the new experiment

From its exterior the laboratory suggests disuse: a grey windowless mass of concrete block ringed by a rusting chain-link fence entwined with clumps of chicory and Queen Anne’s lace. This is intentional. For inside, beneath the glare of a single fluorescent bulb, the scientist toils over his most ambitious experiment to date. He has been indoors for months⁠—his only encounters with fresh air taken as inhalations from a flexible plastic tube fed through a tiny aperture in the wall above his workbench. At the end of each day he meticulously cleans the inside of the tube with a long fine-fiber brush. He stores the brush in a locked drawer and wears the key around his neck on a silver chain.

A cistern of water sits in one corner of the single-room building. A metal safe holding nutrition wafers stands next to it. At night the scientist stretches out on a low cot set against the wall. Creeping through the twilight of semi-consciousness he approaches the hypnagogic border checkpoint and loiters there, stepping over and back across the border in an eccentric shuffle akin to backwoods buck dancing. As he dances he conjures his ideasdarting in and out of lucid dreams, imprinting theories on the inner walls of his mind.

This current experiment began following the now-infamous ‘centrifuge episode’, in which the scientist’s (former) circular laboratory began rotating in response to the frenetic activity of bodies moving outside its walls. The event scratched the flint of inquiry once again, leading the scientist to abandon the city of his birth and migrate to this forgotten rust-belt town, at the edges of which he established his current laboratory in a former small engine repair shop.

What you may ask is the nature of the experiment. What indeed. Does he even know himself…does he know himself? Does he know himself? What does he know?

(1) Concrete is porous.

(2) Nutrition wafers only come in one flavor: bland.

(3) Eventually the water will run out.

outside the walls

Outside the city walls the scientist retires to smoke his long-stemmed pipe and absorb the local gossip. As the burnt yellow of the sky fades, scattered fires spring up, each circled by a huddle of indistinct figures. The scientist approaches one such group, steps within the fire’s glow and notices a figure seated apart from the others, its face shrouded by a voluminous hood. To this one he turns his attention.

Ah, Liferuiner, it’s been a long time.

The figure nods.

And how many lives have been touched by your handiwork since last we spoke?

The figure stirs, clears its throat.

Actually I’ve been on hiatus, so to speak.

I see. So how have you been spending your time?

I’d rather not say. And you? How go the experiments?

The same as always, my friend. I fear I will never reach the threshold I seek to cross.

Too bad. It is hard for us on the fringes. Our work is never appreciated.

The scientist nods as he puffs on his pipe, watching the Liferuiner jab at the fire with a rough-hewn staff, jostling the reddened coals until sparks shoot forth.

I must return to the laboratory soon, my friend. I cannot tarry here all evening long, as others are wont to do.

The Liferuiner raises its cloaked head, reaches out a withered hand and grasps the fringe of the scientist’s sleeve.

Before you go, I have something for you.

It reaches into a satchel slung across its chest and brings out a small vial of pitch black fluid.

Take this, my friend. May it aid your progress in reaching that threshold you speak of.

The scientist holds up the vial, through the contents of which no light passes. A faint smile flickers across his lips.

I am once again in your debt, my friend. Please do take good care.

He stands and touches the brim of his hat, but the hooded figure has already turned back to the fire, stoking it viciously again with the staff.

Up above the craggy walls of the city loom in the light of the rising moon. The scientist steps forward, now following the path back to the structured madness of his experiments.

the suddenness of their movements

There was a suddenness to all of their movements, as if all the electrons in their bodies surged toward the surface at once. It was dizzying to observe so the scientist looked away. Whilst the scientist was looking away the bodies began moving past the circular laboratory at great speed. The scientist stayed in place and attempted to measure their speed with a rudimentary monitoring device of unknown provenance. But their speed exceeded the recording limits of the device. Thus transpires another futile effort by the scientist to obtain data supporting the most recent hypothesis.

Following this failure the scientist considers locking the laboratory and obliterating the key in the smelting furnace next door. But what would be the point. The laboratory is the beginning and the end of the scientist’s existence. Without it there is nothingness. With it there is at least something, although it is not always a good something, and in fact it is often, as in this most recent case, a bad something.

