The Infradian

19 Aug

No variety of crime provided Soar Rustre as much pleasure as robbing a ferrotrain. The shock and surprise on the faces of the passenger victims never failed to give him thrills. A similar joyous rapture would take hold of all his gang when busy confiscating the cash and valuables of travelers on railcars. Success seemed easy by raiding in the wild, open countryside. Each attack was an adventurous romp.

But a day came when the unexpected happened to the outlaw named Soar.

The train was a slow afternoon carrier taking commuters out of the metropolis of Gemir to small towns and hamlets to the south. Rustre and his five associates lay hidden behind a wagon barn on the edge of a small village called Hamellum. The cue for the attack was the halt of the carbinol engine to leave off passengers at the local ferrostation.

As a holdup chieftain, Soar did not present an impressive or imposing figure.

Short and light of weight, he wore the dark garb of a truck farmer. His peaked cap of flaxfiber had a visor that shaded his cocoa eyes from the strong light of the sunstar.

The alert, well-coordinated criminal was first to board the last ferrocar. He was followed by similarly dressed confederates. They all carried small repeaters in hand.

Soar’s resonant baritone echoed down the long interior aisle.

“Attention everyone! This is a stick-up. As my men go among you with their sacks, place your money and jewelry inside. I warn you of painful consequences should any of you refuse.”

As the gang went about its business, their leader spied a tall conductor in black uniform entering the car at the opposite end.

“Stop where you are and throw your hands in the air,” barked Soar at the man.

The astounded conductor did as he was told, watching as the cohorts of the bandit chief gathered loot into their giant jute sacks.

But, at a certain unforeseeable moment, the unexpected happened.

The gang, having completed its robbing, turned to Soar for instructions. The ferrotrain suddenly began to roll forward at an accelerating speed, leaving the station of Hamellum.

That was when Rustre collapsed to the floor in a total fainting.

As he lay there, helpless and unconscious, his panicked crew fled the scene. At the connector between cars these frightened men jumped off as fast as they were able to.

Were they going to stay to help their fallen leader?

Not at all.

The conductor and several passengers gathered about the unconscious Soar, trying to decide what should be done to the defeated criminal on the passenger car floor.

The body was removed by volunteers at the next rural station and the decision made by ferrorail authorities to transport the comatose criminal to a hospital in Gemir for medical treatment. Custody was given to the police, who would now be in charge of the future of the unidentified prime robber who had become their prisoner.

Soar remained in a coma all the way to the metropolis in the caboose of a freighter. Two policemen in blue guarded this human cargo. From the main station in Gemir, an ambulance transported him to the Municipal Infirmary, where the very poor and arrested prisoners received treatment for free.

This was where Rustre became the patient of Dr. Jovon Cedre, a young man with original, quite radical ideas about the functioning of human beings in body and mind.

The tall, thin, loose-jointed physician spent as much time as he could hovering over the arrestee, applying all the tests he could. Electrodes were placed all over the head of the unidentified criminal. The waves from his brain were under continuous monitoring, recorded on endless plastoid strips. A thorough study of the patient’s condition was carried out.

Dr. Cedre was excited by what he believed the police had brought to him.

This particular patient appeared to him to be suffering from a collision of neurohormonal cycles. What he himself had postulated on the basis of pure theory now lay before him, concluded Jovon Cedre. Yes, this unconscious little man was proof of what he had long been searching for.

The doctor happened to be present in the cellule when Soar opened his cocoa eyes.

“You are now in the city hospital here in Gemir,” began the excited healer. “I am your therapist and you will be under my care for the indefinite future, as I try to pin down what it was that caused you to fall into a coma lasting three weeks. There will be many tests that I still wish to carry out. Your cooperation will be necessary, of course.

“Now, will you give me your name?”

Soar Rustre did exactly that. There was something in the long, lank face and marron eyes of this friendly stranger that assured the ferotrain robber, something calling for trust.

From the beginning, patient and physician had confidence in each other.

At every step of diagnosis and analysis, Jovon explained the rationale for what he was doing. The prisoner of the uniformed police was given a rapid course in neuro-hormonal theory.

“The main glandular bodies of the brain produce and emit special substances that control, direct, and harmonize our physical functions. In a sense, they are our organic balance wheels. The secret of health lies in the proper natural equilibrium of all the many secretions, beginning with those of the brain.”

He paused a moment, examining the face of his patient for signs of comprehension.

“There are three small organs in the brain that produce hormonal substances: the pineal gland, the pituitary, and the hypothalamus. I intend to study how these three operate together in you. Very tiny ribbon tubes will be placed in your head to measure the minute hormone flows between these three areas. My aim is to find out what went wrong with your neurocycles. Are you willing to cooperate with me in this work?”

What could Soar reply? The situation compelled him to nod yes and accept his fate.

The patient, hooked up to the monitors that recorded the changes in his hormonal levels, ate three full meals that first day of consciousness. He insisted that his diet be one of animal viands, not the hospital’s standard
vegan dishes that the majority ate. Soar won his way on this.

Dr. Cedre, as if mesmerized by this research venture, appeared frequently to have a look at the recording ribbons and talk with the outlaw who had slept for three days and nights.

