Newberg was a bit late to the science center after fighting traffic for nearly twenty minutes, and she grumbled as she walked through the front doors nearly as expressively as she did at home.
She found her way to Lab 7, and entered to find Blaine scribbling on his notepad. Without looking up, he grunted, "you're late."
Accustomed to a cheerful, almost flirtatious greeting from the scientist, Newberg wondered how much she really had agitated Blaine to make him greet her so coldly. "I ran into some unexpected traffic," she explained. "A car accident down on Highway twelve."
"That's close to where Doctor Connolly was hit," Blaine declared, and once more, Newberg wondered at his unusual attitude. He sounded almost gleeful as he mentioned the crash that may have killed his partner.
"How is Doctor Connolly, by the way?" Newberg asked.
"He's the same," Blaine answered. "Still in a coma, still doubtful if he'll pull through."
"I'm sorry," Newberg breathed.
"Don't be," Blaine responded. "There's nothing you can do about that. You can, however, help me with my experiment."
Newberg saw a headset waiting on a table, and slipped it over her head. "Is there anything in particular you want me to question Jasper about today?" Newberg asked as she adjusted the headset, setting her suspicions aside in order to concentrate on her work.
"As a matter of fact, there is," Blaine replied. "Yesterday, I asked Jasper to do some things, and he agreed. I want to know why."
"Why he does what you ask him to?" Newberg clarified.
"That's right," Blaine answered. "Does he do it because he feels obligated, as I'm his provider? Or, does he do as I ask because he fears he'll get in trouble if he doesn't? You know, I want to look at his motivations, see if morality has anything to do with it- that's what this experiment is supposed to test, after all."
"Right," Newberg replied, scribbling on her clipboard. "What did you ask him to do, by the way?"
"Oh, you know, little things," Blaine replied, looking away so that Newberg wondered if he was lying. "Easy, trifling tasks like jump on one foot, pick up your cup, that sort of stuff."
"I see," Newberg responded, wondering why Blaine would lie.
"Well, anyway, I think you'd better head in there," Blaine said suddenly, gesturing for Newberg to step closer to the door. "I hope you don't mind if Jasper is just finishing up his dinner. When I saw that you were late, I realized he might not have time to eat before we did some more experiments, so I gave him his meal early."
"That's fine," Newberg said, stepping past Blaine toward the door that would open into Jasper's rooms. A few seconds later, the door before her opened, and Newberg stepped through the hallway.
Newberg had been prepared to find Jasper sitting in a corner, and she had expected him not to look up as she approached, but she was surprised when his head shot up and Jasper watched her approach with two appraising eyes. He sat aside the red apple he'd been eating.
Newberg knelt in order to talk to Jasper on his own level, but Jasper jumped to his feet, then backed away a few steps. Newberg rose to her feet as well, and asked, "Is something wrong?"
"Nothing," Jasper answered, and lowered to a sitting position once more, although Newberg noted that because he sat with his legs folded sideways, he could jump up again at a moment's notice.
Newberg smiled what she hoped was a disarming smile, then said, "You seem just a little bit jumpy today."
Jasper didn't speak to offer an explanation. Newberg always forgot about Jasper's strange conversation styles, and suspected that no matter how many times she visited with the boy, she would never be able to naturally begin a dialogue with him.
She took a deep breath, then began again. "Mr. Blaine told me that last night you agreed to do some things," she said.
Jasper's eyes widened slightly for a second, then he calmed once more. "Yes," he said.
"Did you want to do the things Mr. Blaine asked you to do?" Newberg asked, hoping that eventually he'd offer some extra information.
"I don't know," Jasper answered, looking away.
"You don't know?" Newberg repeated questioningly, even as she wrote his answer on her clipboard. "Do you mean you wanted to do some of the things, but you didn't want to do other things?"
"Mr. Blaine only asked me to do one thing," Jasper said quietly.
Newberg was tempted to ask what Blaine had requested of Jasper, but she also knew Blaine didn't want her to know, and suspected he wouldn't be happy with her snooping. As if to confirm her musings, Blaine's voice sounded over the headpiece, "Ask him why he's doing it."
"You must know how you feel about that thing," Newberg said. "Either you want to do it, or you don't."
Jasper shrugged. "I understand why I should do it, and I want to help, but I don't know if I can do it."
Newberg was getting nowhere with this line of questioning- she wasn't certain what Jasper was talking about. "Why should you do the thing Mr. Blaine asked you to do?" she asked.
"Because if I don't, I'll get hurt," Jasper said.
Newberg smiled slightly at the breakthrough. Blaine almost certainly would be pleased by the results as well. "You think that Mr. Blaine will hurt you if you don't do what he says?" she asked.
"No, you will," Jasper said softly.
"What do you mean?" Newberg asked.
"Mr. Blaine said you wanted to hurt me, and the only way I could make you not hurt me was to kill you," Jasper said.
In a moment, Newberg was on her feet. "What?" she demanded, certain Blaine would never compromise his experiment with such a sick joke, but unable to imagine any other explanation.
