Phase Zero Clinical Trial: Response To Hypnozamine In The Human Female
by B Pascal
I slept for almost four hours, fully clothed on my bed. When I awoke I lay there and reviewed some of the high points of last night and this morning. I liked Nance, though I’m not sure if we’d ever be close friends because of the differences in our personalities. Still, she was smart and fun.
And I really liked Sara, and the more time I spent with her the better I liked her. Smart and sexy and funny and drop-dead gorgeous. I could almost see having a life with her. But part of me thought she was still figuring her life out, and the person she was now might not be who she’d eventually become.
I thought I ought to eat something, since I’d only had breakfast and I probably wouldn’t get fed at Ted’s party till almost eight. So I rummaged in the fridge and found... a lot of nothing. Time to shop again. I located a can of tuna fish and mixed it with some mayonnaise and made a couple of sandwiches. Chez Halloran, gourmet dining on a budget.
With a few hours to kill, I took out Liz’s latest chapters and read them. I’ll read them again and make notes, but this time was just to get the flow and understand where the plot was going. I had to admire her. She really did have a talent for this, moving the plot in unexpected directions and integrating it with characters and events that had happened earlier. And now I was officially hooked. She’d better see this through to the end so I can find out how it turns out.
I read a couple of journal articles without much interest, more to kill time, and then it was about time to get ready. I shaved and changed my clothes to something more suited to a patio opening, and got in the car.
It was about a thirty minute drive, as he lived in the suburbs on the other side of town, but there wasn’t all that much traffic, and I was able to find a spot on his street close to the house. I’d stopped for a bottle of wine, even though he’d said they had everything.
My mother was really strict about that, you always bring some small gift when you visit someone’s house, and she taught it to me and my sister before we were teenagers.
I rang the bell, and Ted’s wife, Anna, opened the door. “Sam! How come you don’t visit? We never see you.”
“Well, you never had a patio before now. We scientists have standards, you know.”
“Of course you do. I discovered that the hard way the first time I bought the store brand cheese topping instead of Cheese Whiz. I never heard the end of it.”
I liked Anna, she tolerated Ted’s quirks and ours as well, by making fun of them, pointing them out as eccentricities that she tolerated and was amused by because she loved Ted. Ted was a lucky man.
“C’mon in. You know where everything is. Ted’s out back showing off his new patio. Make sure you take notes, there’ll be a pop quiz later.”
I laughed at that, because it had an element of truth in it. Ted might do that, just to make sure people had been listening.
I wandered out through the French doors to the back, and sure enough, new patio, and Ted looking like a first-time father. I didn’t recognize most of the people, they were probably Anna’s friends, or neighbors. Ted noticed me and waved, and I raised a hand in greeting.
I saw a cooler packed with ice and beer, so grabbed one. And there was a table with munchies, so a plate of nachos and chips and salsa. I found an empty chair and commandeered it, enjoying the weather and the chatter around me. Ted eventually got around to me and told me he was glad I had made it. I told him I hadn’t believed the patio story and was sure it was a ruse and had to see it with my own eyes.
“Ye of little faith. It cost me enough, so I’m gonna show it off, and even brag about it, no shame in that. We’ll start up the grill in a few minutes, so leave some room. Lots of food on its way.”
I assured him I would, and he wandered off to greet someone else. Art Birnbaum came out of the house and we chatted for a while, till he wandered off to get a beer, and I talked to someone who introduced themselves as a neighbor from down the street.
I sat there with my beer and wondered if or when I’d fall into the homeowner trap, maybe because I got married and wanted to start a family. Well, unlikely to happen any time soon, so no sense thinking about it now.
Ted had started up the gas grill and had burgers and hot dogs and chicken sizzling away. Anna started loading up another table with various salads, condiments and a big pot of baked beans and another of macaroni and cheese.
And in short order I had a plate with a burger and half a dozen sides and was happily stuffing my face. The sandwich I’d had for a late lunch had apparently not been enough. I finished what I had and got another beer. Anna had announced to everyone that desserts would be coming out shortly, so save some room. As I said, a smart woman.
There was an empty chair next to me, and a woman with both hands full of plates nodded to the chair and asked, “Is that available? I need a place to sit so I can free up one hand to eat.”
I said that it was, and asked if I could help, but she shook her head. She got organized, putting her drink on the ground and her plate on her lap, and said, “Much better. Thanks.”
