A company has developed a drug which allows it to control aging, yet the mental side effects of age-regression make it fall short of its multi-billion dollar potential. Can some more tests help? Sequel to "Jumper" and Prequel to "Final Tester".
Chapter Description: Anton, Christine and Michelle agreed to take part in a test of a drug against overweight. What if they lose more than a few pounds?
Now that a company has developed an age controlling drug potentially being worth trillions, how far will it go to get rid of its mental side effects?
Dr. Andrea Barrow, briefly known to some as Mrs Villiers, looked over diagrams and numbers on her screen. Few people could make sense of this data and even her vision began to swirl after looking at the monitor so long. Rubbing her eyes, she turned to a cage near her desk, where a brown rat was busy digging in the sand. It did so quickly, with juvenile eagerness it hadn't possessed a few weeks before.
„How are you today?” Dr. Barrow asked „Slept well?”
The rat didn't seem to mind her and only looked up when she pulled a red pill out of a pocket of her lab coat. She put it in front of the cage, just in reach of the rat. For a moment the animal hesitated, which made Dr. Barrow heart beat faster, then it took the pill in its little paws. The rat tasted it and recoiled in disgust.
„Sally,” the doctor told the rat, making a cross on the notepad lying near. „You make me think they got me a groundhog.”
When Dr. Wilson, once being known by the name Mr. Villers, came in, the rat was still trying to clean its mouth.
„Sally seems unhappy,” he noticed.
„She forgot the red pill means bad taste,” his colleague replied. „Even the scent didn't help.”
„She is eight months now, two months younger than when she learned it the first time,” Dr. Barrow noticed. „I got the regression down to two weeks a day. It still attacks the memory way too much. If it can destroy such a strong memory linked to pain, you know what it does with normal ones. They are either destroyed as new cells form or somehow overwritten.”
„Business as usual,” the man in the lab coat replied. „You have seen the results of Dr. Bedlam’s group?”
„Yes,” Dr. Barrow admitted reluctantly. “Seemingly no memory loss if the age-regression is limited to a year of the original age and slowed down to two weeks an hour. One year of age less won’t do the elderly much good. Neither is the regeneration of the cells strong enough for emergencies like gunshots.”
„But everyone else,” the man replied. „Take a pill once a year and you stay your age forever. Sounds fine for me.”
They did have such and similar discussions before already and over the course of months their positions had nearly completely changed. He seemed satisfied with the results while she ...
„It is miles under the potential and you know it.”
„I hope it,” he corrected her. „As do you. But what if not? What if the memory loss proves to be an immutable part of larger regression? You know there are enough elderly who would trade memories for youth. Let us not talk about that it actually kills Alzheimer.”
“The feds still would forestall it for an eternity as it is now. If we find a way to preserve the memory ...”
„Then we have the jackpot,” he cut her off. „But it isn’t me you have to convince.”
Dr. Barrow hesitated a moment. „Whispers from the upper echelons again?”
„Don’t need them. We have the pill which stops ageing and further tests promise little but large risks.”
„We have been over this. If we go public now, new tests will come at snail speed. The release will be postponed due to the risk of memory loss,” she noticed. „There will be tens if not hundreds of millions who will die meanwhile.”
„Whom are you preaching to?” her colleague replied dryly, looking at a chart on the wall showing the change in body from newborn to adult. „Maybe you should just stop. You made a major breakthrough in stopping the regression. Dr. Bedlam's method of regressing people to an exact age age is based on your work. Then there was Andrew’s breakthrough in ageing people. Now we have a practical use for the formula. If you think you have to prove to anyone ...„
„It isn’t about proving!” Dr. Barrow snapped.
Her colleague held his hand before him.
„All right”, he tried to calm her. “I’m on your side.”
Andrea sighed. „The next group arrives soon. Don’t mind, but I need to prepare stuff.”
„Okay,” he replied. „You know where I am if you need to talk, Dr. Robinson.”
Anton Lubowsky had arrived way too early at the pick-up point, so he decided to make a stroll through the nearby park. The sun shone heavily, but there was at last a slight wind, cooling him down and preventing him from sweating too much. Having an overweight of well over 100 pounds and being one year past forty, he knew a lot about sweat.
