An essay by E. E. Malatesta, as provided by Nicholas P. Oakley
Art by Katie Nyborg
“Imagine a drug. A virus, actually. One so powerful, so clever, that you could release it inside a dome or on a station full of hundreds, thousands, of people and it would go undetected. And imagine that this virus would only infect a very specific set of people, a group that you yourself could determine, and that it would kill them–and only them–completely painlessly. Everyone else would be safe. Now, imagine you had a pathogen like this in your possession. What would you do?”
The man stopped talking, taking a long gulp from a tall glass, his eyes locked on mine. He’d been talking quietly, almost whispering, but I’d still heard every word over the noisy crowd.
“I’d use it,” I said, returning his stare.
His eyes crinkled into a smile over his drink.
I’d met him three months before. I’d been on the station nearly a year, and he’d been the first person I’d spoken more than three words to outside of my work shift. I was young, my forehead bare, another anonymous drone. My type weren’t worth making friends with. Shareless, doing the dirtiest of jobs, we’d be transferred, conscripted, or dead in less than six months anyway. And who talks to a dead man?
This guy was different. Ajura was his name. I first saw him loitering outside the shuttle drop-off, his eyes drawn and shoulders twitching, the familiar stimhead nervous tics immediately apparent even from a distance. I tensed up. I’d already had a few brushes with people like him. I made a mental note of his facial tattoos and the contents of my pockets, and squeezed my fists in anticipation.
Instead of the shiv I was expecting, I was met with a smile. It caught me off-guard, and my expression must have given me away. His smile broadened into a toothy grin, a cackle escaping his lips.
He bought me a drink. The first time I can remember anyone ever giving me something for free.
“What’s your debt?” he’d asked.
“70 standard,” I said, cautiously. It was actually a bit more than that–90 years–but everyone always lied about it, and I was no exception.
He whistled. “How you feel about that?”
“Figure I’ll be dead way before then anyway. Try not to think about it.”
He nodded sagely. We didn’t talk again for the rest of the night, just sat playing cards and eyeing up the others, just as they eyed us back.
The security seemed far tighter than I ever remembered it being. Every scanner, every camera, and every eye seemed to be pointing my way. The enforcer pulled my arm into the machine, and I could feel my fingers twitching nervously.
To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Winter 2013 collection.
Dr. E. E. Malatesta is a Distinguished Professor of Biosecurity at the University of Zetti, KL-235b. His research has been published in numerous respected journals on topics as diverse as clinical virology, to dome security procedures, to bioterror. He also edits the biennial Journal of Pandemic Research, where an expurgated copy of this testimony first appeared in Vol. 214, No. 5, pp.102-113.
Nicholas P. Oakley is a science fiction author from the UK.
Nicholas was born in Solihull, England, and now lives with his partner in Inverness, Scotland. His first novel, The Watcher, is due out in 2013 from See Sharp Press. Details of this and his other stories can be found at his website, http://www.nicholaspoakley.com
Katie Nyborg’s art, plus information regarding hiring her, can be found at http://katiedoesartthings.tumblr.com/