The Stasis Experiment and How Not to React to It

Submitted into Contest #62 in response to: Write about a character preparing to go into stasis for decades (or centuries).... view prompt

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Drama Inspirational Science Fiction

“Welcome to the Fredrickson Internship,” Dr. Levon Fredrickson said with the world’s cockiest smile on his face. “As you know, we’re the largest government-funded psychology program in New Beckom.”

He gestured for his interns to clap. Hesitantly, they did.

“Thank you. Thank you. Now, we’ll start by conducting my most famous psychology experiment: The Stasis.” Dr. Fredickson clicked a remote and a presentation shot across the lecture hall wall. “In this experiment, you will all be assigned one subject that has agreed and signed a contract to become part of an experiment—without knowing what the said experiment is. You will inform your subject that the experiment is to cryogenically freeze them and they will be awakened in one hundred years. Your job is to monitor and record the subject’s reaction. The government is providing everything you need to monitor them.”

He clicked to a new slide. “Past subjects have been known to succumb to insanity—” He clicked to a slide of someone swaddled in a mountain of blankets in the corner of a dark room. “— recklessness—” A person dancing on their boss’s desk without pants on. “—violent outbursts in retaliation—” A photo of a person throwing their shoes at the camera. “—and suicidal tendencies.” The next slide was blank and Dr. Fredrickson cleared his throat. “Of course, it is required by the government for you to stop the last one and report it immediately.” The presentation clicked to the last slide. “Any questions?”

Only one hand shot up. An over-eager girl named Mary-Sue who hand stitched her name into her lab coat. “Should we stop the subjects before they commit any other life changing mistakes like quitting their jobs or committing crimes?”

“Nope.”

“But they’re acting on false information that could ruin their lives.”

Dr. Fredrickson’s smirk flickered, but only for a minute, as the other interns murmured. “Listen, sweetheart, they signed a contract. They agreed to this. It’s just one lie. It’s their choice how to reaction. We can’t be held responsible for their actions—we can only record them. Anything else? Because if you are just going to continue to have problems with my amazing experiment, I think you may need to find another top-ranking internship.”

Mary-Sue lowered her head, flashes of everything that could go wrong if she lost this internship invaded her head. She could fail at getting a good job. She and her cat could lose their apartment. Sir Flufftons can’t be homeless. He’s a house cat—he’ll never survive on the streets. “No, sir,” she whispered.

“Good. Moving on to assigning your subjects.”

***

“Alster Romans. Alster Romans. Alster Romans,” Mary-Sue repeated under her breath as she marched towards the meeting room with the subjects in it. She shoved open the door, letting a cross breath fluff her lab coat. Glancing down at her clipboard to look like she hadn’t been over prepping this moment the entire time over, she said, “Allie-star Romes?” Panic flashed across her face. “I mean… Alster Romans?”

A twenty-something, tall man with a scar that ran across the bridge of his nose to his right earlobe raised his hand. “Would you please come with me?”

“Sure.”

***

After readjusting the paperweights on her temporary office-desk, Mary-Sue folded her hands. Then unfolded them. “The experiment you signed up for has been decided.”

“Okay.”

“In one week, you will be cryogenically frozen and awakened in one hundred years. We like to give you this time now to get your affairs in order. The government will be made aware of your disappearance, but no one else will and you are required to keep this a secret.”

Mary-Sue bit her lip, tensing her writing hand over her clipboard as Dr. Fredrickson’s lesson replayed in her head: One of the key moments to record is the initial reaction. It can often foreshadow their bigger reaction later. Remember, there is a panic button on the edge of your desk in case of an extreme and dangerous reaction.

Her left hand hovered by the secret hover button.

“Okay,” he said, plainly. Not a drop of emotion crossed his face.

“Okay?” She repeated, confusion. “No questions?”

“Will the check still go to the requested person?”

She double checked Alster’s file. The money from doing the experiment was supposed to be sent to a Ms. Lilia Theodore. No further information on the girl. “Yes.”

