A man in a stark white coat sits silently chewing on the end of a pencil staring at a row of computer screens. Every so often he moves, ever so slightly, only to put the gnawed pencil to the paper sitting in front of him on the desk. Coffee cups dot the surface of the slick white desk. A singular dried coffee stain, mostly on the man’s notes, marring the surface where the overturned cup still sits. He sighs and leans back in his chair pushing a pair of horn rimmed glasses up the bridge of his nose removing the blue glow of the monitor glare from his sight.
His bruised looking eyes shift back and forth hastily observing the images. In every other monitor there is a gray dimly lit room. Each room is identical to the others dark gray walls, shiny tile floors that have a slight orange glow to them in the dim lighting. A chair somewhat resembling the child of an dentist’s chair and an oversized leather recliner sits in the middle of each room hospital monitors surrounding each chair keeping track of vital signs. Through the cameras the screens glow bright obscuring the readings from sight. Laying reclined on each chair is a frail looking person, each a different gender and ethnicity from the next. All have IVs protruding from their arms and wires crawling out of every opening of the hospital like gowns that they wear. None of them move and it appears that they are all sleeping.
“Do you think they know?” A voice behind the man makes him jump. “Sorry I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“What do you mean?” the man answers ignoring the apology.
“What, about them knowing?” The man sitting nods not looking away from his screens. “Well, they are all still conscious. Essentially. Do you think they know where they are?”
“Physically?” He shifts in his chair slightly to look at the man behind him. “It’s highly unlikely.”
“Whatever you say, Chief.”
“I told you to stop calling me that.”
“It wouldn’t be any fun around here if you actually liked your nickname. The second man slowly makes his way across the floor to stand next to the desk. “Besides, it’s already stuck. Can’t change it now.”
The man called “Chief” scowls at the man from his chair. He didn’t have time for joking around; he had more important things to do. Chief turned his gaze back to the monitors. A steady beeping is emitted softy by the monitors without subjects, keeping watch over the heart beats. Out of the corner of his eye is a twitch of movement. He moves his gaze to the corresponding screen refusing to move his head in an effort not to tip off the man leaning against the wall beside him.
Very subtly on the monitor the subject’s hand twitched. Chief raised his pencil to his lips. He wanted to make note of the unusual behavior, but with his peer watching his every move, he began to bite into the soft wood making a mental note instead.
“What a disgusting habit, Chief.” the other man scoffs.
“What do you want, Hascal?” Chief sighed with disdain.
“The supervisor thinks you’ve been in here for too long. He wants me to take over.” Hascal smilied slyly.
I doubt that.” Chief removed his glasses, wiping the dust from the lenses with the edge of his sleeve. He slid the glasses back onto his face. “They know better than to disrupt my work.”
Hascal crossed his arms over his chest frowning silently.
“Come on man, be reasonable.” He replied with a forced laugh that was anything but playful. There was a slight hint of disdain that Chief had always noticed whenever Hascal was told no.
“I am being reasonable.”” Chief sighed, his annoyance had become apparent. “Look, Hascal, if you want to help…you can bring me another cup of coffee.”
Hascal grimaced, clearly displeased with being reduced to an errand boy. Chief scanned the row of monitors coming to rest again on the subject who had moved only moments ago. The heart rate had increased ever so slightly as had their brain activity. He bit deeply into the pencil knowing this was important, yet he was still reluctant to let Hascal know anything was wrong. Hascal always had a way of infringing on other people’s work. He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time every time one of his colleagues made a break through. As much as he didn’t want that to happen, it was still enough to spark an internal ethical debate.
Well if I do nothing the problem could escalate.
True, but it could also work itself out.
What if it doesn’t? What then?
Well they would die…presumably and it goes into the report.
But that would discredit any good we are doing here and I would have someone else’s life on my hands.
Think of all the good it would do anyway. You just pass it off as one bad reaction, they didn’t take to the serum. Besides, it would keep Hascal’s name off of your work.
Those words slithered through his thoughts, villainous and full of venom. He shuddered at the fact that he had even thought about it, let alone gave it a shred of consideration. Chief sighed heavily knowing what he needed to do, but not liking it one bit. He released the pencil from its toothy vice and flipped through a folder he had pulled from beneath the desk somewhere.
“What’s going on?” Hascal asked giddily, trying to mask his excitement with concern.
“Nothing really.” Chief replied scanning over a couple sheets of paper he had retrieved from the file. “There was a spike in activity, but it doesn’t appear to be anything to be concerned about.”
“Oh.” Hascal sneered allowing his body to fall back against the wall, with an audible thud.
Chief hadn’t been lying. He had pulled the patient’s medical record from their file. Nothing on the record seemed to point to anything useful or worrisome. Yet it still worried him. There was a possibility of a reaction to the serum, but nothing pointed to anything to be concerned about. Still he jotted this onto his note pad:
“What the hell is that supposed to say?” Hascal scoffed snatching the notes off the table top. “Your handwriting is really atrocious, Chief.”
So Snakes like you can’t take my work.
