15 October 2010

"Division of Labour"

By Curtis C. Chen

Blake held the airtight bag over the gerbil's head until it stopped struggling and the life monitor above the cage squealed a tuneless dirge. He removed the bag and pressed the holding pin deep into the animal's spine, verifying the contacts on the control module readout, then stepped back.

"Is that all?" asked the Minister of War.

"The holding pin only prevents necrosis," Blake said. "It stimulates the nervous system to keep brain cells from deteriorating, for up to twenty-four hours."

He moved over to the second gerbil, which had two wires protruding from the back of its skull. He held the antennaed rodent down with one hand and connected two wires from the control module, then pressed the activation button.

The second gerbil collapsed, the monitor display spiked, and the first gerbil twitched back to life. A moment later, the second gerbil leapt up, shaking its head.

"So the dead rat is now imprinted with the live rat's memories?" the Minister asked.

Blake resisted the urge to point out that the animals were gerbils, not rats. "No, Minister. There is no transfer of consciousness. It's only energy. Think of it like donating blood."

The Minister nodded. "Very good, Professor. You may be the first scientist who hasn't tried to sell me immortality. But why come here at all? Why not Ministry of Health?"

"They'd never allow me to experiment on humans."

The Minister raised an eyebrow. "You have my full attention."

"I've done all I can with animals," Blake said. "It's impossible to know how a more complex brain structure will respond without using actual humans."

"And where do you propose to find these volunteers?"

"Prisoners of war," Blake said. "Detainees. Anyone who needs to disappear from a re-education center." Like my sister. "You're going to kill some of them during interrogation anyway; why not do something useful with their bodies?"

The Minister smiled. "I like the way you think, Professor." He snapped his fingers, and his aide produced a square of stiff paper. "You'll begin as soon as you can relocate your laboratory to Crag Island. And congratulations, you're now a Captain in the Burgish Army."

"Wh-what?" Blake suddenly felt light-headed.

"It's purely ceremonial," the Minister said, signing the paper, "but you do get a nice uniform."


"I expect results, Professor."

The doors swung open, and one adjutant rolled away the experiment table while another hustled Blake out of the audience chamber. Before he knew what had happened, he was alone in the hallway with his brother, clutching the signed order from the Minister.

"Well?" Adam asked.

"He said yes." Blake stared at the paper.

"That's great!"

"And I'm in the Army now."

"Oh." Adam frowned. "What are you going to tell Mother?"

Blake shook his head. "I'm not. You are."

"What? Oh no. No no no. She'll kill me! Then herself!"

"Remember why we're doing this!" Blake hissed, lowering his voice. "I'm going into that hellhole to find Callie. You get to stay home with Mother. You have the easy part."

Adam grumbled. "That's debatable."


Photo: Lab Rat Taxidermy, Berkeley, California, September, 2009.