She looked to be about fifty-ish, no longer slim, but fashionably dressed and nice hair. She had some jangly jewelry and a couple of rings with large stones that looked expensive.
“Sorry,” she said, “I was so focused on getting settled and fed that I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Deb Morrow, one of Ted and Anna’s neighbors. And you?”
I introduced myself, saying I worked with Ted at the lab.
“Oh, you’re one of those science geeks, too?”
“Guilty. Please don’t hold it against me.”
She laughed. “No, I didn’t make myself clear. I have a tendency to be a little flip, an occupational hazard I picked up at work, and it sometimes gets me in trouble. I meant that I’m in awe of what he does because it’s so far afield from what I know, so I sometimes get a bit snarky as a defense mechanism.”
“I know what you mean. I still have to explain myself to my mother, who can’t understand why I didn’t go to medical school instead of getting a Ph.D. She’ll say, ’If people are going to call you doctor, why not be a real doctor?’ She can understand medical doctors, but all the other kinds are like not-quite-doctors to her.”
“Well, any kind of doctor gets my respect,” she said.
I sometimes played this game with myself where I’d try to figure out what a stranger did for work, and for her I was guessing she sold houses, so I asked her what she did for a living.
“I’m in publishing, I’m a book editor,” she replied. Oh, well. So far, I’m batting close to zero.
We talked about books, and I asked her who she was working with currently and she named several authors, a couple of whom I recognized. I’d had a couple of beers already so I was perhaps feeling a little less polite than I usually was, so I asked her about the book editing process and how she worked with her authors. Apparently this pushed a button which set her off.
“Authors have this public image—they mostly have agents and even publicity teams who burnish it, promote it—of an aloof, extremely intelligent and articulate outsider, methodically cataloging society’s quirks and idiosyncrasies from high atop their writer’s aerie, and setting them into colorful characters and plots, and that the process involves only his or her muse and the author, who finally delivers the finished work to the publisher, who sends it to the printer without revision and then distributes it to an adoring public.
“That’s all horseshit, pardon my French. Authors are mostly whiny, egotistical, narcissists, who may have a small talent for characters and plot and color, but it’s mostly buried under layers of tedious, self-indulgent drivel that needs to be cleared off with a shovel.”
I paused and tried to stop myself from provoking her, but the beers had the better of me. “Deb, I know that’s the happy message you probably tell the book clubs in your talks, but what do you really feel about authors?“
She looked at me for a moment, then she laughed out loud, spilling some of her drink on the new patio. I hoped Ted hadn’t seen that, he’d be out with a sponge and a scrub brush in a moment.
I liked her laugh. It wasn’t a polite giggle, it was a full-throated guffaw, a woman who truly found life funny. She wheezed, “That’s one of the reasons I still live out here instead of in the city, Sam, because out here I can still be in touch with the real world rather than surrounded by the sycophants and toadies that live in town. I’d shoot myself.”
She placed a hand on my arm. “I like you, Sam. Yeah, authors are mostly jerks, and that’s why I get paid so well, because most people can’t stand to work with them. It takes a certain set of skills to cajole an author into needed changes or suggest revisions, because most of ’em think they’re incapable of error. So that’s my secret power, dealing with assholes.”
And that made me laugh. I raised my beer, “Here’s to assholes.” She picked up hers and said loudly, “To assholes!” Several people looked over, wondering what was going on.
I asked her how they found new authors, since there must be an overwhelming amount of doggerel buried in their unsolicited submissions pile.
I hadn’t been thinking of Liz specifically, but the more Deb and I talked, the more I felt that there was some information here that might be to Liz’s benefit.
Deb said, for the most part, they didn’t look at unsolicited submissions at all, just sent a rejection letter automatically. Most of their new work came from literary agents, who had a personal or business relationship with a publishing house. “Sometimes,” she went on, “if we have a college intern over the summer, we’ll pick something out of the submissions pile and throw it at them and tell them to read it and give us an analysis. Mostly it’s just to teach the intern how to recognize bad writing. We don’t often get anything useful back.”
I asked her if she’d ever tried to do any writing herself. “When I was young and foolish. Fortunately, I recognized my lack of creative skill early, and found that I was better at fixing other people’s words. That’s how I got here.”
