Tetsuo Nozaki straightened himself, wiped his brow once more with his handkerchief, and then returned it to his back pocket. It wouldn’t be acceptable to be seen perspiring during the presentation, he knew. The sponsors might think it was an attack of nerves.
“Japan,” he commenced, “is a nation that – to put it bluntly – is asleep at the wheel.”
He pressed a key on the laptop, and a selection of images sprang into life on the wall-size monitor screen behind him. Images mainly taken from the Tokyo and Osaka subway systems. Businessmen and secretaries riding the trains in various states of unconsciousness. Heads lolling onto other people’s shoulders, or thrown back with open mouths exposing crooked and nicotine-stained teeth. Eyes screwed shut. Hands loosely gripping cell phones, newspapers, pornographic comics. An everyday jamboree of public sleepiness.
“A recent study by the National Hygiene Institute found that over forty-five percent of Japanese people manage less than six hours of sleep per night. One person in four suffers from sleep-deficiency syndrome. We live in a twenty-four seven society, with many shops and services open around the clock, brilliantly illuminated urban nights, and an Internet that never sleeps. Our business community says that it can’t be helped, that restructuring has forced office workers to work unusually long hours. But let’s not forget that sleep deprivation, throughout history, has been a form of torture – and this particular torture is costing Japan trillions of yen in terms of productivity.”
In the dimly lit meeting room, the sixteen members of the audience looked expectantly at Nozaki, sagely nodding their heads. He pressed another key on the laptop, and the image on the monitors changed. A schematic of the human brain, its complex, tightly furled chambers neatly color-coded.
“I’d like to explain more fully what happens to the brain in normal states of sleep. In waking life, the human brain functions in the Beta brainwave state during concentration, and the Alpha state when relaxed. In sleep, there are five recurring stages; stage one sleep is the transition period from wakefulness to unconsciousness. In stage two, the heart rate slows, body temperature decreases, and there are periods of muscle tension and relaxation. The body is preparing to enter deep sleep.”
A monitor screen at the top right corner began to display wave patterns, illustrating Nozaki’s words.
“What concerns us most are stages three, four and five. Stages three and four are known as slow-wave sleep. The brain here is in the Delta wave state, waves that are the slowest in frequency, cycling at around one to four hertz. Following this cycle from stages one to four, which usually lasts ninety minutes, is stage five – REM sleep, standing for Rapid Eye Movement. This is a period of intense cerebral activity, with the brain operating at the Theta frequency of four to eight hertz, accompanied by muscular paralysis. This, gentlemen, is when most dreaming takes place. At the end of a period of REM sleep, usually lasting ten minutes, stages one to five then repeat themselves throughout the night.”
The image of the brain clicked off, throwing Nozaki momentarily into darkness. The monitors lit up again showing graphics and charts regarding normal and abnormal sleep patterns.
“These findings here show what matters is not how many hours the individual sleeps during the night, but the quality of the sleep itself. Research has proven that a lack of REM sleep and slow-wave sleep leaves a person feeling tired and unwell. What concerns us is how to improve the quality of our sleep – and to that end, I would like to show you the current status of our project. Gentlemen, if you would like to follow me . . .”
At a sign from Nozaki, the secretary switched on the lights. The dozen august members of the audience got to their feet, talking quietly to themselves. Even in the summer heat, they were wearing formal dark suits and neckties, and they brushed out the creases from their pants self-consciously as they followed Nozaki to the exit.
Nozaki mopped his brow discreetly as he led the audience to the elevators. He was a large man for a Japanese, something that was particularly inconvenient in the summer, his gut pushing his necktie away from his freshly laundered white shirt. His oval face was a smooth mask of puppy fat beneath glossy black hair parted in the middle and teased up in what his wife said was the most fashionable style. He bowed respectfully as the sponsors filed one by one into the elevator, and then rode up with them to the eleventh level of Tsugaru University Hospital – the crucial area where the sponsors’ money was being spent.
“Gentlemen, would you mind touching the frame of the door as you walk through it? This is to discharge the static electricity from your clothing. Thank you, yes, like that, sir. Thank you.”
The double doors from the corridor opened onto the control room, a small working space where two PCs and a bank of video monitors stood upon the desk where Nozaki worked. From the large window facing them, the assembled audience looked down onto the Sleep Research Laboratory. The whole chamber was bathed in a soft bluish glow from the tinted lamps overhead. Hushed music flowed from hidden speakers – a muted piano and distant birdsong, ambient healing music from the hospital’s CD collection.
The floor beneath them was filled by over fifty beds, half of them occupied – although “bed” was by no means an adequate description. The top part of each ‘sleep research platform’ was covered by a semi-circular arch of dark plastic that shielded the faces of the sleepers. Circuitry glittered and lights winked on the outside of the arches. White-coated assistants slowly patrolled the aisles between the beds, checking readings on the arches and making notes on the clipboards they carried.
The white lab coats were Nozaki’s touch. Totally unnecessary, of course – the assistants were student volunteers who usually wore jeans and tee-shirts, but today, Nozaki had ordered something more scientific-looking from the hospital laundry.
“Gentlemen,” Nozaki announced, “Let me introduce the Kageyama Treatment.”
