Author : Matthew Banks
Dr. McLaren stood in front of the tank with a printout in one hand and an ampoule of pale yellow liquid in the other. Octopus 2935 squirted through the tank in front of him, dodging nimbly around the tall coral outcrop in the middle. Excited waves of white and dull brown scintillated across its body. It knew the daily food packet must be hidden somewhere. It splayed out its tentacles as it rounded the coral spire, slowing down, gills pulsing rapidly. It hovered upside-down over a crevice, looking at the unfamiliar thing that had been secreted there: a little safe with an over-large keyhole in the door. 2935 hung suspended over the curiosity, then whipped its tentacles downward and grappled it, then groped it, then poked at it, slipping the end of a tentacle into the keyhole. Its skin was dark and pebbly, like the surface of an orange.
Hard shoes clicked down the corridor. Behind McLaren, the security lock beeped and the door opened and closed. Tanaka clicked up behind him, and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Tom should have done it himself,” McLaren said, meaning the project administrator.
“It wasn’t his idea, Ray.”
“But why do *I* have to do it?” Tanaka released his shoulder and stood next to him, watching 2935 make quick laps around the tank, searching.
“*Somebody* has to.”
“Fuck!” McLaren rubbed his face and turned away from Tanaka. He felt like he was about to cry and he didn’t want her to see it. When he’d regained his composure, he said, “He’s the one who couldn’t get us funding. Make him do it!”
“It’s not his fault.” It wasn’t. The new President had campaigned on two promises: to re-structure the tax system, and to immediately outlaw all genetic research. Ever since Riley Fever had left half of rural Maine blind and psychotic, the public opinion of geneticists had turned homicidal. Their own lab had a full-time security team, who lay in hiding all around the complex with assault rifles and tear gas.
“They don’t understand what they’re making me do. I can’t do this.” 2935 was now floating above a crevice opposite the one with the safe, probing with a tentacle, scintillating brown and white with excitement. In a moment, it had fished out the key, and was gliding back to the safe. After a few clumsy attempts, it fitted the key into the lock, turned it, and pulled the safe open. It tucked itself into the safe while it greedily munched the packet of crabmeat. McLaren heaved a deep sigh, wiped his eyes, and walked over to the tank’s water filter. He opened a little maintenance hatch and cracked the ampoule into it like an egg. 2935 had stopped eating and squeezed itself into the corner of the tank, watching him. He walked back and stood next to Tanaka, looking pale and shaking with restrained sobs.
“I wanna kill myself,” he said. Tanaka frowned, not sure how seriously to take him. They watched 2935 float over to the white square of plastic mounted in the far corner of the tank, watched it extract a waterproof pen from its holder, watched it scrawl three clumsy question marks on the square while brown and yellow patches rose and sank on its skin, then watched it shudder, spasm, and sink as the ampoule of anesthetic diffused through the tank.
“They think they’re killing a bunch of animals,” said McLaren. “They think they’re killing a bunch of fucking animals.” He turned and walked out of the room, weeping.