17 Jul Laboratory
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Estimated reading time — 13 minutes
The building was bland, and had an unwelcoming feel to it. Though I suppose making a laboratory pretty on the outside wasn’t the prime concern of whoever had built it. It functioned purely as a means of… well, conducting science experiments I suppose.
My car pulled into the carpark and found an empty spot, then I turned my engine off.
The leaflet had come in the mail several days ago, addressed to myself, asking people to come forward and help the scientists and their experiments – to offer my opinion on their work so I may help them identify what the public’s needs are, and if what they’re doing is the right thing.
Sniffing, I pulled myself out of my car and slammed the door shut behind me. Immediately I was hit by frozen December air so that my eyes watered and breath escaped in plumes. My hands took to shivering so I thrust them into my pockets – it didn’t help.
‘Right. Let’s do this then.’ I mumbled, and started off towards the building. The main reason I was here, being out here on Saturday of all days, was the fact that the leaflet guaranteed a reward for any that came forward. Perhaps they meant a cash prize? I wasn’t sure, it didn’t seem to specify exactly what the prize was, but I had nothing better to do today anyhow. No wife and kids to look after, just a cat that I still hadn’t bothered to name yet – that sort of shows how lazy I am, doesn’t it? I’ve had it for a year.
As I neared the building I could see people through the dark tinted windows, people inside were wandering around and making gesticulations with their hands, busy with their work. It made me feel a hell of a lot better, because from the outside one would assume this place was deserted. The sort of place that you’d feel really uneasy being around in the middle of the night. Though now I supposed the exterior was the least of the concerns of the scientists working within. I stepped up to the large double doors and stepped through.
There was a man standing just inside the door, holding a pad and pen and wearing a white lab coat. He had a mottled grey beard, thin eyebrows and Einstein-like hair, not to mention two grey eyes that seemed to drill right through me. Despite all this he was smiling, which I immediately felt was very uncharacteristic of him.
‘Welcome!’ he said, ‘you must be James! I’m Dr Harrod.’
‘Nice to meet you.’ I replied, offering a hand, though he didn’t take it. Instead he rummaged in his coat and pulled out a pair of yellow, elastic gloves.
‘In case of contamination, you understand,’ he said; I nodded and took them.
‘How did you know who I was?’ I asked, pulling them on. ‘Are there many others coming today?’
‘Several others have come, yes. Process of elimination I suppose: I have a list, see?’ He waved the pad quickly in front of me, but I didn’t catch any writing. Then he placed the pen and pad on a table nearby.
‘Anyway, welcome to Eaglebound, one of the last remaining science laboratories in this area.’ For the first time I looked past his shoulder and cast an eye around the large room I had entered.
There was a floral pattern engraved on the tiled floor in the form of little squares. The large image of an eagle and some sort of flower dominated the rear wall above the reception desk… and the people. Dozens of workers speed-walking to and fro; most in lab coats, though some were in suits and casual attire. Nearly all of them were either carrying notes, test tubes or unmarked boxes – busy with their own work. The only person who wasn’t moving was the scowling female receptionist, glaring through spectacles, who reminded me strongly of my now-deceased mother.
‘Don’t mind them,’ Dr Harrod smirked, ‘we’ve got work to do downstairs, do some observing, right?’
‘Yes,’ I replied, slightly overwhelmed. Dr Harrod then set off at a brisk pace, and I had to break into a jog to catch him up.
‘So, I’m going to be helping with the experiments?’ I asked breathlessly. He rounded a corner quickly, dodging a man in a suit and a woman shouting into her phone. Then doctor entered an empty elevator, and after nearly tripping over someone’s feet I managed to jump in beside him.
‘In a way,’ he replied, hitting the button marked B: the basement. He produced a key from his pocket and fitted it into the slot. As he turned it to the right and it emitted a sharp click, the doors grinded shut and immediately the hubbub on the floor outside ceased.
‘So… what does my job entail?’
‘Well,’ he sniffed. ‘You won’t be helping exactly, but observing. Providing your personal opinion, good or bad, on what we’re doing here. It gives us a consensus society’s attitude to our experiments, and how we should change things. After all, the public eye is a powerful thing – we don’t want to offend anyone.’
‘Ah,’ I said, casting an eye around the steel elevator. ‘What sort of experiments do you do?’
‘We attempt to make life easier, and grant future generations with new means of getting about quicker, facilitating bonds, and developing obscure ideas.’
‘Um.’ I wasn’t quite sure what this meant, so decided to keep my mouth shut. I’d always had an avid interest in science, so figured not to prod any further and just enjoy the experience as it unfolded.
After a few moments seconds I thrust my hands back down into my pockets – still cold from the temperatures outside – and listened to the somewhat rhythmic hum of the elevator.
