“Where am I?”
The white painted room with a bright white light blinded him momentarily.
“What can you tell us about the pill Necrophilam?” a voice edged with steel threw the question at him. Her face was hard to make out against the blinding light which created a halo around her head.
“What?” he asked her. “What is that?”
“Ok. Let’s try this again. Do you know of the compounds moxizypin and edenovora?” she asked.
He tried to think but the headache made it all but impossible.
Without showing any visible signs of exasperation she repeated the question.
It started coming back to him in bits and pieces.
“Yes. I might. They are a -a sort of painkiller. Where am I? What is the point of this?”
“So now you remember Necrophilam?”
And at that moment everything crashed back into his memory sending a sheer jolt of pain through the left side of his scalp. Before he realized anything, he was crouching on the white floor, writhing with pain.
“I need a medic in here.” she shouted into a microphone hanging at the lapel of her coat.
He woke up again, and again found himself sitting in that blinding white room facing her.
“I remember.” This was all that he could manage to get out.
She kept staring at him.
“Necrophilam is a combination medicine of moxizypin and edenovora. Acting together they can block any and all pain from reaching the brain.” He explained.
"After your discovery of the compounds what did you propose them for, Mr. Gill?” she asked.
“To provide painless deaths to terminally ill patients.”
“Wouldn’t you say that a painless death is a coward’s choice? A cop out, so to speak!”
Her penetrating gaze drilled into him. He could now sense some sort of hostility in her voice.
“I’m sorry, did I do something wrong? Are you with the government?” he asked. She continued staring at him relentlessly.
“And where the hell am I?” This time he shouted.
“That’s not important. Do you know what happens to someone who overdoses on Necrophilam?”
“What? An overdose? Why does that matter? It’s given to someone on deathbed. Why should it matter?”
“During the discoveries of moxizypin and edenovora, did you test subjects for overdose?”
“I tested on patients who would die anyway. And how do you test for overdose on the dead!”
“Yes. Maybe that’s true considering the limitations. Let me show you something.” She got up from her seat and led him toward and then out the door.
The corridors were as white as that of the room. She led him down winding windowless corridors. There was no one in sight. At the end of one of such corridors lay a gray metal door.
She opened the heavy door and led him through it.
“These are called pods. Simple enough to remember.” she said, indicating at the white beds covered by transparent glass panes and attached to a lot of monitors and associated machinery. One of them was empty and the other one was occupied by a strangely familiar man seemingly in a deep state of sleep.
“Would you please lie down in the empty pod?” she asked him gently. For the first time time since this thing began he sensed a reluctance in her voice.
“Why?” he asked suspiciously.
“We need to run some tests on you. Specifically regarding your past.”
“Just ask me.”
“We do not know how reliable you conscious memories are at this point of time.”
“What does that mean?” He could feel his heart pumping rapidly, head throbbing and hands shaking
What does she mean by that? Is this an experiment? Was he the lab rat?
“Listen to me. I will not do anything unless you tell me what’s going on. I demand some answers and I want them now.” he said through gritted teeth and tightened lips.
She let out an exasperated sigh. He realized she was on the point of telling him everything, teetering on the edge about the consequences of the explanations.
She let out another long sigh and said, “I can’t tell you everything right now but maybe I can tell you something about the tests. But you need to promise me you won’t ask further questions until the tests are done.”
He nodded in agreement and she began.
“This pod,” she gestured toward the empty one, “is multi-functional. In this test, I will stimulate the temporal lobe of your brain, specifically the hippocampus and the amygdala. At this point we can only access memories that have left a deep footprint in your brain, memories that illicit a strong emotional response in you. You will experience them again, and I will experience them along with you. Whatever you see in those memories, I’ll be able to see the same in these monitors."
“How is this real. How does this machine exist?” he mumbled, half to himself he realized. He made his voice firmer, an illusion of strength that he did not have, and said, “And what if I say no to being prodded for traumatic memories?”
“Someone very close to you will die.” she said coldly, almost stating a fact.
“Don’t you dare threaten me woman!” he roared, his voice cracking under the strain.
“Calm down, Mr. Gill. It’s not a threat. I’ll explain later. Please. Help us with the tests. Trust me.”
How he could ever trust a woman who had just threatened murder and whom he had met only minutes ago were not the things Adam Gill thought about. Behind her cold steely voice there was a hidden urgency this time, a pleading. The woman, however her external appearance might be, was shaken to her very core. Adam suddenly had a feeling of impending doom.
“Ok.” he finally replied, “but after the test I want clear answers or I won’t cooperate. Whatever the consequences might be.”
He opened the glass pane covering of the empty pod and got into it, laying on his back, trying to find a comfortable position. She closed the cover of the pod and went to the adjacent control panel and pressed the switch.
He was eleven. Billy Rutherford stared at him with venom eyes. Billy was about to punch him in the empty school locker room, thus gifting him with a scar that he would have to bear under his lip for the rest of his life. He kept eyeing the half shut door of the locker room. A way out.
He was forty two. He had just discovered moxizypin and edenovora - the alchemist’s gold. Painless death. A way out.
He was twenty one. His mother lay on the hospital bed, heavily sedated. She opened her eyes, looking directly into his. “Help me, Adam”, she croaked out, pleading with him. On that day, he had seen pain in her mother’s eyes. Pain in death. He kept eyeing the half shut door of the ward. A way out.
He was forty. Dorothy and him were engaged in their evening shouting matches. Nick lay on the cradle just beside the dining table, lying there, screaming his lungs out. While shouting Adam frequently glanced at his briefcase containing the divorce papers. A way out.
