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Pain Tolerance and Resistance to Corrosive Substances In Four Specimens of Exomalaclemys Oharensis

Floris M. Kleijne spends his sparse writing time producing great quantities of flash fiction, occasional short stories, and some award-winning novelettes. You can find his work in Galaxy's Edge, Factor Four, the Writers of the Future anthologies, and many other publications, as well as six other stories right here on Daily Science Fiction. Check out the story notes for a link to all his free-to-read stories out there in the world.
Dr. J.J. Corr & Dr. A.B. McQuarry (Institute for Advanced Exobiological Research, Titan)
Journal of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT)
(Classified; requests for clearance to be addressed the Communications Director of the Galactic Intelligence Agency)
Materials and methods
Four healthy specimens of Exomalaclemys oharensis ("terrapinoid"), two in apparent adult developmental stage, two pre-adults, were made available to the authors by the GIA. Electricity was applied to the specimens using a variable-output direct-current device capable of delivering output from 40-2,500V. A range of acidic and caustic agents were applied. (See references for specifications.)
Since the nature of the subjects precluded both verbal feedback on experienced pain and Multidimensional Pain Inventory, effect of the treatments was measured through a combination of both non-invasive and invasive neurological measurements, and auditory and visual indicators in the specimens' observable behavior.
"You mean torture." JJ Corr held her gaze steady on Colonel Ricola's radiation-tanned face.
"Don't be naive, Dr Corr." Ricola gave both of them a hard stare. "We cannot win this war without EIT, whatever you choose to call it."
"And if we say No?" But Abe McQuarry suspected he already knew the answer.
"Under the UDA, that's not an option, Doctor. And both your sons, Dr McQuarry--" He turned his attention to JJ "--and your wife, Dr Corr, are currently deployed at the Horsehead front. Do I need to point out that this war's intelligence effort directly affects their security?"
"A war of expansion, Colonel. One that our side initiated, without provocation." JJ held her voice under tight control, but Abe recognized all the signs of outraged fury in her trembling posture and slitted eyes. He felt the same after Ricola's far from veiled threat.
"Be that as it may, Doctor." Ricola slid the folder across the table. "They are the enemy, and we need to know which methods are effective. I expect both of you at our restricted site on Europa in two days."
Application Of Electricity
Electricity was applied to adults and pre-adults with clamp-on electrodes to the dorsal carapace, upper, middle, and lower extremities, presumed exterior reproductive organs, and frontal sensory array. Voltage was increased in exponential increments until a response was observed, and then increased at a rate of 1V/second to acquire a high-granularity stimulus-response curve.
This approach was repeated ten times for each specimen and each anatomical application region, both to collect statistically significant stimulus-response data, and to determine the stimulus saturation threshold, if any.
Specimen response patterns indicate that E. oharensis tolerance for electric stimuli is low, with maximum vocal and motor response reached at voltages of 60+-12. The lateral carapace edges yielded the strongest responses. Voltages above 90+-8 resulted in specimen death and combustion in all cases (experiments performed after corrosive stimulus assay).
The adult 'pinoid lay strapped on the plastic tray, all limbs strapped down, only its oddly elongated head mobile. It kept its head leveled at them, and its six eyes stared without blinking. Abe couldn't help anthropomorphizing mournful reproach in the gaze.
JJ finished fiddling with the recording equipment.
"Abe..." She cast him an imploring look.
"For God's sake, JJ, let's just get it over with."
"This is so wrong, Abe. We're scientists. Torture isn't science. You know this is wrong."
Abe turned to her with a violent swivel that made her flinch.
"What would you have us do, JJ? Ricola's got the Universal Draft Act on his side. Refuse, and we'll be tried for treason. And you heard what he said about Scott and Mario, about Simone. Have you any doubt that he was threatening them?"
JJ shook her head.
"It's just... unjust. You know?"
"I know." Abe reached out his hand, and JJ grabbed it and squeezed. "Being coerced to participate in this... evil. I hate it. But I see no way out. Let's just get it over with?"
JJ sighed and nodded, and turned back to her instruments. Abe felt the tightness in his jaws as he initiated the voltage sequence; his frown gave him a headache.
"Forty volts," he called out. "Fifty... Sixty..."
JJ alternated her gaze between the instrument panel and the creature.
"Nothing yet."
"Eighty... A hundred... Hundred and forty..."
"No response. Or wait... some slight squirming."
But then an unfamiliar voice sounded, all hisses and guttural noises.
"Please stop."
Application Of Corrosive Substances
Acids with pH decreasing from 4 to -2 and caustic agents with pH increasing from 10 to 16 were applied to the exposed soft tissues on the ventral side of each specimen, between the lower extremities, as well as under the carapace edge.
Response to these corrosive stimuli was minimal to absent, suggesting that E. oharensis's dermis has evolved for chemical inertness.
"We're so sorry."
"No sorry need. You right time stop. No pain feel." Its head gestured at the cages with the three others. "Spouse. Young ones. I you thank."
"How can you speak our language?"
The terrapinoid's squint was impossible to interpret as anything other than smug amusement.
"We learn."
Abe stared at JJ. JJ stared back. As one, they shook their heads. There was no way they would proceed after this.
"Listen, can we..." JJ started.
"How do you..." Abe said almost simultaneously.
"What's your name?" JJ ended with.
The terrapinoid grunted and wriggled in its constraints.
"Sorry, I'll..." Abe stepped towards the tray and reached for the buckles holding it down.
"No, is name." It grunted and wriggled again. "But free good."
Moments later, Gruntwriggle lumbered towards the cages under a chorus of hissing, grunting, whistling, and wriggling. The sound of their joyous reunion wasn't even that far removed from human happiness.
Conclusions
The use of electrical stimuli in enhanced interrogation of E. oharensis can be effective, provided the stimulus is kept under 80V to mitigate the risk of specimen loss. The application of corrosive agents will yield no result.
"Now what?"
Through the porthole, JJ and Abe watched the autonomous cargo pod drift off, the family of terrapinoids hidden among trash and mining products. Once outside Europa's sensor range, it would veer off towards terrapinoid space.
JJ smiled.
"Now? Now we write our paper."
"But we have no data. We have nothing. Just the one voltage assay, which we interrupted before--"
JJ nodded vigorously.
"Before it bothered her. You see? That's our data point right there. And the corrosives?"
Abe chuckled and slammed a fist into his open hand.
"I see where you're going. We give Ricola some harmless electricity to play with, and tell him not to bother with the acids."
"Exactly. It may not have much of an impact, but then again, it may save some of them from unnecessary suffering. Now what, you asked?" With a broad grin, JJ concluded,
"Now we lie through our teeth."
Raising her wrist mike to her mouth, she began to dictate.
"Four healthy specimens...."
The End
This story was first published on Friday, January 17th, 2020


The dull, formal. specific language of scientific publications is as far removed from prose fiction as anything, one would think. That made it an automatic challenge: could I write a complete, compelling story in scientific paper format? It turned out I could, but the resulting story was easily as dull as a scientific paper. Alternating with traditional narrative scenes was my solution; did it work for you?

If you liked this story about truth and subversion, I have more stories set in this same universe. Check out "Beans and Marbles, A Matter of Mass" (both available for free from https://www.floriskleijne.com/bibliography/short-stories/free-stuff/), and especially "Midnight on the Space Station Alcatraz."

- Floris M. Kleijne
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