by Arón Reinhold
In the quiet suburbs just outside
Texas metropolis Fort Duncan slept a scientist named Plato at his desk, not in
his home, from which he commuted across the region quotidien, but in his office
in a warehouse on a grand-fathered
zoning permit. Though his snores were lost among the rumbling cars of the
adjoining highway 30, loud screeching brakes and the rending of metal cut
through the noisy air, traveled across the road, across the houses of
slumbering families, across the river which had been polluted for the past
thirty years by the very same warehouse, formerly owned by Plated Lane Inc, all
the way into his dreams. The scientist bolted upright with the kick of a
bronco, his hand raised as a torch illuminating his way, and shouted, “Eureka!”
He had solved everything, his own
dedicated suffering for truth, the overall state of things, the human
condition, his div- no, not that. The answer was simple: life arose as a
qualitative advance on matter and continued to develop because of its capacity
for change, but humanity had since become impotent to this drive, not because
of politics or consumerism, but because of the scientific community’s failure
to account for one singular variable in all of its studies, the effects of
certain subatomic particles on complex systems like the human body, its broader
social institutions, the ecosystem. All he had to do was shield a large enough
area from those subatomic particles, like a warehouse, and watch as his
subjects transformed over time, as they diverged from the oppressive path of a
universe which bombarded these same unsuspecting apes with pernicious waves of
particles. In effect, he would control for the ultimate variable in the most
fundamental study, he would pull on the reins of a bucking world.
Plato rubbed his chin, considering
antecedents and their dedication to their cause such that they would experiment
on themselves, the likes of Marie Curie, Dr. Henry Jekyll, Seth Brundle, then
realized he held no such conviction. Instead, he would need a subject who would
bear the risks. He heard the squeaking of rats, a cheap and accessible
population, then shook his head. He sought bigger, flashier results and
committed on the spot to harangue some poor human into the role.
He began to pace the length of the empty building, then cut
angles with his path, forming triangles among triangles until within his mind
he conjured a sphere. He looked at his watch, saw that the sun’s body was still
buried six hours away, then decided he could not wait and got dressed. He traded
his white lab coat, in which he had fallen asleep, for a non-descript look that
blended in with the darkness beyond.
The night was cool like an oven, and he regretted his
hoodie as he headed towards a towering overpass that shielded an orange flame. No
one was near the campfire, and Plato tried to will to vision the inhabitants by
blinking his eyes.
“Hey man, who are you?” One of them said from the undefined
Plato whipped around and saw the outlines of two men laying
with their backs against a strut past the distracting flame.
“Just a concerned citizen.” He said.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“So, you’ve got like food or something you want to dump on
“No, no, not at all.”
“Then what are you doing here?”
“I’m just—look I can help you.”
“You can help us?”
“Are you a shrink or something?”
“No, no, I—”
“Who the fuck is this guy?”
“I don’t know, but man, there’ve been some murders lately,
good ‘ol boys driving out from Danish Heights. A lotta fine folks missing or
“That has nothing to do with me.”
“Then why the hell are you here?”
“I’m trying to tell you, look, I have a place for you to
“We’re in a place, ain’t we?”
“What I mean—”
“What you mean is that you feel bad about whatchu saw on
the TV and want to make a difference by giving us a room for a few days, then
giving us the boot when we turn out to be something different than your noble
“What you got a lease for us to sign?”
“This guy’s looking for a victim.”
“Please listen, I think I can cure your disease.”
“What damn disease?”
“Your mortality, your human weakness.”
“This fucker’s on drugs!”
“No, no, if you just come back to my warehouse—”
“Warehouse! Man, call Kenny, or Joe, hell someone!”
Plato saw that one of them had pulled out a phone, so he
leapt from their shelter into the abyssal streets, panting and grumbling. “If
they would just accept my help, the damn ingrates!”
He thought fast, remembering another vulnerable population
not too far down the road. He went back to his truck at the warehouse, then
drove past the underpass to a disinvested neighborhood. The women and men
looked comfortable in their tight, short dresses, while in contrast Plato was
slick from the hot night.
“Hey baby, how you doin’?”
“Fine. How much to bring one of youse back to my warehouse
for a little science experiment?”
The two sex workers at his window exchanged looks.
“I think you got the wrong idea.” They both walked away, an
action which wasn’t missed by the whole street. No one approached his truck
“Let me save you from yourself, damnit!”
He drove on in desperation. His eyes scanned the recesses
of the metropolitan society, glazing over at the disrepair and deprivation. He
spotted a gas station where a group of men swayed over the pavement with paper
bags. Plato pulled up in a hurry, parked, then pounded the window button.
“Hola, signores. Este caliente la noche.” Plato sputtered.
One of the men stepped closer. “Como, güey?”
“Trabajo mucho, no?”
Behind the man his friends laughed. “Que dice el pendejo?”
“El dijo algo como su trabajo le cansa.” He yelled over his
shoulder, then leaned closer to the window. “Trabajas demasiado?”
“Si, si, mucho trabajo en mi trucka.”
The man’s face pinched, he clicked his tongue then slapped
the truck. “Aléjate!”
