Pharmacological Research gone Berserk; people are missing, except nobody actually misses them. As far as management knows the volunteers quit in the middle of the night, and are simply gone.
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Prisoners-of-war don’t have many choices. They live where they’re told, eat and drink what they’re told, and go to the bathroom only how they’re allowed. And they’re locked up. They can’t go to the grocery store, a restaurant, for sure not to a bar. Oh, yes, and no sex. They’re not even allowed to see a woman, maybe in the far, far, distance. I’ve never been a prisoner-of-war, so I don’t know, exactly, what happens, but I can imagine, and I’m pretty sure a prisoner-of-war camp is not a very pretty place.
This novel, Experiments, is not about a prisoner-of-war camp. But there are some similarities. Nutrition research volunteers are absolutely locked up. They can go to movies, the mall, bookstores, pretty much whatever, but their every move is chaperoned. No candy, pop, cigarettes, chocolate, no alcohol, not even a public water fountain, no anything that people living a normal life can have anytime they want.
Life at MEAL, the Metabolism & Excretion Analysis Laboratory, is not a normal place. Men living there are told what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, and definitely how to go to the bathroom. At the end of their meals they’re required to clean their dishes, literally, to lick them clean, so that they get every drop of nutrition that was measured out for each individual. There’s lots of free time, but tests like electrocardiograms, electroencephalograms, underwater weighing, controlled exercise, etc., go on all week. So, it’s not really like a prisoner-of-war camp, and nobody gets tortured or brutalized.
And even though they signed their name and get paid for living under these conditions for up to six months at a time, they still have the option of stopping, of quitting. And that’s the clincher, what makes living at MEAL way similar to, but also way different from, a prisoner-of-war camp: Any time they can’t take it a moment longer, they can leave.
The real test is emotional: Frustrations build, tempers flare, love affairs, friendships, hatreds, develop.
From Chapter 3 Breakfast
A technician arrived with Ballard's tray and everyone finally got served. Shea kept his eyes on the woman before him as she set his breakfast down. "Thanks, Deli. How's the weather out there?"
"Nice, Shea." Her smile widened though slightly, either a professional smile, as he sometimes suspected Natalie's was, or just subdued for the sake of the others present. He chose to believe subdued, as he also sometimes chose to believe Natalie's was. "Early November but the weather's really staying warm. Will you be getting out today?"
"Hey, where's Fenton?" The question came from Ballard, who then leaped up and began hurrying in the direction of the rooms, "I'll get him."
"Fenton's gone," Deli said.
Everybody stared at her.
"Just, gone?" Ives asked, "Did he quit?"
"I don't know." Some color possibly left Deli's face.
The stretcher-on-wheels flashed through Shea's mind. This time it definitely carried the hulk of a body beneath the sheet and the sheet was stained red. Did Deli know something but wasn't saying? Maybe she couldn't. A shiver grabbed him.
"Shea, I asked if you'd be getting out today." If Deli had lost any composure it was back. She glanced toward Ballard, then pointed at his empty chair. Ballard hunched his shoulders and returned. Deli returned her attention to, "Shea?"
"Yeah,” he hadn't yet thought about getting out that day, but usually did at least once. If nowhere else, then to the mall to gawk at the girl shoppers. If no girls they gawked at manikins at Penny's, Macy’s, or any number of other women’s' clothing stores. The missing Fenton, who nobody missed anyway, would not change anything, "Yeah, probably the library."
From C14 "Psychopath Among Us"
"She didn't really say he was ‘OK’," Luther offered, "Just that he probably passed the M-M-P-I."
"A very good liar, I'm afraid," Ives offered.
"Yeah, and he never does anything when anybody's around," Ballard said. Shea smiled inwardly, though he doubted Ballard's antics would ever hold a candle to the new Ross. "What do you think, Shea?"
"I think our vacation is maybe over for awhile. But maybe Ross'll settle down, when he discovers we don't mean him any harm."
Luther laughed, "Normally I would agree with you, Shea. But I don't think this boy is going to be good for any of us." Luther sobered again, "I'm sure God is just testing me, though the only name Ross has called me yet is Evangeline, but for the rest of you, I don't know."
And as far as us not meaning him any harm, Shea, I mean him plenty." Galloway had not smiled since the catalog incident, and was not smiling now, "If he gives me any more shit…."
"Well, we all know he will."
"It's not just you." Ives laid a hand on Galloway's shoulder, "As I was coming out of my room to go just now, Ross was there. He poked my buttocks, called me 'Fatboy'."
"Yeah, and me," Ballard shouted, "He said I reminded him of the Mad Russian. Who the hell's that?"
"A very old movie, my lad," Ives said, "I don't remember the name of the actor, but he had hair, ah, somewhat like yours is occasionally, kind of wild, locks sometimes going in all directions."
"So he did offend me. I wasn't sure."
From C29 "Victims"
Shea McTory felt guilty for photographing this cruel scene, but the world needed to know. No, the truth was, Shea McTory needed to further his hoped-for journalism career. And he had just learned something about himself that he would rather have not found out. He knew he had always been, basically, a loser, but he had always tried to not be an asshole too. But that’s what was going through his mind. He was an asshole.
The subjects of the cruel scene, the two boys, stood beside each other. They were skin and bone. I’m an asshole.
The sight of them, the smells in the room, the pure ugliness, all were making Shea’s insides crawl. His skin was crawling. He could barely look at the boys. No way could he touch them. No way. I’m an asshole. And Natalie hadn’t even said, specifically, what was happening, but he knew that she knew, and Shea didn’t even want to know.