Pluribus 18

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September 19, 2031, 10:00 AM.

“In short, she is nuts now, but she was sane when she did those things.”

Dr. Ellen Eagle, Professor Emeritus at Denton University in Santa Cruz pulled off her glasses. “At the risk of violating patient privacy, but under the conditions you have presented to me, I will cooperate to the best of my ability. Besides, I’m eighty years old. Sue me.”

Don and Tap were sitting together on a well-worn leather couch. “What is the root cause of this diagnosis?”

I have been treating Netrosonics employees for forty years. Whatever any of them walked in with, they suffered the effects of corporate psychosis. The published research goes back to Stanley Milgram’s torture experiments over at Stanford. The best-known example is the Stockholm syndrome. You are too young to remember Patty Hearst. She was a wealthy woman who was kidnapped and programmed to rob banks. Combinations of sleep deprivation and suggestible conditioning can make people do things that may be unacceptable outside a cult. Sociopaths rise to the top of such organizations.”

Tap wanted clarification. “So the company was a cult?”

Dr. Eagle shook her head. “I would not say that. There were cult-like elements. This Savior Circle certainly was a cult inside the company. One person got hired and then hired members from that group. It starts to affect the larger corporate culture. Their belief in an apocalypse and attacking people who were different was a self-fulfilling prophecy of paranoia. Such views did not help them keep up with a changing world. You have to remember what it was like thirty years ago. Even the president was telling people ‘You are either with us or against us.’ Cult members understand that. Neither of you has asked about their screening process.”

Don leaned forward. “What screening process?”

“The company conducted tests to build personality profiles of potential employees. Years ago marketing researchers discovered that people susceptible to cults make great employees because they develop irrational attachments to groups. If Netrosonics did not have cult members when it started, it certainly attracted them. Over the years I have discovered many of Netrosonics employees belonged to all sorts of fringe groups. While people who were not susceptible might slip through, they might find it a very hostile work environment.”

Don asked. “Did Tommy Raven slip through?”

It seemed the doctor did and did not want to talk. She hesitated. “Without going into specifics, a person like Tommy could slip through. Tribal culture is a shared consciousness, an extended family of mutual support that cooperates even with strangers. Tribes are for mutual benefit, cults are not, and they might take advantage of someone like Tommy. Survivors of extreme events like genocide have to take on protective coloration. They mimic like their Raven god. They appear to go along until things go wrong and their earlier survival imperatives kick in. His cultural heritage and spiritual values embrace humor in the face of danger. Telling someone like that not to find humor in a dark situation is like telling someone else not to pray.”

Tap latched on to that. “So if you tell Tommy not to joke around, it is telling him not to practice his religion?”

Don snorted. “That is the silliest thing I have ever heard.”

The doctor laughed. “Yes! The fact you find it is funny would only confirm the divine for Tommy.”

Don tried to cut the chase. “So would Tommy kill someone for a joke?”

The doctor frowned. “Someone like Tommy? It would be a case of classic projection. No. As a mimic, he could only express the subconscious violent impulses of people around him as humor. The more people are dysfunctional around him, the more dysfunctional he would appear. He would react with humor not violence. Of course, this might drive dysfunctional people to violence, but you would have to look at them.”

Don was polite but direct. “We need a list of everyone you have treated from Netrosonics.”

She was equally firm. “I cannot allow that.”

Tap pulled out his phone. “I tell you what. Contact your patients and ask them if they will cooperate.”

She relented. “That sounds reasonable. Thank you for coming today.”

Don and Tap walked out of the building. Tap was shaking his head. Those poor bastards never had a chance. They were triggered like Pavlov’s dogs. There should have been warning labels on Netrosonics job postings that said “DANGER: Working here may be hazardous to your health. Do not work here if you are a pregnant or have children. Do not work here if you are a person of color, gay, lesbian or transgender. Do not work if you are elderly or being treated for a medical condition. Consult your doctor before working at Netrosonics.”

Don spread his arms out. “That kind of eliminates just about everybody. No one would come to work for them. I think it should have been more subtle, like in their commercials on Sunday morning talk shows ‘Netrosonics: the last company you will ever work for!'”

Tap pulled out his phone. “Who are you calling?” Don asked.

“She does not have to tell me who her patients are. I am going to track her phone calls. We will compare them to the employee records you gathered at Wakima. That way I am not breaking any rules.”

“You are incredible. I still think when this is over, you are going to wind up hooked up to that machine of yours.”

Tap shrugged. “Yeah, but it is all billable hours.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

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