Unresponsive bodies fill the beds in the discard warehouse. Numbers increase, numbers decrease. Some even breathe unaided but they have never been alive. The warehouse has been the destination of all of the test subjects so far. Rows of hospital gurneys with monitors and life support equipment, trees of intravenous bags feeding a body on each one. Though there are variations in their size and condition most of the bodies look to have come from a common source. Some are missing limbs, many are missing organs. These bodies are things, they have never been people. Keen to maintain the image of being a benefit to society the director has decided to use the rejected products as warm organ donors. Dead ends as far as the primary military aim was concerned, these failed ‘answerers’ are at least able to assist with one set of needs. Scientists and technicians work through this bank of rejects, in theory testing and identifying potential candidates for further experimentation, more commonly just harvesting everything useful until the donor body is no longer worth maintaining and it is sent to the incinerator.
On a rare visit to this gloomy place, Jens Struan McDonald is intrigued by one of the more unusual bodies and has it marked for investigation rather than harvest. Fully grown, it is drip fed with the same nutrient cocktail that maintains all the subjects but is stubbornly and cadaverously thin in contrast to the healthy bulk installed on most of the beds. At night, in the vast dimness of the room, lit by the glow of hundreds of monitors, Struan’s investigations are also unusual in that he just visits to talk to his silent charge, convinced that there is something different in its development. As the days pass the grey haired doctor realises that the time he is with his new corpse-like friend is the time he is most at peace, the time he can allow himself to question the morality of what he had been drawn into so many years before. Not wanting any potential awareness to be disturbed by the sounds of casual disdain from technicians working on other bodies in the room Struan prefers to leave him with earphones connected to a small mp3 player while he attends to his official work.
It does not take long for the sparse night crew to accept the sight of the scientist talking through the events of the day to his silent confessor. Most of the staff have seen similar scenarios played out before and avoid direct contact with the scientists. Certain that somehow there was more to learn from one of the discards one or other of them would be protected and tested until it became clear that it was as unresponsive as the others or declined even faster and, disheartened, the scientist would retreat back to the main labs, rarely to be seen in the rooms of the vegetative accusers again.
With this one, however, the monitors do not show decay but steady and consistent vitals. Checking the monotonously predictable technician’s notes one day Struan notices a different signature and a new way of referring to the test subject from Delta iteration, row alpha, column v. This new technician has named him ‘Dave’ and immediately given him a touch of humanity. It seems to suit him. Impressed with the information appearing in the notes, Struan asks that it becomes a permanent assignment – he is interested to read more about times when ‘Dave’ seems tense or more relaxed, and keen to see how many times he appears to be cycling through different stages of sleep. Though the EEG never records any significant change to waking activity the doctor begins to hope, or imagine, that he is seeing signs of response as he speaks to his perfect confidant.
The message from the technician asking McDonald to meet off the record has him intrigued. Something has happened and he needs to hear it at first hand. Meeting in one of the quieter bars on the town sized site the doctor realises that maybe he should not have been surprised to discover that signature ‘H Boothe’ belonged to one of the few female nurses employed by the labs. He’d seen her around but had assumed that the elegant looking coloured woman had been a senior member of administrative staff as the standard lab coat gave everyone a uniform appearance. Initial pleasantries over, he is intrigued to hear what she has to tell him, there has been nothing to cause concern in her notes.
“Is something wrong with him? I’ve not seen anything odd his readouts.”
“Not wrong, not … well … look, I’ve tried to work out how to say this; I didn’t want to write it down in case it was misunderstood, or if anyone else was taking an interest in the warehouse.” Looking down at her hands, dark slender fingers intertwined, this Helena, this nurse seems uncomfortable. “Can we get Dave moved? I don’t think he should be in with the general stock.”
“Move him?” This is unexpected, he knows this might just be clutching at false hope but finds his mouth running ahead of him. “Do you see him changing too? I’ve thought that he looks to be putting some weight on recently but haven’t wanted to say in case it was just wishful thinking. If we need to I’m sure we can get him moved, but why? What’s happened?” She won’t look him in the face. “What’s wrong?”
Comprehension dawns as she tells him what has happened – and not just the one time. In case it was a random event she had tried and had been able to reproduce the same physical reaction. Though the news is couched in detached medical terms he recognises the potential for embarrassment and misunderstanding. Like other seniors in the programme Struan has heard the rumours, the scuttlebutt filtering through from other sites. He’d always assumed that such things didn’t really go on or, if they did, they were just freak events, aberrations of sick minds and always a slim statistical possibility. The thought of similar things happening at his site, perhaps even to his Delta, makes the old man uncomfortable in ways he doesn’t want to consider. Thankful for the circumspection demonstrated by the nurse Struan says he will pay another visit to their subject before making his decision.
His experiment seems to have moved into a different, and completely unexpected, stage of development.