“Is that everything then? One week and I come back here to be frozen?” He said calmly, standing.

“For a hundred years…” Mary-Sue reminded, growing nervous. “Everyone you love will be dead.”

He didn’t acknowledge those words and simply left.

Mary-Sue rested her head on her hand, chewing on her cheek. “I got a bad feeling about this one.”

***

At the sixth meeting, Dr. Fredrickson greeted them with his same cocky smile that Mary-Sue had already come to loathe. “Greetings, interns. Who’s willing to share their subject’s current reports?”

A flurry of hands went up. “You.”

Carter, Mary-Sue’s roommate’s boyfriend from university, answered. “Mine admitted to sleeping with his boss’s wife and told everyone at work that she preferred him in bed.”

“My subject walked into Walmart, took a giant TV, and tried to walk out the door with it. She got tased in the parking lot.”

“My subject did donuts in the desert until they hit a bunch of cacti.”

“Mine going into a fight with a police officer, demanding to be let out of the experiment. He’s in jail.”

A couple of interns winced at the mental thought. A deep pit grew in Mary-Sue’s stomach. She chewed on her cheek as she thought of her subject. Over the past six days, Alster had shown no reaction to the news and carried on with business as norm. A worry spread through her. Would she fall behind the others and lose the internship? Would Dr. Fredrickson accuse her of sabotaging his experiment and get her blacklisted? Could she ‘speed up’ his reaction somehow?

She shook her head. What was wrong with her? Hoping some guy would ruin his life so she could advance her on…

Her teeth bit through her cheek, drawing blood. The ironic taste kissed her mouth. She stopped chewing and just sucked on the puncture wound. He agreed to this… she reminded herself. It’s all legal. Everyone else is doing it. He’s getting paid.

No wait. Lilia Theodore was getting paid for this. Most people didn’t start the program planning on giving the money to someone else. Why would he do all of this for her? Mary-Sue didn’t know, but she had a feeling it was involved with his strange reaction.

***

There was only one Lilia Theodore in New Beckom. Mary-Sue double checked the address and stared at the building in front of her. “This can’t be right.”

The building was a hospital.

A nurse with too big bags under his eyes led her to Lilia’s room after Mary-sue told him she was her estranged aunt. “Here you go,” he said, dropping her off at a room in the children’s ward, the smell of smoke and a devil-may-care attitude lingering on his lips.

Mary-Sue muttered a thank you and stepped inside. A girl with pigtails and wide brown eyes like a baby deer looked at me as she entered. “Hello,” Mary-Sue said, “Are you Lilia Theodore?”

She nodded.

“Okay.”

Oh my god, Mary-Sue thought, just what the hell was I planning on talking to this girl about? This was a bad idea. She started backpedaling towards the door, the awkwardness pushing her every step. When she was almost out, her back ran into a stiff person. Spinning around, Alster and his now-ruined bouquet of flowers greeted her. “H… Hello,” Mary-Sue stuttered.

Alster observed for a second before saying, “Did you follow me here?”

“Well I… Well I…”

After placing the bouquet in a vase, he said in a hushed whispered, “Meet me outside. Now.”

***

More blood filled Mary-Sue’s mouth as she paced in a circle. Alster stood, in front of her, with crossed arms and a face full of cross-emotions. “What are you doing here?”

Might as well go with the truth, Mary-Sue, she told herself, you know you’re not gonna remember the lies correctly anyway. Just keep it short and sweet and don’t mention the truth of the experiment. You’ll ruin everything.

“I came here to figure out who Lilia Theodore was to you. Is she your daughter or niece? You don’t share the same name.”

“How is that any of your business?” For the first time, Mary-Sue saw some emotion come from Alster. Though, it was a little heat of anger on his tongue, so it could have gone better.

“I just—I was trying to figure out why you were acting the way you were. I didn’t want my data to ruin the psychology experiment!”