“We endocrinologists see the pituitary gland as the master producer of the vital hormones that manage and coordinate the body. But there is a profound complexity to how the pituitary operates. I label the nearby hypothalamus the major controller of what the pituitary is allowed to accomplish. It produces the inhibiting and releasing hormones that set off and close down the master producer, the pituitary. For example, take the human growth hormone, somatotropin. Its production is decreased by the neurohormone somatostatin, a product of the hypothalamus.

“The release of the growth hormone is increased when physical exertion, stress, insulin, estrogen, hunger, or decreased sugar intake are communicated through the nervous system to the hypothalamus. By either stimulating or inhibiting the hormonal production of the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus is able to direct the entire endocrine system of the body.

“It is only the size of a grape, but the hypothalamus, with its nerve connections to all body organs, controls our responses to the environment. It decides whether we fight or take flight, for instance, because it is the center of a complex feedback system that maintains hormonal balance through its control over the pituitary.”

“I have never heard these things before,” commented Soar with awe.

“But there is also a third factor involved,” continued the physician. “The timing mechanism involved is the pineal gland. That tiny organ secretes a number of homones whose functions are cycloidal in nature. The best known is melatonin. It establishes our basic circadian rhythm over a day and a night. Melatonin is produced mostly at night when we are sleeping, only a small amount during the waking hours of the day. Other hormones create additional biorhythms that are not as clearly defined as yet.

“That area of cycles is my area of special interest, Mr. Ruste.”

The latter made no reply, his mind focused on the dinner he was anticipating.

The special nurse had disturbing news for the doctor the following morning.

“Our train-robbing patient had no sleep all night,” she told him. “When I ordered him to take a sedative, the man refused. You had better see him at once, Dr. Cedre.”

The latter rushed into the room, finding Soar sitting up in bed, still connected to the monitors.

“Good morning, Doctor. I must tell you that I feel fine, even though not a second of sleep came to me all night long. Can you explain why I am so awake and chipper now? I am not tired at all.”

“First, let me look at the hormone levels on your recording ribbons,” said Jovon Cedre with a reassuring grin.

It took only seconds for the medic to determine that the melatonin level of his patient was the lowest he had ever observed in his career as an endocrinologist. He stepped beside the bed and spoke to Soar in a soft, considerate voice.

“If you should feel pain or exhaustion, I can have you given a sleeping compound.”

“No,” responded the patient. “That is not necessary at all. I can stand being awake. Let’s just continue as we are. I am not at all tired or sleepy. How long is this condition going to go on?”

“That is what you and I must determine,my friend,” replied Cedre.

This situation went on another day and night, then another day and night.

Jovon attempted to keep this oddity as secret and private as possible. He himself took naps in his hospital office, hovering about the sleepless train-robber the bulk of his own waking daytime.

On and on continued the insomnia of Rustre. Three days and three nights without sleep, with the hormonal states of the subject of study recorded for analysis and study.

At long last, after five days and nights, Soar fell into a kind of slumber in a single, unanticipated second.

Studying and restudying the ribbons over and over again, Jovon groped toward a plausible explanation of the unprecedented sleep-waking cycle, far longer then the normal circadian.

What to call it? This new cycle was longer than the common, ordinary one. For Soar now slept for hours, day and night, without waking up. This was the opposite condition of the first phase of the unnatural sleep cycle.

The endocrinologist decided on the term infradian.

This man’s pineal gland operated on a three day cycle unknown to medical science until now.

What was causing it, and what would be the consequences? wondered Dr. Cedre.

The records only furnished the facts of the long cycle, not the cause of it.

Soar, after five days and nights of consciousness, fell into the kind of lengthy sleep that had brought him into the infirmary. Now again in complete slumbering, the patient enjoyed abnormally high levels of melatonin production in his pineal gland. That was the foundation of his unusual coma. But other unusual facts were noticed. The hypothalamus was secreting very low amounts of certain releasing hormones into the anterior lobe of the pituitary. For example, the special releaser of the adrenocorticotropic hormone that travels to the adrenal cortex and stimulates the production and release of cortisol was nearly absent and gone. Since cortisol is the stimulus of body cells to release energy, it causes both mind and body to stay awake and prevents sleep.

Why was the hypothalamus refusing to restore consciousness? And why was the hypothalamus failing to send releasers to the adrenal gland to release any epinephrine or norepinephrine??

On the other hand, why were so many inhibiting hormones being created, holding down the quantities of growth, thyroid, gonadic, follicle, luten, and cortical hormones?

Jovon Cedre, tired and frustrated, went to his office for a short nap, anxious to return to witness for himself the awakening of Soar from three days of sleep. He entered the patient’s room to witness a shocking, unforeseeable sight.

The bed was empty and the patient was gone. He had awakened, risen, and removed all of the monitoring bands and ribbons from his head and torso.

Somehow, Rustre had succeeded in leaving the hospital building, unseen and undetected.

Where had the man gone? How had he managed to avoid being caught?

A nurse reported that the clothes of a technician had been stolen from a storage locker.

