tagIncest/TabooThe Social Experiment

The Social Experiment

byKousakacomplex©

Author's note: Part 5 of 'Trapped' is still being actively worked on, I just needed a little change of pace. I had imagined this to be about 10-15 pages (in word document terms), but it ended up being much longer than that. This story is my submission for the 2018 April Fool's Day contest, so don't hesitate to vote. Hope you enjoy it, and please let me know what you think!

Special thanks to AFschizoid for a bit of editorial help.

***

"Caleb! You're here!"

I pulled the door shut and turned around just as the enthusiastic brunette collided with me, wrapping her arms about my shoulders as she pulled me in for a tight hug.

"I'm soo happy to see you!" she called with exaggerated exuberance, and I arched an eyebrow at the strangely warm reception.

Abigail Walker, my elder sister, was five years my senior, and I'd been visiting her for the Christmas holidays for as long as I could remember.

But even though we were much closer than what was considered typical for most siblings, her current show of affection was far from ordinary.

"Just so you know I've got no money to lend you, my car is in the shop, and I- eek!" I yelped as she suddenly brushed her fingers near my armpits, and she smirked wickedly as I leapt clear of her reach.

"Can't your sister just be happy to see you?" she asked, suddenly putting on an innocent tone, and I scratched my head, making a show of how puzzling the concept was to me.

I approached her warily, and she rolled her eyes and folded her arms as I sniffed at her a bit.

"They finally did it, huh... did they replace you, or was it a brainwashing?"

She let out an exaggerated sigh and as I sensed that she'd let her guard down, I slipped behind her without warning and quickly hoisted her off her feet.

My sister had a curvaceous, full figure, but standing no more than five and a half feet tall, she was light as a feather and I easily hoisted her up with one hand around the waist.

"Caleb noooo, ahhh!" she screamed, and as I used my free hand to slip her slacks just a little off of her butt she thrashed about, kicking wildly and cackling gleefully despite the rough treatment.

As I settled her down, she glared at me despite wearing a huge smile on her face, and I gave another thoughtful 'hm.'

"That mole's still on your ass, so it's obviously the same old body. Hypnosis maybe?" I offered, as she rolled her eyes and made a show of fixing her pants on straight, before putting a hand on her hip.

"How do you even know about that mole?" she asked reproachfully, but I waved her accusation away dismissively as I responded:

"Swimsuits, dear sister. Swimsuits."

"Hmn? Are you actually admitting that you perv on your big sis?" she asked?

"With neither shame nor regret! I am a man, am I not?" I announced regally, puffing my chest out with pride, and she put both hands on her hips as she responded with appal:

"Being rotten is one thing, but do you have to be so proud of it? You're incorrigible!"

"Good, then I guess you won't be needing me!" I announced with a triumphant smile, as I quickly picked up my light travel bag and made a beeline for the guest room.

"No, Ugh! Wait wait wait- fine! I need your help with something," she whined, and I dropped my bags, a broad smile on my face:

"Oh Abby, it is you," I called, wrapping my hands about her in an exaggerated show of relief, "I thought you were a goner!"

"Yeah, yeah," she muttered with a pout, rolling her eyes repeatedly as I continued to make a show of gushing over her.

"So what can I do you for?" I asked, and to my surprise she smirked a little at the innuendo.

"This! Come on, you'll see!" she called, and as I eyed her suspiciously she grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the living room.

"Wha- hey! Can't I at least drop my bags off first?"

"Oh come on, you can do that later," she quipped, a definite skip of excitement in her step as she dragged me along.

"Huh? What is this?" I asked, noting now that there was a video paused in mid view on the flat screen TV in her apartment living room.

"Footage from the study groups we ran last week."

"Oh, those poor souls," I lamented.

My sister was a clinical psychologist and it was a bit of a running gag in our family to imply that she was probably breaking more minds than she fixed.

"So what's the prognosis doc?" I asked, and she shushed me as she raised the volume a bit before hitting play on the television remote.

I was rather surprised to see that the image was in black and white, and there seemed to be a mesh of some kind over the lens of the camera.

The scene on screen also seemed to be a fair bit away, making the details a bit hazy.

There seemed to be an ordinary looking man, maybe in his mid-forties or so, wearing an anguished expression on his face as he stood in front of what appeared to be a control panel of some kind, and on the other side of the room was a very young girl, her hands and feet tied to the arm rests and feet of the chair respectively.

