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My patient spent eight million years under a bench at the Glenmont metro [Part 1]

No person - actually, no living thing - has experienced more suffering than clinical trial subject S-47. S-47 was a healthy male who volunteered to be a test subject for a trial of a drug called Mentanovox. Mentanovox typically yields mild improvement in memory and cognition. S-47 had a different reaction to the drug.

I’m the research scientist who administered the dose of Mentanovox to this poor man. And I consulted with his doctors in the ER after he was found crumpled under a bench at the Glenmont metro station. I have firsthand knowledge of the devastating trauma that a Mentanovox cross reaction can produce. So I couldn’t understand why someone would beg me to put them through what S-47 had experienced. Then I took the drug myself.

Mentanovox is essentially a calcium ion accelerator paired with a protein that binds to certain dendritic neuroreceptors. It makes signals flow faster through the brain. A lot faster. When I administered a mental speed assessment to subject S-47, thirty minutes after I gave him 25 mg, he was able to perform incredible, inhuman mental feats.

He finished a fifty-word word search in three seconds. Solved a maze drawn onto a poster-sized paper in two seconds. His mind worked fast enough to catch thrown cheerios with chopsticks. Mentanovox had pushed him well into the superhuman range of thinking speeds.

His mental speed was still accelerating when he left our offices. I told him to enjoy the extra time he would seem to have, since, to his super-accelerated brain, minutes would seem like hours. At the time, I thought S-47 would view the drug’s effects as a positive thing. I pictured him at home happily speed-reading through books he wanted to find time to read. That’s what I would have done! Or so I thought.

It didn’t occur to me that from his point of view, just getting home from our office would seem like it took days. He must have experienced hours of perceived time just in the elevator from our office. A day waiting for the next train and another day crammed inside a crowded and smelly metro car. If I had thought of that while he was still in our office, maybe I wouldn’t have just sent him on his way with nothing more than a Mentanovox trial pamphlet.

But what happened to S-47 was much, much worse than experiencing the equivalent of days on the metro.

Ninety minutes after I sent him home, I got a call from the ER at White Oak Hospital. A man had been found “behaving bizarrely” under a bench in the Glenmont metro station. By the time he reached the ER, he was unresponsive. Personnel in the ER found the Mentanovox trial pamphlet in his pocket and called my lab.

I took a blood sample and ran an engram decay. I’m oversimplifying the neuroscience here, but basically the cells in a conscious brain continuously make new connections and tear down existing connections. The new connections represent learning and the torn-down connections represent forgetting. When we sleep, cerebrospinal fluid washes away the metabolic debris from this activity. The test I ran measures how much engram decay - forgetting - has happened since the last sleep cycle. Engram decay is a good way of measuring the equivalent duration of consciousness - how long a patient has perceived they have been awake. We use this in the Mentanovox trials to measure the acceleration in thinking speed - more engram decay means the subject has perceived a longer period of consciousness.

S-47’s engram decay results were incomprehensibly large. I ran the sample three times to make sure nothing was wrong with the lab equipment. I got the same results each time - subject S-47’s brain had run so fast, that in the 90 minutes between leaving the lab and winding up in the ER, he had perceived eight million years of consciousness.

The man had been awake so long, in his perceived timeframe, that he had forgotten everything. Literally. His mind had been running so fast, that even the nearly instantaneous act of blinking would be perceived as thousands of years of darkness. From his massively-sped-up perspective, his view of the metro station from under the bench must have an eternal, unchanging scene.

The near-complete lack of mental stimulation he experienced, and the eight million years of perceived time, were utterly devastating. His brain tore itself down in an act of forgetting. The ER sent me a fMRI scan - his cortex had no activity. His gray-matter was essentially a collection of disconnected neurons.

At the time we had no way of knowing what caused this extreme side effect, but we noted that his blood work showed that he had recently taken a sleeping aid. We guessed that the 25 mg dose of Mentanovox, already unusually active in this subject, interacted with the sleeping drug. I compiled everything I had on S-47 into a report and sent it to the head office. The company published an adverse drug reaction bulletin and the Mentanovox trial was put on indefinite hold. I never learned what happened to subject S-47.

Two months later, I was in my office preparing for a trial of a new blood pressure medication when the receptionist called. “There’s a woman here to see you.” Then she whispered, “She said she didn’t need an appointment, because of who she is.”