Jovon had to smile at the cunning of his infradian patient.

A bulletin was sent to the police that there was now a potentially dangerous fugitive at large in the metropolis of Gemir.

The escapee made his way on foot to the squalid tenderloin district of slum tenements. Every street he took appeared full of skoff-laws and petty crooks. In the stacks of flats, brigands and plunderers were asleep, accumulating energy for their nighttime depredations. Their main profession was crime.

Soar headed for a dank beer hall where he was certain to find confederates from the past. He walked in and ordered a boilermaker, taking it to a side table where he seated himself. It took only a minute for an old burglary associate to enter and catch sight of him.

“Where have you been?” asked the former henchman. “Word has it that your last business out on a ferrotrain was a total failure.”

“I had to spend a few days in an infirmary,” explained Rustre. “But now I am out on my own again and ready to begin work once more.”

“What kind of a job will it be this time, Soar?”

The latter thought for a moment before giving an answer. In the past, his loftiest ambition had been a raid on a bookmaker’s bank or a riverboat casino. But now a new dream loomed in his mind.

“The gang will have to be an augmented, expanded one. This will be bigger and harder than anything I have ever tried before.”

“What will be the target?” eagerly inquired the other.

“The Municipal Infirmary.”

Startled and puzzled, the other criminal bit his lower lip and pondered. “Is there money anywhere there?” he inquired.

“Plenty at the business office,” answered Soar. “But beyond that, I saw a lot of valuable medical equipment that can be resold elsewhere. We will need a camion to haul it all away, of course.”

“Aren’t there guards inside and around the place?”

“Very few, in fact. People are entering and leaving all day and night. No one actually pays attention to identities or who goes where in the hospital. If we go in through a back delivery entrance, no one will consider anything amiss. If anyone questions us, we can claim to be taking mechanisms to a supply company for inspection and repair. As a final argument, there will be concealed gats on us that we can rely on.”

“You believe such a project practical?”

“I think it will be simple and easy to accomplish,” said the individual who was now free of the ordinary circadian cycle.

Jovon Cedre spent all his spare hours and moments studying the ribboned history of the infradian criminal. He took audacious speculative swings in his mind. Was there some specific inhibitor factor preventing any break in the long five-day waking phase with hardly any melatonin? And was there a releaser that was causing a flood of that hormone that resulted in five days of solid, uninterrupted sleep?

Perhaps the pineal gland was more complicated than medical science supposed. This particular case pointed to the possibility of some pineal hormones unsuspected till now. Cedre had no doubt that something existed which dried up the normal flow of melatonin in the circadian cycle. And there was some force that produced a momentary deluge during the opposite portion of the process.

Could he ever specify what these influences were and where they originated?

The endocrinologist began to look beyond the simple model of the pineal gland, to the connecting neurons and nerves that led into and out of it. He decided to hunt for extra-glandular neurosecretions that might be the source of releasers and inhibitors, something up till then unknown.

A long, spacious lorry van backed up into a delivery lane behind the power generator of the infirmary. Soar sat beside the driver, an old partner with whom he had been staying through a five-day sleep, then a conscious phase. He was now awake, invigorated and flush with enthusiasm. This ingenious caper was to be the crowning apex of his criminal career. It was evident to him that he could function very well as an infradian with a freakish hormonal cycle.

Using hand signals, Soar directed his crew toward the endocrine wing where he had recently been tested by Dr. Cedre. No one stopped or questioned the group in work clothes as they made their way down the corridors to the rooms where advanced technical devices were kept.

As foreseen by their leader, the door to these apparati was not locked. Soar motioned to his crew of four to enter, himself going in last. Once inside, he briskly gave orders on which particular instruments and machines to place on large gurneys for hauling them outside to the camion. Once the most expensive objects were loaded, Soar gave the word to move the last out into the hallway.

It was by chance that a certain person on the staff was walking down the corridor as the robbers were exiting.

Dr. Jovon Cedre immediately caught sight of and identified the person coming out of the storage chamber pushing a gurney with a monitor upon it.

The physician stopped, stared, and pronounced a single word.

“Soar!” he said, gaping with wonder.

The infraradian halted, uncertain what course to take.

A hormonal storm arose in a single instant. the head of the chief robber spun and whirled. What had occurred once before on a ferrotrain now happened once more. Soar fainted, falling to the floor.

As the rest of the criminal gang ran off in several directions, Jovon bent down beside the prone body of the man he had known as a patient.

We begin again, the endocrinologist sensed. But this time he would know what he was looking for in this patient.

There was an internal factor causing the collapse of the criminal infradian who while committing a crime, suffered sudden flooding and confusion in the temporal hormones of the pineal gland.

All these many secretions had not yet been studied in a scientific way.

Was one of them the basis for a hormonal conscience in the infradian? Did it cause a flooding and unconsciousness out of an inner moral code of some sort?

Jovon speculated that the superego of Soar was releasing a hormone of guilt and regret in an unconscious manner.

Was that a possible cause of this second crisis in the patient.

The endocrinologist decided to search for such a mechanism of conscience within the mind of the infradian lying at his feet. That could be the force operating through the man’s hormones.

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