Written in my Science! universe and… rather dark on the edges. 

“Are all the students in?”

Dr. Annmore was not exactly working under the leadership’s radar, but then again, she wasn’t quite working with their approval, either.

That was about a third of of the reason for using an alternate test facility, something outside of the city proper and definitely out of the line of sight of the Tower.

There was, of course, also the benefit of not spooking her test subjects before they had even arrived. She wanted them coming in thinking this was just another school study, the sort of thing where they agreed to wear electrodes for an hour or pretended to cheat on their taxes.

She wanted them coming in ready to lie if it got them more money, ready to think about this as just “play”.

That way, she theorized, she’d get more genuine responses when they realized how serious it was - the shock of surprise would lead them defaulting towards the first answer to pop into their heads, which was more likely to be the honest one.

“I’ve got ten pairs, five triads, and three quartets. They have all filled out the forms and are working on the friend questionnaire right now.”   Paula was her absolutely best assistant, and not just because she didn’t flinch at anything Dr. Annmore wanted. She was competent in a way that made the doctor, sometimes, wonder why she hadn’t finished her doctorate.

“I wish we had more quartets, but I suppose that’s the hardest group. How are they doing so far?”

“I’ve got three pairs eliminated for failing basic friend qualifiers but two of those have re-paired and are trying again. We’ll see. Two of the triads are gone, and one of the quartets. I’m not sure we’re going to have enough test subjects.”

“We’ll run this as an exploratory run, then, and put the net out wider next time. Or use a more literal net.” At the moment, they were relying on the Tower’s good connections with the local colleges. Sure, sometimes an undergrad or two vanished.... but that was to be expected in a town like this. They had, in the past, gone with nighttime abductions or traps such as “free food and alcohol,” although the prior skewed the sample set towards people with less self-preservation and the latter towards the more credulous or just hungrier.

“Can we net friends, though? That limits our gathering techniques.”

“We shall see.” Dr. Annmore smiled. “Once they’re all set, we’ll move on to the first stage of the testing.”

There were mental, physical, and emotional changes due to friendship. People had been theorizing that for years. There were chemical changes.

Dr. Annemore was certain that, if she could identify the exact set of chemical changes, if she could detect exactly what happened when friendship took place between two people, she could replicate it.

In order to do that, she had to observe and gather data from friendship in every stage of being tested, shaken, and endangered.

“First test ready.” Paula brought up each team on a different monitor. “Shared grooming tips; ‘your fly is open’ and ‘you have paper towel on your shoe.’ I have intern Corinne working on the photoshopped ‘cheating’ proof. And intern Wallace is putting the final steps on the ‘my life or yours’ trap. All appropriate wavers have been signed, and Wallace is due to the mind-wipe lab as soon as he’s done. He was never here.”

“And we never had this conversation. Very good, Paula.” Dr. Annmore leaned back in her chair. “Begin.”