There were three of us, but now there were two. Tony and I have been guinea-pigging for nearly seven years now. Brian was with us for five, until the Bromo-DragonFLY trials fried him for good. In retrospect, we were stupid to go along with that study, because it was run by a bungling bunch of interns, but we were grizzled psychonauts and had been through it all. You trip out of your skull for a day or two, and collect a thousand bucks. Keep reasonably fit, don’t smoke unless they want you to, show no signs of mental damage from having your body and soul poisoned again and again, and you can always find a study to join. If something messes with your head, shake it off.
So this time, Tony and I are strapped into wheelchairs with another guy we’ve seen before at some trials, a bearded guy who went by the name Bunk. We’ve been given a dose of something, but we don’t know what it is. This time, they’re holding us for 96 hours, with two 12 hour followups. The 96 hours has me worried; we’re only getting one dose, but it must be something that’s gonna zonk us, or incapacitate us, or send us into space, or make us paranoid. Normally, you get out in 24 hours, or 48 if it’s something that will leave you too woozy to drive. 96 is serious business.
Brian was different from us, but we liked him. He was a real space cadet. He was guinea-pigging because he was into the drugs. We liked the drugs too, when they were good drugs, but the money was always our lure. Tony was a handyman who never seemed to have more than a few hours of work a month. I had long ago decided that guinea-pigging was the only thing I was cut out to do; I could occupy my mind during the long boring hours when nothing noticeable happened, and could shun just about every responsibility life had to offer.
I wonder if I have gotten the placebo this time. There were some instances when I was glad to have gotten the placebo, when I saw what the drug did to the other guys. However, I usually want the real drug, whatever it does. Often it is mildly pleasurable, and sometimes it is a good trip. I’m not sure if I have gotten the placebo, but I hope I haven’t. I still don’t feel like anything is happening, though.
The thing about us, and Brian too, especially Brian, is that we’re helping medical science. We sign away our very lives to do this. If the drug kills us, nobody can sue. If we lose our minds and depart to another planet permanently, like Brian did, then we’ll just have to adjust to that reality. By the time the drugs reach the trial phase, they’re usually safe. However, the danger isn’t usually in testing out new pharmaceuticals. The real adventures occur when existing drugs are tested in abnormal dosages and settings.
I’m not sure how long I’ve been strapped to this goddamn chair. Fifteen minutes? Forty five? It might be the drug working, time perception seems fluid. An attendant comes to wheel us to our separate rooms, where we will trip in isolation. The attendant is a woman of about forty, with a round face that resembles a peach.
“I can smell your sweat” Tony announces from across the room.
“Shhh, no talking”, says the attendant, sounding somewhat forlorn and motherly. The walls slide past, and we are in the corridor, where the florescent lighting seems harsh and noisy.
Brian was okay after some harrowing, nightmarish experiences. He once went paranoid and thought he was being trained as an assassin; he got all trembly and shaky and had to be restrained. Next day, he was fine, and hungry too. He could take it; he could take whatever they threw at him. He had seen bizarre worlds; he had lived in them. That is what we do for a living.
I feel some nausea as I am strapped into bed by two attendants, a large-ish man has joined the woman and I realize as they strap my legs down that my arms have already been restrained. I’m pretty sure I got the dose and not the placebo. The attendants have taken on vaguely cartoonish characteristics, as the man’s nose appears impossibly sharp, and the woman’s hair seems to reflect light that was ever so slightly tinged with rainbow. “Do you want the light on or off?”, she asks on the way out, and I feel an overwhelming grief seize my soul. “Off, please” The feeling passes.
Brian seemed fine the day after his last trial. He was held a day, as is customary, and given a check for $1400. He was excited; he was going to put it with another $800 to buy a car he had his eyes on, a ’98 Toyota. He had been going everywhere by bicycle, even in the rain. He was even talking about cutting back on his guinea-pigging on his very last day. He said he wanted to use his car to find a regular job. “This is a young man’s profession”, were the last words I ever heard him say.
I definitely have gotten the dose. Tony must have too, his comment was a signal, a riddle. He was trying to warn me, but I didn’t listen. I don’t know about Bunk; is Bunk in on it?
Brian’s paranoia came in waves, about four days after he went home. His mama said that it was like he became distrustful in stages. He seemed to revert to his younger self, at first. He threw tantrums, hollering and screaming about how his own family had set him up to be a failure. As it worsened, they tried to get him put away, but he bought his car and split. He made it across two state lines before he became violent.
The room is dark, but there is light from the LED’s on the medical equipment. I realize it has been arranged especially for me, to resemble a small city. I’m not sure at first what the message is, but they want me to focus on the city. I become aware of the straps and feel my blood course through my veins. Blood is electricity, and you can taste it in your mouth.
Brian didn’t kill anyone, and he didn’t kill himself, but he got damn near close, and now he is locked up. Brian is waiting. He is in a state of suspended animation and he is waiting for the sign, and when he sees it he will act. He remembers every dose, I know it.
America is waiting. I know that too, as surely as I know those city lights were never meant to be. They do get sloppy don’t they? It isn’t funny when you’ve got things dissected down to the smallest element, the tiniest little particle, is it?
Fuck Brian, just fuck him. Those attendants with their mocking eyes, I will show them that the secret is not complete.
The air itself is plastic; all is artificial. This is the message. The city lights are green now, all my vision is green, green is the color! Bunk is fucking screaming in the next room, hollering, is it Bunk or Tony? Rats in our cages, strapped and poisoned, your money is paper, get these wires off me. “No more!” Bunk is shrieking, hyperventilating, but it isn’t Bunk, it is all a trick. “No more, no more, no more!” screams Bunk, muffled through the walls, is that Bunk screaming; Brian are you in here? “Now you’ve done it!” my own voice comes to me from outside of my head, and all I know is that sounds are only effusions of particles, and I realize the bastards have dosed me, I