January 31, 2023

‘Subject Frank’, a short story by Kieran McGuire

 

Private Log: Dr. Edward Carcer
Date and Time: 1/9/2031, 20:34
Subject: Subject Frank
Procedures and Observations: Began testing on Subject Frank today at 08:00. Subject Frank exhibits a global psychogenic amnesia caused by extensive psychological stress –rather than neurobiological issues – and is in a permanent fugue state. Given his lack of recovery after five years at the Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery, he appears to be a perfect candidate. Psychogenic amnesia includes the presence of retrograde amnesia, meaning that the subject is unable to retrieve stored memories leading up to the onset of amnesia. The absence of anterograde amnesia is a problem easily solved by the application of amnesiac drugs. Flunitrazepam (an intermediate acting derivative of benzodiazepine) is the drug of choice due to its hypnotic and sedative properties. Memories are still inserted by means of an injection into the hippocampus, but the accompanying drug has been slightly altered since the failure of the last subject.The memories inserted today were that of Brother Simon, a monk who had left his monastery to travel the country and assist the poor. Convincing the subject that he had been brought into hospital following an infection and fever was extremely easy. Testing showed that the memories were transferred intact and that they were correctly processed by Subject Frank. Interaction showed that he did indeed take on the pious nature and quiet mannerisms of Brother Simon. The extent to which the religious belief was transferred, merely through the memories of his past and his education, is remarkable.

 

 

The years spent at the monastery were all in preparation.
My true calling lies beyond.
The Lord shall watch over me,
As I tend to his flock.
The Lord shall tend to me,
‘Till I turn to dust and rock.
Long have I travelled,
Across this worthy land,
To save the souls of those who are lost
And guide them back to Our Lord’s hands.

 

I appear to have awoken in a room unfamiliar to me. I am not sure how I came here. Still, it is clean, and warm, and I do not seem to be in pain. A doctor, who tells me that his name is Carcer, has come to explain the situation to me. It seems that I had caught an infection, and have just recovered from an awful fever in their care. It is truly kind of him to have tended to me so, but there is something cold about his demeanour that worries me. Do you know the warmth, of the love of Our Lord? Oh, my question appears to have pleased him. Yet, he does not answer. I wonder what he is writing? That reminds me, I must update my journal, for the shelter they have provided me is truly an act of the kindness of God. Where is my journal? I see, he is quite right; first I must eat, for I must be feeling weak. My goodness, suddenly, I am so very tired.

 

***

 

Private Log: Dr. Adam Broker
Date and Time: 2/9/2031, 18:00
Subject: Subject Frank
Procedures and Observations: Some quite startling progress was made today. Carcer believes that we must test the boundaries of Subject Frank’s ability to adopt memories and assume an identity; this I have done. I chose the memories of a bird. Extracting the DNA sample from the hippocampus was simple, as one flew in through a window of our lab last night. A non-human set of memories would surely prove a greater challenge for the mind of Subject Frank, and the result was remarkable. Subject Frank believed he was a bird so absolutely that he attempted to launch himself from his bunk. The collision with the desk may have caused a minor head injury, but such a positive result is surely worth it. Tarrow suggests that we sedate him for a day or two to allow for recovery. These constant delays are frustrating.

 

 

The sun rises it is time to go,
Swoop and soar and dive and glide,
Ride the colours to distant heights.
Swoop and soar and dive and glide,
Warm air lifts my wings so wide,
Swoop and soar and dive and glide.

 

Sunlight! Where am I, who is he, is this a cage? Why is the sun not warm and what is this place? Is this a cage? Food! the man dropped seeds, eat the food. Why does my beak not work? What is happening? The other birds are not here they cannot hear me, I cannot hear me, every time I try to call I hear a human shouting, but the man just watches and his mouth never opens. Who is here? Is this a cage? My wings must be tired. I have to get out,  to the trees. Climb that thing, leap and the air will carry me. Why are my wings not working?

