A Short Story by Ehtisham Rizvi
“There are two kinds of people in this world…..” The scientist in charge of the large research facility carefully mixed two chemical compounds while talking to his apprentice.
“People who agree with me and people who do not.” The blue and yellow compounds silently reacted together to make a viscous green element.
“The catalyst seems ready.” The young apprentice wasn’t fond of the amount of hours she had to put in. The sooner the catalyst was ready, the sooner they could finish the experiment and she could leave.
“It looks good,” the comment from the scientist was as much a declaration as it was a compliment. “Thanks,” although the gas mask almost covered most of her face, the scientist could tell the young apprentice was smiling.
“What is this experiment anyway?” seeing that Dr. Smith wasn’t his usual grumpy self, Annette dared ask the question.
Her role in the lab was simple; she was to assist Dr. Smith in all of his research and experiments. When she signed up for the job, which paid much better than anything else out there, she was excited beyond measure. She would assist this old scientist conduct his experiments, gain knowledge and a fat paycheck every month. Not too bad for a college drop out.
Dr. Smith was also happy with the arrangement. Annette was smart enough to facilitate him and not ask too many questions. She wasn’t curious or nosy, and for the most part was just interested in getting the job done and going home. That is why her question came as a surprise.
“Are you interested in the experiment? Don’t you have to go home?” After storing the catalyst away, Dr. Smith removed his mask and gloves. Annette had already removed hers.
“I have a few minutes,” Annette smiled lightly.
“Okay, if I start explaining the experiment, we will need months, maybe years.” Annette was sure that the old scientist was exaggerating. She was also slightly insulted, but maintained her usual pleasant demeanor.
“As you were saying, two kinds of people, those who agree with you and those who do not,” Annette politely reminded him.
“Ah, yes. I want you to know this.” Today was one hell of an extraordinary day, Dr. Smith wanted his apprentice to learn something. Those who knew him could testify that the old man wasn’t into the habit of sharing knowledge.
“All my life, I have had to argue with ignorant people who believe they know it all. In college, at the university, at those seminars and get-togethers and weddings and funerals. Everywhere I go, everywhere I meet people, every time I try to participate in a discussion. There are always people who disagree with me. I hate that.”
Annette really couldn’t see where the scientist was going with this rant, but she wasn’t about to stop him.
“So one day it just hit me,” Dr. Smith continued, “the chemistry of the human brain, that is what’s responsible for likes and dislikes, preferences and priorities.” That too was one of the many theories he had presented to the scientific community, and not many agreed with him, but to him it was as authentic and reliable as the law of gravitation.
“So I started studying patterns in my own brain.” This was the weird part; Annette did not remember ever assisting in an experiment where the Doctor himself was the test subject, but she let him continue anyway.
“I found that the chemical reactions happening in my brain can be induced in others. I just need to stimulate certain areas of their brains and Voilà, they will see the light.”
“But how exactly will you do that? And who exactly will you do that to?” Annette was confused.
“That is a very intelligent question” it was the second compliment the doctor gave that day, but this time Annette was more scared than thankful. “There are legal complications to it, but now that the catalyst is ready, I can simply create an air borne virus.” Annette stepped back. Sensing her fear, and not knowing what to do, Dr. Smith stepped towards her, raising both hands as if to declare his peaceful intentions.
“It is not as bad as it sounds; think of it as a lifesaving drug. There is no pain involved, it’s perfectly safe.” The doctor was speaking with an uncharacteristic haste “let me show you”. He rushed at the cold storage and picked up the catalyst. Annette rushed towards the door.
The lab was large, and she had to climb a whole flight of stairs before she could reach the door. The doctor had more than enough time to introduce the catalyst in the system and turn on the reactor. Before Annette could reach the door, the virus was airborne.
“Before you leave” the doctor was very calm now, “could you please tell me your favorite color?”
“Blue” Annette was surprised by her own answer. She most definitely knew it was pink, but somehow, pink didn’t appeal to her anymore.
“Coffee” it was orange juice, but coffee sounded so much better now. She wondered why she ever hated coffee.
“Favorite kind of music?”
“Classical” she had always been into heavy metal, but just like the color pink, metal had lost its charm to her. Dr. Smith was now observing her somewhat subservient behavior and taking notes.
“Last question. What do you think is the…” the question was cut short by a loud thud of a body hitting the floor. Tiny droplets of blood started dripping on the floor. Annette tried to rush back to the collapsed doctor, but by the time she reached him, he had already died. The blood coming out of his eyes, nose, ears and mouth would have sickened anyone on any given day, but Annette found herself indifferent to it.
She reluctantly picked up the clipboard and saw the list of questions the doctor had prepared. “They must see the light” it said at the top of the sheet, “they must see the light” she whispered in agreement.