to push our luck. With their level of technical knowledge, there’s no telling how they might respond.”

“You realize that’s as much as we can accomplish. We’ve made tremendous advancements in the camera technology, but you’re the only one who can identify what we capture.” She paused, hesitating before continuing. “We need to strap your ass into a shuttle and fly you out there.” She studied him. “Sitting around public parks all day, eating crap and avoiding physical exercise, are you in shape for something like this?”

“I haven’t decided to do it,” he reminded her, examining a spreadsheet filled with numbers. “I keep telling Leslie, I’m making major advances here. I’m changing lives. I’m not sure being associated with a controversial government project will allow me to continue the work I’m doing.”

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