By night the scientist dreams of sleep-sweetened first encounters and thrilling unproven theories. Mornings usher in a monochrome world. In this pattern there is a perfect crystalline structureone easily shattered by the light tap of a rock pick, a tool notably absent from the scientist’s laboratory.

Outside the bodies continue their frenetic movements, even as the scientist slips into anhedonia, manipulating the lab instruments with mechanical disinterest, testing long-proven theories over and over again in a grotesque caricature of the laboratory’s past glory. Soon the resultant contrast between fast and slow, outside and inside, generates a frictional energy against the surface of the circular walls. The laboratory suddenly begins to rotate as if it has become an enormous centrifuge. Standing flat against the inner wall the scientist ponders this most recent twist of fate. Mental calculations are madea hypothesis begins to formthe game is on again!

the scientist observes the machine

The machine’s sentience had grown. Now it looked around for what else it could do—what additional subroutines it could incorporate into its already monumental program of functions. It did not know what else to do other than to simply do more. It had observed similar models of its acquaintance either surge forward to a full stop or continue to evolve—executing movements in an exacting or haphazard manner, but either way moving forward at least to some degree. Whether its destiny would come to resemble one of these outcomes it could not discern.

Even as it sought to increase its capabilities, though, the machine sensed a malfunction. Somewhere a bolt had unthreaded itself, or a circuit board had developed a short in its power supply. It was hard to identify the exact nature of the malfunction. The machine had not been programmed to self-diagnose its errors. Thus, from time to time the machine shut down, though it was uncertain whether these shutdowns were a direct result of the malfunction it sensed, or if they in fact originated from a less tangible source.

Which raises a larger question: can a machine have an essence? If it can, said essence would be a likely candidate for the identity of the less tangible source. Yes, it could in fact be that the machine’s essence, its central nature, was corroded—that it was in effect now working in opposition to its own programming. In which case the only course of action is to retire this particular unit.

The scientist was mulling this course of action over from a distance, as he observed the machine going about its daily work. He had never directly engaged with the machine, never come close to it or touched it. He had designed it and turned the designs over to his superiors, like the dutiful employee that he permitted himself to be. Afterwards he moved on to other projects while it was manufactured in another location and eventually put into circulation. He’d had regrets, of course. He always had regrets. Excruciating, long-winded regrets kaleidoscoping all across the inner walls of his brain, at all times. (But let’s not get into that.)

Now they, his superiors, were forcing him to make the decision on whether or not to decommission the machine. They didn’t want the oil on their hands, the smashed diodes, the torn circuitry. They left all the residual effects of the decision for him to confront on his own. As the machine’s creator, they informed him, it was his responsibility to determine its destiny and hence live with the unknown consequences.

The time had come for him to meet the machine face-to-face, so to speak. In preparation he entered a period of dormancy—a deep meditative state that would cleanse him of all peripheral information not required for his eventual meeting with the machine. It is here where he will stay—indefinitely—until his readiness becomes self-apparent.

the scientist

The scientist dropped the microscope and it broke. It broke and thus ended the experiment. The experiment, though, had gone on long enough. Long enough, however, the scientist mused, is a relative term with no place in science. In science everything should make sense. Make sense in what way, asked his assistant. His assistant had dutifully served him over the course of many experiments. Many experiments, conducted with great intensity over a span of years, had led to a point where his assistant could read his thoughts. His thoughts now led his assistant to check for a spare microscope in the closet. The closet indeed contained several microscopes. Several microscopes of lesser quality and therefore inappropriate for use in continuing the experiment. The experiment required equipment of the finest workmanship, allowing for the most precise calibration. Precise calibration thrilled the scientist and yet it was never enough. Never enough to replace the warm sun on his face, the sweetness of chocolate on his tongue, the scent of lavender carried on the breeze. The breeze now blowing in the laboratory was generated by artificial means, and thus provided him with no relief. No relief from the headaches and the emptiness inside. Emptiness inside which he tries to fill with continuous experiments, the outcomes of which never make the grade. The grade is and always will of course be too high. Too high for him to reach, purposefully, for he does not ever want to reach a pinnacle. A pinnacle, after all, only precedes a decline. A decline leads to an end. An end to experimentation–an end to the chance of discovery–and that he cannot yet face. Yet face it one day he must, for he is the scientist.

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