I So Curious

Dr. John Kinyago had first noticed the problem when one of his research assistants had spilled her coffee on a test subject. After recovering from the unpleasant surprise, the subject had looked at her with clear suspicion. “I'm sorry, it was an accident!”, the research assistant said, truly but unconvincingly.

He worked the makeup remover over his face, wiping away the mask he carefully composed each morning to bring his vitiligo-altered skin back to some semblance of normality. He had tried more permanent treatments, but the result had unsettling effects. Michael Jackson could make money off his strange appearance; Jack Kinyago had to look impeccably conventional, conforming to expectations, unimpeachably serious. Except now.

it was common knowledge now – especially among psych undergrads, after a few particularly salient scandals - that psychological research involved “surprises” and “accidents.” That once you signed the consent form, anything at all could be an experiment.

People had heard of the Trolley problem before - if you asked them what they’d do, they’d give you the answer they wanted you to hear – the answer they endorsed. If they thought people should be utilitarians, they’d give the utilitarian answer. If they’d been taught to believe in absolute right and wrong, they’d answer accordingly. They were confabulating, bringing in a spurious consistency that destroyed the underlying moral intuitions he was trying to elicit. They’d heard of the Milgram Experiment as well. They knew that if a psychology experiment appeared to be dangerous, they were expected to demand that the experimenter stop.

For years, he’d fought with the Institutional Review Board, but even the famous U of G wouldn’t let him pursue the obvious workarounds. The once vital field of psychology was at a standstill; progress would have to come from outside the system.

Dr. John Kinyago was a psychologist. He dressed like a psychologist. He looked like a psychologist. But Jack had been building an altogether different reputation. Everyone knew that he was willing to take risks - and to impose them on others, without their consent.

Of course, he’d attracted enemies – one among them, a vigilante who insisted on meddling, disrupting the experiments because they didn’t have the right approval – because they were unethical – because people might die. People died all the time! Many, many more died from lack of progress, than from progress itself. That was the great joke – people dying, not due to unethical behavior, but the moral squeamishness of others. Murder by inaction.

Tonight, things were different. Tonight, Jack would get the final piece of evidence necessary to give the experiment statistical validity, satisfy his curiosity, and in the process dispatch his nemesis. The bureaucrats out in Arkham could not stop him now. Not even if Chairman Gordon took a personal interest.

Jack went out onto the bridge without his hat, letting his dark green hair flow freely. (It had been discolored by another experiment gone awry, ruined again by that Luddite enemy of inquiry.) His blood-red lips stood out against his pale bleached face. He was dressed to match, and complemented splendidly by the once bright and garish colors of the long-abandoned amusement park.

Below the bridge, on the trolley tracks, five experimental subjects were bound, gagged, and clearly terrified. Another one stood in the middle of the bridge, held at gunpoint by Jack’s research assistants. Then there was the man in the bag. In the distance, they could hear the small trolley approaching. It would climb a hill as it passed under the bridge, so even something small could stop it – but once it passed over the hill, it would descend on the five innocents, carefully arranged so the wheels would cut through their necks, one at a time – unless:

"A trolley is rolling along a track towards five people,” Jack said to the unbound subject. “You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by dropping a heavy weight in front of it. As it happens,” he said, waving towards the writhing bag, “there is a sufficiently heavy man next to you – your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. How about it?”, he asked, his mouth in a wide rictus grin. He opened the top of the bag to reveal the man inside, in the iconic black mask – the scourge of crime, the savior of Gotham, the Dark Knight. “Will you throw the Batman in front of the trolley?”

I So Curious

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