It’s really not my story; it’s Roger’s. I, that is, your humble author Faisal, worked with Roger specifically, and it was I in a bout of youthful naïveté that named him. He was a rabbit in our laboratory, and it was my responsibility to look after his health and well-being. Clean the recording device, prevent the occurrence of infection, take him for walks. Our recording implants can record the brain waves and neural signature and send them remotely to our receivers as the rabbits traverse the maze, and they are very expensive.

There is a test that they give children to see if they have the patience and the ability to forego immediate rewards for the promise of larger ones. It’s called the marshmallow test and it’s very simple. You place a marshmallow on the table in front of a child on a plate and you ask them to wait five minutes, and if they can restrain from indulging themselves, you give them a second marshmallow. The key age for passing the test seems to be about the age of four. If the experimenter walks out of the room and the toddler eats it before the five minutes expires, there is a greater chance he will be a short-order cook or hanging drywall. If the child is willing to withstand the five-minute wait, he or she is more likely to have a white-collar occupation such as lawyer or architect.

As a child of scholarly and inquisitive parents, my mother administered the marshmallow test to me. At the end of the five minutes, my mother returned to the room to find me patiently waiting, calmly making a finger tent.

I told my mother, “Double or nothing.” My parents concurred that I would be best fit for graduate school.

At Lethbridge, at the Canadian Center for Behavioural Neuroscience (CCBN), I work for an eminent scholar, Dr. Morrison. He is advanced in his career, but his natural vitality and charisma indicated an aristocratic nature. On this day, as on many, he was entertaining a reporter.

“We can record from the neurons of the nucleus reuniens and we see that normally, the neurons fire in a very rhythmic fashion…like this.” Dr. Morrison plays the video “Pop…Pop…Pop.” “But as the rabbit approaches a reward, notice how the neurons fire in a burst.”

The reporter was hired by the CCBN to write a series of articles highlighting recent accomplishments by faculty and staff. Bought and paid for puff pieces whose audience largely consisted of the CCBN faculty themselves. The photographers set up their flash canvases and tripods around the large, labyrinthine maze. Students beamed widely and began searching for their lab coats. The more experienced staff trudged along unperturbed. After exchanging pleasantries, the reporter started his recorder.

“We appreciate your patience and cooperation, Dr. Morrison.  Sorry for the delay, but we have a packed schedule. We like to keep this process rather open-ended. Would you describe the overall goal of your laboratory for the periodical?”

I watched as Dr. Morrison flashed a confident smile; he wears orthodontic alignment retainers and adds whitener for these days. “The goal of the lab is to design predictive models of behavior based on brainwave activity and single neurons reported from our subjects as they run a maze.”

“And how did you choose rabbits as your subject?”

“Well, if these cage charges keep going the way they do, I may have to revisit that topic, Nicholas,” Dr. Morrison said with that wry talk-show host laugh.

“The maze certainly takes up a good bit of space.” The reporter gestured over his shoulder.

“Most of my colleagues work with smaller rodents, rats or mice, but they are omnivorous, whereas rabbits are herbivores.” Dr. Morrison began erasing the whiteboard, and on that space, he drew a square map, a house, a cage, and several trees, capping and uncapping several markers as he did so.

“I had bought a pet rabbit for my daughter, and I often sat and watched it in my backyard. I began to notice it run in a specific, seemingly random pattern.” Dr. Morrison drew a line from the cage to a tree, then a left turn, then weaving between the trees punctuated by a swift, sharp line. “At first, it seemed erratic and unpredictable, but after a few days, I noticed the pattern would be identical and repeated several times. The short answer to your question is that you can train rats to run a maze by baiting the goal zone with condensed milk. But in this case, it would be I, the investigator, determining the route a priori. I would be required to train the subjects, dictating their thoughts to the correct answer. Unfortunately, I can’t bring the lab to my backyard. “

Dr. Morrison gave me a nod and I was going to bring Roger into the maze for a demonstration, but Roger had a different idea. Usually docile, the cameras and the commotion of strangers spooked Roger, and he bounded from my arms and scrambled down the hallway. I paused, hesitated for a half-second, looking at our guests…it was all the time Roger needed.

The lab is on the ground floor, so all Roger had to do was streak for the light reflecting off the blinding Lethbridge snowbanks. I was panicking, trying to saunter slow enough not to frighten Roger and reach down and scoop him up while trying to keep up with him.

But Roger wasn’t running away from me; he was running for the door.

Two graduate students, women, were chatting as they bundled up near the exit, but I was too late to warn them. One of them, Julie Xu, was already backing into the exit to face the subzero Lethbridge winds.

My shouts of warning only caused Julie to back further into the door; she realized too late I was trying to catch Roger. Roger slipped through the legs of the two students, into the open air, and straight for the Bull Trail Park. He was well beyond the reach of any of the team members at this point. Dr. Morrison was livid. Dejected, the team huddled and devised a strategy on how to retrieve Roger, or at the least explain our requisition for a new implant. We discussed triangulating Roger’s position via telemetry.

Returning to my desk, I noticed my program was still running. Roger’s implant was still transmitting neuronal data; it were producing unique patterns, far more complex than the pause…burst pattern we had expected. I’ve been spending 18 hours a day applying AI, machine learning, and Laplacian transformations on the data coming from Roger’s brain out in Bull Trail Park since and my thesis has already been submitted for review. Fingers crossed; I may join Roger out there someday.