I met my unexpected visitor in the lobby. A woman in her late thirties or early forties. She wore a black business suit and had a ratty red Jansport backpack slung over one shoulder. She introduced herself as soon as I walked into the busy lobby, as if she already knew what I looked like. “My name is Helen. Helen Kaizen. I work with the Department of Defense, and I need to talk to you about Mentanovox.”

As soon as we got to my office, she pulled a stack of papers from her backpack and dropped them on my desk. It was the Mentanovox adverse drug reaction bulletin. “I need you to do this to me.”

“You want me to … induce the worst adverse drug reaction I’ve ever heard of? In you? On purpose?”

“The bulletin says that a high-dose of Flumazenil could potentially reverse the reaction. I want you to induce the adverse Mentanovox reaction in me, and when I give the signal, administer Flumazenil to slow my mind back down.”

“The bulletin says potentially. Could Potentially - that’s two weasel words in a row. The bulletin has a mandatory future research section they needed material for, so they put in the only wild-ass idea they had. In reality, nobody knows how to prevent, induce, or reverse this reaction.”

“I’m okay with uncertainty.”

“Why would you want to do this to yourself? For what purpose?”

“Science. I want to watch someone die. With my own eyes. In extreme slow motion.”

I thrust the bulletin back at her. “Whoever you are, Ms. Kaizen, your idea of what science is and mine are profoundly incompatible. I won’t help you destroy your brain. I won’t participate in what sounds to me more like a satanic death ritual than clinical research.”

Six weeks later I found myself escorted through security in building G-164 at Aberdeen Proving Ground. My escort: Dr. Helen Kaizen.

Those six weeks opened my eyes to what a truly well-connected person can accomplish, no matter how demented their goals. Dr. Kaizen had somehow gotten a national interest exemption to the Mentanovox ban. I received the original document, signed by the director of the National Security Council herself. Frankly, until then, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a national interest exemption to a restricted drug.

Helen had also somehow influenced the directors of the huge pharmaceutical company that developed Mentanovox. The CEO phoned me and asked me to participate in “Dr. Kaizen’s important experiment.” I asked her if he knew exactly what Helen was doing. “I have no idea. I don’t care. Just give her whatever help she needs. Any questions?” The way she said “any questions” made it abundantly clear that I was not to ask any questions.

Of course, I did have questions. “Why do I have to participate in this?” was at the top of my list. But I already received a counseling letter from HR complaining about my lack of judgment for letting S-47 go home while he was still in the grip of Mentanovox. I felt pressure to “lay low and go with the flow,” and that’s exactly what I did.

Helen met me in the lobby of the massive office building on the military base. When she visited me at my office, she wore a black business suit. Today, she was wearing a white lab coat with “Kaizen” embroidered above the pocket. “Thank you for coming. I trust you have the drugs?”

I showed her what I brought. A 100 mg vial of Mentanovox HCL - she had requested the Mentanovox be compounded in an injectable form - and a box of Ambien pills. I also had a single vial of Flumazenil which, according to the hastily written adverse reaction bulletin, “could potentially” reverse the Mentanovox cross reaction with Ambien.

The guard in the lobby gave me a red badge displaying a giant letter “E” for “Escort Required” and Helen led me into the offices beyond. Helen’s office was a windowless chamber with a floor-to-ceiling whiteboard covering all four walls and even the back of the door. Equations and strange diagrams featuring stars, circles, and what looked like electrical engineering symbols, or maybe ancient runes, filled the whiteboards.

Helen watched me gape at the weird symbology that surrounded us. She laughed. “It’s just math. These - ” she pointed at the markings that looked like ancient runes “ - are just stochastic tensors. The whole thing is just a giant probabilistic differential - never mind.” She thrust a clipboard of paperwork at me. “Sign these please. They’re nondisclosure agreements.”

I worked through the paperwork while Helen rummaged around in a pile of binders and boxes in the corner of her office. “You can wear this,” she said, and handed me a lab coat.

I handed her the signed paperwork and put on the lab coat. “You’re going to destroy your brain, you know. The patient who had the cross reaction was left with a completely unconnected cortex. There’s no coming back from that.”

“Thank you for your concern. But I have a plan.”

I sighed. This was really happening. And I was part of it. “What’s the plan?”

“I’m going to pre-dose with the sleeping aid. I will also take 50 mg of dexamphetamine so I don’t fall asleep. Then we wait.”

“Wait for what?”

“We wait for the test subject to die.”

When Helen visited my office and told me she wanted to watch someone die, I thought she was a lone lunatic. Someone who “did their own research.” You know what I mean. I was completely wrong. Whatever Helen was up to, it had the full support of important people - the head of the friggin’ NSC signed the national interest exemption memo. And apparently it is in the national interest to overdose Helen on an experimental psychoactive drug and let her watch someone die.

