The volunteer stepped into the room. It was cold and sterile, with concrete walls and flickering fluorescent tubes shining harshly down from the ceiling. The scientist stood in the corner, holding a clipboard, and as the volunteer entered, she smiled and gestured to a metal folding chair in front of a small table, asking him to sit down. As he obeyed, he noticed that both the table and the chair were chained to the floor. In front of him, a small television sat on the tabletop. With a crackle of static, it turned on. On the screen, the grainy black and white image of a man’s face flashed into view. His head was shaved and a large number of electrodes were attached to his scalp, the wires looking almost like some sort of bizarre wig. The scientist handed the volunteer a device, a kind of remote, made of off-white plastic with a dial in the center, labeled with the numbers zero through ten. The scientist spoke, her voice slow and methodical, almost condescending.
“The test begins now. Please turn the dial to setting one.” The volunteer twisted the knob until the arrow lined up with the number. A look of discomfort spread over the face of the man on the screen, and a low electric buzz could be heard.
“Very good.” The scientist said, pen scribbling across her clipboard. “Please turn the dial to setting two.” Again, the volunteer complied. The test subject’s expression contorted, visibly holding back pain.
“Setting three.” The scientist said, still smiling. In the volunteer’s hands, the dial turned again. The hum of electrical current grew louder. The man on the screen began to breathe harder, and sweat ran down his strained face.
“Setting four. Please pay no attention to the man on the television.” Reluctantly, he did as she directed him to. Distorted, choked screams came from the TV.
“Setting five.” The volunteer hesitated. The man on the screen was looking directly into the camera, now, the tendons in his neck bulging as he struggled to speak, almost drowned out by the incessant noise of the electricity running into his brain. His mouth fell open and he spoke.
“P…please… No more.” The volunteer set the remote down on the table.
“Setting five.” The scientist repeated. “Pay no attention to the man on the television.” Hands shaking, the volunteer turned the dial back to zero. “Setting five.” She said again, standing over his shoulder, “Pay no attention…” The volunteer interrupted.
“Are you sure?” The volunteer nodded emphatically. “Very well. The test is over. You have failed. You are dismissed.” As the volunteer walked out the door and slammed it behind him, the scientist looked at her wristwatch, then turned to the actor on the screen. “You can stop now.” She said, “It’s time for our lunch break. The next volunteer comes in an hour.”