September 3rd, 1964
Harry Haworth found first exposure to Coconut Joy fascinating. It did feel cruel to watch new test subjects be given their first dose since no one ever had a good reaction to Coconut, but there was so little else to do in here and he was a scientist after all. Or had been. On good days, he had hopes – which he recognized as delusions on bad days – that he might one day be a practicing scientist again. He wasn’t watching his new cellmates’ reaction to Coconut to be entertained, he could reason with himself, but in the pursuit of knowledge.
He didn’t have access to the data to compare, but Haworth had a theory that the flavor of Joy one was taking before being admitted interacted with Coconut to create different responses. He liked to think, based on absolutely nothing, that his original Vanilla and Chocolate formulas produced mild reactions like giddiness, uncontrollable laughter, and dizziness while Verloc’s Strawberry caused nastier side effects like vomiting and paranoia.
Haworth was miffed at how close he had come to getting to watch this on a clear head. He was due for a dose of Crash after breakfast this morning and if Gemma had arrived today instead of yesterday, he’d have woken up tomorrow clear of all drugs and ready to make some observations. He hadn’t been dosed with Coconut yet today, but a residual sluggishness from yesterday’s dose persisted. On top of that, he was hungry. Out of experience and anxiety, he only ever picked at his food the night before and the morning of a Crash dose. As it was, he’d have to consciously ignore these distractions. Pulling his chair over a few inches from its usual spot, Haworth sat just far enough over so that he could see into Gemma’s window without looking like he was gawking.
He now knew her name because the orderlies had filled in her patient board overnight. He was lucky, in a very dry interpretation of the word, to have the center cell because it meant he could read the patient notes of both his neighbors. Gemma was apparently an event planner from the Bureau of Civic Happiness. Haworth thought he might have heard her name before but his memory, wrecked by his previous Joy use, was unreliable beyond the last four years. Gemma was an unusual name, though; the kind of name that you weren’t willing to believe really was a name until you actually met someone with it. That he didn’t have that feeling of skepticism towards it made him think he’d perhaps he met her at a party or festival or saw her credited as part of some committee.
Gemma walked into view and sat at the end of her bed to put her shoes on. When she saw Haworth through the window, she gave him a wave and a small smile, which he reciprocated. He always debated whether it was better to act as though everything was fine and let them have the last of a peaceful morning or if he ought to at least give some warning of what was to come. He usually decided on the former. She looked jittery already. Maybe she suspected.
Dr. Hughes came around the corner and stopped in front of Gemma’s cell. She gave him the same greeting she gave Haworth, but Dr. Hughes’ ignored her. Instead, he pressed the button outside her observation window and readied his pen over his clipboard.
As the mister above hissed and spewed its noxious pink gas into her cell, Gemma looked up in panic and scrunched her head down into her shoulders defensively. Haworth supposed she expected to be given a pill. Most people, though, weren’t eager to try Coconut again after their first taste of it. One could fight off an orderly trying to give them pills, liquids, or even injections, but one could not argue with the mist. It was hands-off and unavoidable, the perfect method of administration so long as the patient didn’t have the will to suffocate themselves. Gemma, for her part, put up a valiant effort at holding her breath but eventually relented and gasped in the pink mist. She doubled over, hands on her knees, trying to cough it back out. Coconut Joy had a caustic feel to it the first week or so, Haworth remembered, like it might be corroding you from the inside. He eventually got used to it.
Unlike the mass-produced Joy formulas, which had a near instantaneous effect, Coconut usually took a moment before it kicked in. Curiously, Gemma appeared to already be feeling its effects. She had stopped hacking and hopped off the bed and to her feet. Now she was pacing a frantic line back and forth in front of her observation window, hunched over, muttering to herself. Haworth couldn’t hear what she was saying, but he’d never seen someone react this quickly to Coconut. He glanced over to see if Dr. Hughes found this result worrying too. Dr. Hughes was alternating between furiously scribbling notes on his clipboard and glancing back up at Gemma but his white mask and its permanently manic grin made it difficult for Haworth to discern what Dr. Hughes thought of what he was seeing.
All at once, Gemma stopped dead in her tracks, stood up perfectly straight, and turned her own white, forcibly smiling face to the observation window. She stared at Dr. Hughes, eyes unseeing, as if she were coming to a realization that had nothing to do with him. Then her gaze came into focus and she banged her fist on the glass, startling Dr. Hughes who recoiled and pulled his clipboard in close to his chest.
“You have to let me out! We’re all going to die if I don’t tell everyone!” she yelled at Dr. Hughes. “The Joy is bad! The infrastructure is collapsing!” Dr. Hughes did not respond to her and resumed his note-taking.
“Don’t ignore me!” Gemma shouted at him, pounding her fist on the glass again to punctuate her demand. “I’ve been down in the motilene tunnels! The workers are all overdosing on bad Joy! Things are breaking down and no one can keep their heads enough to fix them! I’m a reporter! You have to let me out so I can tell everyone!”