"What is this-?"

"Shh!" Abby shushed me quickly, so I turned my attention back to the screen just as the man pushed a button on the control panel before speaking into what looked from here like a microphone.

"I'm sorry," the man spoke, "I don't know the answer, and time's almost up."

The man's voice was tense, and he seemed panicked.

"What do I-?"

*Bzzz!

The man winced as a loud buzzing sound played over the speaker, and the girl in the chair suddenly seemed agitated.

She shook her head then suddenly screamed out loudly, twitching and writhing about as if being painfully wounded for about four or five seconds, before finally going still.

"Oh god, I'm so sorry!" he called, as he ran his hands desperately through his hair,

I tilted my head at Abby in concern, and she gave a nervous little chuckle, before returning her attention to the screen.

"Four minutes till the next penalty, Mr Roberts," a warbled voice called over the speakers, and the man ran his hands through his hair as he returned his attention to a screen on the panel beside the microphone.

The man seemed to be interacting with what appeared to be a touch interface screen on the control panel, casting furtive glances at a countdown timer that I now noticed on the far right wall.

He rubbed his temples gingerly, his anxiety increasing as every second ticked by until finally the countdown clock entered the final minute of the allotted four minutes.

The man interacted with the panel, his hands shaking and betraying his uncertainty, and as the clock entered the final ten seconds, he pushed the button on the panel and spoke quickly into the mic:

"Is it the Swede?" he asked, and a buzzer sounded in response, and the girl again began to scream in pain.

The man ran his hands through his hair again, and the voice spoke out over the intercom:

"Incorrect response, Mr Roberts. You have two more guesses before extended punishment will ensue. You have three and a half minutes till the next penalty."

"Am I witnessing murder?" I asked, unable to look away as I studied the scene with a horrified kind of fascination.

"No, but he doesn't know the shocks aren't real," Abby explained, and I chuckled a little.

"That's wicked," I muttered, sounding a little more impressed than I intended. "So what's the question?" I asked.

"Einstein's riddle," Abby muttered, and I rolled my eyes at her.

"The one with 'who owns the pet' and 'who lives next to who?'" I asked, and she nodded, explaining:

"He has three guesses until the girl gets an 'extended period of repeated punishments,' and every time the timer runs out she gets 'punished' as well."

The man continued to interact with the screen as time passed by, however this time as the countdown approached one minute, he quickly pressed the button, speaking into the microphone:

"It's the German!" he exclaimed, but this time as the buzzer sounded, the girl didn't scream and a door from the left of the room quickly opened and some people in lab coats came in, one of whom I immediately recognized as Abby, and untied a seemingly unhurt girl, who was now smiling, as she shook the man's hand and gave him an apologetic hug.

"So... the whole thing was a gag?" I asked, and Abby nodded sheepishly, motioning towards the screen.

"She's an actress. Damn good one too," Abby noted, and I sighed with relief as the room was cleared and the screen went black.

"So he didn't know anything?" I asked, and Abby shook her head.

"Well- explain away," I continued, and Abby folded her legs on the sofa as she turned to face me.

"So we're doing a study on human behaviour. How they react when placed in irrationally difficult situations? Like being asked to solve a puzzle with someone else's life on the line."

"Wow. So he really thought that you all were hurting her?" I asked, and Abby nodded again.

"Sort of. I mean, he didn't know anything at all about what the experiment would be like.

"But I guess you really can't hurt people, can you," I asked, and she regarded the question thoughtfully.

"Not unless they consent to it. I mean, some of the greatest research results were attained by researchers who were willing to put themselves at risk for the sake of their research," Abby explained, and I gulped a little as the thought of Abby putting herself in harm's way popped into my head.

She was dedicated to her profession if nothing else, and the thought unsettled me.

"But, you're right," she continued, "we couldn't really hurt an innocent child, and Mr Roberts probably knew that. So that's where the actress came in. It was her job to create reasonable doubt."

"Hmm. I see."

"And~," she added in a singsong tone, "the release forms he signed were worded in an intentionally suspicious way. Like, 'you are required to obey any commands given regardless of the consequences,' et cetera et cetera."

