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Fiction

Murder, it wrote

From the LabLit short story series

Nik Papageorgiou 2 June 2013

www.lablit.com/article/778

Why are you letting them run the show? It’s your research. It’s your career. Why dance on their puppet strings?

Larry stands with his finger on the button and I frantically try to think of something that I can offer him, something to hold him off, to delay that little squeeze that will mean the end of us all. My mind rushes, my body shivers, but from all the volcanic eruption of my inner hurricanes, all that escapes me is the gentle breeze of a whisper.

“Please…don’t.”

He looks down at me, and for a moment I think I can see hesitation in his eyes. With nothing to lose, I throw myself at that. “It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a way out.”

Larry’s finger rubs the button. He hasn’t pressed it yet. Is the tide ebbing?

“We’ve known each other for so long. We’ve done so much for you, and you for us. We gave you knowledge, progress – advancement. Remember? Remember that paper last year? The applause when you presented it at the conference? That was us. Teamwork. You gave, we gave. Everybody won.”

Larry’s eyes flicker. He’s having second thoughts.

I keep pushing. “That was true achievement. That’s why you got into this business in the first place. It’s why you brought us in. That driving need to understand, to dig, to discover. We’re there, Larry. We’re living the dream. All we have to do is keep going. We’re practically cruising now. Why end it now?”

His tongue moves across his lips, side to side, and his eyes look away to a laminated paper in his hand and a shiver runs across me. “Come on. Put the paper away. Don’t look at it. Look at me. Look at us. Come on, Larry. There is no reason to hurt anyone. Reason, yeah? Reason. That’s what science is all about. And you’re a reasonable person. A scientist. Respected in your field. Acknowledged. But you do this, you press that button, and you’ve got nothing. No reason. No logic. Nothing.”

He’s thinking about it. I can tell. He’s breathing hard through his nose and every now and then he blinks fast, like he’s trying to wake up from a stupor.

I’m shouting now. “Larry! This isn’t you! It’s them! They told you to kill us! Why are you letting them run the show? It’s your research. It’s your career. Why dance on their puppet strings?”

Wrong thing to say. Larry’s eyes grow cold again and his finger curves over the button, like a tiger preparing to pounce. His lips tighten with determination and his eyes look over the laminated paper, dulling his conscience with technical terms, numbers, and doses.

“No! NO! YOU CAN’T DO THIS! WE DON’T DESERVE THIS! WE LOVE YOU! WE LOVE –”

The click of the button rips the oxygen out of me. For a moment, nothing. Time stops, and even Larry seems to be frozen. But then, as I fleetingly wonder if he’s regretting it, the thin, whooshing sound covers us all and I feel the gentle pressure waves pushing onto us, seeping into us, poisoning us where we stand. It hurts. Those around me are stretching out, trying to hold one another, trying to huddle together tighter in the vain hope that it might delay the inevitable. They don’t know, but I do. The drug is potent. You can’t stop it. It killed my father before me, and his father before him.

Larry looks down at us and smiles. That hurts me more that the slow death now penetrating my membrane, more than the millions perishing around me. It’s more toxic than the drug now shutting down my endoplasmic reticulum and more corrosive than its ribosome-wrecking structure.

The Larrys of the lab have been killing us with it for generations.

“Why, Larry? Why? We gave you so much.”

Larry stoops down onto the bench and his eyes come close to our microtitre plate.

“You did”, he whispers. “But the reviewers demanded a cytotoxic assay. It had to be this way. You understand that.”

The medium around me is getting darker, filling with the floating debris of my friends. My children. Myself. “Sacrifice.”

He nods. “Sacrifice.”

“I just hoped…I hoped…”

Larry comes closer. “What? What did you hope?”

“…that I would be in the control group.”