‘Did you read about the reward?’ Dr Harrod said.
‘Oh,’ I replied, looking at him, I didn’t think he would bring it up. ‘I was wondering what that could be.’
‘Everyone wonders what it is,’ he laughed, ‘and everyone is always surprised when it’s revealed. I’ll let you know when the tour is finished.’ Again, the laugh seemed forced, more condescending than anything else. The way a criminal in a film would laugh moments before killing the much-loved hero.
At that moment the elevator grinded to a halt and the doors opened. I was shocked with the sight that greeted us: we were facing an empty corridor that looked in complete disarray. The off-white walls were decayed in places, with bits of moss beginning to take them over. The floor was dirtied with footprints and dust. The white lights hanging overhead would occasionally flicker. And the smell… as soon as the doors had opened I was greeted with a very musty, strong stench that reminded me of urine and a doctor’s waiting room.
‘Here.’ Dr Harrod said, producing a hospital mask. I took it and pulled it down over my face, immediately the stench was replaced with the smell of perfumed fabric.
‘What is this place?’ I said, feeling a little uneasy.
‘Oh,’ Dr Harrod murmured, stepping forward and walking down the corridor a few steps. ‘This is where we conduct the experiments, invent new things and whatnot. Sorry about the state of things, we’ve been meaning to get some cleaners to come down here.’ He turned back to me – I was still standing in the elevator.
‘Come on,’ he gestured sharply, gesturing with a gloved hand. His somewhat happy personality had shifted into a more serious one. His once smiling mouth had transformed into a solemn line, emotionless. His cold eyes were suddenly menacing, and for a moment I glanced at the elevator buttons and considered heading back up to the ground floor.
‘Come on, what are you waiting for?’
‘Right,’ I sighed, stepping into the hall, the elevator doors grinded shut behind me.
With Dr Harrod leading, and me taking small, ginger steps, we made our way down the corridor. It was as we moved forward that I noticed a series of doors along the walls, all a dark grey colour. They seemed menacing and cold, like these doors were looming guards looking down at me from all angles. A sent of claustrophobia seemed to be closing around me, and I felt myself sweating.
As we continued forward a little further I noticed a figure step into the hall at the far end. From the looks of him he was about twenty, and even from here I could see his sunken eyes, frowning face and hunched composure. After a glance down to us he disappeared into one of the other doors.
‘Right,’ Dr Harrod said, stopping in front of a door marked 9. ‘In we go.’ He opened the door with a gloved hand and I followed him into the room.
As I cast my eyes around the anxiety that had been brewing inside my stomach settled down. My stupid little fears and the bad vibes I’d been getting from Dr Harrod suddenly seemed very childish – these were scientists, after all. They knew what they were doing, surely?
The room was quite large, and in good condition too, nothing like the corridor outside. The walls were adorned with colourful, smiling faces, and the floor was a patterned carpet. There were a couple of women too, some appeared to be scientists. Most were dressed in casual wear, just strolling around. And then there were the children. Lots of kids from three to about six, shouting happily and playing with toys that the scientists had provided. The children had been separated into two little playing pens, surrounded by a little wooden fence.
‘Ah! Dr Jennings, how are the children?’ Dr Harrod said, walking swiftly past me over to one of the women. She’d been smirking at a two year old shaking a toy, then looked up to greet Dr Harrod with a hug. She had tightly fastened brunette hair, and wore jeans and a flowery green top. A nametag on her chest had her name imprinted in red letters.
‘They’re absolutely fine,’ she replied, then glanced over at me. ‘Is this James?’
‘Yeah,’ I said, offering a hand, she didn’t take it.
‘I’ll leave Dr Harrod to explain our work to you,’ she sniffed, and turned on her heel. She began walking to a door at the far end of the room which I supposed opened up into some sort of work area. On the way she gestured with her hands at the other supervising women – all of which followed her lead. Before long Dr Harrod and I were the only two people standing in the room apart from the giggling children.
‘Right. Let’s do some observing, shall we?’ he breathed.
‘Two questions,’ I said. ‘How did Dr Jennings know my name?’
Dr Harrod scratched his temple.
‘Like I did, with a list. This place is forbidden to other workers, so all staff need to be notified if someone is visiting.’
‘Right.’ I mumbled, casting an eye over to the children. ‘And also, where are these children’s parents?’
Dr Harrod looked taken aback at this question, then quickly regained his composure.
‘Oh, well, they’re at work and what have you,’ he said, reaching into his pocket for something. He pulled out a small, square, greyish device that had upon it a single white button.
‘But it’s Saturday,’ I said, slightly confused.