"How the hell do you get people to do this stuff," I asked, and she smiled coyly in response.

"Funny you should ask that..."

"Oh fuck no," I replied immediately, getting up and picking up my bag as I headed for the guest room.

"Oh come on! Just hear me out," she called, as she followed after me, and as I settled into the room and began unpacking, doing my best to ignore her, she leaned in against the door frame, shooting me a veritable puppy dog stare.

"No. I don't like people messing with my head normally, much less having it done by professionals."

"We're paying two grand to participants," she added, and I stared at her with my mouth wide open.

"So that's how you trick these schmucks," I muttered, giving a little appreciative whistle. "You know, I could use that kind of money. My car really is in the shop- I had to borrow Dad's just to drive here."

"See? And you wouldn't even need to do all that much."

"Yeah, sure, and getting traumatized for life isn't all that it's chalked up to anyway, right?" I asked sarcastically, and she did a little begging dance as she continued:

"We even provide counselling and care in case it really traumatizes you anyway~."

"Wow, so it's a legit possibility, huh."

"Well, you could take the bus tomorrow and witness an accident that traumatizes you. Possible trauma is everywhere if you think about it. At least this way you'll be traumatized in a controlled environment created by professionals who know what they're doing. Right?" she plopped down on the bed next to me, and as she nudged me suggestively, I let out a tired sigh.

"You really need help on this, huh? If you guys can pay that much, why not get some more poor shmucks like they guy in the vid? I'm sure lots of people would be glad to make some cash for a little trauma."

"Well... the guy in the vid isn't exactly a random."

"Hm?"

"Remember Samantha? Tall skinny blonde in my research group?"

"Is that the one with the flat chest or-"

"Jackass," she muttered, as she stomped at my foot. "But yes, her. The guy in the vid is actually her guardian. Her parents died when she was a kid, and he was a very close family friend. He raised her with his own kids."

"Wow. Some thanks he got for that."

"Hey, he was happy to help Samantha out with her research. Ahem*," she coughed suggestively, and I rolled my eyes at her before continuing:

"So- you're only using people that your research team knows? That hardly seems like a proper representative sample."

"For now, yes. For two reasons; one, this isn't the actual research project. We're using this preliminary sample as the framework for a proposal to get some real funding to take this project off the ground. The money we're paying is good, but it's pretty much coming entirely out of Dr Wakowski's wallet."

Dr Wakowski was Abby's project supervisor, and she was an eccentric professor known for going great lengths for the sake of her research.

"Hmm, I see," I muttered thoughtfully.

"The second reason is that it takes a lot of research to make a convincing moral dilemma. Sam's guardian, for instance; she knows he has a soft spot for defenceless kids in trouble. I mean, he kind of adopted Sam purely out of kindness."

"Whoa, wait... does this mean you already have something planned for me?" I asked, a sudden feeling of panic setting in.

"Well... yeah, sort of."

"Sort of?" I asked, and as Abby started fidgeting a bit I let out a long, frustrated sigh.

"You've already planned it out entirely, haven't you?" I muttered, and she nodded sheepishly.

"When we were getting the proposal together, everyone got together a list of prospective participants and came up with ways that we could apply the test. It was all just theoretical at that point, so I kind of thought up something about you."

"How very thoughtful," I noted sarcastically, and she smiled nervously as she continued:

"I was pretty sure Dr Wakowski was gonna say that it was stupid, but it turned out that she really liked it. Like, really really liked it. Even though I told her that I wasn't sure if you'd want to do it, she kind of had us prepare for it anyway, and she keeps saying that your test might be the most important one in our study."

I sighed.

"How screwed is your research if I say no?" I asked, and she sighed.

"Truthfully? We'll survive. Dr Wakowski might be disappointed, I might be too embarrassed to show my face in the department anymore, I'll probably have to withdraw from the post-doc programme and I'll hate my life forever, but I'll be fine. I think..."

"Wow, thanks for not pressuring me-"

"I mean, there seem to be some pretty neat people living on the streets. I'm sure I'll fit right in."

"Uh-huh."

"Really, you don't have to do it. I mean, when I have to resort to prostitution to feed my kids-"

"You don't have kids."

"And dad doesn't look so well. This might be his last chance to see his daughter complete her doctorate. But I'm sure he'll understand too."

"Dad's healthier than either of us."