The machine buzzed him back to life, zapping him with an electric shock that brought him out of his revere. The woman turned her revolving chair back toward him, looking at him with puzzled expressions.
“I don’t know why they decided to bring you out. I - I don’t think you’ll be able to help.” she stated blandly. She stood up, opened up the pod and helped him to the adjacent chair. Adam felt tired. Adam felt ashamed at his memories. He was not the noble hero he had thought he was. He had not realized it until this very moment. He always kept a way out, a back-up net, never fully committing, never standing up in the face of adversity.
“I really will appreciate some honesty.” Adam said, anger now out of his voice, replaced by resignation.
“Ok. Can you tell me the year when you discovered Necrophilam?” she asked.
“Yes. And can you tell me the present year?”
“I don-don’t k-know. I can’t remember very well. How did I get here?”
“Yes, that is expected. Don’t worry. Now. The honesty that you asked for.” she said, dry washing her hands against the cold air conditioning.
“After you published your paper on Necrophilam, the government hijacked your research. You were arrested for trespassing, breaking and entering and vandalism of government property because you tried to retrieve you research. They wanted to silence you but you were too valuable to kill, a goose capable of giving golden eggs to them in future. So they kept your consciousness alive with neural networks that I can’t even begin to explain. Your body was kept alive for forty years in suspended animation. You were brought out thirty seven minute ago.” she finished glancing at her watch.
Adam’s head was spinning. Suspended animation! It existed. It was not just a theory. It piqued his interest.
“So what happened to Necrophilam?”
“Nothing.” she continued. “The government could not conjure up a military use for the pill at the time and eventually it was declassified and released commercially in the markets. That’s where our problems began.”
“Yes. Suicide rates sky-rocketed. Mass apathy, depression, people choosing death over seemingly simple life problems. You took away the consequence to leading a life. Life always resulted in death before the pill. It was inevitable and painful. Necrophilam rendered the concept of death just a mere option.”
“He would’ve thanked you for your pill though.” she smiled a little, the first time she had done so.
“Anyway, so the pill was eventually discontinued in open markets and reserved only for patients whose deaths were judged ‘more painful’ than others. And the government kept using the pill secretly, giving it to agents who might die in the field of action. That man”, she said pointing at the man lying in the other pod, “is one such agent. Somehow, he overdosed on Necrophilam but did not die.”
“How?” Adam asked, perplexed.
“We do not know but we intend to find out. There may be something else as well that we need to learn from him. A piece of information that he was able to retrieve from his mission.”
“We do not know and even if we had known, we wouldn’t have disclosed that to you.” she said blandly but sternly.
“So how do I factor in all this?”
“I don’t know whether you will be of any help. Your memories reveal that you are not a strong man, someone willing to face up —”
“Excuse me! Are you calling me a bloody wimp?”
“No, Mr. Gill. I’m simply stating your test report.”
“So what would you have done had you not seen my memories?”
“Our FMRI scans show that the agent can still feel pain, if not anything else. We would’ve killed you - without Necrophilam - and connect the right networks between the two of you to somehow jump start his brain back up. Our previous tests with pain show promising results.”
“Hell no! You are not killing me today miss.” he bellowed, his voice echoing around the walls of the empty lab.
“Why, Mr.Gill? Your only other option is to lay locked in the numbness of the suspended animation. Oh right. I forgot. That’s your way out, isn’t it?”
That struck a chord with him.
“You poked at me back in the other room, called me a coward. Let me give you a piece of advice. Cowards survive longer in this world.”
“Anyway,” she brushed past his anger and said to him, “we can’t kill you without your consent and you are not the man that would choose anyone else’s life over his own. So, experiment terminated. Let’s take you back to the immersion chamber.” she said staring for the door.
She stopped, looking back toward him.
“Yes or no Mr. Gill?”
Adam sat there staring at the agent lying in the other pod. What did he have to live for? He had no family. Dorothy would probably be dead by now, Nick almost forty-five. He did not know where Nick was. He was a man out of time, a soul kept functional enough to bear fruits for others. There was only numbness of the suspended animation. He kept on staring at the man. Ever so slowly, like a feather floating down to ground from a great height, a revelation dawned on him.
The agent had his mother’s features.
“I know,” he began, “that there are probably a hundred things that you cannot tell me. At least tell me this. What is that man’s name?” His voice left him almost in a whisper, a shadow of a sound.
The woman kept staring at him. Then she made her decision.
These two words crashed down on him. Nick. His Nick. He had abandoned him once before.
“Can you guarantee that he will live if I agree to go through?”
The woman, now beside Nick’s pod, placed her hand on the glass pane covering, sighed and said, “No. But your neurons have the best chance of yielding a positive result. They are genetically compatible.”
When Adam sat there, seemingly transfixed on Nick’s face, the woman said,
“It’s an experiment Mr. Gill. All we can do is try.”
The word floated in his head.
He had to try.
He could’ve tried to punch Billy back blow for blow. Billy had not been a big kid.
He could’ve tried to be at his mother’s side when she had died.
He could’ve tried to accommodate with Dorothy, tried to make his marriage work.
He could’ve tried to be by Nick during his childhood.
He could’ve tried………
“Where do I sign?” Adam said, having made up his mind.
All legalities taken care of, he lay there in the other pod, wires protruding out of the skull cap around his head, connecting his firing neurons to the wires and skull cap around Nick.
“We can’t even give you anesthesia. You need to feel the pain.”
The woman switched the system on, electric current flowing though the wires into Adam’s brain.
He screamed alright.
The man who discovered Necrophilam died, screaming at death, screaming in pain.
The gray metal door remained closed.
There was no way out.