Shining Path


Chapter 23

At this point Kim, Kim, and Rawat made a classic beginners' mistake: they assumed that the current round of problems would be the last. It is not recorded how trained scientists, at least one having several years' experience, made such an error. They may have felt time pressure, because the lease on the facility had already been extended once, the budget and the supply of Chongju beef would not last forever, and they all needed published papers for their CVs. The mistake's consequence was that they decided the protocol-debug subjects had been compromised and would never yield good data, so they shipped those three back to Sapporo in aramid sacks with time-release fasteners, and they planned to run the real experiment on the remaining nine subjects as soon as possible with better restraints but no further protocol debugging work. The three released subjects apparently integrated back into their social groups without incident. Their tracking collars were destroyed before the plane even touched down, and nothing more is known about them.

Immediately after the New Year's holiday, the nine subjects in the "real experiment" group started to come due. Each was fastened to an armature made from aluminum angle stock to maintain a low-stress neutral position for all muscle groups. Kim Soon-Wook designed and built the armatures himself, and the first one was too weak – the subject twisted it like a pretzel. Fortunately it was another day before they had to restrain the second subject, so he had time for an all-nighter with the CAD software designing a much stronger armature. The second subject bit its tongue and died of blood loss, as did the third, before they were able to improvise jaw wedges that wouldn't fall out.

Subjects two and three were not entirely worthless, however; as a previously unobserved behavior the tongue-biting made an interesting subsection in the discussion section of the eventual paper. The idea of a person biting his or her tongue and bleeding out as a viable suicide method, or an accidental cause of death, is common in the human literary imagination but highly unrealistic. Such injuries just are not fatal in general. That a joneko can actually do it, and that a stressed joneko may actually do it in a way that could appear intentional to an uninformed lay person, are observations worth noting. It remains important not to ascribe human motivations to non-human behavior.

Subject four succumbed to deep-frame thrombosis from being held immobile too long, subject five suffered non-fatal thrombosis-related brain damage severe enough to render its data unusable, and subject six came due and compromised itself in the holding room unnoticed while the research team was brainstorming solutions to the thrombosis problem. That left just three experimental subjects remaining, only a quarter of the already-small initial sample. The referees would doubtless complain about sample sizes for any publication resulting from this work, but too much time and money had been spent now to walk away from the project without at least a conference abstract, preferably something for a journal. Both grad students badly needed publication credits to complete their programs in reasonable standing, and another paper would not hurt Kim Ji-Geom's upcoming tenure bid either. Even if it would only be a correspondence on experimental challenges and one or two case studies in a bad journal or a rump session, they had to publish something or perish.

Kim Soon-Wook read up on electrical muscle stimulation until Kumari Rawat pointed out to him that that was for organics and wouldn't work on plastic seru muscles at all. She found a crate of surplus air conditioning compressor motors in the stairwell of the physics lab, stored under a sign that said "Fire escape route, absolutely do not use this space for storage." They didn't know who owned the motors, and at 2 AM they were both on enough modafinil and ephedrine, testing the limits of that human sleep requirement in a poorly-controlled informal experiment, that they did not care. Soon-Wook programmed a robot to cut gear trains out of sheet nylon, and Kumari made the necessary changes to the armatures. Now instead of holding the subjects' limbs immobile, they would move from open to closed posture and back on a one-minute cycle – just enough, they hoped, to prevent thrombosis. It turned out to be quite sufficient.

The added motion only underscored another technical problem, however, which was that of waste disposal. With the subjects' limbs slowly moving all the time, and restrained from their normal grooming behavior, infection and potentially even insect infestation became real possibilities. Kim Ji-Geom initially suggested a simple diaper arrangement, but the risks involved in changing them (both safety-related and to the integrity of the no-stimulus protocol) ruled out such a plan.

Since the observation period was only projected to run a few days in each case, a combination of an indwelling Foley catheter (for liquids) and costive drugs (for solids; possibly backed up by mechanical obstruction) was briefly considered. Since the subjects would be fed through tubes anyway, there should be relatively little fecal build-up during the anticipated length of the experiment. This proposal, like the diapers, was rejected as too likely to cause stimulation. In the end, the experimenters decided to simply tie the tails out of the way, tilt the armatures forward to minimize contact between waste and the experimental animals' coats, and allow it to fall into an open receptacle on the floor below.