‘Oh.’ Dr Harrod thought for a moment. ‘I meant, work as in… housework. Parents leave their children here for the day to get a load off their minds and relax. It’s completely fine and well-organised, they know exactly what we do down here. In fact…’ He glanced at his watch. ‘They’ll be coming to pick them up in about three hours.’
I wasn’t sure about this answer, it seemed very… improvised. But I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
‘So what do you do here?’ I asked.
‘Room 9 is for child conditioning. Some of these children have been raised in specific environments in order to control their behaviour. With the technology you see here, we could create a violent-free world for future generations. And if any violence were to occur…’ He motioned toward the button in his hand. ‘We can stop them very easily.’
‘Ok,’ I said slowly, unsure.
‘Let me show you,’ Dr Harrod grunted, and walked over to one of the children – a small boy playing with a toy truck.
‘This is Tommy, when he was born we implanted a chip at the base of his brain in a location that governs motor function. Meaning that if this child was behaving inappropriately, perhaps causing harm to others – we can do this.’
I watched as the doctor pointed the device at the child and pressed his thumb firmly down on the button. For a moment nothing happened, the child just sat there, staring up at the doctor. But then… sickeningly, the active toddler stopped moving and looked rather pale. His eyes seemed to defocus and for a moment I thought he was about to vomit, and then suddenly the boy slumped to the ground in a heap. But his eyes remained open, staring at me, and starting to glisten with tears.
I gasped, horrified.
‘He’s fine,’ the doctor said calmly. ‘The chip had merely set in motion a temporary state of paralysis. As long as this remains pressed, he can’t move a muscle.’ Dr Harrod then released the button and the child sat up, blinking in confusion. After a second he began to cry.
‘He doesn’t look fine to me,’ I snarled.
‘It scared him, certainly. How would you feel if you suddenly found yourself unable to move? But that’s precisely what’s brilliant about the chip. What if when this boy reached thirty years old he decided to rob a bank? Take someone hostage, hold them at gunpoint? We could simply click the button and everything would be sorted without the need for further violence.’
‘The parents allowed you to do this?’ I asked, uncertain. Despite the inhumanity, the doctor made a good point.
‘Imagine a world without crime…’ the doctor continued, ignoring my question. ‘If every child was implanted with this chip, then all we’d need was one of these buttons on our keychains, and every attacker would be rendered immobile.’
I stared down at the toddler. He was once again playing with the truck, albeit much slower.
‘Come,’ Dr Harrod said. ‘We’ve seen enough of this room.’
He walked back to the door from which we had entered. For a moment I watched the toddler some more, then turned around and followed him back out into the hall. As he closed door number 9 the many women that had been monitoring the children starting filing back into room.
‘Time to show you experiment number two,’ Dr Harrod said, and started off down the hall. ‘Though I won’t be showing you all of them, we don’t have enough time.’ I reluctantly followed and glanced back at the elevator at the far end.
‘All of these experiments are for science, right?’ I said, walking behind him.
‘I assure you,’ Dr Harrod replied, ‘that everything you see here will one day benefit future generations, even if little sacrifices must be made. Remember that.’
After a few moments we came to halt in front of door number 15.
‘You know what,’ I said, glancing down at my watch. ‘I think I might head off now – think I’ll call it a day.’
‘I’m afraid you can’t,’ Dr Harrod said sharply, suddenly very stern. A wave of sickness crept up my throat. ‘This is a strict, confidential floor, and that lift can only be used a certain number of times a day, all people that enter must be monitored carefully.’
‘Couldn’t we end the tour early?’ I asked, but he shook his head.
‘The reason you’re here is to provide your opinion on what we’re doing – bad or good. Now, if these tests make you uncomfortable, tell us. You can leave after you collect your reward at the end.’
Suddenly the idea of a ‘reward’ didn’t seem very appealing.
‘But-’ I began.
‘Please head into the room,’ he said, pushing the door open.
I stepped inside reluctantly, and was greeted with complete darkness.
‘I can’t see,’ I breathed, lifting my hands up in front of me.
‘Look, back here,’ Dr Harrod said. He grabbed two little masks that were resting on a rack just by the opening of the door and handed one to me. After pulling it over my head I realised that they were night vision goggles. The room lit up in a green haze; then Dr Harrod shut the door behind us.
The room was nearly empty, except for a very large box that dominated the centre, made out of what looked like a dark metallic material. We both approached the box slowly, and when we were standing a few inches away, Dr Harrod reached up and pulled open a sliding window so we could peek inside through some glass.
‘This room is completely sound proof, and lets absolutely no light in,’ Dr Harrod whispered. ‘Food and water is provided three times a day by one of my colleagues – and other than him, no one else is allowed in here.’