Some teenagers on bikes passed him, shouting at each other, obviously enjoying the warm weather. Anton had never been an enthusiast about biking before, but thought this made great advertising. Walking further, he slowly walked up what was barely a slight rise, but already felt the sweat where his rucksack met his back. Wary of arriving smelly to his appointment, he removed the rucksack and sat down on the next bank.
From there Anton had a good view on the playground. Schoolchildren, Kindergarteners and Toddlers were playing wildly, chasing each other, using the swings, slides and nets. Even some babies played in the sand with their forms, sometimes helped by their mothers. Anton closed his eyes and listened to their voices, wondering if his time for a child had truly passed, or if the next days should proof the opportunity for a change.
Shaking his head to not let himself fall into a daydream and lose track of time, Anton then looked on his watch. 30 minutes. He wanted to rise and walk back, when he noticed the woman walking into his direction with a map in her hand. She was maybe a bit younger than him. Her wide dress with flowers had a certain style and the well sitting yellow hair showed a care for her appearance. For this Anton would have called her beautiful, but he could not more do so than call himself it. The woman was around his weight despite being a head shorter.
Right now, she was talking to a mother pushing a stroller, still too far from Anton for him to understand them. He tried harder to listen, but gave up, fearing to look as curious as the red-haired female toddler in the stroller who wore a pink Barbie-shirt over a diaper and while drinking from a sippy cup, looked up intensely at the adults. At last, no one would call her out for it.
Seconds later the mother showed past Anton’s direction and after seemingly thanking her, the woman in the flower dress walked on. Behind her, the mother gave her a look of disgust, Anton knew too well. Something during the talk must have given the mother’s feelings away already. He could see it on the face of the overweight woman as she came nearer.
„Hello,” he greeted her as she reached him. „Searching for the southern parking space?”
„Yes,” the woman began „How ...”
Anton pulled out his own map of his pants pocket. „Seems we have the same destination.”
„You have no idea how happy I am,” she noticed. „I never realized how much easier a cell phone makes things. How we ever managed to grow up without one.”
„We used the position of sun and moon,” Anton joked.
The woman smiled and it made her face pretty, despite the double chin. Anton thought she should do it more often, but the quick way it vanished hinted the that this wasn't the case.
„Anton Lubowsky,” he introduced himself.
„Michelle Carter.” She hesitated. „Is it far?”
„No,” Anton assured her. „Let me show you.”
They walked slowly, the unspoken fear of personal hygiene between them.
„Strange that they won’t let us take our cell phones with us,” Michelle noticed. „Not to mention this distant pick-up-place.”
„Don’t worry,” Anton tried to ease her worry. „The company seems legit. I checked the index. A bit impoverished, but legal.”
„If it works, they won’t be impoverished for long,” Michelle replied. „What do you think of this test?”
„I had my share of failed weight-reducing drugs. There is always a risk, but I think it is worth it.”
They walked silently to the meeting point. The amount of risk they were willing to take … the true meaning of worth it standing silently between them. When they reached the parking lot a taxi just released its passenger. This was a black woman of their age, in a blue blouse with jeans, slightly more overweight than Michelle, using a cane to walk in their direction with a rucksack on her back while taxi drove away behind her.
„Seems I’m still in time,” she noticed, looking at them. „God, I swear these taxi drivers beg to be replaced by Uber. Christine Gomez, by the way.”
Michelle introduced herself as did Anton.
„You mind if we sit down to wait?” Christine asked. „I would like to spare my hip for later.”
„I think there might be no need for this,” Anton said. „It seems our limousine is there.”
Christine and Michelle looked around to see a broad family blue car getting slower as it approached, with its driver winking at them.
„Mr. Lubowsky, Mrs. Carter and Mrs. Gomez?” the well-muscled man asked, when stepping out of his car.
„I’m your driver Mr. Hanson,” he explained. „Would you like to give me your luggage so I can put it in the trunk?”
„How far is it?” Christine asked, as she handed him her rucksack.
„Roughly one and a half hour,” Mr. Hanson answered and seeing the expression on her face he quickly added: „Don’t worry. The car has air-conditioning and we have bottles of cool water and diet soda. Advanced Rehabilitation always takes care of its testers.”
Anton was impressed. As sales manager specialized in advertising, he had made enough business trips where the other company was less well prepared. Also, the last sentences had clearly been a slogan the man had to learn for his position. It seemed fine, until the moment he handed his rucksack to the driver and noticed him looking around warily. As if looking for witnesses.
