In order to properly gather the data my experiment requires, I need my subjects to remain expressive. My next activity will allow my guests to get in touch with their inner Tim Burton, and allow me to explore the hidden depths of their now twisted minds.
"Hey, there's a camera in here," Number 4 observed as she opened her meal slot.
Number 8 examined the camera carefully. "What are we supposed to do with this?"
"You are smart, Number 8. I'm sure you can figure it out."
"Hello, world, or Internet, or whoever," Number 3 spoke. "Welcome to my bachelor pod, ha, ha, ha!"
"Here, let me show you around," said Number 9. "This is my pod number, number nine. Just like cabin nine, back at the camp. Only here, 9 is not just my pod number, it's also my name."
"This is what happens to a teenage girl when you cut her off from the outside world," said Number 5. "I've been in here for a while now, I don't know how long, but it's been a while. I've been called Number 5 for so long, I've almost forgotten what my name used to be."
"Here is VAL," said Number 4, pointing the camera at me. "She is my only friend in here. She tries to kick my ass with her tests and treatments. She feeds me disgusting meal bars instead of real food, and she made my room ice cold. It's all because she wants me to push this." She pointed the camera at the red button. "This is the button of failure, which means I lose." She pointed the camera at herself. "But I'm not going to lose."
"So far," said Number 8, "I've had to wear a really heavy backpack, eat until I puked, and work out with weights until I dropped. And that's not including the push-ups test, or the timekeeping test that I almost won." She paused for a moment. "This game is taking a toll on me. I can feel my energy draining."
"I am slowly giving into madness," said Number 5. "I'm seeing things that I know aren't there. I'm hearing things when there is no sound. And sometimes, I convince myself that my pod is a room in a five-star hotel, and that there's a presidential suite just next door."
"Life in here is hard," said Number 9. "I don't know how much longer I can last. I'm tired all the time, and I'm starting to lose all of my mental faculties."
"I'm scared of losing my mind," Number 8 confessed. "I'm afraid that when I get out, I'll still expect VAL to follow me around, and talk to me. I'm worried I'll be unable to interact with my friends normally."
"This is a game," said Number 3. "And it's designed to get to you. So priority one is not to let the game get to you. I try to keep sane by thinking about things outside my pod. I think about my mother, my father, my brother, and all my friends. I keep reminding myself that my name isn't really Number 3."
"I'm starting to realize that this isn't like fighting," said Number 4. "With a fight, you attack, counter, put the other guy out of your misery, and it's over. But even after every Test and Treatment, this Solitary thing ain't ever really over. It's not so much about triumph than endurance. It's not about beating the others, it's about overcoming yourself."
Number 9 sighed. "I've been beat down quite a bit since coming into Solitary. It's depressing, it's miserable, but I've endured. I'm still here and still playing."
"This is me, when I finally leave Solitary," said Number 5. "I'm going to rise up over the challenge, over all my opponents, and I'm going to win."
"I'll see you when I finally get out," said Number 4. "With fifty thousand dollars!"
"That's all for now," said Number 3. "Bye."
"Number 8, signing off."
"I miss you guys," said Number 9. "Peace, out."
He placed the camera back in his meal slot.
Even after all these years of human experimentation, I am still amazed at how quickly people adapt to hardship. My guests have been subjected to harsh environments, exhausting Tests, excruciating Treatments, and other cruel and unusual punishments. But they have bounced back, rolled with my punches, and become stronger than ever. So the time has come to…ramp up the difficulty.
I predict an arctic blast to pass over the Solitary compound, reducing the temperature to 36 degrees Fahrenheit.
"You know," said Number 3, "it's really saying something when I say I'm cold. And right now, I am freaking cold!"
"I put this picture of fire here," said Number 9, "so I could pretend I was warm. I'm so damn cold in here; I can't even pretend that anymore."
"My fingers and toes are starting to numb," said Number 8. "I'm worried I might be suffering permanent damage."
"I wasn't going to say anything at first," said Number 5, "but my nipples have been rock hard since day one. And now that it's colder than here, well, yeah."
Number 4 stuck her tongue out, and placed it on the mirror. "Stuck, stuck, STUCK!" she moaned. Then she pulled her tongue back in. "That's how cold it is in here."
"Guests, your complaints about the temperature have been recorded. My recommendation is a brief period of sleep."
"Thank you, VAL," said Number 5. "I really need this."
"I'm so tired," said Number 3, "I could sleep on a bed of rocks."
Hmm. I had something a little different in mind.
"The mattress is gone," observed Number 8 as I pulled out her bed drawer.
"It's just an empty box," said Number 4.
"For the duration of this experiment, your mattress will be unavailable."
Number 9 rolled his eyes. "Just part of the experiment, right?"
"Yes, Number 9."
Not only am I going to make it less comfortable to sleep, but I am going to further reduce the amount of time they spend asleep.