Though I wasn’t really listening. There was a dark silhouette sitting in the centre of the room that was giving me chills up my spine. In the haze of green I could make out a skeletal face, with long arms and spindly legs. This figure had a gaping mouth with broken teeth, and wispy to no hair. We stared for several seconds then its head cocked to one side.
‘See that?’ the doctor continued. ‘Due to the lack of sound and light, the subject has developed a heightened awareness for vibration – drawing on the only sense it has left… touch. I’d venture that he may have detected our footsteps as we approached the room.’
‘Wha-what does this experiment show? Who is he?’ I blurted. The figure in the box slowly creaked to its feet.
‘His name is Malcolm, and has been raised in complete isolation from birth without sound, sight, education, you name it. Have you ever heard of a blind man with an acute sense of hearing? What if we could harness these powers, and develop them? What if we could raise a person who had abilities others could only dream of? A person who could perhaps discover what we could not?’
The man… Malcolm, shifted again. He dropped to his hands and knees and started lurching forward like an animal, and approached the window we were staring through. I took a step back in fear.
‘This isn’t science,’ I choked. ‘This is cruelty.’
‘No,’ he snapped. ‘This is essential. You don’t think science, inventors and people who strived to discover more never made sacrifices? We have to do these things because otherwise no one will. The only new inventions would be new models of the iPhone. So please, if you will, follow me to the final experiment.’
He reached up and dragged the cover back over the window, and as he did the dark figure, Malcolm, raised his head into view and smashed both hands against the glass. I didn’t hear a sound. Then he was once again shut in his prison of eternal darkness.
‘Like I said,’ Dr Harrod sniffed. ‘Soundproof.’ Then he took off back towards the door, pulling his night goggles off and dropping them onto the rack as he did. I followed him, pulled off my goggles and stepped out into the corridor. I squinted in the light.
‘Follow me,’ he said, and took off quickly. I followed slowly. Once I got out of this place I’d go straight to the police, and explain what was happening down here. Everyone working in this place would be thrown in jail.
‘I’m going to leave after this, ok? I’ve had enough.’
‘Fine,’ the doctor replied, and stopped at a door marked 33.
‘Before you go in,’ he mumbled, ‘just remember, this is all for science.’ This didn’t make me feel any better, and as he turned the door handle slowly and pushed the door open I felt my knees begin to shake. It’d gotten to the point now where I was unsure if these were even real scientists, and that the experiments they were conducting here were in fact simply to satisfy their morbid, demented minds.
‘Please step inside,’ he said calmly. And I did, stupidly.
The room was quite small and bluish, it reminded me of a doctor’s theatre – the type where they conduct operations. There were several doctors wearing masks, seated around the room, one of them was glancing at his phone with his legs crossed. In the middle were several turquoise curtains surrounding what I presumed to be a hospital chair.
‘Our final subject,’ Dr Harrod announced, several of the doctors looked up.
‘Did you know,’ he began. ‘That if you were to lose a finger we could replace it with a toe?’
‘Yes,’ I replied slowly. ‘I’ve seen… programmes where they do that, yes.’ We took a step towards the curtains in the middle. My stomach turned over and I felt myself going dizzy.
‘Say someone was in a horrible accident,’ Dr Harrod murmured, ‘and they lost half of their hand. We, using excellent technology, could construct the person’s hand using the tissue from his foot. Isn’t that brilliant? We can perform eye transplants… kidney transplants, you name it… What if…’ The doctor paused.
‘What if what?’ I said.
‘What if we were to place someone’s eye on their shoulder, and craft an eyelid out of skin tissue, then link it up to the synapses in the brain? What if we took their arm, and placed it in the middle of their chest? What if we took their lower jaw, sawed it off and fashioned it onto their leg for a better kick? What if… we took some of the internal organs and made them external? Think of how much oxygen would be supplied to the lungs if they were fastened to the outside of the chest? We could create the next stage of evolution.’
‘What’s behind that curtain?’ I stammered. ‘What have you done?’
Dr Harrod stepped forward and whipped the curtains away.
But there was nothing there, just an empty hospital chair. I was slightly confused for a moment, but then it dawned on me in a sickening wave.
‘You came here to help us with our experiments, James, so that’s precisely what you’re going to do. The reward is aiding us in our experiments.’
I felt a sharp pain in my left arm and whipped it away in time to see a doctor standing next to me – he was holding an empty syringe.
‘Put him on the chair,’ Dr Harrod snapped, and several of the doctors grabbed my arms and legs. I thrashed as much as I could, but the room was already going blurry and my muscles were beginning to weaken.
‘We’ll talk again after the operation,’ Dr Harrod smiled, pulling a sharp scalpel out of his pocket. ‘That is… if you still have a mouth.’
Credit To – Meek