Wednesday June 17
Silence rushed into Naveed’s ears, startling him awake. The sudden absence of sound was welcome, at first, after spending hours in front of the blaring television.
But his relief did not last. For one thing, he really needed to pee, but he was still tied to the chair. And for another, Dr. Snyder was standing in front of him, holding a bowl full of Blazin Bitz. A dark scab blemished her lower lip, which gave Naveed a small amount of satisfaction.
“I got your note.” Her voice echoed in the newly-quiet room, buzzing unpleasantly in his ears. “Naveed, I understand that you're upset, but your little hunger strike isn't going to change anything. I'd like to give you one more chance to participate.”
“No,” he said. “I won't do it. You're lying about everything. There must be something wrong with the food, or else you wouldn't have had to kidnap—”
“Stop being so dramatic. You assaulted my guards and me—”
“Yeah, because you were trying to abduct us!”
Dr. Snyder sighed in exasperation. “The point is, you're restrained because of your behavior, and all I need you to do is help with my research.”
“Yeah, right. It's not like Roya did anything to you, or Andi. You planned this! You planned it, because you wanted us—”
Dr. Snyder cut him off. “I see you're having difficulty understanding the situation. I'll try to explain it to you one more time, and we'll see if you can get it through your thick skull.” She set the bowl of chips on the bed. “You're focusing on the wrong things. It doesn't do any good to dwell on why you're here; none of that matters now. I'm giving you a choice. If you agree to help me, like the others have been doing, I'll have the guards untie you. You can stay in this comfortable room, testing our products, getting an occasional blood draw. That's all. Easy and painless.”
“And then what? You expect me to believe you'll just let me go? That I’m going to walk away and not tell anyone what really happened?”
“If you choose to be difficult,” she continued, as if not hearing, “I do have other experiments you could help me with. But those are considerably more... risky.”
She retrieved the bowl and bent in front of him, holding a chip underneath his nose. His mouth watered. He wanted nothing more than to eat it.
“What's it going to be, Naveed?” she asked.
He thought about it, how free he would feel if he could stand up whenever he wanted, and empty his painfully full bladder in the toilet, and lie in bed to sleep. It would be such a relief to eat this food: even if it was somehow tainted, he was growing desperate enough not to care.
Naveed opened his mouth. Dr. Snyder shoved the chip inside with her palm, careful to keep her fingers away from his teeth, as if feeding a horse.
He hated her. But oh, that chip, that delicious cheesy-spicy chip. He chewed it slowly, wanting to make it last.
She was smirking at him now, smug and triumphant. But he was determined not to let her win. He got the feeling that, no matter what he did, she was not going to make this easy for him.
The chip had dissolved into a pulpy paste. It didn't taste good anymore. He looked into Dr. Snyder's eyes, so cold with contempt, and spit the chewed-up chip in her face.
She shrieked and retreated to the bathroom. “Like I said. I refuse to participate in this insanity,” he called after her, laughing in celebration of his small victory. He laughed and laughed until tears stung his eyes, and was on the verge of crossing into hysteria when she returned.
Now that her face was scrubbed clean of makeup, he noticed that her eyelashes, like her eyebrows, were blond. Even her blue eyes seemed paler, as if she'd been dipped in bleach. All pretense of civility had vanished; she was furious. “So that's your choice? I'm not giving you any more chances—you’re not worth the waste of time. Luckily, I have a place for worthless things.”
“Worthless things!” Naveed repeated, as if it were a joke. He kept laughing, even though he sensed he was making things worse. He couldn’t stop. It was the only way to hide his growing fear.
From her pocket, she withdrew another syringe, tearing open the sterile packaging. Naveed grew silent and strained against the unyielding ropes.
“You really are just like your mother,” she muttered.
“Wait, what?” He glanced up in surprise. “You know my mom?”
“Yes, I know Mahnaz. Probably better than you do.” She discarded the plastic tube covering the long needle, then looked him in the eyes. “Your mother is not a good person, Naveed.”
He sniffed at the absurdity of the comment, but she kept going. “I doubt you have any idea what she really is, but I know. We used to work together—but Mahnaz betrayed me when it was my research team against hers in Survival of the Fittest.”
“Survival of the Fittest? Is that, like, a reality show or something?” Naveed hoped to distract her as he frantically attempted to loosen the rough rope binding his wrists. But it felt tighter than before.
Dr. Snyder ignored the question. “She thought she was better than me, because her project was going to save the world, feed the hungry and all that. But I knew the truth: she wanted the glory. She wanted everyone to think she was a hero.”
Dr. Snyder paused to remove a vial from her pocket. She shook it, holding it to the light and squinting at the clear liquid. “What she did to my project—what she did to Molly—was unacceptable and cruel. Destroying lives, just so she could get ahead.”
“What are you talking about? My mom would never—”
She stared at the vial, disregarding him. “Fortunately, Richard saw that my research was more commercially promising than hers. My team won, and Mahnaz's entire group lost their jobs. Losing Molly set my research back for years, but it didn't stop me. And when I presented at a conference last week, there was Mahnaz, in the audience. Staring right through me, like I was nothing at all.”
Naveed remembered what Kelly had said about the woman from Nutrexo who had presented on the EcoCows, and how reluctant Maman had been to talk about the conference. He was beginning to understand why.
Dr. Snyder continued, “And the very next day, someone broke into our server and accessed our confidential data. As soon as I confirmed Mahnaz was behind it—that she still plans to sabotage my work, even after all this time—I had to stop her. It all fell into place at the protest. Mahnaz finally got what she deserves, and I got the minors I need as subjects for my research.”
Naveed was so enraged he could barely see. “You. Are. Fucking. Insane. I'm not doing anything you say. Ever.”
Dr. Snyder plunged the long needle into the vial, drawing up the liquid. “All right, then. Since you refuse to cooperate with the feeding study, we’ll move on to a different experiment. It’ll be a few days until the materials are ready, but I'll go ahead and move you to the test room. I don't want any more trouble from you, so....” She yanked up his sleeve, stabbing the needle into his arm. As the room faded away, her voice seemed to surround him, hissing from all sides. “Remember: you had a choice. You brought this upon yourself.”
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