I said. “Is this an animal study?”

“The test subject is a human with a terminal disease. He volunteered to participate in this experiment.” She turned to her desk and sorted through a stack of papers and folders. She found what she was looking for and handed me a green folder. “We have Institutional Review Board approval for this. I know it’s a little … unusual. But everything that we’re doing today is approved.”

I remembered telling Helen that her experiment sounded more like a Satanic death ritual than legitimate science. Now, in Helen’s office, with the walls full of strange mathematical symbols and diagrams of stars inside of circles, the same thought again occurred to me. Despite all the trappings of authority and approval, I could not see how this ludicrous experiment was legitimate science.

The phone rang. Helen answered with a terse “yes.” Whoever was on the other end of the call spoke briefly. “We will be right there,” Helen said and hung up the phone. “We have to go to the capture chamber. I will explain the plan in more detail when we get there.”

We marched out of her office, Helen in the lead. We wound through the halls of her second-floor office suite. Then into the stairwell. We descended ten floors. Through fire doors at the bottom of the stairwell, then into another security vestibule.

More checking of IDs, more signatures on sign-in sheets. I put my phone in a small cubby. I was given a second badge that read “Detain and Blindfold if Unescorted.” Then we passed through a glass-enclosed, one-person-at-a-time mantrap, and into a long corridor.

I read the signs on the doors we passed. Some were normal basement-corridor sorts of things: Electrical, Custodial Closet, HVAC. Then the signs got weirder. Pharmacy. Theology. Hospice. We stopped at a door fitted with a small sign that said “Capture Chamber.”

Helen entered her code into the keypad lock. I heard the lock click open and I had a sudden flash of fear. Panic, almost. The feeling was more than just a strong distaste for whatever Helen was doing. I sensed that whatever was behind that door was wrong. Not just ethically wrong, or scientifically misguided. But cosmically wrong. And dangerous.

Helen held the door for me and I entered the room in which I would spend the next one hundred twenty years.

* * *

The Capture Chamber was a gigantic space, like a Walmart with all the shelving removed. A flawless white tile floor reflected the ranks of hundreds of fluorescent lights that hung from the ceiling fifty feet above us.

A hospital bed was positioned in the center of a raised circular platform in the center of the room. Even from the door - a good hundred-fifty feet away - I could tell there was a patient in the bed. A vital-signs monitor stood to the left of the bed. A man sat in a metal folding chair on the right.

The platform was surrounded by heavy machinery. Huge cams mounted on shiny stainless steel shafts were linked to a maze of interlocking rails that surrounded the bed-platform. A tangle of brightly colored cables wove through the equipment like tree roots or capillaries, giving the apparatus the look of something organic.

Another raised platform stood outside of the ring of machinery. Instead of a bed, this platform held a black leather reclining chair that was oriented so that whoever sat it in could observe the test-subject.. At least two dozen computer monitors were mounted on a metal framework surrounding the chair. Helen led me to this second observation platform.

“The test subject,” she pointed at the patient in the hospital bed, “stopped oral intake six days ago and lost consciousness thirty six hours ago. We are monitoring his respiration and mandibular movement. We believe he will die in the next two hours.”

“Who is that man sitting next to him?”

“That’s his son. Our protocols specify that the terminally ill test subjects must be comforted by one family member. Because both the test subject and the family member must have top-secret clearance, finding test subjects that match the protocol criteria is quite tedious.” Something about the way she said this suggested she thought having family members present was a waste of resources.

We climbed a short flight of steps to the observation platform with the leather chair. The chair faced the center of the platform with the hospital bed where the “test subject” lay dying. Two huge mounting stands holding a dozen computer monitors each stood to the left and right, framing the view of the hospital bed. The monitors flashed and flickered patterns that appeared to be random noise.

Helen walked to the leather chair, and I stumbled behind, slack-jawed, trying to make sense of this bizarre experiment. Or whatever it was. Helen continued talking to me, oblivious to my confusion.

“I am going to pre-dose with the Ambien and dexamphetamine now. The dexamphetamine will counteract the Ambien, so I should have no problem staying awake.

We will wait until his respiration slows to six breaths per minute. Then you will inject me with forty milligrams of Mentanovox.”

She sat in the chair - a surprisingly ordinary reclining armchair. “Please put the drugs here.” She gestured to a small table to her right that held a tall glass of water and a prescription bottle labeled “dexamphetamine.”