 

***

 

Private Log: Dr. Nathan Fellman
Date and Time: 4/9/2031
Subject: Subject Frank
Procedures and Observations: After the unnecessary delay pushed on us by Tarrow, the testing can resume its course. The previous tests have not been rigorous enough. My work today has shown that, with the correct dosage of amnesiac drugs, we can test the boundaries of Subject Frank’s ability to cope with far more extreme memories, and his ability to assume an unstable identity. It is as simple and necessary as stress-testing any other product. The memories I inserted today were those of PFC Brian Connolly, a veteran of the Iraq war who was crippled by an IED a few days after the taking of Fallujah. Subject Frank evidently processed the trauma of the memories with great veracity, for he exhibited the signs of PTSD that we know Connolly to have suffered. Whilst Subject Frank was eating lunch I decided to investigate whether the memories were strong enough to trigger a psychotic episode, and if this shock would cause him to abandon the identity as a defence mechanism. Repeated switching of the lights and several loud bangs over the intercom did indeed cause Subject Frank to have an episode, but he remained in character; I administered a dose of Flunitrazepam and started the test again. Interacting with Subject Frank, I found that he remembered the events that caused the trauma, but obviously became more and more unsettled as I probed for answers. Today’s testing has shown that Subject Frank is able to retain even traumatic memories, and the identity formed is affected appropriately. He even believed he couldn’t use his left leg. Tarrow is insisting that we take a break and allow Subject Frank’s mind to recover, as if there would be some residue of the trauma. The man’s weakness is going to cost us our research grant.

 

 

Roger, we are Oscar-Mike.
Heading to the hospital, we were told they needed a medevac, over.
What is your location?
(Whose memories are these?)
Affirmative, we are in the Humvee but we have two transports in the convoy,
There should be plenty of room for you boys. Over.
Delivering sit-rep: we are Oscar-Mike en route the hospital for a medevac, will be returning to base at 2200 hours, over.
Roger.
REQUESTING SUPPORT. WE HAVE BEEN HIT BY AN IED. WE NEED AN EVAC, NOW.
NEGATIVE, THE DRIVER IS DOWN. Oh, Carmine, Carmine is down.
Shit. Shit. I didn’t see him! I didn’t see him. Shit. Carmine.

 

Where am I? Who are you? He looks British. He sounds British. Fellman? PFC Brian Connolly. Permission to speak freely, sir? Thank you. Why am I here? Rehabilitation. Of course. Can I get a crutch? Thank you. Of course I remember what happened. Where was I? Where do you think I was? Why are you asking me these questions? Oh god, Carmine. I’m so sorry. I didn’t see him, I didn’t see who did it. I don’t want to talk to you. What are you writing? What is this? Where’s my unit? Am I a prisoner? Then I want to go back to my unit. Thank you for the sandwich, but it could use a little ketchup. No. No they’re not. I just saw Carmine, then I passed out. The others made it. No. No! I know they did. Stop lying! REQUESTING SUPPORT. WE HAVE BEEN HIT BY AN IED! WE NEED AN EVAC, NOW! Oh, Carmine, Carmine is down. Shit. Carmine.

 

Ugghh, my head hurts. Where am I? Who are you? Can I get some asprin? He left his coat. Check his pockets. Leatherman? Thank you, Fellman, whoever you are, I’ll take that. Thank you for the water. I don’t want to talk about it. Please, leave me alone. Oh, Carmine. I’m so sorry.

 

***

 

Private Log: Dr. Robert Tarrow
Date and Time: 7/9/31, 21:00
Subject: Subject Frank
Procedures and Observations: I insisted that we give Frank a break. If… if our project breaks another human being, I don’t think I can continue any more. The others have no concern for Frank’s mental health besides what they can put in their paper. I gave him the memories of a friend of mine, Elijah Wittle. He’s a writer, and donated the sample to me.  We talked about books, and he seemed calm. I was fascinated by how well Frank adopted the emotional history of Elijah, reminiscing over memories of his ex fiancée. It appears that the memories even imbued a sense of ‘love’. However, there were a few irregularities that unsettled me. I dropped my tray of food by accident, and he was startled almost into a state of shock.  I sedated him and ended the test there, though there is not yet enough evidence of instability to have him pulled from the project. It would take a complete neurological meltdown, and I fear that with the increasing fervour of the others there might be such a disaster not far down the road. If I can’t prove it, he may go the same way as the others.