The drive took them as long as Hanson had told them. Christine and Michelle were looking out of the windows, enjoying the beautiful landscape and Anton felt his suspicion slowly fading, despite the remoteness of the area. After all, it had been clear before, that the company put much effort into the secrecy of their products.
At last, they arrived at what seemed a hospital complex built in the beginning of the last century. Efforts had been made to renovate it – new windows, new fences and a newly tamed garden – but the history of a long-lasting abandonment seemed to still linger about it. Once the car stopped near the front entrance, they all stepped out and didn’t have to wait long for the large door to open and a woman stepping out.
„Hello,” she began. „I’m Doctor Robinson. Mr. Lubowsky. Mrs. Carter. Mrs. Gomez. Let me greet you in the name of Advanced Rehabilitation. We hope your stay will be productive for us all. Do you wish a short tour, or do you want to go on your rooms first to rest a bit? Either way, Mr. Hanson would bring your luggage to your rooms.”
„I would like to see the area,” Anton admitted and the others didn't protest.
„Fine,” the doctor replied. „Mrs Gomez, we have a wheelchair if you wish to use it.”
„I sat enough on the way here,” Christine explained earnestly. „We are here to burn some fat, aren’t we? Besides wheelchairs always feel like strollers to me.”
Dr. Robinson smiled on this, though it looked a tad too false for Anton. Besides, why did a study in drugs for weigh reduction need wheelchairs?
„We are positive we have more effective ways to burn fat,” Dr. Robinson replied. „But I don’t want to promise too much. Come.”
She led them in, past a counter with a security guard behind it and down a long corridor, leading to a room with some tables.
„Here is the cafeteria where you will eat,” Dr. Robinson noticed. „Please understand you have to do so together, as the time is tightly scheduled. Of course, enough free time is planned in, too.”
She led them into an elevator.
„Second floor is where you are tested and get the shots,” she explained, pressing the button. „Third are your rooms. You will find them fully equipped. They even have a computer though only limited internet access.”
They arrived at the second floor. Dr. Robinson led them left, past the door to the stairway to show them a number of rooms. Two equipped like a standard exam room, another like a gym, one with tables and chairs reminding Anton of a classroom and the last with cots.
„The rest is research are,” Dr. Robinson explained, pointing at a door which was locked with an electronic lock. „Please understand this is a very sensitive area and access is restricted.”
Back on the first floor Robinson led them to an exit to the right. Before they turned though, standing in front of another door with an electronic lock, Anton noticed an open door to the left. It led into what could only be a patio. To his surprise he noticed a playground there.
„Mr. Lubowsky?” Dr. Robinson called him from further ahead.
„You do have children here?” He asked her when he had caught up.
„No. The playground is from before when Advanced Rehabilitation rented the building,” Dr. Robinson explained. „Come I show you the actual garden.”
Anton followed, though he could have sworn the play equipment looked new ... and the sand freshly used.
There wasn’t much more to see outside of the hospital, but a sport area and a closed way through the gates leading into a forested area. Anton was glad, when they were led to their rooms on the third floor and told to be ready to be fetched for one-on-one interviews. This building, the staff and the whole situation he got himself into, got on his nerves. Then again: Of course, he could go home, but what if he just saw ghosts? He looked on his hand and noticed the sweat on it. This was all too real.
Deciding he had enough time, he took a shower, noticing the big mirror in the corner while he dried his already receding brown hair and then dressed in the clothes the Advanced Rehabilitation had placed on the bed for them to wear. A grey jumpsuit. Not much to look at, but comfy.
Anton zapped through the channels. News, sitcoms, MTV, Disney Channel, Disney Junior. It looked pretty restricted. There was also a library with various shows and movies installed, ranging from action-thrillers to documentaries down to Disney Movies and other cartoons. There were even episodes of Sesame Street, My Little Pony and Barney installed.
Probably came in a package, Anton thought.
He then checked the computer. There were some games placed on the desktop and when he opened the internet browser, he discovered he could enter the regular news sites, but without the ability to post. Facebook was closed to him, as were most other sites he knew. When he randomly tried various names in the search engine, he found one of the few sites he had access to being Disney. So much for safe content.
Slightly frustrated he lied down on the bed and began to read The Hunt for Red October he had brought with him.
