(Prologue)1

Dr. Russell Patrick found himself smiling, and his skin tingled in anticipation. In the small hidden room of his specially designed warehouse/lab/workshop, he shifted his gaze from computer screen to computer screen, scarcely able to believe that his once- distant musing, his far-fetched wonderings, had at last been carried out into reality. Within an hour's time, the project he had been planning and preparing for, raising money for and fine tuning for over four years, would finally begin in earnest. He could not, even in these early stages, keep himself from feeling an enormous dose of self-satisfaction.2

Behind him stood Kathleen Meallen, his assistant and protégé of just over a year. Just out of grad school, she was 27, intelligent and impeccably good about doing whatever he asked of her. But today she seemed more hesitant as she hovered over Russell's shoulder, her posture uncertain, her lips pressed together in an expression of ambivalence.3

"Dr. Patrick," she began her words carefully neutral, "I know you know what you're doing- and I know that all research carries risk when human subjects are involved- but to be honest, I'm very nervous about this. You-"4

"Well, of course you are, Kathleen," Russell interrupted, waving his hand at her unconcernedly. "You've never done research or experimentations of this nature, so naturally you are apprehensive. As a matter of fact, I haven't either- nobody has. That's what makes this so extraordinary. This is unprecedented. No one had ever before studied the fear reaction and impulse in quite such a dramatic and unusual way as awe is about to. This kind of study could make a name of me- a name of us both. Can you imagine, becoming world renown at your age? Such a thing is unheard of, Kathleen- but now it is possible for you."5

Kathleen nodded slowly, but the anxiety remained in her eyes.6

"I know, Dr. Patrick, and don't get me wrong. I am grateful for this opportunity, for your taking me on in this project. I AM excited. It just- it seems to me that a lot could go wrong… that someone might be harmed."7

"Well, of course no one will be harmed," Dr. Patrick said a bit impatiently. "Nothing in the rooms carries an actual physical threat to the subjects. It is only their fear of the matters that make them seem threatening or harmful."8

"Yes, I know that," Kathleen replied, and now she was flushing, looking down, briefly embarrassed at her boss's obvious condescending of her concerns. Still, she made herself speak up again, try one more time to clarify as she looked up into his face again.9

"It's just that there seems a lot of risk of panic and hysteria. What if someone has a breakdown, or is emotionally damaged from this? What if they hurt themselves somehow? I mean, the walls and floors are very hard, if they run and fall or something-"10

"But Kathleen, this is precisely what we are attempting to find out, isn't it?" Russell asked, and there was more than a little impatience in his tone this time. "The entire purpose of this experiment is to measure the reactions of young, reasonably intelligent adults when forced to confront phobias. And it is not as if we did not inform them, is it? They read the papers- they are all over 18, they all gave their consent. They knew the risks involved."11

Kathleen's reply was so quiet that Russell barely heard her at first.12

"They didn't know the specifics, Dr. Patrick. They were only told that they would be helped in overcoming their fears through unusual and possibly risky methods- and how much money they would receive for it."13

Now Russell was openly scowling at Kathleen, not attempting to conceal his annoyance, and she flushed harder, uncomfortable, wanting to shut up and go along with him, and yet not willing to say that her worries were unfounded.14

"Kathleen, the subjects are adults, and if they were not prepared for any possible consequences of this study, then they should not have given their consent to do it," he said stiffly. "And if you yourself are so concerned, then why are you standing here with me? Why did you agree to do this?"15

Kathleen's face deepened in its crimson hue, and she said nothing. What could she say, that she had admired Russell Patrick and his work for years before she sought a position with him? That she had been amazed at her fortune of his interest in her? That she lived, at the age of 27, with her college age sister, that she needed the money and prestige this experiment might bring her? Should she say that she had a ridiculous attraction to him, an adolescent crush on a man twenty years older than she, and so found it hard to criticize him or his ideas- especially since he was her boss?16

She couldn't say any of this, of course. Instead, she lowered her eyes.17

"I'm sorry," she muttered. "I guess I'm just nervous, as you said."18

Russell eyed her for a few more moments before nodding gruffly. "Don't be. Soon enough they will awaken, and all our efforts will finally produce results."19

The experiment was unusual, to be sure, one that had taken years of effort and construction, as well as trial and error with several medications, to produce. Dr. Patrick had the week before secured six subjects, all adults between the ages of 18 and 30, and after securing their permission in experimentation and having them fill out papers as to their personal information, including personalities and individual fears, he had completed the rest of his warehouse. Calling them back a week later, he had given them carefully measured injections of a substance that would render them unconscious for several hours. When the subjects awakened, their memory of the events of the past 48 hours would be obliterated. Dr. Patrick had then moved the unconscious subjects into the rooms set aside for them in his warehouse, a building that had taken three years to design and build. It was made of steel walls and concrete floors, with no windows, and only one door that served as an exit.20

The unconscious subjects were each placed in small rooms, alone, with one door that led into one large room. This large room had one door beyond the six the subjects would emerge from, and this door led into the first room specially adapted to suit one subject's fear.21

If the subjects got through this first room, they would find themselves in another empty room, with one door leading into the next fear room. This pattern repeated six times, with one specially designed room for each subject. If the subjects got through all six rooms, they would find the door that led them to the room where Russell and Kathleen were- a room where they could be debriefed. A room where they could leave. If the subjects managed to do this, managed to conquer their fears, it would answer Russell's question. When a person does not expect or wish to overcome a fear, then will "flooding" them with it still prove effective? Do added fears of disorientation and unknown threats add to a person's inability to move past phobias, or does it give greater incentive to get over them?22

Hidden cameras in the door frames of each room sent back images on the computer screens of Russell's and Kathleen's vantage point, providing a clear vision of the subjects. They could see each person now, still unconscious in their individual rooms: Judson Tavish, a 28-year-old with a phobia of snakes; Shana Bradley, a 26-year-old with a phobia of tight spaces; Kade Eamon, a 24-year-old with a phobia of blood; Annabelle Sheridan, a 22-year-old with a fear of spiders; Devon Austell, a 20-year-old with a phobia of clowns and dolls; and Kalah Peyton, an 18-year-old with a fear of the dark.23

Any moment now they would awaken. Any moment and the experiment would begin…24