Plato couldn’t hear, let alone understand, the laughter of
the men, catching only snatches of ‘ambiente’ and ‘obvio.’ Then, when he hadn’t
left, the men made mocking besitos. Plato shifted with anger and drove away
muttering about the DSM-II. He headed further out from home and crossed a
bridge, whereupon the features of the neighborhood became gilded. There was a
large figure jogging on a bike path with some kind of stick in one hand. Plato
slowed and rolled down his window. The person stopped moving and wielded the
object, which he now saw was an aluminum baseball bat. They pulled back their
hoodie and revealed their scowling jaw.
“Good evening, did you hear the cops earlier?”
The man shook his head, then seemed to relax after
scrutinizing Plato. “No, but I just started my volunteer watch.”
“Yeah, apparently there was a break-in, but they got away.”
“Here in Los Ricones.”
“Christ! If I could catch the louse—”
“I know where they went.”
“What! You saw them? Were they black or Mexican?”
“Some of both. I followed them, they’re operating out of a
warehouse not far from here.”
“Shit, are you up for a raid?”
“Absolutely. Just hop in the truck and we’ll go.”
The man pulled open the door and jumped inside, Plato
whipped the vehicle around with a screech of the tires and floored the pedal.
“So, what’s your name?” The man asked as he turned the
radio station. A deep voice announced 97.3 The Vulture, blasted Kansas too loud
for Plato to answer. They drove to the vacant warehouse parking lot, whose size
rose above the noise and confusion, a behemoth required by the local ordinances
that occupied the space for dozens of apartment units. Plato parked in a single
“So, this is the place?”
Plato cut the engine. “This is it. Your destiny awaits you
“You think thieves run a tight ship?”
“No, they’re animals, a dirty cage is par for the course.
But isn’t it a bit dark? What if they’re not there?”
“Then we call the cops and they recover the stolen goods,
then we’re heroes.”
“Jesus, sack up.”
“You’re right. Let’s go.”
The man jumped out of the truck and moved like a train
straight for the door. But Plato did not follow him, for he saw the swaying
flicker of a shadow on the pavement being cast from some strange object affixed
to the back of his truck, created by the intermittent light of the street lamp.
He rounded the bed of his truck and crouched, then gasped. Some pronoun
protestor had installed a swollen truck nutsack on Plato’s vehicle, worse, this
had gone unnoticed by him for an unknown period of time. He reddened at the
insolence, at how people would have perceived him. He wasn’t so low as to
gender his truck! Plato rent a link in the cheap chains holding the heavy
object. The ugly balls dangled from his hand as he caught up to his specimen,
who was attempting to shake the door open.
“Hold up, I found this in the parking lot, also some keys.”
He said to him.
Plato unlocked his door, then stepped aside and politely
gestured for the man to enter first, who stepped into the dark warehouse,
shoulders broadened from a clenching tension. Then Plato cracked him on the
back of the head with the testicles cum mace, and he went down like a bottom.
Plato dragged him into a large cage, stuffed a sock in his mouth, then locked
the place up. His truck roared once again, now freed from the embarrassing
genitalia, cut across the streets in order to acquire the materials necessary
to insulate his laboratory from the universe.
The man first saw Plato through lancing eyes that next
afternoon, saw Plato swiveling in his desk chair with a smile. Then, Plato
allowed the chair to slow to a rest, faced the man.
“Ah, you’re awake. I shall collect some data from you,
watch for variables down the road.”
“Uhhh uh uhhhh uh?” The man demanded, rattling his hands
bound to the cage, frothing.
Plato rose from his chair, crossed the distance with a
clipboard, then squatted down in front of the man.
“If I remove this gag, will you be quiet as a mouse?”
The man nodded his head, appearing earnest. He pressed his
head up against the bars as if to comply. Plato snaked a limb into the cage and
pulled forth the sock to the sound of the man gagging and spitting.
“That’s not very quiet. Don’t make me use this again.”
Plato shook the chain of his improvised weapon from the night before.
“What is this? Are you one of the burglars?”
“Let me enlighten you, that was simply a ruse.”
“What is this?”
“You’ve already said that. Now it’s my turn for questions.
What is your name?”
“Weight, height and age?”
“160 lbs, 5’9”, 38.”
“For what kind of facility?”
“Migrant overflow. Now please, let me out of this cage! I
don’t deserve to be here.”
Plato ignored him. “Last question for now, Specimen 0. This
is often the most revealing, besides work history, what’s your zipcode?”
“75050, sir, but I grew up at 76…”
Plato scratched these responses into the grains of the copy
paper with a Uniball pen, relishing the smooth strokes. Then he left to a side
room where a monitor displayed a feed from the cameras above and to the sides
of the cage. Specimen 0 shook the cage with thunder, whining like a Greek god.
As the weeks passed, Plato observed his labrat begin to
wither away, growing to become a living skeleton. But one day the scientist
rose to see the man sitting cross-legged in the cage, his fullness of body
restored. Stranger still, he had lost all of his hair and refashioned his
clothing into what appeared to be a toga, just sat there chanting. Plato
clicked on the mic and spoke.
