Copyright Lawrence Watt Evans 2015
Shakespir Edition 2015
All rights reserved
The junior scientist waved a tentacle politely. “We have returned the subject to his residence and observed his actions for the following four days,” it said.
“Report,” the mission director said. “What have you learned?”
“We… are unsure.” The scientist’s antennae slumped. “Our results do not match our expectations.”
“Our intent was to assess the creature’s reaction to extreme emotional stress, beginning with experiences when his sensory input did not match his understanding of reality. Would he adapt to this new data, or reject it? Would he alter his behavior to suit these new perceptions? Would he display curiosity, or fear, or anger? You are familiar with such experiments, of course.”
“Of course. Go on.”
“We also wanted to evaluate how traumatic experiences would affect his subsequent behavior. Previous studies had suggested we could expect to see hypervigilance, depression, anger, and a breakdown in social function. Because of these anticipated negative consequences, we chose a subject with no immediate family and few social contacts, to minimize the damage. We also selected an individual of fixed habits, one whose movements normally remained within a constrained area, so that any disruption of his normal surroundings would be immediately obvious to him. We also chose a subject of firmly fixed ideation, one given to expressing strong opinions, so that changes in his beliefs would be readily detectible.”
“I understand. Continue.”
“Our subject is a financial operator named Ebenezer Scrooge. If his name has any meaning or significance, we were unable to determine it.”
“We have observed that human names often have no meaning beyond a simple designation of a specific individual. Continue.”
“Yes. We had observed this Mr. Scrooge intermittently for several years, so as to have a firm basis for our experiments. On the night of our experiment we waited until he returned to his domicile upon completion of his daily labor, and then projected a simple holographic image of a dead former co-worker upon the door of his residence.”
“We had anticipated an exclamation, or some other demonstration of surprise or fear, but saw no reaction whatsoever.”
“Are you sure he saw it?”
“He did display some concern once he was inside his home, checking each room for irregularities. This was not part of his customary routine. We assume it was prompted by the hologram of his co-worker’s face. Encouraged, we decided to see whether an auditory phenomenon might provoke an interesting reaction, and used a focused ultrasound to cause every bell in the structure to ring. While that drew his attention, he still failed to demonstrate an emotional response, and we proceeded to the next level of our experiment. We projected a full-sized image of that same dead co-worker, and held a lengthy conversation in which we warned Mr. Scrooge of a dire fate awaiting him in the afterlife – you do understand this culture’s curious belief in an existence after death?”
“Of course. Go on.”
“Yes. Mr. Scrooge professed to believe that he was hallucinating, but he continued to converse with our projection, and while he gave few outward signs of fear or terror, his brain-waves did indicate agitation.
“Our specter told him to expect three further supernatural visitations, and warned him that his failure to react appropriately to what these manifestations showed him would condemn him to an eternity of suffering. He should have been overcome with dread, according to our theories, but he continued to conceal his emotions, and we withdrew our image.
“He then retired to his bed, where we sedated him, and brought him aboard our ship, where we could attach him to the neuro-inducer for the next stage.
“With the inducer providing direct access to his memories, we then presented him with a series of images from his past, reminding him of past tragedies, missed opportunities, and irrevocable mistakes. We had assumed this would produce a state of despair and frustration with his inability to alter any of these past events.
“This was followed by images of his acquaintances enjoying their holiday celebrations without him, intended to alienate him from his social setting and add loneliness to the pre-existing matrix of despair and frustration.
“And finally, we caused him to imagine his own death, to add futility to the mix. We expected this to leave him a broken man, his confidence destroyed.
“That done, we returned him to his residence.
“We hoped that we had not driven him to suicide, but we expected him to be in a state of emotional collapse when he awoke.”
“I see. And was this what you observed?”
“No.” The junior scientist’s antennae twitched. “Instead he displayed every sign of delight at his experiences and situation. His behavior showed a drastic alteration, but he did not become paranoiac or depressed; instead he seemed… well, giddy. He proceeded to perform several acts of generosity that were completely incongruous with his previous behavior, and generally displayed great joy.”
“Interesting. And what do you conclude from this?”
“Director, my only conclusion is that I don’t understand these people at all.”
The director waved a tentacle. “Well,” it said, “that’s a start.”
About the Author:
Lawrence Watt-Evans has been a full-time writer for more than thirty years, with more than forty novels and well over a hundred short stories to his credit. He has served as an officer in the Horror Writers’ Association, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, and Novelists Inc. His story “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers” won the 1988 Hugo for short story, as well as the Asimov’s Readers Award. He lives in Takoma Park, Maryland, with his wife and an overweight cat.
His website is at .