“Don’t you have somewhere else to be?” Chief dismissed the insult rolling his eyes. He pulled his glasses from his face rubbing the sweat from the bridge of his nose before replacing them.
“You’re right.” Hascal dropped the pad unceremoniously onto the table and glanced at the monitors. “Hm, that does look interesting.”
“It’s nothing. Just a new memory being processed. “Chief tried to sound as nonchalant as he could. If he could make the abnormality seem normal, it was likely he could get his colleague to leave sooner. “It happens all the time. Really.”
Whether he had actually been convincing, he wasn’t certain, but the greedy and highly disappointed man decided to just shrug off his words and leave the scientist to his work. He let out a sigh of relief as the door clicked shut behind him.
Swiftly he jot down some more notes on his pad about the current condition of patient six after counting the monitors on the desk to assign the correct number. He then flipped on a large monitor that hung above the number 6 and their vitals. The indicator light blinked to life and the screen glowed brightly as it focused the image. A keypad built into the white glass surface of the desk appeared slowly, like a yawn of lines and letters.
On the screen was a grassy hillside with a large tree at the top. The focus shifted downward to look at a rather muddy path. A white cursor flashed across the bottom of the screen next to text that read:
ADMINISTRATIVE ACCESS ONLY
PLEASE ENTER NAME AND ACCESS KEY
Chief pushed his notes to the side, tapping at the keys on the the glass. The cursor flashed across revealing, in white block letters, his real name: Charles Simeon.
He paused for a moment wondering how his name had been twisted into the nickname he so loathed. The hairs on the back of his neck pricked at they stood on end as he became aware of someone watching him over his shoulder. He glanced quickly behind him expecting to find Hascal standing there in the shadows, but from what he could see the room was empty. The corner closest to the door was darker than the rest of the room, though it appeared to be empty also. Even so in the cold glow of the monitor Doctor Simeon swore he could see the faintest outline of a figure standing amongst the shadows there, but when he blinked there was nothing there.
“Paranoid.” He mumbled hunching himself over the keyboard as a precaution typing in his access key. “I’m just paranoid.”
In the moments of paranoia, the image on the screen had changed showing the base of the tree at the top of the hill. Thousands of decaying acorns were stuck into the roots underneath the cursor as it waited for a command. Dr. Simeon thought for a second carefully punching in a call code into the bar and let his hand hover over the enter key. He pulled his hand away from the touch pad leaning back in his chair grabbing his note pad. He pulled a neglected red pen out from beneath a monitor on the desk scratching words onto the pad.
Unusual brain activity
Simulation accessed @ 17:00
Probe authorization sent: BE3
He vigorously underlined the note ensuring to add it ultimately to his report on the trials. He spun the pen in his fingers tapping enter on the glass. The screen blinked changing perspectives so that the patient could be seen in full now.
Number 6 was resting in a nook of the tree, eyes closed. Simeon twirled the pen between the fingers of his left hand and using his right to navigate the probe around the screen with the arrow keys. As the probe floated around number 6, an annoying hum began to bleed through the speakers. Simeon searched the monitor for an apparent cause of the noise to no avail. The patient swats absentmindedly at the probe as Simeon navigated it around their head. He hadn’t realized, in his search for the origins of the humming, that he had been holding down an arrow making it do so. He set the probe down on the patient’s knee making notes of his observations.
Patient appears relaxed.
No immediate sign of simulation resist.
Inside the simulation 6 sat observing the probe. Simeon glanced up just in time to see the curiosity that had painted itself over their face. “Odd.” He thought. The simulation commands had been programmed exactly to his specifications to not arouse suspicion in the test subjects should they need to be used. Any probe that had been programmed had been done so that they would blend into their surroundings; completely mundane creatures or objects. Even so the subject appeared to be highly aware of the probe now.
“What did I just do?” Simeon thought, panic beginning to bubble up inside him as he watched his test subject scrutinizing the probe.
“Something isn’t right.” he said aloud. The patient’s eyes widened at the sound as if they could hear him. “Maybe they can.”
He swore under his breath as he hastily typed an inquiry into the bar:
The cursor sat blinking as it notified him that his request was being processed. A second line of text appeared beneath his request after a minute.
MICROPHONE: Built in, Active
Simeon pressed his finger onto the corresponding key to disable the audio input. His attempts were greeted with an error notification.
Panicked he repeatedly mashed his finger into the key praying that one of the attempts would work. Again and again the computer hollered in error. Between the humming and the error notifications, Simeon’s ears began to ring. A line of “command unavailable” text trailed their way up the screen.
Six jolted forward sending the probe careening toward the ground. Simeon let a soft strong of curses escape from his lips as he abandoned the audio and tried to regain control over the probe. After a moments struggle he managed to get the probe airborne trailing behind the patient bringing it to rest on their shoulder.
They had stopped at the edge of the hill and Simeon now found himself looking out at a vast wild strawberry field. He gaped at how stunning the view was. The patch stretched out in front of them, a sea of white blossoms mixed with the pink-white inflorescence of clover. He had given specifications for the programming of the memories as well as the probes, but even so he was taken aback at how real the image in front of him felt.