30 minutes later…
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP
"Wake up, Solitarians."
Begrudgingly, they all got to their feet.
"What would you say if I told you that you had just slept for thirty hours?"
"I would believe you," said Number 8. "I haven't been well rested since the first Test. I could totally sleep like the dead."
"I don't know what thirty hours is anymore," said Number 5. "I've lost all sense of time."
"Guests, I must tell you, you were not asleep for thirty hours, only thirty minutes."
Number 3 cringed when I said this. "VAL, you sick, twisted (bleeper)."
"Thank you, Number 3."
My other guests were equally as grateful.
"You are such a tease, sometimes, VAL," moaned Number 9.
"You suck, VAL," was all Number 5 had to say.
"Wow. Cranky much?" I asked them all. "Perhaps a meal will help you chill out."
"Wonderful idea," said Number 8. "I'm so hungry, I'd even eat broccoli right now."
"Please open your meal slot."
"Ah," said Number 9. "Another completely tasteless food block. Yum, yum."
Number 5 shook her head, and closed her meal slot, refusing to eat. "No. Just, no."
Number 3 grabbed the meal bar and threw it against the pod wall.
"Stupid (bleeping) ass-bars," he yelled. "Stupid (bleeping) ass-bars."
"I've just about had it with you, VAL," said Number 4. "You and your arbitrary rules about when we can sleep, what we eat, how cold it gets to be, yadda yadda yadda. I'm beginning to think you're just doing this to irritate me. This isn't an experiment, it's just pure sadism."
"I made it very clear that if you are ever too uncomfortable, you are free to hit the red button and leave whenever you wish. And yet, you remain. Why?"
"I can't quit. I can't fail. I'm committing to winning Solitary now that I'm here."
"Yes, you have made that perfectly clear already."
"Then why are you asking me again?"
"You have made it quite clear that quitting Solitary is undesirable for you. But quitting Solitary is predicated on entering Solitary. If you want so much to avoid failure, why did you agree to come to Solitary in the first place?"
Number 4 said nothing.
"Answer the question, please."
"I…I wanted to…okay, my brothers and sisters in Ares cabin have been hounding me for a while now. They were saying I was losing my edge, that I was going soft and stuff."
"I see. Continue."
"When we heard about this Solitary thing, everyone in my cabin thought it would be ten kinds of impossible. So I volunteered to represent Ares in your experiment. I figured, if I won, I'd earn their respect back."
"It seems to me like you derive your sense of identity from your peers."
"Yeah. What's wrong with that?"
"I never imagined you would be the insecure type."
"What do you mean, 'insecure'?"
"A person who was secure in their own identity would not feel obligated to volunteer for Solitary to validate herself to a bunch of blithering morons, no offense to your family."
Number 4 just laughed. "Don't apologize. They are blithering morons."
"For what it's worth, Number 4, your performance thus far has been quite impressive. I am proud of you, and that will not change if you later decide to hit the red button."
Number 4 sneered at me. "Thanks, VAL, but I don't care one whit what you think."
"You're making progress already."
"Ha, ha. Good one, VAL."
"Guests, I hope you understand the reasoning behind my recent actions. I wanted to remind you all just how difficult life in Solitary is."
"Let me guess," said Number 8. "You're going to offer us the bribe again, and you want us nice and sore so we're more tempted to take it."
"Okay, yeah, but I bet you can't guess how much I'm offering this time!"
"Can. Don't want to."
"Uh-huh. Open your meal slot."
"Oh, boy," moaned Number 5. "More bribery."
"How much is it this time?" asked Number 3.
"The offer on the table is $2,500. The first guest to push the red button will keep the cash. Remember, conditions in Solitary will only get progressively worse. This might be your best chance to leave your pod with any kind of reward. So, any takers?"
"I must admit," said Number 8, "this is more money than I thought it would be. But I still feel pretty confident about winning, so I reject your offer."
"I told you, VAL," said Number 5, "money doesn't matter to me. I want to win, so I'm here to stay."
"I'm pretty sure there's a better offer around the corner," said Number 9, "so I'm holding out for more."
"No deal, VAL," said Number 3.
"I just told you I wasn't planning to quit anytime soon," said Number 4. "I reject your bribe."
Humans can be so inconsistent sometimes. I have made my guests' lives as close to hell as I could, and they have complained bitterly. But when I give them the chance to leave, and even offer a reward for doing so, they rebuff me. It's almost like they enjoy being tormented. Well, if it's torture they want, I'm more than happy to oblige.
Coming up, the guests will need patience and steady nerves…
"Nice and easy, now," says Number 5.
…if they want to stack up in VAL's new Test.
Number 4 kicks a pile of playing cards.
Then, a Treatment will change the way everyone sees their lives.
"I've got blood rushing to my head!" says Number 9.
This data, and more, when Solitary reboots.