Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Flash Fiction: Ethical Conditions

Ethical Conditions
Nathan Ryder

There are two or three of Them outside right now. I can hear that high-pitched chiming that they make. I guess it's Their way of talking or something. I don't know.
I wish I had paid more attention in school. I hated science. I didn't care. I wish I knew more about it now. I might know where I am, or know how to figure it out. The stars look wrong. There are so few. I only know that because Mary told me. I'm so stupid.
I might know how They can float, how They can build these things which look like houses but aren't, how They can make me sleep just by looking at me...
...I might know what this thing, this machine, that They've put in my side is, and why I hurt after They have visited. I always sleep when they come. They just look at me, I think – it's difficult to know if that area of their skin is an eye – and it happens, I just black out. I always hurt after, but it goes away quickly.

The house is alright I guess, for a prison. It's warm, there's food and water, and I guess they sampled our radio, or maybe just took a recording of the internet and filtered out some music, because I haven't heard the same show twice so far.
Mary lives in the next house, with three other women. There are no other women in my house yet. She says she has been here for two years, give or take. She tried marking the days off on one of the walls, but every time she woke up the house was like brand new. She tried marking the days on paper, but it was the same, every time she woke up the house was renewed. All of the other women say the same thing happens to them, but between them try to keep a calendar. I don't care. I just want to go home.

A week or so ago, I walked out, kept going for four days. There were endless houses, all identical to mine, all off the same road. The women I met had similar stories. The day came around when they put me to sleep. They found me, like clockwork, and when I woke up I was back in my house. Mary said she tried it. They always find her.

I haven't seen a man since I arrived.

I look out of the window, and see Them looking up. The usual one points at me and then turns back to the other one. I duck away, fearful that He or They might be about to do me some harm.
I want to go home. My name is Nicola Smith. I'm twenty-two years old and I don't know why They are keeping me here. This is bullshit. It's been months now. Why am I writing this? The paper will be like new just as soon as I go to sleep anyway.


"Do you admit that there is a conflict of interest?"
The reporter won't get off that track, and I can hear the judgement in his tonal shifts; the telepresent public relation tell me to give him the standard response.
"Since we haven't been able to make them understand our language, or even train them in more than a basic way with regard to our intentions I agree that we have to tread carefully. But make no mistake, these are animals," I begin, pause, and then continue, "Social animals, yes, but they're barbaric, warlike, highly suspicious of other tribes. Keeping them here is an act of kindness-"
"They're sentient," the reporter says, "Early tests on them-"
"-were flawed," I say sharply, cutting in and giving the impression that the reporter had better not cut across my statements again. It's all so carefully scripted, and I'm bored, I have other work to do. "Long term observations of them in their natural habitat showed that they do not learn with time. As time moves on they become even more rigid and tribalised, a flaw on their social constructions that grows hungry for destruction. Coupled with the imminent atmospheric collapse, keeping this group is necessary for the sake of the Quadrant's Biosphere Specimen Archive."
The public relations whisper away at me on the closed channel. They're bored too, and give me permission to take my pick of the closing statements.
"As for their caviar," I conclude, pointing the way to him, "It is a luxury item and the profits from its sale supports the energy cost for their habitat. You might think it is a terrible thing, but I assure you we operate under the strictest of ethical conditions, approved by the Quadrant Consensus."
He gives a gesture that is easy to take as a shrug; he doesn't really care, his righteousness is an act. This is a puff piece for his news service, all of us know it. No one wants to really debate this any more. He travels ahead, still surveying and recording. The telepresence is disabled, science staff offline.
I glance back and see that one from the latest batch looking down.
I check the records and realise that she is alone in her dwelling. The new annexe is waiting to be filled with the next hundred thousand who are arriving, but I'm sure I can allocate one or two dwelling mates for her.
I really wish public relation would talk directly to the reporters, even if the reporters are only vaguely interested. Animal husbandry is my area, not ethics.
I look up and see that the female is gone from the window, and move off to catch up with the reporter.

Creative Commons License
This short story is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works License. Feel free to repost and share it with others, so long as you credit me (Nathan Ryder, 2009) as the original author and link back to this page. It would also be nice if you dropped me a comment!


Matt_Evans said...

lol, yikes.

zero_zero_one said...

Ethical conditions, man, ethical conditions...