While the politics behind the lobbying was interesting, I was curious about the director’s reference to the use of methane collection units on humans. It was clear he was not joking. And if he was not joking, this was no joking matter.
So I did a little poking around. Since I had access to all the company’s previous research files, it didn’t take long to track down the information on the human testing of methane collection units. UnGastro had a sister division called Humachinix Integration. God knows what all they did there. I could find nothing detailed on the company. The company website referred to their work as “bridging the gap between humanity and technology.”
I did find out Humachinix Integration was looking for test subjects for clinical studies on medical devices for collecting human flatulence. And in good form, the description of the study was clinically obtuse: the study was to test a device for collecting human gases so they could pass inspection.
I was test subject #739.
I reported to a live-in clinic. They fitted me with a collection device, a clearly improved but not dissimilar device servicing Farmer Brown’s cows. They gave me some basic instructions on how it worked and let me go. After a few days of being left alone I had my first visit with a research associate.
“Hello there. I’m Doctor Probst. How are we doing today? How long have you been wearing the device?”
“Three days,” I said.
“Very good. You should be wearing one of the new units.”
“They didn’t tell me which unit I was wearing.”
“You don’t need to know. Let’s have a look. Nice. Thank God we have made some improvements since those first devices. The first ones were modeled after some bovine units: highly efficient and durable but certainly not suited to a moody and sensitive human. Nanobots were a stroke of genius for filtering the gases but there’s still that minimal physical presence taken up by tubes and diaphragms. But the body and the mind can adapt, can they not?”
“I’ve seen people adapt to some strange things.”
“Indeed I have as well. Accommodations are OK? Nice. Let’s start with a physical exam. Yes, you can just stand and turn around. These exam gowns actually do have a purpose. Let’s look at the canister and the belt. Belt feels snug enough to keep canisters steady. It’s a little red here. Is there any degree of discomfort here?”
“I can feel the canister. More odd than discomfort.”
“Good, good. A little acclimation will take care of that odd feeling.”
“So, are we testing for comfort? Is that the goal of the study?”
“Comfort is a factor. They are still working on modifications to the canisters so we must continue to monitor their effects. They’ve flattened out these canisters very nicely. We’re down to four canisters: methane, nitrogen, CO2 and miscellaneous. They’re welded together to create one unit. Probably lowest profile and footprint yet. What kind of impact does this have on your daily routines?”
“I mostly notice when I sit on hard things or in confined spaces. Not real flexible. Couldn’t they make these canisters out of something pliable?”
“I think they are working on that. It’s a pressure thing, I believe. So fairly noticeable when sitting on a harder surface. I can see that. Do they catch on or bang into anything?”
“In tighter quarters it catches on things. Like when you catch a belt loop on a door handle.”
“Yes, bound to happen some. We’ll have to see if spatial awareness improves over time. OK, let’s take a look at the tube and the valve. The tube is pretty small. Looks like it snakes its way pretty snugly to the canister. Does this tube ever catch on anything? No. I wouldn’t think it would. It’s pretty low profile.”
“Catches sometimes when I pull on my underwear.”
“Boxers or briefs?”
“Briefs. Good thing I don’t wear a thong.”
“Yes, that’s probably wise. Oh, I see some irritation here. Is this sore? We’ll get you some ointment for that. Should cool it off and provide some lubrication. Make sure it doesn’t get infected too.”
“Aren’t these made out of antibacterial material?”
“Oh, the device is safe that way. It’s more the environment, if you know what I am saying. Snug fit though. Nice adhesion to the buttock skin. Sphincter must have adapted to its presence. Have you gotten used to the valve?”
“If by gotten used to, you mean “doesn’t feel like a tube is shoved up my ass any more,” then no.”
“Right. That would be no. Any better than when it was put in? Hmm. We’ll get that irritation taken care of and then we’ll check again. It might be interfering with sphincter acclimation.”
“So we’re assuming my sphincter is a learning organism? That’s a big assumption.”
“Your body is a learning organism and your sphincter is part of that. It will learn. OK, you can have a seat. Having any tendency to hold it in?”
“It’s kind of hard to let go when you feel like there is an obstruction.”
“That’s normal. Try to relax. Otherwise you’ll get pretty bloated and possibly impacted. If it continues we’ll get you an anti-anxiety cocktail. How’s the cleaning of the unit?”
“A bidet would help.”
“Does the wand need to be more flexible?”
“It’s flexible enough. It needs to be more adjustable. Shorter, longer, different angles.”
“I think we can address that. I’ll have a technician talk to you about your experience.”
“So what’s all this testing for? I’ve heard it’s for medical collection. Who’s designing them?”
“I don’t know who these are being tested for. We do blind studies. It helps reduce the biases that like to sneak in. Medical collection would be a good use. And they could be useful for space travel. And submarines too. Any travel in confined spaces. Tests are going well, so I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.”
That was the end of the first interview, or exam, or whatever it was. He didn’t even bother to see if they’d collected any gas. But I did request the anti-anxiety meds. Whether I pooped or not, I was going to be relaxed.
I hung out for another three weeks. Every couple days they came and collected the canisters. They eventually let me venture out in the world in street clothes. All part of the research.
At the end of the third week, it was time for another exam. Same research associate as before.
“Hello there. Ah, you know the routine.”
“There’s only one thing of interest to look at in this room, Doc.”
“Everything looks pretty good here. Some callouses near the belt. Some pretty good callouses near the valve. No discomfort from the callouses? The body can adapt quite nicely.”
“The redness went away after I put the balm on it. So how many test subjects are there?”
“I don’t know. There are multiple doctors who do exams so I don’t know the count. Stops me from manipulating results. And I couldn’t tell you anyway. It’s confidential.”
“Well, one can’t help but be curious about such things.”
“You are not paid to be curious. You are just paid to wear the device. And you are doing wonderful. Have you been out in public to see how you blend in yet? How did it go?”
“It was awkward. The device all of a sudden seemed huge. Kind of like when you have a bump in your mouth that seems hugely out of proportion to its actual size. I was sure everyone was staring at it.”
“A little self-conscious. Yes, that would be natural. Any comments or looks? Right. Hard to tell who is really looking at you when you are a feeling self-conscious. Have they shared any tests with you on gas content?”
“They just took the canisters. How do they know what to expect?”
“There’s a whole series of averages and calculations based on weight and diet norms.”
“Does that really matter if it’s just for medical collections?”
“Well, we don’t know how the units will be used, but they are checking not only for collection efficiency but also for what they are collecting. Need to make sure they are getting what they are expecting. Make sure the collection isn’t being compromised. Then they’ll develop collection rates based specifically on you.”
That was it for that exam. Seemed more like a social experiment than a medical experiment. I concluded the director wasn’t joking when he speculated that the nuclear option, the plan to roll out the methane collection units to humans, might be on the table. I think he knew it was on the table.