We talked about the struggles new authors faced in learning the craft, in getting their work appreciated and published. I mentioned in passing that I’d been reading some of a colleague’s writing, and how her story captured me fully. I had told her, the author, that I admired what she was able to do because I knew I wouldn’t have the talent to even attempt it. Deb agreed it was a tough row to hoe, but encouraged her to keep at it and eventually she might get a break.
She saw a friend come in and waved to her, saying, “Excuse me, I haven’t seen Francine in months, gotta say hello,” and jumped up. I didn’t know if that was a brush-off because I had started talking about a ’friend who was a budding author’ or because she wanted to see Francine. I did see her talking animatedly with Francine, but the two concepts weren’t mutually exclusive.
Dessert was out on the table, I saw, so I wandered over and found chocolate cake and some fruit salad, and a pot of coffee, and helped myself. Art swung by again and dropped into the chair recently vacated by Deb. We talked about nothing at length, both of us still with a little beer buzz, then he went off to find a bathroom.
And I started thinking about Liz again. Mostly I thought that the process for recognizing talent and getting one’s work published was so inherently flawed as to be unfair. There ought to be a better way to encourage new authors and poets. I thought about that for awhile and couldn’t even come up with the beginning of an idea of how to fix it, which left me frustrated. Scientists always think there’s a logical way to approach any problem, but it wasn’t true. You only had to think of racism, or religious bigotry, for a start.
I got another half cup of coffee, thinking I was going to have to drive home soon, so alert was better than beer buzz. Across the yard, under an ornamental tree of some kind, I saw Deb and Francine sitting together in lawn chairs, chatting happily. And as they talked I thought suddenly of the aerosol in my pocket.
Deb and Francine stood up, and they hugged and kissed each other on the cheek, and Deb called goodbye with a wave as Francine wandered into the house and presumably onward to home. Deb sat back down with her drink and a pleasant, half-asleep smile on her face.
I gave some thought to how I might do this. She probably wouldn’t stay there for much longer, so I’d have to move soon if I were to make a move. Deb was facing the back of the house where all the people were gathered, and there were a few scattered groups behind her. I noticed the light breeze was blowing toward us.
I made my way circuitously along the fence line as if inspecting the plantings, holding my coffee cup with the aerosol underneath it, and around behind Deb, approaching her from the rear. As I got within a few feet of her, I sprayed the mist in her direction, holding the cup with two hands as if to keep it from spilling. The breeze moved it toward her.
I said, “Deb, how was your chat with Francine? Been a while since you saw her?” That made her turn her head toward me, into the mist. I dropped the aerosol into my left hand and placed it in my pocket, then made a show of rearranging the chair so it faced her more at an angle.
I was still a bit awed at how quickly this stuff took effect. The breeze should have dispersed and diluted it by now, so I sat.
She said, “Oh, sorry, what were you saying?” Her eyes were still looking somewhere past me.
“I was asking if you’d caught up with Francine.”
“Yes. It was nice to see her.”
“It turned out to be a nice evening, didn’t it?”
“Very nice. I’m very relaxed now.”
“I am, too. It’s nice to see old friends, and make some new ones, isn’t it?”
“Yes, very nice.”
“I’m glad I met you, Deb. It’s a pleasure to meet someone who’s good at their work, who’s involved in the creative arts. I admire you for that.”
“Thank you. I like what I do.”
“I would think you’d enjoy helping authors to improve their works, and especially to identify new authors with great potential. Is that a fair statement?”
“Yes, I would agree. I do like those aspects of my work.”
“How would it make you feel to discover a new author that no other publishing house has found yet, someone with great potential?”
“I would be really excited. That doesn’t happen very often.”
“Deb, you’re starting to remember what I was talking about earlier, about my colleague whose writing captured my imagination. And now you’re starting to think that perhaps you’d been a little hasty to brush it off, because what if it happens that that’s the one author in a thousand who’s really good, really talented, with a unique voice. What if you let her slip by because you hadn’t been paying attention. It should at least be worth looking at what she’s already written, shouldn’t it?”
“Yes, I suppose it should. She might be really good.”
“I think it would be a good idea if, before you leave tonight, you find me and give me your card and ask me to have her contact you so you can read some of her work. And when you do read it, Deb, you’ll make an honest judgment of her talent and potential, no favors, just an open-minded assessment. Can you do that?”
“That’s fair. I can do that.”
“That’s wonderful, Deb, that makes me really happy. So, you’ll remember what you have to do tonight, Deb?”