Bolted to the left arm of the chair was a gray metal box that held a small garden of switches and lights. A large, red-mushroom shaped button labeled Dose Now stood above the others.

“Once the test subject dies, and I have observed what I need to see, I will press the Dose Now button and you will immediately inject me with 200 mg of Flumazenil.”

She pointed to her left shoulder. A small square of fabric had been cut out of the lab coat, exposing her shoulder. “This is where you will inject the Mentanovox. You will inject the Flumazenil directly into my neck. I will need it to act as rapidly as possible.”

“Helen. Did you actually read the bulletin about S-47? He perceived being conscious for eight million years. His mind was gone when he got to the ER. Completely devoid of cortical connections. His suffering was unimaginable.”

“I’ve done the math,” she replied testilly. “With the dosage I’ll receive, I expect to experience only three to five hundred years of consciousness. It should be a nice break, frankly.”

“A nice break! Nice! Five hundred years. Years! Of just sitting in this chair, watching a corpse, while these monitors flash noise at you?”

“Those monitors are displaying reading material. That one,” she pointed to the upper left monitor on the right-side bank of crazily-flashing screens. “Is displaying Wikipedia pages at the rate of five hundred per second. The one next to it is scrolling through twenty thousand works of English literature at 500 pages per second. And so on for the rest of the monitors - news archives, scientific publications, social media, and so on. We bought special monitors with a five-hundred hertz refresh rate just so we could display information fast enough.”

I stared at the two banks of flashing screens. I couldn’t perceive anything but painfully-bright flickering.

“You’re going to read for 500 years, while you also observe that poor man over there?”

“And catch up on a few emails,” she rotated a computer keyboard out of a slot in the arm of the chair. “Let’s get ready, shall we?”

She produced a headset from the pocket of her lab coat and put it on her head. “This is Helen Kaizen. This is the audio record of observation activity fifty four.”

Observation fifty four? How long had she been watching people die in this bizarre room?

Helen continued talking into her headset. "Current time is fourteen twenty three. I am predosing with one Ambien and fifty milligrams of dexamphetamine." She popped an Ambien out of the blister pack and downed it with a swallow of water. Then she took two pills from the dexamphetamine bottle and swallowed them.

“Now,” she said, turning to me. “We wait.”

She pressed a few keys on her keyboard and one of the monitors in the right bank of screens stopped flickering and instead displayed a standard computer desktop background. Helen clicked on icons and slid windows around the screen. When she was done, the screen held three windows. At the top of the screen was a data strip slowly updating graphs of what I assumed were the patient’s - sorry the test subject’s - vital signs: blood pressure, respiratory rate, blood oxygen, and so on. Below that was Helen’s email inbox (1478 unread items!) and a word processing window open to a blank page.

“I understand that once the Mentanovox kicks in, audio energy will be attenuated to the point where I cannot hear anything. I will not have enough fine muscle control or breath control to speak. So I will type my observations and anything else I need to communicate here.” She moved the mouse cursor to the word processing window. “Please keep an eye on it as we proceed. It will be the only way I have to communicate”

We waited. Helen ignored me while she read and wrote emails. The patient’s respiration slowly decreased. I wandered off the observation platform to get a closer look at the machinery surrounding the patient.

“Stay away from that area!” Helen shouted at me. “I’m going to start the capture sequence soon, and there are a lot of mechanical hazards present when it’s operating.”

Feeling a little like a chided child, I sauntered to the short flight of stairs leading to the platform with the hospital bed. Aside from Helen, the dying man and his son were the only two people in the huge room. Or chamber. Or whatever.

The test subject was an emaciated man who looked to be at least ninety years old. He slept. Rather, he was in a state of unconsciousness that did not look at all restful. His bony, withered body barely made a dent in the soft mattress of the hospital bed. Bruises up-and-down both arms betrayed a long battle with disease that required a lot of intravenous medicines. “Hey,” I said to the son - a middle-aged man sitting next to the patient.

He looked up from the book he was reading. Before he could speak, Helen shouted across the chamber: “No communication with personnel on the test subject platform!”

The patient’s son rolled his eyes and whispered to me, “Helen’s a bit of a stickler for protocol.” I nodded in agreement and wandered back towards Helen on the observation platform.

I walked about, examining but failing to understand the machinery surrounding the test platform. I stared at the flashing banks of screens, trying and failing to perceive even a single screen of content. I stood behind Helen and surreptitiously read a few of her outgoing emails.

