Priorities in This Fragmented World

When I return to my desk after lunch, I find a message from Jozine asking me to meet with her in the afternoon, at her lab. That can only mean I’m about to have a lot more work on my hands.

As I head to her lab deep in the Self Destruction division, the facilities and personnel I pass once again engender a keen, awkward alienation. All the equipment I glimpse through open doors and wide windows or see sitting in the long, metallic corridors, I know what their functions are (I have to for my work) but have operated very few of them directly. Many are precisely and devastatingly powerful. I’ve watched Jozine use a variety of them to fashion and test prototypes of the psychological combat weapons she develops. I avert eye contact with the division members walking by. Like the equipment, they feel all at once familiar, foreign and tinged with menace. Although I haven’t spoken with most of them, it often seems like they are cognizant of my disapproval of their work. I become preoccupied wondering if they infer my objections to their objectives from the badge hanging around my neck which identifies me as a member of the Self Harm Prevention and Counteraction division. I wonder if Jozine has made any comments about me that allude to my distaste for their work.

In this preoccupied state of mind, I arrive at her lab.

“Ah, there you are,” Jozine greets me as I come through the lab door. She’s already got protective eyewear on, a sure sign that we’ll be dealing with something explosive.

She walks towards me and, not unexpectedly, hands me a pair of dark goggles. Then she leads me to the testing chamber, a large box in the middle of the lab made of thick metallic walls, one of which has a viewing window in the middle.

“We’ve come up with a device that blows up insecurities,” she tells me as I put on the goggles. “It emits waves of anxiety at specific frequen- cies that resonate with insecurities, amplifying them to the point of utter instability and auto-destruction. The ensuing blast sends shock waves throughout the psyche and is likely to result in a high-intensity burst of hysterical behavior; the blast also embeds fragments of the exploded in- security into other psychological structures, likely disrupting them.”

She then points to the window of the testing chamber.

“Here is a lovability insecurity we’ve extracted from a volunteer who has fears of being undeserving of love,” she explains. “Watch as I activate the device at the appropriate frequency.”

She flips a switch on the console before her, and as if sensing my unease, she adds, “Don’t worry. We’re properly shielded so we won’t be affected.”

I watch as the insecurity oscillates and expands, shaking erratically as it grows to monstrous proportions. Its size and motions soon become just utterly horrendous. Jozine puts a hand on my shoulder, and I realize that I’m trembling.

“The glass usually provides adequate protection,” she assures me.

And a moment later, the insecurity is wobbling ludicrously, then sud- denly explodes in a brief blazing inferno which stings my eyes despite the goggles and forcefully flecks the walls and window with shards of debris.

“Wow,” I murmur. “So I need to come up with something that can counteract that?”

“Yes, but it should be easy. You need only develop a device that can detect then negate the destructive anxiety pulses.”

“That’s easy for you to say. That kind of technology doesn’t exist.”

“Yes, well, that’s why you have this job, isn’t it?” Jozine says, removing her goggles.

I sigh then remove my goggles.

“And if you think that’s a challenge, the second weapon will probably keep you even busier.”

My eyebrows rise.

“This one can’t be demonstrated,” she continues. “It’s incredibly self destructive on a larger scale. I’ll just have to describe it to you, then give you the schematics and prototype. It alters the permeability of the heart.”

My eyes widen horridly.

What?” I blurt. “How did you manage that?”

“Modified synthetic paranoia in a nanoparticle dispersion. It binds with high affinity to cardiac tissue, and depending on how it’s designed, it can decrease the permeability of the heart by orders of magnitude. The current strategy is to use it to make the heart impermeable, trapping all the negative emotions inside such that critical pressures will build up.”

“Whoa…That’s so inhumane,” I mutter as the ramifications of this become clear to me.

“Only slightly more so than other projects we’ve worked on,” she re- marks, then after a moment adds, “Now doesn’t this make importance of our endeavors all the more clear? If others developed something like this before us, the torment they could wreck is unthinkable.”

Our eyes lock and she continues emphatically, “You think we enjoy developing psychological armaments? So long as there are those who do, it’s imperative that we keep the lead in this arms race.”

Her words are heavy, sinking into the depths of my mind. And there they stir thoughts that have settled. I realize that I need to get back to what I came here to do: work on the ultimate preemptive measure.

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