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Lab Rats

Surprisingly a writer and not an American car manufacturer, G.M Molnar hails from Vancouver, Canada. It should come as no surprise that an interest in science fiction sparked young--when the fastest mode of transportation around is literally called "the SkyTrain," its hard not to grow up dreaming about shiny futures that push the limits of technology. More information about G.M Molnar can be found at swordssheildsandrayguns.blogspot.com, or on twitter at @gravebusiness.

"Do you ever get attached to your test subjects?"
The professor looked up from the cage of white rats and smiled at the student. Odd, he hadn't seen the unfamiliar young man come in. He finished replacing the rats' food dish and shut the wire door, considering the question briefly before he spoke. "I suppose," He said congenially, "Some of them are pretty cute. Intelligent, too--that's one of the reasons why we use them. That, and they're a hell of a lot cheaper than monkeys!"
The professor laughed at his own joke.
The young man didn't even crack a smile. He remained serious, his eyebrows scrunched together in silent brooding. His mouth pressed downwards into a formidable line. "Cancer, chemicals--do you feel guilty inflicting harm on them in the name of science?"
The older man felt his mouth twist into a scowl. He wasn't in the mood for an ethics debate. He tried to remember what class the man was from but drew a blank. "What, you one of those animal rights activists come here to give me hell for my work?"
"No, sir. Just asking as a fellow researcher who is a bit..." the man's voice trailed off as his eyes locked onto the professor's. They were filled with an unreadable, unsettling kind of intelligence that the elderly man had not encountered before. "...conflicted."
The professor shuddered inexplicably, looking down into the rat's cage to hide his unease. He watched one of them run in its wheel as he decided how to respond. Finally, he said, "Well, regardless of how cute or intelligent they are--they're just rats. By experimenting on them you're gaining knowledge that can save people's lives. Now, what's more important to you? The lives of cheese-eating rodents or living, breathing people?"
"They're just rats...." The young man sighed. "But the more time I spend with my subjects, the more complex they seem. They explore, they create-- I daresay they even love each other."
The professor snorted despite himself. "Rats? In love?"
"Do you love your wife?" The student asked randomly.
"Of course, but that's hardly related to rats. You just can't compare them with us. Our species is far more advanced than theirs, in every way."
"And that gives us the right to do this to them?" The man asked more to himself than to the professor. The professor sighed and glanced at the clock on the wall. It was almost lunchtime, and he was getting hungry. The young man noticed his action and said, "Just one more question, please. Here's a scenario: You've finished all the research on your subjects. You can't transfer them to any other facility or use them for something else. You can only destroy them, or free them. What do you do?"
Once again the professor sighed, growing tired and irritable with all the questions of lab rat ethics. "Well, I can't exactly let them go now, can I? As cute as they are in cages, the fact of the matter is they're pests. They carry disease, they chew up buildings and crops, and they reproduce at an alarming rate. They destroy any environment they're put in. If I let all the rats out we'd have an infestation on our hands. I'd have to destroy them."
"There's no other way?"
The young man looked positively pained at the conclusion the other man had reached. Realizing how much affection the man had developed for his test subjects, the professor clasped one hand on his shoulder in a show of support. He said, "They're just rats, son. Don't feel so bad. You have to do what you have to do."
The professor brushed past the young man with the odd eyes. He didn't give their conversation a second thought. The young man carefully watched the professor leave, a habit of meticulous observation. He turned to look at the lab rat in its cage. It stepped off its wheel and meandered its way to the food dish, seemingly happy with its circumstances. The man shook his head. He took a cellphone out of his jacket and, without dialing, lifted it to his ear.
When he spoke, it was with the creaks and rumbling ululations of an alien tongue. "I require transport off planetary habitat-E. Project termination has been approved."
The End
This story was first published on Monday, December 4th, 2017
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