Dr. Hughes ignored her pleas and continued to watch. Haworth did too, though he leaned back and tried to stay out of Gemma’s view so as not to catch her attention. Whatever the Coconut was doing to her, he intuited that he did not want to be dragged into it.
“Please! The underground is going to collapse under us! People are starving! And disappearing! You have to let me out to report on this!” Gemma’s appeals fell on unconcerned ears.
As it became clear to her that Dr. Hughes had no intention of acknowledging her, Gemma started to wail. Her volume increased by the second, but she pitched down into howl. She started looking frantically around her cell for… something. Haworth couldn’t tell what she hoped to find until she grabbed her iron tea table by the tabletop, hoisted it up over her head, and hurled it into the observation window.
The table hit the glass and crashed to the floor in front of the window. It didn’t even make a crack. Haworth knew it wouldn’t. He had tried throwing his table through the glass on his first day in here too. Dr. Hughes hadn’t even flinched, secure in his faith that the glass was too thick to break. Gemma stared at the table on the floor, disappointed, then looked back to Dr. Hughes. He stared back for a moment, then began scratching out more notes.
Gemma threw herself on her bed and sobbed.
Well, that was… unexpected, Haworth thought to himself. Coconut tended to produce extreme physical reactions on first dose, not mental ones. If anything, Coconut served to sedate the mind. You’d either be too distracted with your giggling or vomiting to be thinking about too much or, as in his adjusted case, all your various feelings would be compartmentalized for careful, quiet, and individual study. He was curious to know what was so different about Gemma that she experienced such a violent – and possibly delusional – psychological reaction.
And she had said she was a reporter. She could have just been hallucinating that though. All the other things she had said sounded farfetched too but then again, who knew what might have changed in four years. Her ravings had been somewhat specific to have no basis in reality. Too, Haworth was starting to vaguely recall newspaper stories he thought she might have written – investigative work, exposés – but he couldn’t be sure if his mind was just taking the suggestion and filling in the blanks.
Assuming she really was a reporter, that meant she was here to find out what Verloc was up to. Haworth wondered if he ought not have been so forthcoming with her yesterday. He’d assumed she was only asking after friends when she inquired about Prudence Holmes and Johnny Bolton, but Bolton wasn’t really the sort to have friends, now that he thought about it. She had recognized him too, which few people had any business doing any more. How had she known who he was, when most everyone else had long forgotten him? He didn’t think a mere party planner would have any reason to remember him, but a reporter looking for dirt on Verloc might. Though there probably wasn’t much harm in telling her who hadn’t been through the cell block, he should probably be cautious with what he told her in the future.
There were a lot of variables at play, Haworth supposed, but this situation could wash out very badly for him. Even if she somehow got out and told the world that Verloc, among other unethical practices, had him locked up down here, that didn’t mean they’d just let him go free. He was still thought to be mad. He’d probably get handed over to some other lunatic in need of test subjects, someone with equally unethical practices but no personal interest in his well-being.
On the other hand, if he convinced her that he wasn’t mad, perhaps she could help repair his damaged reputation which in turn would find him fit to be released.
He was getting ahead of himself. This was all predicated on her escaping, which was a long shot. No one had escaped since his first two cellmates earlier in the year, when this “personalized care program” had begun. Margery Flowerdew had torn apart one of her bras, used the underwire to pick the lock on her door, then let both her cellmates, Haworth and Humphry Repton, loose too. When it came down to it though, they simply weren’t all going all escape that day. Since he was the higher priority target, Haworth split off from them, pulling most of their pursuers off their trail to chase after him alone. He had a hard time remembering the layout of his labs though and was caught in a dead end.
Judging by Verloc’s satisfyingly sour mood the next day and the subsequent renovation of the cell doors to the current camouflaged models with bolts inaccessible from the inside, Haworth felt confident that Margery and Humphry had succeeded in getting out. It had been disappointing to be back in his cell after that, but he’d suffered failed escape attempts before. Another chance was bound to arise eventually, so long as he kept an eye out for opportunity.
Hope had a vexing habit of springing eternal in Haworth Labs.
To the point, even if Gemma never escaped, maybe she could still be useful to him. If she was indeed a reporter, then she must know all kinds of interesting information. You never knew when some errant fact or detail might come in handy.
Just as he was starting to think of what questions he might ask Gemma once she recovered and how to communicate them through charades, Dr. Hughes came into view in front of his observation window. Haworth shot him a grumpy look, regarding him as a mere pesky interruption. Dr. Hughes pushed the button outside his window and Coconut Joy fogged in from above. Haworth sat still among the pink mist and breathed in the gas, annoyed that he was probably going to forget what he wanted to ask. It was no matter though.
Odds were they had plenty of time for him to remember.