Hope for the Future
The cages hadn’t been cleaned for a while. Lab rats scurried over shredded newspapers stiff with feces and dried urine, nibbled on days-old crumbs of food, and licked the dusty insides of their water dishes in vain. Every time someone passed they started up a desperate shrieking, but the passerby were always in too much of a hurry to develop any compassion. The biochemists of Sublevel 16.B had been otherwise occupied the past few weeks, and in the days since the breakthrough, scarcely had any of them time to pull on socks. If Professor Lacene needed something, he needed it three hours ago.
In the Observation Room, a bubble of quiet burst every time the door opened. However, the doctors were indifferent, engrossed in their task. “Subject 62-3BK7 has entered the convulsion stage,” Dr. Alok announced through the microphone. Behind the thick glass of the small observation chamber, the subject’s teeth were bared, ears bleeding as it trembled on the floor. It tried to cough out the fumes that filled the room, but every breath filled its tiny lungs with more of the poisonous vapour.
“Look at him go!” exclaimed Dr. Tabbeal, leaning back in his office chair with satisfaction. As he watched the subject twitch and jerk, he made notes on his observation form. The microphones in the chamber were so sensitive it picked up the subject’s heartbeat. The doctors could easily make out the high pitched squealing coming from its lungs. “Do you think his lungs might explode?”
“Nah,” said Alok. “Those membranes are so elastic we could probably use them as a slingshot.” A thump, followed by a crack, registered over the intercom as the subject’s foot made contact with a wall. “But there goes a bone. Metatarsals, I think.”
They were both about to make note of this when the doors to the observation office banged open.
“What do you idiots think you’re doing?” boomed Professor Lacene as he slammed the door behind him. Among the fluttering papers, Tabbeal and Alok jumped to their feet.
“We were testing neurogas sample C8, sir,” Tabbeal spluttered after an unsuccessful attempt to catch his notes. “See, we were done with the bomb – ”
“Did I say you were done with the bomb?” Lacene demanded, keeping a stranglehold on Tabbeal’s gaze.
“N-no sir, but everything was completed as per the specifications you outlined here – ” Alok fumbled to hold up the folder with the Professor’s project. “We went over it several times, there is not a thing missing.”
The Professor snatched the folder and threw it onto the ground. “No project is finished until I say so! What is this foolishness?” He gestured to the chamber.
“Alok’s project, sir, the undetectable neurogas.”
“Clear the room!” the professor shouted at the technicians through a microphone. “I’m going in for an in-depth physical on the subject.” While waiting for the air in the chamber to be purified, the Professor thumbed through the neurogas project folder. “This is functional grade neurotoxin, gentlemen. No convulsions necessary, just a simple paralytic tranquilizer. Understood?”
“Now, has the genetic pattern been quantifiably established?”
When he figured out that the Professor was talking about his own project now, Tabbeal answered proudly, “Yes, sir. The effects are X-linked.” He displayed some of the charts they had been working on. “Sir, may I ask a question?”
“If you must.”
“Why even establish a genetic pattern? I thought the Marshal wanted everyone wiped out.”
The professor was quiet a moment. “Because, doctor, this is the human race we are talking about. Could you imagine if this research got into the wrong hands? Could you imagine what would happen if this could be used on any random person?”
The doctors shook their heads, unsure of where the professor was going with the conversation but wanting to seem as though they understood.
Lacene picked up a vial encased in titanium and glass, ready for mass reproduction. “I have designed this to take out only specific parties, those whose genes I have arbitrarily selected. The marshal is wrong, boys. We cannot simply destroy everyone on the face of the earth. We’ve got to leave some hope for the future.”
The intercom crackled. “Sir, the chamber has been purified.”
After punching in the code, the professor opened the chamber door and went to the subject on the floor. He didn’t want to pick up the tiny, inert body, and had to crouch painfully. The chamber had been designed for rats, not humans. The subject was prone on the linoleum, little lungs gasping for fresh air, and with a gloved hand the professor turned the body over. The subject was barely eight years old, perfect for testing. Its brown eyes slit open for a moment, then closed at the harsh glare of the white room. The professor carefully pried open the child’s mouth. The tongue and insides of its cheeks were pale. Bits of teeth that had been ground off while it was in the throes of the neurotoxin were studded here and there. The professor shook his head and let the subject fall back to the floor. Overkill. Another subject, wasted. Although these street urchins were easy pickings from the city, it was always such a bother to integrate a new subject into the system of lab testing. It always took a while to convince them that they were never going to see the light of day again, and that things would go smoother if they would just cooperate.
“It will be dead in an hour,” the professor growled in the direction of the one-way-glass. He peeled off his gloves and let them fall beside the boy. He climbed through the door into the hallway, since it was bigger than the door leading to the office. “Leave him in there until he passes, I guess,” he told the technician who met him on the other side. The rats started up their usual chorus of shrieking. “I swear, those two waste more time than they are worth.”
“Will you be needing another subject, sir?” one of the attendants asked.
“No, my project is finished. Now we just need to wait for the Marshal’s word to start mass production.”
“Very good, sir.” “And will somebody please feed these rats!” the Professor yelled as he climbed into the waiting elevator.