These arrangements were worked out barely hours before it became necessary to put the seventh subject under observation. The remaining two came due almost immediately thereafter, so for the duration of the observation period all three researchers were kept busy, with barely a moment to eat or sleep. They went from one observation room to the next replacing consumables, taking blood samples, tightening the restraints (which seemed to loosen unaccountably over time), and taking notes on observed behavior. Much of the behavioral analysis had to be done from video recordings after the fact, however. Whether because of the highly distracting nature of the subjects' behavior, or the highly stressed condition of the team members themselves at this point, their on-the-spot notes proved almost useless.

For the first three or four days from the cycle reference point, the subjects showed typical fight responses such as might be expected from any confined joneko. They strained against the restraints initially for episodes of up to 15 minutes at a time, separated by resting periods of similar duration. Episodes of straining became shorter and less frequent over time, possibly corresponding to simple muscular fatigue. Episodes of straining usually coincided with increased vocalization, especially in the lower "growling" register, with occasional "screams." Although their hormone levels indicated the onset of estrus, the characteristic behavioral signs were not observed – though that might simply have been because the restraints made such behavioral patterns impossible.

It was notable that during this phase the subjects did not appear to sleep. Unfortunately, only a low-voltage electroencephalograph suitable for humans was available. It could not record the much higher voltages and correspondingly lower currents associated with the joneko central nervous system. Therefore a definitive determination of sleep disruption was unavailable.

All three subjects showed a profound attack response to Kumari Rawat whenever she entered the room – in one episode, subject eight pulled so hard with its left upper foreleg as if to claw at her, that it tore a heavy aramid restraint strap. That subject had to be briefly sedated so the strap could be replaced. The response to Kim Soon-Wook was dramatically different; when he entered a room the ammeters on the posture-rotation motors showed a statistically significant reduction in mechanical resistance (that is, less "struggling" behavior), and the pattern of vocalizations changed significantly, switching from the combat to the social register. Subject nine even purred several times in Kim Soon-Wook's presence, despite switching back into more typical screams and growls as soon as he left the room. Kim Ji-Geom's presence also elicited social responses, though much less strongly.

"That's an unusual pattern – do you suppose it's a scent factor? What's different among the three of us to account for the different reactions?"

"You mean, apart from the obvious?"


Because of concern that even this kind of limited contact with the researchers, the two males in particular, might cause indirect stimulation and distort the effects under observation, the experimental protocols were modified on the third day to reduce the number of visits. Modifications included larger-capacity containers (repurposed recyclables-sorting bins) for food and waste, and increased reliance on automated maintenance systems. Duties were re-assigned, transferring more of the remote monitoring tasks to Kim Soon-Wook so he could avoid entering the observation rooms, and more of the in-place tasks to Kumari Rawat.

At varying times between days three and five from cycle reference, all three subjects began to display a different behavior pattern. Vocalizations decreased, ceasing almost entirely by day seven in all subjects. Resistance to the motion of the armatures also decreased, and the subjects showed significantly depressed response to the researchers' maintenance and observation visits. Although the lack of appropriate monitoring equipment made this difficult to judge, the subjects appeared to drift in and out of sleep or sleeplike nervous states. As might be expected based on the analogy to domestic cats in the absence of coital stimulation, the blood samples never showed an increase in chlorotinizing hormone. Nekostroxide levels remained high.

Between eight and nine days from cycle reference, each subject showed a sudden decrease in blood nekostroxide. At a research meeting on Wednesday evening, the team evaluated different hypotheses and settled tentatively on one suggested by Kumari Rawat: that the subjects had entered a postestrus-like phase such as might be observed in the acoital domestic cat. This seemed the most reasonable interpretation despite the absence of any behavioral change.

Now they faced the question of what to do next. If the analogy to cats remained valid, then the postestrus-like phase should be relatively short-lived, and followed by a return to the behavior at cycle reference, including straining and attack tropes. On the other hand, the subjects had already displayed a significant deviation from the domestic-cat model in their transition to sessile behavior. It might be that postestrus would lead back to the sessile phase of estrus instead of the straining and attack phase.

But there were resource issues to consider, as well. There would be no guarantee of how long postestrus might last; and although determining the sequelae of postestrus was obviously an interesting research question, postestrus itself being a novel observation in the joneko context, nonetheless it seemed their original neurological and behavioral research questions were already resolved. Money was running out – indeed, it already had. Kim Ji-Geom made an executive decision: on Monday, 23-day of 1-month (day 15 counting from cycle reference), they would terminate the experiment unless some qualitatively new phase had been observed.