“Yes, find you and give you my business card and ask you to have your friend call me.”
“Deb, one last thing, when I say the phrase ’Charles Dickens’ to you, you will block out all the sensations and stimuli around you, and will hear my voice alone, nothing else. And you will want to do what I tell you because it makes you feel good when you do that. And when I clap my hands, you will awake again and remember nothing of what we said, but you will still do the things I asked, because you want to, as if you thought of them yourself. Can you do that, Deb?”
“Yes, I can do that.”
“What is the phrase you’ll be listening for?”
“You’ll say, ’Charles Dickens’.”
“That’s right. I’m going to get up now, Deb. Remember to find me before you leave and do what we talked about.”
She nodded, and I got up and stretched, and then went and poured just a bit more coffee into my cup. Ted came by and asked me what I thought about the patio, and I told him it was the nicest one I’d seen, which made him smile.
And that reminded me of Liz’s comment about pictures, so I took out my phone and snapped a couple of photos of Ted’s new patio with Ted in the background looking proud. Just in case she asked to see them.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Deb making her way toward the back of the house, stopping every so often to say something to a person or a group. She looked like a person taking their leave.
In a few minutes she’d worked her way close to the French doors and saw me, and got one of those ’Oh, before I forget’ looks on her face. She approached me, reaching into her purse as she walked.
“Sam, I’m off. Just wanted to say that it was nice talking to you. You’re funny, and we don’t get a lot of that around here. Listen, you were talking about your friend who writes? No promises, but have her give me a ring, perhaps I’ll take a look at some of her stuff.” She extended her hand, holding a card.
I took it, and said, “It was fun talking to you, too. Thanks for the card, I’ll have her call you.”
She smiled and walked into the house. I wasn’t sure what I’d done here. Perhaps I’d unknowingly set Liz up for disappointment. Or it might be a shot for her, who knows.
I dropped my empty coffee cup in the trash as Anna came out with yet another tray of food. “Sam, you got enough to eat?”
“Anna, you’re the hostess with the mostest. I probably won’t eat again till Monday. It was lovely. Thanks for having me.”
“You’re always welcome, Sam. Please visit more often.”
“Of course I will. You have a patio now.”
She laughed and went off to unload her tray on the faint chance that there was someone as yet unfed. I said my goodbyes to Ted, and made my own way out, feeling full and mildly happy. It had been a pleasant evening, and I was glad I’d come.
The next day I was considerably refreshed and awoke even before the alarm clock. I made some breakfast—I still had eggs and bread, so the larder wasn’t completely decimated. Then I looked at the clock and saw that it was a little after nine. I’d better decide what I was going to do with the day.
I thought food was a priority, so I made a supermarket run, then put everything away. Then I dug out my hidden hypnozamine effects log and entered the details for Deb Morrow, including her “trigger phrase”. I had started this log reluctantly because, though it was important to keep notes about test conditions and subjects, the discovery of the log could be disastrous. Consequently, I used a crude code and shorthand references to obscure the details of who and what. I could read it, but it would be difficult for others to understand what it was.
I put it back in its hiding place. I dug out Liz’s latest samples and read them again, this time making notes. But, I noticed, it was getting more difficult to find holes I could poke my finger through. Either she was getting better, or I was losing my touch. Her characters and plot details seemed to be more consistent. I thought a better editor might help, but that wasn’t me. I’d keep reading, because I liked what I was seeing.
Having exhausted my repertoire of home entertainment options and with a good portion of Sunday still to come, I decided to go to a movie. Action movie. Fast cars. Hot women. Too many special effects to make up for too little plot. But it killed a few hours.
On Monday I arrived at work and found, surprise, Art and Ted huddled in conference sketching on a legal pad. Ted acknowledged me with a nod and went back to Art’s commentary. I read my email and took the readings on my experiment, which seemed to be running predictably now, and returning the kinds of numbers we were hoping for. I’d let it run for the rest of the week, then collate the results and forward them to Clark with comments and suggestions for the next step.
Art wandered over and plunked himself down on a stool. “So I did some preliminary research on the literature and found some interesting articles on µ receptors, suppressing them, stimulating them, et cetera, and it’s given us some ideas. We’re kinda feeling our way in the dark here because the specific mechanisms are so poorly understood, but the µ receptors are definitely involved in the craving aspects of addiction, so it’s a reasonable place to start.