Alster leaned back on the rusted railings of the wheel-chair entrance ramp. He glanced to the sky like he was trying to figure out if there really was a god in this world. “Psychology experiment, huh? So I take it that none of us are being cryogenically frozen.”

“No.”

“So the true experiment was…?”

“To record people’s reactions to being told they were going to be put into stasis within the week after already agreeing to it.”

“Well, it sounds like a shitty thing to make a person go through, if you ask me. To accept losing everything within the span of a week? That’s inhumane and not worth the money.”

“I know,” Mary-Sue said meekly.

“So why are you still part of it?”

“This is the best path for my career—”

“But it’s not the only one. And trust me, there’s plenty better where you don’t have to manipulate a bunch of poor people.”

She stayed silent for a second before saying, “Can I just ask you one thing before I leave?”

“Why not.”

“Why didn’t you freak out about being frozen?”

He sighed, taking a moment to put the thoughts he’s already subconsciously acted on into words. “Being frozen and awakened in a time period where everyone you love is dead? That’s basically dying. You were telling people they were going to die in their lives now. But it’s worse than that. Death is blissful. It forgives and forgets. You won’t remember your old life and you won’t crave it. If you were frozen, you would remember your old life. That would hurt worse than actual death.”

“So why didn’t you react to it?”

“Because I’ve already accepted my death. It was the day I met Lilia. Over on the two-hundred foot bridge by main street. She asked me, a sweaty college student who smelled like ramen and puke, ‘Are you gonna jump?’. I said yes. She said, ‘you can’t’. When I asked why, she said it was because seeing me die would give her nightmares. She was seven at the time.

“Of course, I cared more about some random little girl than I did myself and went to leave when she asked me if I was gonna come back to jump another day. I didn’t answer. She took it as a yes. Lilia said that if I didn’t come back to that bridge and see her every day, then she’d know I jumped and was dead and she’d have nightmares.

“So, every day, I came back. Sometimes, I’d just talk to her about random shit. None of it made any else. None of it had. All it did was stall me during the bad parts of my life. Eventually, I made it through them. Things always get better, she just forced me to be around to see that. I owe my life to her.”

“Why is she in the hospital?”

“Appendix burst. Her parents are struggling with the bill. I don’t have the money to pay it but…”

“The experiment would be enough,” Mary-Sue finished.

“This time, I figured I wouldn't even be dying. Lilia’s healthy now. She’ll live a long time from all the medical advancements. I’ll see her in a hundred years. That’s all that mattered.”

“But… isn’t there something you’ve always wanted to do? Something to act out on like all the other subjects?”

“There’s nothing to act out on. I’m content with this life. I’m at peace. Acting out or acting reckless would only ruin that. I’m sure I’d be content with the future too.” He turned to me. “Are you content with your life though? Blood’s dripping from your lips. Your nerves had chewed up your cheeks. That doesn’t sound like a very healthy life.”

Mary-Sue stopped chewing on her cheeks.

“Well, it’s been fun spilling all my trauma to you, stranger,” Alster said with a silly grin and a cheesy salute. “But I got a life to keep living. Send me the cheek as soon as possible. And if it makes you feel any better, you can make up whatever crazy reaction you want to me have on your little charts. It doesn’t matter to me.”

With that, he went back into the hospital.

***

On the seventh meeting, the seventh day, Mary-Sue was late for the meeting. She’s never been late for anything in her life. Dr. Fredrickson grinded his teeth as he waited. “Where is that girl? It’s time to compile the results.”

Finally, she arrived. Mary-Sue handed Dr. Fredrickson her lab coat. “I quit this experiment. It’s inhuman.”

Then, she walked out, even as Dr. Fredrickson called out to her, “You bought this lab coat yourself. What am I supposed to do with it?”

She ignored him and let the sunlight wash over her as she left the psychology building. It was time for the same career, but a different path. Lucky for her, she didn't need to be threatened with enforced stasis to realize that.

