Projekt STURM (STudí fon Uneimlischen ReinigungsMetóden, 'Study of Unusual Methods of Purification') was the codename for a series of secretive and highly illegal human experimentation programmes conducted throughout the 1940s in the Pentapolitan city of Jendaburg, Hendalarsk. The aim of the experiments, undertaken by that city's Seventeenth Directorate (17. Abdeilung), shifted over time. The programme was initially intended as a highly speculative investigation into the potential of psionic warfare, but after these experiments proved futile from mid-1943 onwards the project was repurposed as an investigation into the use of various drugs and techniques to weaken subjects' resistance to interrogation. This latter effort was far more successful, but the programme's exposure in 1947 caused outcry across Hendalarsk and beyond which resulted in its closure and the (official) dissolution of the Seventeenth Directorate. The project has been the subject of many conspiracy theories in Hendalarsk since its exposure, and has become a part of popular folklore. Allegations persist - but have never been proven - that the research was undertaken at the behest of one or more parties in the contemporaneous Second Great War.
Projekt STURM was the brainchild of Prof. Dr. Julius Adelfons, one of the three scientific officers who formed the Scientific Triumvirate on the executive commission of the Seventeenth Directorate, the Jendaburger governmental body concerned with militarily relevant research and development for that city and the wider Pentapolis. Adelfons was a keen follower of Konstanz Schauermann, a then-popular "mystic scientist" who believed that the human brain had long-dormant capabilities well beyond the scope of any normal ability. This included telekinesis, telepathy and precognition. To a military researcher, the potential of these abilities (if proven) were obvious; a battalion of psionic trooops would be able to demoralise and destroy enemy forces many times its size. The Hendalarskara Civil War had given rise to numerous urban legends around psionically active individuals, and although Schauermann and Adelfons were unable to verify any of these rumours they took them as fuel for their work. The challenge lay in identifying suitable subjects, and to that end the two men devised the Schauermann-Adelfons Mental Architecture Assessment, a lengthy questionnaire and interview which supposedly identified individuals with elevated baseline levels of psionic predisposition. Throughout 1940 and 1941, Adelfons and his team within the Seventeenth Directorate "harvested" stowaways caught on Pentapolitan ships in the Vandarch, many of whom were refugees fleeing the Second Great War and therefore essentially untraceable after their disappearance. Those who "passed" the SAMAA were taken into Seventeenth Directorate custody, while the remainder were handed over to people traffickers, their subsequent fates unknown.
According to Adelfons and Schauermann's theories, latent psionic abilities would only be exposed under extreme stress - hence why there was an uptick in reports of psionic activity during the Civil War. Adelfons' team, most notably his right-hand man Dr. Wessermann János, therefore subjected those individuals who passed the SAMAA to a battery of chemical, psychological and physical tortures in an effort to induce the individuals' psionic abilities and help them "ascend". Fatality rates in these experiments climbed as high as 40% in 1942, primarily due to cardiac arrest induced by prolonged intense stress, while at least four researchers also died by suicide as a result of their participation in the programme. By 1943, it was clear that there was little hope of success, and the programme's efforts shifted towards use of hallucinogenic drugs (easy to obtain in Hendalarsk due to their role in traditional religious and cultural practices) as interrogation aids. Survivors of the SAMAA-era programme were placed in psychiatric institutions, and the psionics project was shut down entirely. Adelfons and his team used chemically-altered forms of hallucinogens like psilocybin as "truth serums", with subjects largely convicted criminals (including war criminals) whom the Jendaburger authorities had reason to believe were concealing information around aspects of their crimes. These chemically-altered hallucinogens had been developed in the course of psionics testing, in an attempt to strip away millennia of embedded "anti-psionic conditioning" in the human psyche, but Adelfons was able to pass them off as having been aids from an abandoned line of his neuroscientific enquiries. This second wave of experimentation was less lethal than the first, although several prisoners ultimately committed suicide and many more experienced profound nervous breakdowns subsequent to their exposure to the chemicals.