Subj: Risk analysis of portal capture experiments

Subj: Military benefits of applied theological research

Subj: Timecard failed floor check

Helen glanced back at me with a glare that clearly communicated she did not appreciate me reading her emails over her shoulder. I returned to strolling about the perimeter of the room.

An hour passed. Then another. I thought about Helen’s plan to spend centuries of perceived time in this room. I had only been here two hours and I was desperately looking forward to getting the hell out. To spend multiple lifetimes here - to look forward to spending lifetimes here - was a sign that Helen was … different.

“It’s time!” Helen shouted at me across the room.

I jogged to the observation platform. Helen had already prepared the injection of Mentanovox. On the far platform, the son was standing over the bed, holding his father’s hand.

Helen was speaking into her headset when I got to the top of the stairs. “Blood pressure is dropping. Respiratory rate is down to six. The probability of death in the next ten minutes is over ninety percent. Starting the portal stabilizers.”

She flicked a few switches on the control box that held the Dose Now button. A klaxon blared, red cop-car-style lights on the machinery started flashing. The apparatus surrounding the patient slowly came to life. Motors hummed with rising pitch. Shafts turned faster and faster, their cams pushing the strange grid of beams up and down. The fastest moving parts of the machine started to glow and flash, giving it the look of a carnival ride.

The machine spun and gyrated faster and faster. The grid of glowing beams blurred. The machine kept accelerating and the seemling random flashes became synchronized with the movement of the grid of beams, resolving into a glowing five pointed star inscribed in a circle that rocked in crazy, unpredictable ways.

“Capture device trim active. Dosing with Mentanovox now” Helen spoke into her headset. She handed me the syringe. “Dose me with the Mentanovox, then stay on this platform and watch my log entries. And what happens when I press the Dose Now button?”

“200 milligrams of Flumazenil, in the neck.”

“Yes. Prepare the injection now. There must be absolutely no delays when I press the button.”

I took the syringe of Mentanovox from her. “You’re probably not going to survive this, you know. You will suffer terribly for what you perceive as centuries. Eventually, your mind will tear itself down in a catastrophic act of forgetting.”

“I’m aware of the risks. Now inject me.”

I did.

Helen was quiet for a minute. She looked at the patient on the far platform. She stared at the flashing computer monitors. Then she snapped her head to face me and said “Ithinkitsstartingtotakeeffect.” She blurted the words out almost too fast to hear.

“Your perception is definitely accelerated. Maybe about ten times faster.”

Helen turned away from me so fast that she almost fell out of the chair. She darted her hands to the computer keyboard and typed. The key presses sounded more like a drum roll than a human using a keyboard.

I can hear you, but your voice is slowed and frequency shifted. I cannot understand. I will communicate through this screen. Please type your response to me here

I leaned over her keyboard and typed

How long does it seem to take for my pen to fall?

I stepped in front of Helen. Her eyes were darting about in a frenzy. Her gaze oscillated between me, the computer monitors, and the patient on the far platform. I pulled a pen out of my pocket and dropped it onto the floor. Helen drumroll-typed her response:

Days to fall. Sound is gone. Time to get to work.

Helen did exactly what she said she would do. She jerked her head back and forth between screens, reading whatever information they were flashing at her. She opened emails and slammed text into the response window. Occasionally her eyes would linger on the patient in the center of the whirling machinery, then she would return to the frenzy of reading and writing.

Three minutes ticked by. I tried to calculate how long she perceived those three minutes to be. If the quarter-second drop of my pen seemed to take days for her then each second that ticked by would seem to her to be about a week. Three minutes would be … over three years.

I watched her closely. She didn’t appear to be suffering. She could push the Dose Now button at any time, but so far had chosen not to.

Her pattern of frenzied motion and typing suddenly ceased. She fixed her gaze on the patient for a second, two, three. These few seconds were weeks of her time.

Helen shot her fingers at the keyboard again. This time, she typed a message in the journal window:

He’s dead

Chaos broke out. A moment after Helen typed her message, the vital signs monitor threw up a red warning message:

Resp 0, HR: 0

Helen’s hands raced over the control panel in a blur, flicking switches and turning dials. The churning satanic carnival-ride of a machine came to an abrupt stop with a screech and a bang. The floor shook as the foundation of the building absorbed the forces involved in bringing tons of spinning and thrashing metal to an instant stop. The circle-and-star shape glowed brighter than ever, held fixed at a strange angle by the frozen machine.