October 06, 2020 01:44

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14 comments

Patricia Green
00:14 Oct 15, 2020

Good story, but drones on a bit. Needs a bit of excitement in there somewhere, felt like running under a bus before I got to the end, keep writing.

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Em P.W.
17:24 Oct 07, 2020

Ooooh great story. First off, I really like the character development in this despite the fact that it's a short story. This is something I personally struggle with, and I love how you managed to display this without rushing or making it seem forced. :D Second, I read your "Maybe I'm Not A Sociopath" entry as well, and I'm genuinely curious to know if you're interested in psychology. Perhaps your majoring in it or something? I don't mean to intrude, it's just I absolutely love psychology too. I did it for A/Ls, but unfortunately, I'm not...

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Em P.W.
17:26 Oct 07, 2020

Oops forgot the third point. I'm a lazy reader sometimes, and when I am, I have to either wait to get in the mood or force myself to finish reading. But, with your prompts, I immediately get in the mood to read. And there aren't lot of authors who can have this effect on me. Your writing style is very unique. Great flow and immediately catches eyes. Keep it up!

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Lily Kingston
18:59 Oct 08, 2020

Thank you! I'm interested in psychology since it's such a cool subject, but I'm not majoring in it or anything. I just like researching it every now and then on my own time.

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Em P.W.
05:20 Oct 09, 2020

Aah, I see! Well, either way, it's still cool to know someone like you. XD I do most of my learning from textbooks, but if I come across any cool sites or something, I'll let you know. :D

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Rayhan Hidayat
03:14 Oct 07, 2020

I thought this was gonna be a comedy because her name is Mary-Sue, but it's the exact opposite of that. Inspirational indeed, and a fitting ending: shedding the labcoat even though it's hers, because she is literally letting go of that side of herself. Awesome job as usual :)

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Lily Kingston
04:27 Oct 07, 2020

thank you! I know Mary-Sue is supposed to be a term for overly perfect female characters, but I kinda like it as an actual name too. Don't know why :) Thanks for reading!

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Rayhan Hidayat
04:30 Oct 07, 2020

It is kind of a cute name actually 😙

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Zea Bowman
02:02 Oct 07, 2020

Hey, Lily! First of all, great story! Second, I wanted to let you know that I wrote a "Zombies Sound Safer Than My Family - Part 2." You had read the first and seemed to enjoy it, so I was just letting you know that I had made a second if you wanted to check it out. :)

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Andrew Krey
15:21 Oct 06, 2020

Hi Lily, I liked your story; it had strong characters and an even stronger message. The unusual reaction was intriguing and hooks the reader to find out more. I liked the final reaction of "this is your coat...what am I supposed to do with it" - it's funny because it changes the tone of the ending for that moment, as if she didn't let the fact it was her lab coat stop her from having her dramatic moment! As the contest is still live, I've listed some tweaks to the text I would suggest: "It’s their choice on how to reaction" - change t...

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Lily Kingston
04:19 Oct 07, 2020

Thanks for pointing out my mistakes and for reading my story! It's very helpful :D

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Andrew Krey
10:49 Oct 07, 2020

You're welcome, good luck with your entry for this week :)

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Sunny 🌼 🖤
14:19 Oct 09, 2020

Oh wow. The thing that stood out to me the most in this story is Alster. I love when we learned about his relationship with Lelia, how they met, why he did the experiment. Honestly, I would love it if you did a spin-off series about them.

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Ray Dyer
15:57 Oct 07, 2020

Hi, Lily! Maybe it's the conspiracy theorist in me, but I just can't help but believe there are experiments going on just like this one every day. There are so many books movies based around these ideas, and the history of these sorts of experiments (the ones that happened in the 1940s and 50s, that we can tell ourselves are in the distant past). Absolutely love the psychological aspect, without ever actually using the word "torture." Since the contest is still live, I think you've got a chance to change a couple things I'm not sure c...

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