 

 

Sarah.
How long has it been? 14 years? How the years have flown.
(These are not your memories)
I wrote a book of poetry about her. It was awful, but it sold well.
Meanwhile my best work just sits on my desk.
It makes a rather nice paper-paperweight.
(This is not who you are)
I hope I won’t regret doing that favour for Tarrow. He is a lovely chap,
But that project he’s involved in worries me. Still, in the name of science.
(Christopher Holloway. Write it, here. Carve it. There you are.)

 

Ah, Robert! Good morning. Oh, really? Good evening then! It’s your fault for letting me doze for so long, you hapless host. This is your place, is it? We must have had a fair few at lunch, old boy, I can barely remember nodding off. So, tell me, how have you been, my good friend? Ah, lovely, I’m glad you’re doing well in… whatever it is that you do. Oh, I’m fine, thank you. Tapping away at my old stories, as always. I know, I know, it’s hardly ‘work’ as you see it, but it gets me by. Although, lately, I have been thinking… Do you think I made a mistake, Robert? With Sarah? God knows what she saw in me, but it was something. I’ve come to think that I was too stubborn, mistook her advice and guidance for criticism, shallowness. Just think how different things would be if I had trusted her, eh? My name on posters in tube stations… Brilliant woman. Writing has become work, and work is tiring, Robert. I fear I’m losing my enthusiasm for it. Good lord, don’t startle me like that! I can’t breathe. My heart is going a mile a minute. What on… Oh, Christ, I’m shaking like the devil! Tarrow, what is happening to me? I can’t breathe, I can’t br-…

 

Private Log: Dr. Robert Tarrow
Date and Time: 7/9/31, 22:14
Subject: Subject Frank
Procedures and Observations: Update: It is now 22:14 and I have just administered Frank’s nightly dose of Flunitrazepam. I found a name carved into the metal of his bunk. ‘Christopher Holloway’. This is remarkable. It appears that he is beginning to recall some memories of his own identity. If this is the case, he is no longer suitable for the project! I must inform the others. The relief is… Overwhelming.

 

 

***

 

Christopher Holloway.
These memories do not belong to you. They are not who you are.
Remember your parents, remember the crash.
These are my real memories.
Remember the real you.
This is a cage, and I am their bird.
Run.

 

What is this place? This isn’t my home. Where are my family? My name… I carved it, there. Christopher Holloway. Oh god, how long have I been here? 14 years? I’ve got to get out. The Leatherman has a screwdriver, I can use it on the door-hinges. Shit, Carmine. Wait, who’s Carmine? Is he here too? Why do I know that name? What have they done to me? I can’t look for anybody, I’ve got to get out. Sorry, Carmine. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for You are with me. Where did that come from? What has happened to me? Just keep going. There’s an elevator, but it’s already coming up. Check the fire escape… There’s someone smoking below. Shit. I’ve got to go up. How am I going to get out of here? I think whoever was smoking has heard my footsteps, there are more behind me now. Start running. What – no more stairs? No, no, I don’t know what to do! I can’t stop here. Great, the door was alarmed. There has to be a ladder, or another rooftop nearby, there has to be. Please, please, please. Okay, the roof… there is no ladder. Nothing near to jump to. Who are they? Oh god, it’s so high, I can’t stop looking down, and I feel… Fresh air, wind, and all this open sky. Oh, it’s so wonderfully bright! Swoop and soar and dive and glide!

 

There, from the ledge!
Fly!

 

***

 

Private Log: Dr. Edward Carcer
Date and Time: 14/9/31, 08:00
Subject: Subject Garrett
Procedures and Observations: The room has been cleared, and personal items incinerated. Tests on Subject Garrett will begin tomorrow.

 

 

There are no memories to display, no dreams to dream.

 

Where am I? What… Christopher Holloway? Is that my name?


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