A laugh began to rise up in the patient, the sound jolting Simeon back to reality. He adjusted the probe back to the patient’s face. Their features had contorted from laughter as the sound began to grow louder and more frantic.
“Something isn’t right.” Simeon wiped sweat away from his forehead. 6’s activity had spiked again, so much so the monitors had beeped a warning. “No, no, no, no.”
The subject’s hand twitched on the monitor next to the readings; a small tremor that began in their fingers and worked its way up their arm. A string of soft curses escaped his lips as he searched frantically for a way to right the situation.
The image on the upper screen began to fade in and out as 6 began to resist harder. Simeon typed, heart racing, in an attempt to keep the patient fully submersed in the false reality.
“Oh that doesn’t look good.”The mocking tone in Hascal’s voice made Simeon jump. “You shouldn’t’ve lied to me, Chief.”
“Hascal, I do not have time for this!” Simeon shouted wondering if it was possible for his blood to boil while his heart was trying to beat its way out of his chest. “And God dammit man! My name is Charles, not ‘Chief!’ Charles Simeon!”
“Jeez, calm down.” Hascal was leaning over Simeon’s shoulder flipping through the notes that had been added since his departure. “A probe huh? That seems risky. Very unlike you, Chief.”
“Charles or Doctor Simeon, Hascal. Those are your choices or you call me nothing at all.” He managed through gritted teeth. “What are you doing here anyway? I don’t have time for this.”
In truth he didn’t have time. The small tremor that had appeared in th subjects arm was spreading the more he fought to keep them under. It wouldn’t be long before they would break hold and his time would be up. He couldn’t let that happen.
“Well, I was going to bring you that coffee that you asked for, but truth is, I never left.”
Hascal was never his favorite person and now it became even more apparent as to why Simeon hated him. He had never hated the man more than he did in this instant.
“Glad I did though. Seems like you really need me here, Chief.”
“Whatever.” Hascal dusted off the shoulder of his lab coat intently observing the reactions cropping up on the screens. “Admit it…Charles. You need me.”
He sneered, Simeon’s name sounding so wrong and leaving a bad taste in his mouth. Still he insisted. Hascal wouldn’t get what he wanted if the man he needed to get it from wouldn’t allow him to help.
“I don’t need you, Hascal.” Simeon snapped slamming his hand on the desk. He was frustrated. Nothing he was trying was helping and he was losing control of the situation faster than he had anticipated. He needed to do something, and fast.
“If you remotely administer more of the serum, perhaps…”
“No. No, no no!” Simeon shouted. “If that is causing the problem it could very well kill them!”
“I AM CALM!”
“Charles, relax. What do you need to do?”
“I don’t know! I don’t know!” The panic was becoming more and more apparent in his voice as he realized how out of control the situation had gotten. “It’s not like this has happened before.”
“Just calm down.”
“Telling me to calm down isn’t helping.”
“Well what can you do?”
“I guess…” Simeon started trailing off as he thought about his options. “No, no I can’t do that.”
“Do what, Charles?” Hascal was beginning to lose his patience. He needed Simeon to make a decision soon.
“It looks like my only option is to pull them out of hibernation.” Simeon pinched the bridge of his nose . “But that could be catastrophic.”
“Can it kill them?”
“Then do it.”
“SON OF A BITCH, CHARLES!” Hascal had officially lost his cool. He was pretty sure he was about ready to strangle his colleague. “JUST. DO. IT.”
“Alright!” Simeon let out a frustrated groan as he shot out of his chair lunging for the door off on the right wall. “Patient Access: Authorized Personnel Only,” was painted in red across the door. He pulled a key card from his pocket swiping it in the lock gaining him access to the narrow corridor beyond. He counted the doors quickly as he passed them looking for number 6. At the correct testing room he swiped his card again wrenching the door open entering in time to see his patient convulse violently before lying still in the chair. Gently Simeon removed the IV from their arm watching, serum drip out onto the floor as he bandaged the puncture.
The subject’s heart rate slowly began to calm as Simeon removed the wires and remaining IVs. As he removed the last node and shut off the monitors, the patient groggily opened their eyes.
“he-huh uh- Hey there.” simeon spoke gently clearing his throat to rid it of the panic that still lie there. He placed two fingers on their neck checking to make sure the pulse was still steady. “My name is Doctor Charles Simeon. Are you alright? Do you know where you are?”
Six snapped their head toward him blinking frantically. Their jaw quivering as if they were trying to speak and couldn’t. Simeon could feel their pulse rising as they began to panic.
“It’s okay.” He said gently leaning into them. “It’s alright. I’m here to help you.
Back in the other room Hascal watched from the monitor as the patient regained control of their right hand; using it to grab hold of Simeon’s neck. There was a peculiar buzzing in his ear as he stood silently watching Simeon choke. He swatted at the buzzing watching the monitor intently.
The bee landed on top of the monitor catching his attention with how out place it was. Hascal sighed as it gave him an inquisitive look.
“I know, I know.” He said making sure to look the peculiar creature in the eyes. “I’m working on it. Give it a little more time.”