“We’re going to try attaching some of the common agents mentioned in the literature to our new chelate and try some experiments on mice. We’ll take a look at the results and see what that suggests we try next. I just wanted to let you know, because it was your suggestion initially that we try that approach.”
I thanked him and wished them luck on their research. It would be a real research win if this worked out for them, and would probably ensure their place in the lab, or perhaps some other, better-paying lab.
Later that afternoon, I remembered that I had Liz’s latest pages and I should return them so I headed down to the cafeteria around two. I brought a journal preprint with me in case she didn’t show. With my coffee and cake in front of me I settled in with the preprint, and was immersed in it when she sat down. I looked up, surprised.
“Did you ever do any hunting, Liz? Deer, game birds, like that?”
“No, not really my thing. And an odd question. Why do you ask?”
“Because the way you sneak up without letting your prey know you’re there would probably make you very good at it.”
“You are sometimes very weird, Sam. I just wanted you to know.”
“Thanks. Is Schwartz still on the beach, cold drink with paper umbrella in hand?”
“Well, I don’t know, but he’s not here, so we have that to be grateful for. He should be gone the rest of the week.”
“Okay. Listen, here’s the last packet you gave me. I could actually find very little to comment on, other than to say I’m getting caught up in it. I mean, usually I find something off about a character or a plot detail, but not this time. I feel like I’m not earning my money.”
“Well, I’m not paying you anything, so it works out. Thanks for the support, though. I’d like to think I’ve got this under control now, but writers always make mistakes, so I’m sure there’ll be something for you to find later.”
“I have some other news, and I’m not sure how you’ll react to this.” She raised her head, suddenly interested.
I told her about Ted’s party and chatting with Deb Morrow about the creative process and how editors worked their magic, and the authors she was currently working with. When I mentioned that she said she’d be willing to take a look at some of what she had written, she looked stunned. Her jaw actually fell a little, leaving her open-mouthed.
I passed her Deb’s business card and she stared at it for a minute, before she reached out to take it tentatively from my hand. She looked at it closely, reading every word on it, like she was committing it to memory.
She looked back at me. “Why did you say that you weren’t sure how I’d react?”
“What little I know about book submission, the process of trying to get it published, authors often look at dealing with publishing houses as a kind of walk of shame, that they have to go through hundreds of rejections before there’s even a glimmer of hope. The submission process itself becomes depressing, and sometimes authors even give up because they can’t face going through it again. I wasn’t sure how much you’ve done that, and whether you wanted to go through it again.”
She processed what I’d said for a few moments. “You’re not entirely wrong. It’s a terrible, demeaning and grueling ordeal. Maybe not the submission, but the waiting for the almost-certain letter of rejection. I’ve done it some, not as much as others, but it doesn’t make it any less painful.
“But, Sam? This is wonderful news! Because it’s kind of jumping the line, in a way. When you submit a story it goes into a pile where, maybe, just maybe, an editor will read it before they send the rejection notice. But most authors never even get that far, the notice gets sent automatically, and no one even reads it.
“To have someone of her stature say they’d be willing to even take a quick look at my stuff is amazing, unbelievable. I’m speechless and, to tell the truth, a little scared. I know my stuff is okay, but authors are never the best judges of their own work. That’s why I value your opinion so much. And the possibility that she might look at my stuff and maybe tell me what I need to change? That’s a gift from heaven. I can’t thank you enough.”
“Liz, it was a very small thing, and it was mostly luck that I ended up there, in the neighborhood she lives in, and that she took the empty chair next to mine, and that we got to talking. So there was no Machiavellian plot at work here, just plain, old-fashioned serendipity. Oh, and by the way...”
I took my cell phone out of my pocket and brought up the patio pictures.
“See? An actual patio. And I walked on it. I even spilled coffee on it. But don’t tell Ted.”
She laughed out loud, not because the patio comment was that funny, but more, I think, as a tension release from the apparently staggering thought of having an honest-to-God book editor look at her work.
She looked at me for a few moments, her eyes shining, then gathered up her papers and trash and stood up.
“I doubt if today can get any better, Sam. Thank you. I’ll call her today or tomorrow, I have to work up my courage.”
“Liz, mention my name when you call, and Ted Markey’s party? Just in case it slipped her mind. And good luck.”
She nodded as she left, but she was already planning the conversation in her mind.