Desolate Soul: (Flash Fiction)
Time: The present.
Location: Central Alaska. The Solitude Research Facility. Three miles underground.
Function: Site of an experiment in human loneliness.
Purpose: To assist NASA in developing strategies for mitigating and alleviating extreme stress reactions born of long-term, solitary, deep-space exploration.
Auspices: Defense Department and NASA.
Name: Charles Frederick Linden III.
Occupation: Career felon. Serving thirty years to life for armed robbery, kidnapping, and felony murder.
Promised: If he survived the experiment, he was to be unconditionally released and given one million dollars cash, tax-free.
Weight: 190 lbs.
Distinguishing Marks: None.
Blood Pressure and Other Vital Signs: All normal.
Muscle Tone: Fair.
Intelligence: Slightly above normal.
Experiment Conditions: Subject housed in a large, well-furnished room: television, radio, no computer (so as to disallow any near-real or real-time human contact via the Internet); shower and toilet facilities; kitchenette (should he wish to prepare some, many, most, or even all of his own meals and snacks; otherwise prepared food delivered to him by robotic servant---no human contact); sofa/fold out bed; table, chairs, writing desk; books and magazines; antiquated Play Station that hooks up to the television, should he wish for gaming; Solo flex machine, treadmill for exercise; pens and notebooks for writing; a wardrobe of clothes (removed and delivered by robotic servant, cleaned and pressed---no human contact).
Experiment Goal: To see how long a person can remain in control of his faculties under circumstances of extreme, prolonged, total isolation.
Experiment Results: The subject is completely and irretrievably insane. The subject is insane.
Research Staff: One.
Name: Dr. Laura Stanhope. PhD. in psychology and psychiatry.
Reports Directly To: General Nathan Weatherford.
General Weatherford: (Having called for a status update from Dr. Stanhope; communication taking place via Skype). "Good Morning, Dr. Stanhope."
Dr. Stanhope: "Good Morning, General Weatherford."
General Weatherford: "Well, how's our boy?"
Dr. Stanhope: "Well, sir, he's lasted longer than the others."
General Weatherford: "But?"
Dr. Stanhope: "He's through, general. The subject is completely insane"
General Weatherford: "Let me see."
Dr. Stanhope: (pushing buttons to patch the General through to the hidden cameras in the subject's room).
General Weatherford: (Watches the subject intently, silently for more than one hour). "I don't understand, Dr. Stanhope. He seems perfectly normal."
Dr. Stanhope: "On the surface."
General Weatherford: "What does he do? Does he hurt himself? Tear up the place? His room looks like he's keeping it neat and clean. Does he starve himself or anything like that?"
Dr. Stanhope: "Insanity doesn't always have to present as energetic frenzy, General. But I assure you that the subject is bereft of hope; he is completely un-functional in the outside world. He is, for all intents and purposes, dead inside and dead to the world."
General Weatherford: How long?
Dr. Stanhope: "The subject has been in isolation for (checking her notes)... two years, four months, thirteen days and five hours, as of this moment."
General Weatherford: "Damn!" (banging his fist on his desk). "We need them to hold together for a lot longer than that. How do you know he's gone around the bend?"
Dr. Stanhope: "I tried talking to him. On a hunch, a week ago, I tried to make direct human-to-human contact with him. I opened his door and tried to tell him that the experiment was over, that he had fulfilled his obligation, that he was free to go and collect his one million dollars. I told him that he could get it in cash to carry out with him, or that it could be electronically deposited in any bank, anywhere in the world he wanted it."
General Weatherford: "Damn!" (Pausing a beat). "How did he react?"
Dr. Stanhope: "He gave no reaction, General. As far as I could tell, he did not even register my presence in the least."
General Weatherford: "How long's he been out of it?"
Dr. Stanhope: "As I say, General, at least a week when I checked up on him on a hunch. But it could very well have been two or three weeks. Now that I think about it, he might have lost his grip a month ago."
General Weatherford: "Now that you think about it?"
Dr. Stanhope: "Eighteen months into his isolation he began making sock puppets. He took pairs of socks and drew eyes, ears, and mouths on them. These sock puppets represented friends, associates, criminal colleagues, and family. This was no children's game he was playing; he spent hours and days at a time in their company, recalling good times and bad, making plans for the future, that kind of thing. He supplied different voices..." (She gestures vaguely with a hand).
General Weatherford: "Sounds Looney Tunes to me. Eighteen months ago? Why didn't you inform me?"
Dr. Stanhope: "General, I go a bit against the grain on that. I don't quite see eye-to-eye with conventional wisdom. General, human beings need human contact and interaction, and not for solely utilitarian reasons. We, at this facility, are trying to figure out ways for human beings to be able to go without human contact for extremely long periods of time and remain relatively healthy in psychological, physical, and emotional terms. When the subject was using his sock puppets, I was encouraged that he was still fighting, trying to manufacture human contact where none existed. I viewed it as a rational starvation response, the way the body will cause the metabolism to feed the body to itself from inside-out when it is starved of food. But a month ago, I noticed that he stopped using the sock puppets. As I think about it, that tells me he's stopped fighting."
General Weatherford: "And yet he goes to sleep at night, rises in the morning, showers, eats, and doesn't try to hurt himself in any way. Is that right?"
Dr. Stanhope: "General, he goes through a daily routine. He sleeps, rises, showers, changes clothes, reads books and magazines, watches T.V. and listens to the radio, and eats. He doesn't try to hurt himself. Why should he? General, I can assure you the subject is indeed dead inside. He is waiting for death to catch up to his body as well. But he waits for death, General, the way you and I would wait for a train."