Mr. Blaine's voice sounded in the room a moment later. "Now, Jasper," he said.
"What's the meaning of this?" Newberg demanded, even as Jasper sadly and sluggishly rose to his feet.
"What are you doing?" Newberg asked.
Jasper's eyes looked pained as he said, "I think you're nice, Doctor Newberg, but I can't let you hurt me."
"You're not really going to try to kill me, are you?" Newberg asked, standing her ground as Jasper approached, hoping to learn that everything was a joke at any moment, hoping soon Blaine would call Jasper off.
Jasper answered Newberg's question with a punch to her face. A combination of the force of the punch and Newberg's surprise that he'd hit her caused the doctor to stumble back a couple of steps.
As she realized that she was truly in very real danger, Newberg turned and ran for the door on the other side of the room. Silently, she cursed herself for wearing a skirt and high-heels.
Newberg reached the door, and jiggled it, but it wouldn't open. "Come on, Blaine!" she yelled, hoping he was still listening through the headset. If she could only find some way to appeal to him, he might let her out.
"You could go to jail for years," Newberg called. "Even though you may not kill me yourself, you aided and abetted a killer."
A moment later, Jasper's hands clasped around Newberg's neck. As he strangled her, Newberg kicked and punched, but Jasper was behind her, standing in a position Newberg couldn't reach without turning around.
The realization seemed unreal, but Newberg couldn't deny that she was going to die.
The next few minutes passed like hours. Newberg's neck hurt where Jasper held it, her lungs felt like they were going to burst, but she couldn't convince him to release his hold.
Finally, everything went dark.
Jasper was surprised when Newberg stopped struggling, although she was clearly still conscious, and was even more surprised when she went limp. He dropped her to the ground, and expected Newberg to get up and start trying to escape again, but she just lay there.
Her eyes stared upward blankly, gazing at the endless white ceiling above her. Jasper touched her eyelids to close them, and shivered as he realized he was touching a corpse.
Jasper had read of the physical causes of death, but he'd never heard of the clenching knots his gut would tie itself in. Suddenly, Jasper felt sick, and he ran to the wall so that when he vomited, it would be in a corner and out of the way.
Once he was finished, he turned around, and tried to ignore Newberg's body. He couldn't- it loomed at the edges of his mind, pressed on his consciousness, and demanded attention.
He didn't understand why, but tears welled at the corners of his eyes. Jasper didn't recognize the emotions he felt, which were not grief or sadness or triumph or any of the other emotions he'd thought he might feel.
Jasper knelt at Newberg's side, and reached forward to touch her body. His finger ran along her shoulder, which was still warm. "What did I do?" he asked aloud.
He heard the familiar sound of a door opening behind him, but Jasper didn't look to see who had entered. A man walked through the room, his footsteps echoing off the walls.
The man came to a stop behind Jasper, and asked, "How do you feel?" Jasper recognized the man's voice, although he'd only heard it broadcast over intercom speakers before.
"You're Mr. Blaine?" Jasper asked, unable to look away from Newberg.
"Yes, I am," the man answered. "Look at what you've done, Jasper. You killed her. Nice job."
"I don't feel the way I think I should," Jasper murmured.
"How do you feel?" Blaine asked once more.
"I don't know the word," Jasper said, and he clutched his stomach, fearing he would be sick once more. "I feel like I've made a mistake, only, not a mistake. I feel like I should . . . I don't know, compensate for what I've done." To emphasize his last words, he turned and faced Mr. Blaine, staring in the provider's face for the first time.
Mr. Blaine was scowling. "What you're feeling is guilt!" he practically spat the last word, as if was angry that Jasper would feel that way.
Jasper flinched, then asked, "What's guilt?"
Blaine looked away. Jasper turned his attention back to Newberg's body as he decided guilt wasn't a pleasant feeling.
After a moment, he spoke again. "Doctor Newberg must have had a family, right?" he asked.
"Why?" Blaine demanded.
"I want to make this up to them," Jasper said softly. "I feel like I've done something I shouldn't have done, but now, I should seek out . . . I don't know the words for what I feel."
"Redemption! Forgiveness!" Blaine covered his face with his hands. "This is all wrong!"
Jasper wasn't entirely sure what Blaine was talking about, but based on body language alone, he was inclined to agree.
Suddenly, he leapt to his feet, and pointed at Blaine. "You!" he cried. "You! You can help me fix all this!"
"Me?" Blaine cried. "What can I do?"
"You made all this," Jasper said, gesturing to the room around him. "You've taken care of me and given me all I need. Surely you can take what I've done and fix it."
Blaine's jaw dropped, and he gasped, "You think I'm God?"
"I don't know what God is," Jasper replied. "If God means you can fix this though, then yes."
Blaine shook his head, then turned and walked out the door, muttering. "I did everything right," he mumbled. "And still, Jasper turned to redemption and religion. Perhaps mankind needs God."