In her laboratory, Dr. Barrow – now known as Dr. Robinson by the three new arrivals – thoughtfully watched the monitor showing Anton reading on his bed. Along the scene was his pulse, his heart rate and his level of transpiration, provided by hidden sensors in the clothing. The company had invested quite a bit more in equipment since the fist tests.
On her desk she had Anton’s file, containing medical information and more from ever source the company had access to, legal and illegal. This included a copy of the ink imprint of his feet as newborn, photos of him as a toddler, kindergartener and the various stages of his school time. It ended with recent photos from Facebook and his company’s homepage.
„Has something happened?”
She looked up, noticing Dr. Wilson standing besides her. He would soon be introduced to the testers as Dr. Anderson.
„Lubowsky is more suspicious than the rest,” she explained.
„Any risk he will deny the treatment?”
„I don’t know.”
„He is only here as control subject.”
„Everyone is important,” Dr. Barrow replied, looking at her rat. „It isn’t that we will get more, won’t we?”
„You know the answer,” Dr. Wilson replied. „And you know it is better.”
„Yes,” she admitted. „But it is one more reason to let it count.”
„Shall we begin with him?”
„No, let him calm down first,” Dr. Barrow replied. „We begin with Mrs Carter.”
It knocked at the door to Anton’s room. He looked to the clock at the wall and realized that he had read for the better part of one and a half hours.
„Come in,” he called, put the book aside and arose from the bed.
A man in a lab coat entered.
„Mr. Lubowsky, I’m Dr. Anderson,” the man introduced himself. „Dr. Robinson is ready.”
Anton nodded and put on the training shoes provided by the company. As he followed the man he mentally went through the plan for the day, laid out to them by Dr. Robinson when she had led them to their rooms. Personal talks, meals, training. This was to be the schedule for the rest of the weeks, too, so he guessed this was to be their first evaluation. As they drove down the elevator, he took a closer look at Dr. Anderson.
„So, you are working for Dr. Robinson?” He asked.
„Actually, we are a team,” the other man replied friendly. „It is just that she is working with your group. Should she be impeded I would jump in.”
„Impeded? How?” Anton masked his suspicion with surprise. „I thought it was all planned out?”
„People get sick. Even doctors. We can’t risk the tests to stop because of this.”
Anton nodded. He understood better than the other man knew, as he had been sick in the weeks before. Actually, he had doubted that he would make it. When they stepped out of the elevator, they passed the security door Anton remembered from yesterday. Even the third level had one. He guessed at least a whole wing was separated from the rest of the building this way. Maybe more.
„Here we are!” Dr. Anderson pointed to an open door, leading to one of the rooms he had seen during their tour. „Dr. Robinson will speak with you, then we start the training session.”
Anton entered, finding Dr. Robinson behind the desk in front of him.
„Mr. Lubowsky,” she greeted him. „Sit down. I hope you didn’t mind waiting. I talked with Mrs. Carter and Mrs. Gomez first.”
„No problem,” Anton replied. „Though I admit I can’t quite see the reason for this … psychological evaluation? You have the data from our forms and the drug is supposed to have physical reactions.”
„True,” Robinson admitted. „But the state of the body always has an impact on the mind. We want to get sure. If you are still with us.”
„I am,” Anton answered a heartbeat later than if he had been totally convinced.
„Good. Let us make this quick so you we can start the training,” Dr. Robinson replied, starting a recorder. „First: When did your weight-problems start?”
„By the transition from High School to College. I was a football player, used to eat big, but burnt it immediately. I wasn’t such active anymore during late High School, wanted to concentrate on my grades, so I failed to entering a football team in College. Unfortunately, my eating habit stayed. Partly due to the stress of succeeding.”
„You did have success, though.”
„I would say so, but my career in office prevented me from doing something against the weight later on.” Anton shrugged. „I can’t go back, but I can look ahead.”
Dr. Robinson gave him a wide smile.
„Good spirit,” she said. „Next question: What do you do when you are not at work? Any changes of your activities when you were still in High School?”
„During High School I used to hang out with friends. Partying, dancing, driving bicycles, though the latter not too often,” Anton admitted. „This changed during College. I hardly socialized and read more. For a time, I tried continuing using my bike, but the way to College and shopping made this impractical, so I gave up. This continued until now.”