This line of research was also deemed a failure given the resources expended on it; although some useful information was gleaned from some subjects, many more simply babbled incoherently or seemed to invent new life stories from whole cloth, while even that evidence deemed useful was plainly not admissible in court due to the level of coercion involved in its extraction. Seventeenth Directorate military officials became increasingly concerned about the programme's budget by 1945, and a full audit was ordered in early 1946. It was in the course of this audit that the SAMAA-era tests were discovered, and their details leaked first to the governments of the other Pentapolitan cities and then to the media in Hendalarsk despite attempts by the Jendaburger government to perform damage control. Adelfons, Wessermann and their subordinates (as well as Schauermann) were promptly arrested and tried on dozens of counts of manslaughter. After a months-long trial which generated sensational coverage, despite the Seventeenth Directorate's efforts to censor proceedings and keep them behind closed doors, Wessermann was sentenced to twenty-five years in "scientific confinement" while Adelfons and Schauermann each received the sentence of fógelfré, the most serious punishment available under the post-war Pentapolitan legal code, and duly went into exile in August 1948.
The STURM incident had a wide variety of consequences across Hendalarskara society alike. The Seventeenth Directorate was entirely shut down, with all scientists and medical professionals who took part in the project struck off, while other military and civilian personnel who failed to investigate the project earlier were formally reprimanded and reassigned to other Directorates. The outcry over the maltreatment of test subjects sparked a wide-ranging review of Hendalarskara medical and scientific ethics, with a new Medical Code compiled and published in 1951 that largely governs medico-scientific conduct across the Hendalarskara world (including the Pentapolis) to this day. The government of Jendaburg was forced to pay compensation to dozens of victims' families, almost bankrupting the city, and was suspended by the other Pentapolitan cities from all governmental bodies of the Pentapolis for a period of five years (1948-53). In total, around 250 people are thought to have died across the seven years of the project's operation, with the vast majority of deaths occurring in the early SAMAA era, although due to the precarious status of those targeted for "assessment" a full tally of victims may never be known.
Adelfons and Schauermann's subsequent activities are central to many conspiracy theories regarding the project. Skeptics of official narratives have frequently wondered why the architect and inspiration of such an egregious violation of human rights were simply allowed to go free abroad, with many theorising that their work had been sponsored by one or more parties to the Second Great War - with the acquiescence of the Jendaburger and possibly even Hendalarskara authorities - and that Adelfons and Schauermann were therefore subject to some level of diplomatic protection despite their crimes. Various trackers claim to have unearthed evidence of Adelfons and Schauermann's post-1948 whereabouts in locales as diverse as Caphiria, Battganuur and even Daxia, with theories generally arguing that the doctors, wherever they ended up, were retained for their hard-won expertise in hallucinogenic interrogation, particularly given its value in extracting confessions from political dissidents. If evidence of such diplomatic connections exists, it is at present firmly sealed in various state archives across the world and may not be available for public scrutiny for many decades yet to come.
- A 1951 retrospective review of the SAMAA concluded that it was "scientifically fundamentally unsound" and that Adelfons' entire corpus of psionic research was "little more than junk", and that Adelfons had been allowed to proceed with vastly insufficient oversight into his psionic work due to his impressive prior work on the biochemistry of the nervous system.
- Adelfons claimed in his defence testimony that some of these prisoner suicides were due to increased levels of empathy brought about by hallucinogenic experiences, thereby causing these prisoners to feel the full weight of their crimes and act rationally in those circumstances. The court rejected this line of argument.
- A form of imprisonment where he was able to continue certain kinds of scientific work, largely theoretical, while nevertheless remanded in custody.
- Fógelfré (old Hendalarkisch: vogelfrey), literally "free as a bird", is a form of civil death in which a convict is condemned to exile. Should they choose to return to the country from which they were exiled, they must wear a clear identifying tag, and are entirely unprotected by the legal system, even in the event that they are imprisoned or killed by private citizens. A medieval punishment in origin, it remains legal in both Hendalarsk proper and the Pentapolis, although it is extremely rarely used in either. Khunyer law has no provision for civil death.