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On a long car journey today, I ended up half asleep -- it was so warm today, and I was in the passenger's seat -- and two songs in particular caught my attention and mingled in my sleepy brain. They were Dar Williams' The Great Unknown and Karine Polwart's Better Things. This story is less optimistic than either of those about technological development, although I am not myself overly pessimistic. It's non-specific about what technology it refers to, as I don't want it to be pinned to anything in particular.

The title is from The Great Unknown, and neatly references something else within the story too.




Now It's Ticking

"What're you doing?"

"Destroying my research," Dr Walker said, almost too quietly to be heard over the sound of the shredder. "I already wiped the hard drives."

Stephen hesitated in the doorway. Walker didn't look like he'd gone mad -- he looked sad, actually. Stephen felt like he should dash forward and snatch the notebooks from Dr Walker's hands, before he did any more damage but... If he'd really wiped the hard drives, the notebooks didn't really matter. So, the only thing was, "Why?"

"Why do you think?"

"I have no idea. It could be a huge contribution to medical science." Stephen shook his head. "It seems mad, honestly."

"There are people who wouldn't automatically think of this as something beneficial in terms of medicine," Dr Walker said, slowly. "There are people who would instantly think of other... applications."

Stephen's mind was still blank, for a moment, and then he really thought about it: the electric chair, explosives meant originally for mining, germ warfare, atomic bombs... "Surely that wouldn't..."

Walker said nothing.

"You're destroying all this so it'll never be used to hurt people? Even though there's no guaranteeing that's what would happen?"

"There's no guarantee it wouldn't."

"Are you really going to go through with this?"

"This lab is going up in flames tonight, along with every trace of my research." Dr Walker's voice softened just a little. "I'm sorry, Stephen. I know how hard you've worked for this."

Stephen's voice shakes a little. "Why did you ever begin the work? If this was what you were going to do?"

"I was naive. My mother had just died, I wanted to find something that would have cured her, so no one had to suffer... But I haven't been totally unaware of the world outside my research, and I know I can't trust the world as it is." Dr Walker fed another handful of paper to the shredder, his eyebrows drawn in together, forehead wrinkled. "If the world ever can be trusted."

"There are so many people this might've..."

"I know."

"God," Stephen whispered, because he got it -- he knew what Dr Walker meant. He was no pessimist, but he did think of himself as a realistic -- he was a scientist, after all, and didn't that mean logic and keeping a clear head?

"If only He would help," Walker said, and though his voice was quiet and the shredder clattered on, Stephen had no trouble catching every word. There was something in his tone now that kick-started the horrified thud of his heart -- something in his sigh that stilled Stephen utterly. "What am I supposed to do? It isn't enough to wipe the hard drives, shred the records. You and I remember, Stephen."

"I -- "

"Nobody's to be trusted, in the end," he said. "Nobody. Not even myself. If someone offered me enough money -- threatened the right people -- "

"You can't do thi -- "

"How is one supposed to choose? Oneself, one's friends... or some unmeasurable greater good?"

Stephen's mouth was dry.

"This whole lab is going up in flames tonight," Dr Walker said, gently, almost tenderly.


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Now It's Ticking by Rhian Crockett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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rhian_crockett: A painting of a castle; there is a red flag flying. (Default)
Rhian Crockett

August 2013

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