The hot middle eastern sun beat down my neck causing uncomfortable moisture to accrue throughout my uniform. As I walked through the barracks I tugged the saran wrap down on my turkey sandwich and took a bite. The soggy bread and wilted lettuce gave me a longing to go back to the mess hall and eat with my squad. That’s what I get for falling asleep on watch. I thought Dan was a good squad leader but he didn’t have to be so harsh and make me go to the sickbay. I know everybody has to do their part on base and deal with the consequences when screwing up. But having to clean up after the sick? That doesn’t fit the crime.
The general buzz of the base filled my ears as I walked towards my afternoon assignment. Humvees moved from the garage to get ready for reconnaissance. Squads were running and getting their daily fitness regiment done. It felt like nothing had happened in months, I mean I can’t remember the last time my squad was ordered off the base. Things were just mundane now. Why can’t we just go back and leave this godforsaken heat trap behind. My mind wandered off until the white metal building came into view.
“Let’s get this over with” I mumbled as I took the last bite of my sandwich and threw the saran wrap in the bin by the door. The cool air of the medical building offered a brief refreshment that made me think for a second that I might actually be lucky, but just a second. I moved toward the front desk that was just right of a staircase and left of a set of double doors.
“What’s your business?” The nurse said through surprisingly bright eyes.
“My squad leader assigned me to assist with janitorial duties for the afternoon”
“Crane Sims ma’am” The nurse paused and looked down at her computer then met my gaze again with a smile.
“No need to call me ma’am, I’m no older than you.”
“My apologies, I-”
“Don’t worry about it Private Sims” The nurse said quickly.
“But I regret to inform you that you will be helping us with a different matter today.”
“Oh? May I ask what I will be doing?” I asked as the nurse’s smile faded and she brushed part of her short brown bob back behind her ear.
“We are currently running a clinical study and you were selected due to your qualifying nature.”
“So no cleaning up shit?”
“Excuse me?” The nurse looked a bit taken aback.
“Sorry! Sorry! I am just a bit relieved that I don’t have to visit the sickbay today.” The nurse looked a little relieved now, but the smile still hadn’t returned to her face.
“No, no janitorial assistance is required from you today. I am going to need you to fill out this brief questionnaire though.” The nurse pushed a clipboard across the counter to me with a pencil sticking out of the top and a piece of paper fastened tightly under the clamp.
“If you’ll just take a seat over there and bring the clipboard back to me when you finish” I nodded to the nurse and found a seat that was nicely placed under an air conditioning vent. As I removed the pencil from the top of the clipboard I noticed the surprisingly simple set of questions listed on the sheet of paper. They all were circle to answer.
Question 1: What type of pencil are you currently using? (Mechanical / Graphite / Colored)
Well, that’s easy I thought as I circled the ‘Graphite’ option with my graphite pencil.
Question 2: What are the current weather conditions? (Rainy / Sunny / Cloudy )
Sunny obviously. I mean damn if I could forget that!
Question 3: What time of day is it? (Morning / Afternoon / Night)
Question 4: How many questions are on this page? (3 / 4 / 5)
Does this question count as a question? Uh…yeah…4 then. What the hell type of study is this anyway? I got up and walked back to the front desk.
“Here you go” I slide the clipboard back to the nurse.
“All done? Good. You hold on to the questionnaire though. The doctor will need it. Just have a seat and he will be out to see you shortly”
“OK, Thanks.” I shuffled back to my chair and began to think. This can’t be an IQ study, those questions are way too easy. Unless they are testing the questions themselves to see if they are the key to finding out someone’s intelligence! No. No that’s just stupid. What the hell. Why did they need me for this crap? Beats cleaning up bodily fluids though so I honestly can’t complain.
“Private Sims?” I looked up to see a black-bearded man with round wire glasses standing at the bottom of the stairs.
“If you will please follow me this way.” The man replied flatly as he turned and started to make the climb upwards. I fell in line behind him and was led through a dull corridor illuminated by fluorescent bulbs that gave the occasional flicker. It seemed devoid of life and was eerily quiet.
“Right through here” The bearded doctor had opened a door that was covered in padding. I pushed past him to see a metal table sitting in the middle of the room with a metal box resting on one end. Just past the table, bolted to the floor, was a solitary chair with handcuff restraints. Beyond that curtains fell from the ceiling to the floor. The whole room was covered in the padding that was on the door, and a small black dome was also nestled in the padding above the door.
“If you would hand me that sheet of paper and take a seat in that chair over there we can begin.”
“Sure Doc, but why are there restraints?” I was beginning to get nervous now, this may not be all that better than clean-up duty. I sat down.
“This is going to be a stress study. It’s so that you don’t harm yourself while the study takes place.” The doctor clicked the final handcuff closed. I didn’t have a choice in the matter now.
“Stress study? What, are you going to test my pain tolerance or something” I laughed nervously as I hoped the doctor wouldn’t immediately confirm my fear.
“No, we will be testing the far-reaching connections of consciousness in your brain.”
“The far-reaching what now?” I was confused. What the hell was this guy talking about?
“I can’t inform you further because that would taint the study. Now, let’s confirm your questionnaire answers. Question 1, graphite correct?”
“Yes sir” I quickly responded.
“Question 2, sunny correct?”