He led the sponsors down the steps from the monitor room to a nearby wheeled gurney, where an assistant was waiting. On the gurney was an instrument that looked like a miniature laptop computer connected to a futuristic pair of goggles and a net of fine plastic mesh.
“This is the instrument that we have developed with your kind support, and are currently testing on volunteers. The Sleep Modulator.”
He led them down the aisle between the sleeping volunteers, bodies covered with thin quilts. At the end of the chamber was a small presentation area holding a desk and another screen, a much smaller one, but again showing schematic maps of the brain.
“I’ve already demonstrated how a good night’s rest involving ample time for deep-wave and REM sleep is beneficial – in fact, essential for health. The new discoveries we’ve made in magnetic resonance imaging and other brain-scanning technologies mean that we can now step in and heal the damage that sleep disorders cause. The mesh cap attached to the Sleep Modulator is a net of over two hundred SQUID electrodes – Super-conducting Quantum Interference Devices. The innovative feature is that it uses pulsed electrical waves to accelerate stage one and stage two sleep. This means that the subjects who wear the cap will be spending more time in delta-wave and REM activity. These results are fed back to the lab’s monitors, so we can see in real-time which areas of the sleeping brain are being activated. After approximately two hours of sleep, the subject will wake up feeling fully refreshed, and the body physically rejuvenated.”
“Let me get this straight,” one of the suited men suddenly interjected. “You’re saying our tired business population won’t be sleeping more, but they’ll be dreaming more?”
“Essentially, yes. Taking a nap is an investment with the greatest return for the least amount of time and effort. A nap of sixty to ninety minutes, which will include both slow-wave sleep and REM sleep, is sufficient to make the subject awake feeling rejuvenated and with increased perceptual processing. In the future, with the Sleep Modulator, we hope to compress a full night’s worth of dreaming into a power nap of between twenty to thirty minutes.”
There was a general wave of murmured comments from the crowd. Nozaki permitted himself a smile. “I think now you can appreciate the device’s potential.”
The sponsors looked around the chamber, seeming suitably impressed. One of them held up a hand for attention. “Mr. Nozaki,” the fellow began, “have you changed the requirements for volunteers at all?”
“Yes, we have. We are recruiting people from all over Aomori prefecture, not just the University. We need to test both sexes, and all ages, all manner of occupations, people with both active and sedentary lifestyles. Our health checks, however, are now completely comprehensive and stringent, I can assure you.”
“I have a question.” This came from the Toshiba delegate. Nozaki had been expecting trouble from him all day; he had a sharp, weasely face and a reputation for asking improper questions. “It’s what all of us here are thinking, but nobody wants to say. What about the Yoshida case? Can you honestly tell us something like that won’t happen again?”
Nozaki cleared his throat, and began his prepared response. “Gentlemen, the death of Ayano Yoshida was truly regrettable, but the findings of the official inquiry were clear. The girl suffered from a heart condition, and should never have been allowed to enter the program here. We have since made our entry requirements much more stringent. And as you can see . . .” Nozaki gestured to the information displayed on the monitor screen mounted on a nearby bed, “our assistants constantly monitor brain, eye, muscle and heart activity. The subjects are also observed by video camera. When they wake up, we take saliva samples, to check the amounts of the hormone melatonin and the stress hormone cortisol.”
Nozaki took a deep breath, looking at the faces of the assembled sponsors.
“Gentlemen, the Kageyama Treatment is perfectly safe.”
At the central exit from the University Hospital grounds, Nozaki stood watching the sponsors leave, giving deep bows from the waist until the last chauffeured limousine had mounted the ramp and vanished from view.
Alone at last, he took the elevator back to the tenth floor and the small office set aside for his own use, and sank into a chair. At last that’s over, he thought, letting out a wide yawn. Success or failure, it was out of his hands now. He pulled his phone out of his briefcase and checked for mail; sure enough, his wife Aiko hadn’t forgotten. You must be tired, ran the text message. How do you think it went?
After sending a reply, Nozaki hurried to take his own turn in the Treatment. Entering the lab in hospital pajamas and nightgown, taking off the gown to stretch out on the bed. The assistants slipped the hairnet of dozens of ultra-sensitive electrodes over the crown of the head and smoothed it into place across the scalp, extra electrodes under the chin. The body sensors clipped to one earlobe and attached to his chest. The ozone smell of the machines above his head as the lamps began their slow, hypnotic rhythm of shifting colors and patterns. But this time he was on the receiving end.
Just a little nap, he thought, as he drank the mild sedative the assistant gave him. Just a little nap before driving home, refreshed. Driving home for the dinner Aiko was preparing.
And soon he dreamed once more.
The dream that had recurred for longer than Nozaki could consciously remember. He stood once more on the beach, bare feet on warm sand, the sky and sea around him shifting shades of grey and blue. Naked apart from his trunks, his body slim, strong, muscular.
Out at sea he noticed the splashing of foam. She was in trouble.
He dived into the waves. Strong, powerful strokes of his arms took him to where she struggled. He took hold of her, feeling her skin against his as he swam back towards the beach.
He put her down upon the sand. He looked down at her face, saltwater beaded upon it like pearls, her hair fanned out like seaweed in a current. He stood there for an eternity, not touching her, not daring to wake her, just watching.
Her face was incredibly beautiful. And overwhelmingly familiar.
Out on the horizon, lights flickered under the waves, like lightning in the depths of the sea.
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