The next day, Lily entered the lab to find Hector going through the paperwork.
“Hey,” Hector said, looking up. “How are you doing?”
“Do I need a reason to ask?” he asked innocently.
“If you’re doing the asking, there’s a reason. And no, I did not spend last night after dinner moping over Ian.” She sat down. “What are you working on?”
He held up Matthew Larkin’s file. “Harte approved Matthew for the project. Assigned to me, as you recommended.” He frowned.
“Something wrong?” Lily asked. “I know I haven’t divided up the assignments equally, but Dr. Harte has David working overtime on the Stage Two protocol.”
“No, that’s fine.” He put the file back on the table. “Just thinking.”
“The mind’s a black box. Psychology is all about shaking it and trying to figure out what the noises we hear mean about what’s inside. Now we’re flipping open the lid.”
“Dr. Harte is convinced it’s perfectly safe.”
Hector lightly tapped his large fingers on Larkin’s file. “I’ve seen the studies. I’ve also seen the FDA exemptions that are allowing us to bypass standard procedures. Doesn’t that seem strange? The government doesn’t issue these kind of exemptions except in the face of a plague or pandemic.”
“What brought this on? You never said anything before.”
“I don’t know. Sometimes things are kept in a closed box because they react badly to light. I hope we’re not going to expose someone’s film or something.” He picked up the file again, then smiled. “Sorry, I’m sure it’s just last minute jitters. I should call Larkin, make sure he can make it to orientation today. Back in a bit.”
Unsettled, Lily watched him go.
* * *
The call came at ten o’clock. I grabbed for the phone, and knocked it off the narrow table that served as desk and nightstand in my room. The cord tangled around me as I picked it back up; I tripped and sprawled on the bed.
“Sorry...ah, dammit...sorry...hold on, just knocking everything in my room over...hello? Lily, is that you?”
A deep male voice answered. “Uh, no, dude. My name’s Hector. I work with Lily. You’re Matthew?”
“Yes, sorry.” I tried to unscramble my brain.
“It’s cool, man. I’d be hoping it was her too.”
“Oh, yeah. I wouldn’t get my hopes up, though. Anyway, look, I was calling to tell you, Professor Harte approved you for the project.”
I closed my eyes. “Thank you. Thank you thank you.”
“Yeah, no problem. Look, you’re the last one on board for this. We’ve got an orientation session scheduled for all you guys at noon today. Pizza’s on us. Can you make it?”
They’d just have to shuffle the shifts at the library. “I’ll be there.”
“Very cool. Lecture Hall D, main floor. See you there.” He hung up.
I untangled myself from the cord and returned the phone to the table. What did he mean, don’t get my hopes up?
* * *
“Thus, as you can see, we will be attempting to facilitate transitional consciousness by pharmacological readjustment of perceptual filters to allow visualization and actualization of metaconscious thoughts, as a method of directly re-associating proper cognitive correlation.”
There were six of us who had been selected for the study, three women and three men. I hadn’t been introduced to the others yet. They seemed to be normal enough, though they all looked really tired. I wondered if I appeared as haggard. Mirrors didn’t help; I’d lost my frame of reference against what I used to look like.
Harte had four graduate students on the project as well: Lily (who I’d cleverly seated myself next to), Hector (who turned out to be a burly Hispanic guy), David (beanpole, surly), and Gloria (who seemed nice enough, for someone I’d said less than five words to as yet).
I didn’t understand a word that Harte was saying, but having experienced his lectures, I wasn’t really expecting to. I leaned towards Lily as the Professor droned on. “Can you give me a translation of that?” I whispered.
Without looking away from Harte, she put a finger to her lips and then pointed it in his direction.
I felt a tap on my opposite shoulder. It was Hector, sitting behind me. “Dude,” he whispered. “I’ll explain afterwards.” His eyes flicked toward Lily. “That too.”
I nodded, and waited for the session to end.
* * *
[Go to Chapter 2.4]