“How are we feeling today, Specimen 0?”
“Ommmm-” Specimen 0 continued.
“Perhaps you hunger for real food. The nutrients I’ve added
to your water feeder have kept you alive, but what about satiated?”
Plato was worried his study now exhibited signs of
zoochosis, so he pulled out his phone and ordered delivery from DoorDrop. He
paid a miserable tip. When the food arrived he checked the container and saw a
single but obvious bite. Lazy, selfish workers, he thought to himself.
Plato directed the joystick of the repurposed bomb defusal
robot, which passed through a sliding panel, then tilted the bin of enrichment
into the cage.
“Behold!” He proclaimed.
The fried chicken tumbled inside, sagging greasily onto the
floor. Specimen 0 opened his eyes, then looked with a glacial gaze at the
camera from which Plato observed at that exact moment.
“I am beyond this form of sustenance, this carnage.”
“Oh, you’re a vegan now?”
“My arc transcends even that mere pretension.”
“An atomic gourmand?
“Buddha’s brass balls, you’re a quantum organism now, fully
“Yes. What’s more, I understand all of the cosmic harm that
I have done in my life, grok that I must give way to justice.”
“Can you clarify—”
Without further ado, Specimen 0 disappeared from the cage,
leapt from this plane onto another, and never returned. Plato stared
slack-jawed as the wasted fast food cooled and congealed on the floor.
Plato pressed the period of the last
paragraph of the final page on his summarizing report. He felt high, though the
edibles he had eaten had not yet kicked into gear. What a grand discovery, he
thought, I’ve solved everything, the meaning of life, the human condition,
everything! He smiled and spun in his chair like an electron. But just thirty
minutes later he heard sirens from the over-patrolled neighborhood next door
and had quite another thought. He wondered how he had been the first to think
of this variable and the means of controlling for it. Then he began to worry
that perhaps others had already discovered this technique, that some government,
or worst of all, his government, had suppressed the
findings out of fear of losing control of society. By Odin’s didgeridoo, the
FBI could be coming for him right now!
Plato exploded into action. He
gathered up every scrap of data from the experiment, every loose paper, chicken
receipt, kilobyte, and bundled it all into a box that he tossed into the back
of his cab along with a labcoat and the nutsack weapon. He waved magnets all
around the computer, then doused the place with kerosene and lit a match.
Particulate matter flooded into the atmosphere, rising from the warm roar as he
pressed down on the pedal and burned his tank.
He drove north, up past any vestige
the city, out into the underdeveloped tracts of land where meth was cooked. He
crawled across the gravel roads, kicking up dust in search of a hideaway,
rattling around the serpentine corners. Then he saw a trailer without
neighbors, one with no cars, just thirty junkers, and parked his truck out of
view. He opened the door and inspected the confined space, which revealed the
disordered mind of the former owner. He saw cereal, swollen and putrefied in
bowls on the table, stacks of unopened mail from 1983, and dull loose change
covering every surface. The perfect hideout.
Plato stayed for several months,
subsisting on questionable tins from a tiny pantry, keeping sane by stacking
coins, actually leftover tokens from WinStar, and by scrubbing everything
continuously. He had worn his teeth down to nubs, ground away at the thought of
federal and state agents bursting through the flimsy facade, of the jeering
looks of the local cops who would show up en masse to waste taxpayer money, of
the torturous interviews he would undergo after being extraordinarily
renditioned to some building in Detroit. Plato’s hair had grown tangled and
split, his beard now obscured his neck, and deep worried sacks huddled beneath
his eyes. But then, one day, he realized no one had come for him. So he
splashed water from a carboy onto his face and smoothed back his uncut hair,
then drove back south, back into town. He mulled, as he turned his wheel,
whether or not the shadowy power-brokers who ran things had suppressed the
truth was irrelevant, knowledge could be liberated, could be spread across the
public, the internet, could grow far beyond their control. Plato thought that
he only needed to reach the common people face to face, to cut out the tricky
media that normally intervened.
He drove straight into downtown Fort
Duncan, jumped out of the car still in drive at a crowded corner, tripped over
sprawled lemon scooters, then began to pull back the wool covering the eyes of
everyone. Many shrank back from his words, from his odor and ignorance of
personal bubbles, but a few listened. He spoke to a coffee barista, a
programmer and day laborer, who could each see Plato’s need to be heard and
placed before him a modest sum of cash.
“I am a scientist who has glimpsed
deepest truth.” He raised his clipboards like Moses. “We have at our disposal
the means to cure every ailment and right every wrong, but the government and
its governing corporations wish to keep this from you. We need only distribute
the treatment to everyone, all of humanity, and then, why, paradise!”
They looked into his maddened eyes and
spoke all at once like chiseled chads, “We know.”
Arón Reinhold is a Texan who
reads and writes. He studied English Literature at the University of North
Texas until graduating in 2014, working subsequently as a grassroots organizer
to effect a just and sustainable society. Recently, he returned to fiction out
of a love for the craft and its inherent promise to envision a different world.