Home > The Speed of Sound (Speed of Sound Thrillers #1)

The Speed of Sound (Speed of Sound Thrillers #1)
Author: Eric Bernt

CHAPTER 1

Harmony House, Woodbury, New Jersey, May 19, 4:09 p.m.

Dr. Marcus Fenton, the senior and most respected doctor on the grounds of the government-funded facility, studied the applicant closely. Skylar Drummond. The young lady’s résumé was impeccable, but that was only the beginning of what he knew about her. Humble background in Richmond, Virginia. Parents divorced when she was young. Raised by her father, who was a professor, but not much of one, at some forgettable state school. She played lacrosse well enough to get a full ride to the University of Virginia. Started all four years, and did even better in the classroom, which was why she didn’t have to pay a dime to attend Harvard Medical School.

“You have a lot of other options. Duke. UPMC. Why Harmony House?”

“I believe your patients could change the world.”

“That’s quite a statement.”

“I’m quoting you.”

Of course, she was. He appreciated the flattery. Fenton’s expression then turned serious. “Would you mind if I ask about your brother?”

She stiffened almost imperceptibly in her chair. “Not at all.”

He admired her bravery. Her drive to help others because of the one she couldn’t. And whatever else had brought her into the cold metal chair across from him. “Could he have changed the world?”

“Theoretically, yes. But it was a long way from Christopher’s ideas to meaningful translation in the real world.” A hint of sadness crept across her face. There was a long, uncomfortable pause, but she continued to hold his gaze.

“What was his area of interest?”

“Quantum physics.”

“Specifically?”

She paused for just a slight moment because she knew how ridiculous it sounded. “Black-hole travel. Christopher was convinced he was on the verge of revolutionizing the travel industry by being able to bend time and space.”

The old man didn’t bat an eye, both out of deference to her deceased brother and in testament to some of the seemingly preposterous theories Fenton had encountered over decades of research with patients at the highest-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Because some of their far-out thinking turned out to have validity, which was exactly why Harmony House had been brought into existence. It was Dr. Fenton’s genius to recognize the potential lurking within his patients long before anyone else did. Special thinking in special people. The kind of research no one in the cognitive mainstream would pursue, which every so often turned out to have meaning—of a magnitude even the most acclaimed scientists in the world could only dream of.

Few people knew that some of the most startling scientific advances in the last twenty years had come from people who couldn’t wipe themselves.

“It’s quite possible Christopher was merely ahead of his time.”

“If you had seen the crayon drawings he insisted were technical-design documents, you would appreciate how generous a statement that is.”

“That’s the battle—to translate from their realm into ours.” He paused, reflecting on just how many of these battles he had fought over the years. Most had been losing campaigns, but he was the rarity who had more than a few notations in the win column.

Fenton, and all that he had accomplished, was why Skylar had picked this facility when she could have picked from any number of more obviously prestigious and lucrative positions. She genuinely believed in Fenton and his work, and that a patient here just might change the world. That one of their radical ideas just might actually translate.

Little did she know how many already had.

After making one final notation, which Skylar could not see, Dr. Fenton closed her file. This was it. The moment of truth. He watched as she took a long, deep breath, like someone who had practiced it. Inhale through the nose. Exhale through the mouth. Slowly, deliberately. Control the breathing; control the mind.

He stood slowly, relishing the moment. Dr. Marcus Fenton was confident in his decision. He extended his hand across the modern desk. “Congratulations. You got the job.”

CHAPTER 2

Eddie’s Room, Harmony House, May 19, 4:13 p.m.

Eddie sat quietly on the bed in his room, which was exactly the same size as all the other patient rooms in Harmony House. Twelve feet by eighteen feet, or, as Edward Maxwell Parks preferred to think of it, 3 x 22 by 2 x 32. There was a symmetry to the dimensions that made Eddie feel comfortable, and feeling comfortable was important to him. Because he couldn’t think if he wasn’t comfortable. And if he couldn’t think, panic could set in. And if panic set in, well, that was not something Eddie liked to think about. But that didn’t stop him from occasionally dwelling on the matter, so he utilized a technique he had developed as a child to stop himself abruptly when thinking such things. And that was to SLAP himself as hard as he could.

The slap left his cheek bright red, except for the areas covered in scar tissue—a number of small, haphazardly crisscrossing scars pockmarking his right cheek. There were no scars on his left cheek because Eddie was right-handed. When he self-mutilated, the right side bore the brunt. The scars were reminders of just how bad his outbursts could get.

Eddie glanced in the mirror, inspecting his cheek. No blood. That was good. He checked his watch to record the exact time of the slap in a binder labeled #101 sitting next to him. It was his third slap of the day, which put today’s count over his daily average of 2.7. Eddie was certain that Dr. Fenton would have something to say about this at their next therapy session, because Eddie was supposed to be slapping himself less, not more, but at least there hadn’t been any picture frames or kitchen utensils involved. Those were among the items that drew blood and left scars. Hearing footsteps down the hall, he quickly put down the binder.

Eddie’s room was unique in Harmony House in that it was the only patient room with acoustic tiles affixed to the walls and ceiling. He had been so excruciatingly sensitive to sound, upon arrival at the facility, that the staff couldn’t imagine how he’d survived in the outside world for as long as he had. Heightened sensitivities were nothing new among patients on the autism spectrum, but Eddie brought the matter to an entirely new level. Even the slightest noise could send him wailing. His agonal screams had been so unsettling to the other patients when Eddie first arrived that they almost caused an uprising of sorts. And no matter how valuable this particular patient and his gifts might be, he wasn’t worth more than the entire lot.

At least, not yet.

The acoustic tiles in Eddie’s room were not like those affixed around the interior of most recording studios. They were fabricated to Eddie’s exact specifications, at an initial cost of $91 per tile. There were 335 tiles in the room. With labor, the project ended up costing American taxpayers close to $35,000. Eddie brought the cost down slightly by developing his own epoxy-based resin to affix the tiles, but the money factor had nothing to do with it. Eddie didn’t grasp the concepts of commerce or currency. Money had never played a part in his life. His concern was that the installers had intended to use glue with an unacceptably low adhesion factor. The wrong glue could have ruined the acoustics of the room and, therefore, Eddie’s life. And Dr. Fenton wasn’t about to allow that.

The tiles weren’t much to look at. In fact, they were downright ugly, but only because Eddie had given absolutely no consideration to their appearance. (The aesthetics would later be improved by the engineers tasked with fabricating them for commercial use. Total revenue to date had exceeded $17 million, making the initial outlay of $35,000 look like quite a prudent investment.) He cared about only one thing, and that was how the tiles made the space sound.

The result was amazing. The very air in this room seemed to be quieter than anywhere else in the entire facility. And, in fact, it was. Measurably. Dr. Fenton had demonstrated it on numerous occasions for high-profile visitors. Any sound anywhere else in the facility seemed magnified in comparison. Like the FOOTSTEPS of the young woman walking briskly down the hall, away from Dr. Fenton’s office, which could be heard through the crack beneath his door.

Eddie stopped moving as he listened intently. He even stopped blinking. The footsteps ECHOED lightly but clearly. The strange thing was that Eddie didn’t recognize these particular footsteps. He could identify everyone who worked at Harmony House—the doctors, nurses, cooks, janitors, security guards, deliverymen, repairmen, and even the regular visitors of certain patients, none of whom ever came to see him—by the sounds of their footsteps. He also knew most of their names, where they were from, and other odd tidbits he picked up from the snippets of conversation he’d hear from inside his room.

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