T.S. 15

The first thing Dr. Esau Rankin, head of sleep psychology, Nash University, noticed about his trip from the airport to the laboratory was how beautiful it was. Structural agave and barrel cacti jutted wild angles from the flat desert scape. Dr. Rankin wished he could take some video for Lily. His youngest had started collecting succulents during the Pandemic and she would have been delighted at the strange twisted shapes bright against the blue sky. He looked over at Lt. Threadneedle who drove him to the secret government laboratory. The quiet Lieutenant, who stared straight ahead and blinked abnormally slowly, had confiscated his phone and laptop. The second thing Dr. Rankin noticed was how long the trip was.
Dr. Rankin awoke when the car stopped. The young officer was staring at him. The doctor stared back with interest, noting the soldier’s blank expression, blood tinged schlera, and repressed rate of respiration. Rap, rap, rap. Dr. Rankin jumped.
“Dr. Rankin, I’m Dr. Greta Sutcliffe and this is Dr. Charles Rich and Major Mercedes Johnson, come this.”
They walked into the nondescript low slung building and through nondescript hallways. Dr. Sutcliffe made bright generic small talk about the weather. Dr. Rankin concentrated on the trio’s robotic pace. He rubbed his chin.
The four settled in a sunny conference room with the usual coffee and danish.
“I have followed your work closely and admire your investigative skill. Your study tracking fatal familial insomnia in communities in Papua New Guinea was fascinating, absolutely fascinating,” Dr. Sutcliffe said.
Dr. Rankin tented his fingers. “Dr. Sutcliffe, let’s cut to the proverbial chase. The U.S. Army contacted my department requesting my presence in terms so vague they were scintillating. Now I am in somewhere unknown in the Four Corners region of the South West and everyone I have met is exhibiting symptoms or one or more sleep disorders. What’s going on? Why am I here?”
“Have you heard of Operation Orange Soda?” Dr. Rich said.
“You mean that creepy pasta nonsense a few years ago about a mysterious impossible sleep study in Russia where prisoners were kept away for 30 days.” Rankin started laughing. “Poppycock. Don’t tell me I’m here fora bedtime story.”
“No, Dr. Rankin, no bedtime stories here. The viral stories were released by the CIA as a cover for future deniability. The U.S. government and research labs have been conducting sleepless sleep studies for decades. Mostly failures—“ Dr. Sutcliffe said.
“All failures, Greta. All failures.” Dr. Rich began crying. Sutcliffe looked away focusing on the painted desert outside the conference room window. Major Johnson patted Rich’s shoulder.
“One study here at Area 33 in 2017 involved inmates from the Arable Women’s Correctional Institution. With a course of stimulant infusions, the fifteen test subjects were monitored to stay awake for 20 days straight. There were … difficulties.” Dr. Sutcliffe began to giggle and then coughed to quiet herself.
Suddenly exhausted, Rankin leaned back in his chair. “How many died?”
“14” Johnson said. Rankin jumped to his feet.
“Why did you let this go on! The risk of sudden heart attack alone triples after five days of sleeplessness.”
“They didn’t die from natural causes, Dr. Rankin. 96 hours in the test subjects became irrational and animated. On the fifth night they were listless but healthy. On the sixth, 14 subjects flatlined simultaneously. The last test subject is healthy.” Dr. Sutcliffe said. Her voice trembled. Rankin slowly sat back down.
“Yes, is. You asked, ‘What happened?’ The experiment continues. We cannot stop it. Test Subject 15 has not slept since November 28, 2017. No one at this lab can sleep. You asked, ‘Why you are here?” Because despite sitting in a room alone without access to the outside world Test Subject 15 asked for you, Dr. Rankin,” Johnson said.

Photo by Lucas Meneses on Pexels.com

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