“Question 3, afternoon correct?”
“Question 4, 4 correct?”
“OK, we can now proceed.” I watched as the doctor moved toward the metal box and lifted open the lid. A syringe and small vial came into view. The doctor removed the cap from the syringe’s needle and pierced the top of the small vial. A pink fluid flowed into the body of the syringe as the plunger was pulled back. Placing the vial on the table the doctor now approached me.
“What’s th-that for sir?” I was beginning to shake now. This didn’t feel right. Don’t studies make you sign waivers and stuff if they use medicine? Right?
“Oh, it’s just to open up your neural pathways to make them available for connection.” The doctor said as he pushed the needle into my arm.
“So it is an intelligence test then?”
“No, not that either.” The doctor remained monotone as ever.
I heard a rustle behind me. The doctor was now opening the curtains behind me. I turned my neck to see the floor behind me gradually slant upwards and noticed the ceiling was slanting downwards to a point where both met.
“Sir why does it look like the end of a gun range behind me?”
The doctor didn’t answer me this time. He just moved back toward the table and the metal box. This time he removed a clear plastic container that looked like it was full of pistol cartridges. A lot of the cartridges had green tips, some didn’t.
“Sir you know you have some live rounds mixed in with those blanks right?”
Still no answer.
“S…s..sir?” My voice was cracking. The doctor pulled out an M1917 Revolver from the metal box and grabbed a fistful of ammo from the plastic container. He proceeded to turn around and I could hear the sounds of the rounds filling each slot one by one.
“Sir this stress test is a little extreme don’t you think? Could we please stop?” I was pleading for the doctor to give me any response. To give me any sign that this wasn’t happening. That I wasn’t the stupid fool that decided to sit in this chair. I heard the doctor spin the cylinder and flick it into place.
“I’ll promise I won’t fall asleep on watch again! Just please for the love of god stop…just stop please.” My face was starting to get wet as my eyes were welling up. I wanted to go back to my bunk. I wanted to go home. The doctor turned and faced me once more. His arm was holding the revolver at his side.
“Please…please.” I blubbered. I couldn’t keep it in anymore.
“I wish you the best of luck Private Sims.”
“PLEASE SI-” I couldn’t get the rest out. In one swift motion, the doctor’s arm had taken aim, and everything went black.
Suddenly a flash of light.
Everything came rushing back. The restraints were holding my arms down tight as I thrashed backward in the chair.
“Did you just try to shoot me!” I said involuntarily. Wait he had just shot me. I was sure of it. I was dead. I had to be.
“Calm down Private Sims.” I felt relief washing over me. I shouldn’t feel relieved, he just shot me. He killed me. No, he didn’t. YES! HE DID!
“Private, what was your answer to Question 1?”
“Mechanical.” I found myself answering involuntarily. No, it was graphite! No, it wasn’t. Shut UP!
“What was that Private?”
“Mech-no-Me-NO-Gra-Graphite!” What the hell am I saying it was mechanical. No, it wasn’t, it was graphite, I’m sure of it.
“Quickly Private! Question 2?”
“Cloudy” No it’s been sunny all day what the hell am I saying?
“I mean Sunny. Definitely Sunny.” The sun hasn’t shown in 3 days. That couldn’t be further from the truth, I’ve been sweating all day!
“Question 3 Private!” Why is he getting so excited? I know! What’s he getting so worked up about?
“Afternoon” No it’s morning. No. Yes.
“It’s morning. One hundred percent morning.”
“Question 4 Private!”
“5” Why do I keep giving the wrong answer? But I’m right, it’s 5.
“Sorry, it’s 4” No it’s not. Yes, it god damn is!
“Finally, Question 5?” Uh I don’t remember there being a question 5.
“Roast beef sandwich.” Why do I keep involuntarily answering? I had a roast beef sandwich for lunch, not hard to remember. But I had turkey. No, I’m wrong, I had roast beef. STOP IT. Stop what? Why am I yelling at myself?
“Sir, what the hell is going on? I can’t seem to think straight.” Yes, I can.
“Nothing to worry about Private Sims. Your head will work itself out soon, let me just get you a sedative to help.” The doctor moved towards the metal box again and pulled out another syringe and vial. Why did he have a mustache? What am I thinking? He’s always had a mustache. Wait no he hasn’t. Nevermind he definitely has. His glasses are square though. But weren’t they just round? Of course they weren’t. What am I even thinking?
“This will take the edge off Private.” The doctor stuck the needle into my arm and released the medicine. He then turned to face the black dome above the door and began to speak.
“The patient answered the questions 1, 2, 4, and 5 the same as we confirmed earlier but proceeded to correct himself with the wrong answers. On Question 3 we saw the patient answer incorrectly but then correct himself with the answer that was confirmed correct earlier.” I was starting to get tired and I couldn’t understand what the doctor was saying anymore.
“On Question 1 we saw evidence of a dual persona trying to answer the given question. I think it is safe to state that today we have witnessed another potential consciousness shift across planes.” A conscious what now? Wait am I really me? Of course I’m me! What am I saying? I’m saying I’m me. Right! Right? My eyes started to weigh heavily. The noise in the room seemed to carry off. I blinked and saw the nurse before me again. When did her hair get longer? It’s always been long. Blackness washed over me once again.