Stella is a scientist of men. She logs every detail in the notebook of her mind: the creasing of his brow or wrinkle of his nose; the short out-take of breath compared to a sigh; the agitation in his hands that long to control; the softening of his voice in the moment before cruelty. As if documenting the behaviours of a new species in the forest, Stella has observed the patterns that break tension or lead to disaster. A leads to B leads to C. Just letters and arrows that explain how a man once loved by his mother can press his thumbs into the eye sockets of a girl to mark his place in the hierarchy.
Today, as with every day, Stella’s entire body is protected by numbing cream. There’s a faint aroma of her skin burning beneath but it’s worth it.
X-ray glasses reveal the clay that forms these men. Beneath their sweat-glistening torsos, Stella sees what was once malleable with possibilities. The men are hardened into shape. There is no turning back for them. They are set. Understanding that brings no empathy from her. Choices are made by men not gods.
‘What the hell are you staring at?’ one snarls. She sees that he is a virus, thrashing around in a petri dish with nobody left to infect.
‘I just want to be held, I’m a good guy really,’ says another. Her polygraph swings to red.
‘You made me do it,’ says the last one of the day. Particles of blame can’t seep through her barrier of latex gloves and visor.
There comes a time when a true scientist must move from hypothesis to action. That’s the most dangerous time of all. From tonight’s data, Stella calculates the probability of escape.
Stephanie Carty is a writer and NHS Consultant Clinical Psychologist in the U.K. whose short fiction is widely published. Her novella-in-flash Three Sisters of Stone won a Saboteur Award. Stephanie published a writers’ guide Inside Fictional Minds in 2021. Her short fiction collection The Peculiarities of Yearning was published in 2022. Her debut novel Shattered was published in February 2023.