In the same instant, the patient’s son screamed in pain and he fell to the floor. No - it wasn’t that simple. I looked closer and saw that he didn’t fall. His legs collapsed under him, bent like they were made of rubber, or melting plastic. His legs continued to melt until his torso sat on the platform in a pool of red goo. The man tried to scream again, but the severe trauma, or whatever it was, that ruined his legs started to affect his abdomen. With his diaphragm destroyed, screaming was impossible. So was breathing.

Every instinct in me urged me to run to the door. To get out of that room. But I had a duty to administer the antidote to Helen. I would not be responsible for another person going through what S-47 had.

Helen hammered out another message

He’s taken his second death in the portal.

Dose yourself with Mentanovox now or you will die

I had no idea what the first line of Helen’s message meant. Second death? Portal? Those words meant nothing to me. But the second line I understood. And there was no way I would dose myself with that drug. To live a thousand lifetimes in this bleak, underground facility? I’d rather die.

On the far platform, the son of the man who, apparently, died five seconds earlier, continued to dissolve. His chest splashed apart like a breaking water balloon. His head and arms fell into the puddle that his body had made, floated like horrific pool toys for a moment, then melted away.

I had seconds to think about what Helen wrote. Take the drug and live. He took his second death in the portal. What would happen to me if I didn’t take the Mentanovox. Would I be literally liquified like the son of the test subject? As bad as that looked, it would be far better than the eight-million years of sensory deprivation that S-47 experienced. And what the hell did second death mean?

But where I had only seconds to think, Helen, in her hyper-accelerated mental state, had the equivalent of days to decide what I should do. To decide what she should do to me. I turned from the screens to look at Helen. She was staring at me - studying me - with unblinking eyes.

For her, every slight micro-expression that flashed across my face, every tiny change in my body language would be an hours-long process. She probably knew what I was going to do before I did: I was not going to take the drug.

Helen rose from the chair before I could even nod my head to signal no to her. Her proprioception system was running 10,000 times faster than her body. With that kind of disconnect in mind-body control, moving normally would be nearly impossible.

Helen discovered this problem as she tried to stand up. She misjudged the force required and literally threw herself from the chair. In another setting, her fall to the floor would have been comical. She launched herself in a twisting arc. Her arms and legs flailed about wildly, but she was unable to control her fall. She landed face-first on the platform, and continued to thrash her limbs uselessly for a few seconds. From her warped perspective of time, her fall must have taken a day or two. These futile efforts on the floor occupied a week of her time.

Whatever else Helen may be, it's pretty clear that she's smart as hell. She can figure stuff out and learn quickly. That's exactly what she did on the floor. She froze, then methodically began moving one limb at a time.

She lifted one leg, then let it drop. She brought her other knee to her torso. She pushed herself up onto her left elbow. She steadied herself with her right arm. Then she rose.

For a moment I thought she was going to fall again. But her movements this time were more controlled. Purposeful. She had learned how to move under the influence of Mentanovox.

Blood ran from her mouth and nose where she smacked her face on the floor. She glanced at the far platform. The test subject's son was still busily liquifying. Then she turned towards me. Her movements were more like a bird’s than a human’s. A sequence of blindingly fast motions punctuated by short intervals of motionlessness.

She moved sideways with a lurching twitch and grabbed the syringe and vial of Mentanovox from the table next to her chair. Her eyes continued to burn into mine as she stabbed the needle through the seal on the vial and filled the syringe.

"No!" I knew shouting was useless because she couldn't hear, but fear had decoupled my mouth from my brain. Panic and terror replaced all other thoughts.

I turned to run. I started to turn anyway. Helen had hours to watch me slowly shift my posture and start to engage my muscles. She lunged at me, perfectly anticipating where my neck would be when her arm reached me. For her, physical struggle must have been an intellectual activity like chess, and not a physical endeavor like fighting. In the split second I tried to get away, she had analyzed my face for tells, saw all the small ways my body telegraphed what I was going to do, then calmly made a plan to stop me.

Despite my attempt to duck and dodge, she stabbed me in the neck with the needle. Even though her attack was lightning-fast, she managed to inject the Mentanovox directly into my jugular.

I was already off balance trying to duck her attack with the needle when she slammed into me. I fell hard to the floor. Actually, no. I started to fall towards the floor. But the massive dose of the drug, injected directly into my neck, took effect almost instantly.

All sound dropped in pitch and then died away entirely, as if the soundtrack of life was a vinyl record that suddenly stopped spinning. The world froze before I hit the ground. In one instant, I was struggling like mad to get away, and in the next instant I was frozen in mid-fall, like a bug fossilized in amber.

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