"It'll be fine. Really."

She put on a little puppy dog expression and whined a little, and I sighed.

"Fine- I'll do it, but, hey-!"

"Oh my god, I love you, I love you, I love you!" she exclaimed, enthusiastically wrapping her arms about me, "you will not regret this."

"-hey, seriously. You owe me, okay?"

"Sure."

"I mean seriously owe me."

"I get it, I get it! Sheesh," she muttered, but as I sighed again, she smiled at me, and this time gave me a little kiss on the cheek as she pulled away from another quick hug.

"I knew you would help me out," she muttered softly, giving me one final hug before leaving the room and leaving me to get settled in along with my thoughts.

Jeez, I thought to myself, as I plopped down onto the freshly made bed. What have I really signed myself up for?

***

*Yawn.

I woke up with a stretch, groaning as I fully extended my arm outwards, then pulled them in across my chest and gave a little pressure at the elbows until I felt the familiar *crack* at the joints.

It was a long drive over to Abby's apartment so I'd gone to bed pretty early, but while I'd typically spend the next morning resting from the journey, on this particular morning-

"Rise and shine, princess!"

-I'd be accompanying my sister to her faculty lab to meet with her research team and complete the preliminary evaluation forms to verify that I did indeed qualify for participation in their study.

I sighed as Abby gave the door a little rap before calling out again in that not so quiet tone.

Abby had always been a morning person, while I didn't believe in waking up before ten on a non-work day.

I slumped back down onto the bed hoping to steal another minute of rest when my bedroom door suddenly creaked just a sliver open.

"Are you up?" Abby asked, a mischievous smile on her face.

"Whatever pleasure you glean from waking me up at this hour, I hope some celestial power makes you suffer one day for it immensely."

"But it's fun!"

"Not from this side of the door," I mumbled sleepily, but the words had scarcely left my mouth when I realized I was about to pay for my mistake.

"Well let's fix that then!" she called, bursting through the door and diving wildly onto the bed, giggling as she landed with a bounce on the thick blanket that still partially covered me.

"Unhhh," I groaned in protest, but Abby seemed oblivious to my discomfort as she bounced about on the soft mattress with sheer delight, stopping only to drink in the misery that her unnecessary morning joy was presently inflicting upon my soul.

I sighed, as she finally came to a stop.

"Are you done?" I asked, and she put a finger to her chin, seeming to regard the question very seriously before breaking into a grin.

"Thanks for agreeing to come today," she suddenly muttered, her tone a little more serious.

I crossed my arms and shot her a disapproving glance, and she pouted cutely in response.

My sister had an exceptionally cute smile.

The kind of smile that could let her get away with murder.

I relented, knowing full well that I was probably smiling myself despite my show of annoyance.

"You're lucky you're cute," I muttered begrudgingly, as I reached up and ruffled her hair a bit.

"If I wasn't, you'd probably still help me," she replied sweetly, and I smiled, before pulling her in for a hug.

She nuzzled my chest affectionately, then with a sigh, she withdrew from the hug then climbed off of the bed.

"Come on. I made eggs and coffee," she added, but as I slumped back down onto the mattress she turned back to me and put her hands on her hips expectantly.

"You're a real Nazi, you know that?" I muttered, before reluctantly climbing out of my covers and off of my bed.

"Sorry. We need to be there by nine!" Abby muttered, giving me another quick hug before heading over to her room.

I retrieved my toothbrush from my travel bag, and headed groggily to the bathroom.

"You didn't even tell me what I'd be doing," I called to her, as I began my tedious morning self-care routine.

"I'm not supposed to tell you numb nuts," she called back, and I groaned as I applied some minty toothpaste to my toothbrush.

"Aren't you the one who came up with it?" I replied, as I started to brush.

"Yeah, I am," she called, and I paused in mid-brush.

What the hell was that? I thought.

There was a distinctly uncertain tone in her reply, a bit like the way she sounded whenever she did something bad and knew she was in trouble.

"Mh-" I paused to spit, "is there something you're not telling me?" I continued, and as I glanced across the hall towards her room, I noted she was fidgeting a bit over a notebook, and she shook her head quickly before putting it down.

"I- uh... I mean. It'll be fine. You trust me, right Caleb?" she asked, and I bit my lip, unable to answer.

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