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art by Melissa Mead

Those Little Slices of Death

Susan Lanigan is a writer and IT analyst living on the east coast of Ireland. Her website is susanlanigan.wordpress.com.

Yes, Inspector, you may turn on the tape. No, thank you, I don't need tea. "For the purposes of this interview"--isn't that the terminology? Some things never change.
So--for the purposes of this interview--my name is Kevin Drummond, as you know. Up until last week, I ran the Drug Rehabilitation Unit in Hampden Hospital. Have you seen it, Inspector? Nothing much to look at; a long, low building surrounded by a "Zen garden" of patchy grass, gravel, and hardy perennials, and under twenty-four-hour armed guard. My work was my life, but that won't surprise you either.
Yes, yes. Brionglóid O'Mara. You want to know about her. Well, I'm getting to it.
We dealt with everything--old stuff like crystal meth as well as the newer menaces like the antipsychotics--you can tell those users a mile off: they keep twitching and blinking, poor fellows. My team has an excellent reputation. This year alone I was invited to speak at conferences in Canada, the U.S., and Japan. The newspapers sometimes refer to me as "the drugs savior." I cured everything. Except for this new addiction. This one's beyond me.
In all my working years, Inspector, I have never come across such a disruptive phenomenon. Other substances might dim the senses somewhat, but this--my God, it knocks a grown man unconscious for seven hours. Seven hours! There appear to be three phases of intoxication: the first being gradual loss of consciousness, the second muscle paralysis and spasms, then the third--during the third phase, I understand, the addicts get their high. And that's where Brionglóid O'Mara comes in.
Yes, I have spoken to her. For a criminal overlord, she is not what I expected. In her passion, her blinkeredness, she seems less a common thug than a pure-of-heart terrorist. Of course you know her background. You recall that time in 2080 when her crowd blew up the lab and killed the scientists who synthesized the compound that ended menstruation. The Action for Natural Rhythms group. That was her. She wanted all her fellow women to start bleeding again! That's how hardcore she is.
Last week, she messaged me: "Kevin, I could easily be captured, but that's beside the point. You can kill me if you want, but you are fighting a losing battle here."
I typed back, "Why?"
The answer came back like a boomerang. "Because people will do anything for the rapid-eye movement. You should try it yourself. It's beautiful. And it causes the body no physical harm at all. Totally natural. Can you imagine?"
Well, Inspector, I see you shudder. Believe me, at the time I felt as you did. So then I asked her:
"And what about night workers? Policemen? Mothers? For God's sake, have you thought about mothers of newborn babies?"
And she replied, "Mothers make up seventy-five percent of my client base. After all, who else is so beaten down by real life that they would give anything to be able to dream again?"
Dream. Yes, I said the word.
You see, Inspector, we think we're so clever, don't we? When we removed the need for sleep, the advantages seemed self-evident, didn't they? No more fatigue, no more effects from deprivation. That closed a lot of torture centers for sure.
How simple it all seemed. Transcranial magnets under the scalp of every baby shortly after birth. Then the subcutaneous implant leaching out a benzhydryl sulfinyl compound combined with dextroamphetamine salts and a cortisol suppressant to ensure cell renewal takes place while awake. Why, it's procedure now for infants, just as vaccination and circumcision used to be in more barbaric times.
Until Brionglóid O'Mara started stirring up trouble.
You've guessed, anyway, Inspector, so I'll confirm your suspicions. I bribed a surgeon who was struck off for drunkenness to remove my transcranial magnet and a friendly nurse helped me take out the implant. I'm with O'Mara now. I was dead against her, until that tycoon Lord Terry Savage barged into my office, unannounced, after reading my conversation with O'Mara in The Times.
"I represent the business interests of this country," he roared at me, "and I expect you to recant and apologize."
"Apologize? What for?"
"For God's sake, how can you be so naive? Have you any idea how many man-hours we could lose if this woman's beliefs are entertained? Do you not know the quote--sleep is nothing but little slices of death? This needs to be stamped out!"
And then, Inspector, I saw it all clearly. The implant procedure has never been about making life better for mankind. No--it has been pushed and promoted by men like Savage, who want to squeeze out our last bit of private time to push up their profits. Once again an elite minority, the people our grandparents would have called the one percent, have exploited us by removing the brief hours of darkness when we would be free of their demands. We toil without end so that they can grow wealthy. We are nothing but instruments to carry out their greed.
Is that what you want, Inspector? To arrest me for telling the truth? Do you not see that in all this time of constant wakefulness, we have been slumbering in spirit? I'm awake now, for the first time in my life. Brionglóid O'Mara has woken me up.
So arrest me if you must, Inspector--only wait a moment, if you will--I feel the most delicious sensation overcome me, and my eyelids are heavy--let me curl up awhile...
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Author Comments

I wrote this story for the same reason as I write my other science fiction stories--as a comment against the social injustice that has inspired it. This particular one was out of concern for the way corporate, dynastic interests can exploit people and dress up this abuse as being "thoughtful" or "concerned"--and how people just endure these assaults on their dignity and freedom, because if they thought about it too much their hearts and spirits would break.

- Susan Lanigan
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