Dr. Robinson scribbled something on her notepad. Anton half expected her to ask him of relationships, despite it having nothing to do with it. Sad as it was, he never had a real relationship with a girl or woman. There had been girls he had gone with during High School, but he had been too busy to take it seriously, maybe even taking his status as famous footballer for granted. Being young meant being foolish, as he had learned in college, when hardly a girl had looked at him twice. With those who did he had no way to break the ice how he had once done with the girls in High School.
„Third question,” Dr. Robinson continued. „How do you feel right now?”
„Fourth: Your first impression of this test?”
„Fifth: Your plan for the future?”
„Losing weight and getting healthier, so I can enjoy my pension.”
Dr. Robinson looked a bit surprised. „Planning far ahead.”
Anton shrugged his shoulders. „It seems the realistic thing to do.”
„Sixth and last: What do you wish for right in this moment? The first thing that gets in your mind.”
The first thing getting to Anton’s mind, was that these questions made no sense for a drug trial meant to reduce weight, still he answered faithfully: „God I wish I get to be one hundred and healthy.”
„Mr. Lubowsky.” Dr. Robinson smiled and stopped the recorder. „Let us make the first step to it.”
The first step turned out meeting the other testers in a small cafeteria on the main floor. Dr. Anderson took their pulse and blood samples, before they were led outside for some practising. Anton and Michelle jogged, while Christine walked a round on her cane as quick as she dared to. Then they threw medicine balls at each other. Next came gymnastic exercises showing their stretchiness. Not the sort of training Anton was once used to, but he took some silent pride in not being as much out of breath as the rest. All the while Dr. Robinson led the training while her colleague made notes of their progress.
„Well done,” Dr. Robinson praised them after two hours. „You can go to your rooms now and refresh yourself. Lunch is at seven.”
Such Anton found himself walking into the cafeteria at seven o clock, having enjoyed a relaxing shower. As he chose from the salad and pasta a taciturn employee offered him, Michelle and Christine walked in, too, though the latter had a heavy limp, heavier than when they arrived. Christine’s face didn’t reveal any of the pain she had to feel, though and she even rose her glass of diet coke after they had sat down at the nearest table.
„To a first successful day,” Christine began. „Who had thought a drug trial would offer time on a therapist’s couch!”
Anton looked back at the employee who had handed them the food, but he was seemingly watching the news on a small TV in the corner.
„They asked you the same strange questions?” he asked.
„Social life, dreams, plans.” Christine shook her head. „Let us hope the drug doesn’t mess with our head.”
„Maybe it does and we simply loose our drive to eat,” Michelle noticed softly. „I wouldn’t mind.”
„I would,” Christine replied. „It isn’t the appetite; with me it is the metabolism. The pain killers mess with it, but when I take less, I can’t move.”
„How did it happen,” Anton hesitated. „If I might ask.”
„Motorbike crashed. I was 21. One moment I worried about taking courses and hanging out with friends, planning hikes. Next, I was happy to be able to walk. Look.”
Michelle lifted a part of her sweater and lowered a larger part of her trousers. It was worse than Anton had expected. A long, zick-zack scar covered the area from above the hip down to her knee and probably further, though the trouser blocked the view.
„How did you gain weight?” Christine asked after closing the gap. „If I might ask.”
Anton smiled, noticing he was beginning to like her and told them his story as he had told Robinson before.
„I would have loved to watch you play Anton,” Michelle admitted. „I was a cheerleader.”
„Would have loved to watch you cheer,” Anton replied.
„It is in my family, though I don’t think it are the genes. My parents never cared.” Michelle’s voice seemed fainter than before. „Kindergarten, Elementary school, High school. It was hard and I was secretly happy when I didn’t go to College to take care of my mother. I ...”
She stopped and looked around, her wide eyes making clear that she had revealed more than she was comfortable with.
„I have to go,” Michelle said, abruptly rising and leaving for the elevators.
Anton wanted to go after her to tell her it was okay, but Christine grabbed his hand.
„Leave her,” she told him. „She needs some rest.”
„I didn’t want to trigger something,” Anton said.
„She is still upset from earlier.”
„The doctors have probably asked her about her past. Haven’t you noticed her eyes at the start of the training?”
Anton tried to remember. Yes, they had been slightly reddened.
„We had at last some good times to remember,” Christine explained. „Let us hope it will be worth it.”
To be continued…