|Written by Nicholas M. Bugden / Artwork by Lee Kuruganti
A knock on Merissa’s loft door did
little to distract the focused doctor.
She sat pensively in front of her latest
piece. A hairpin kept her black hair up
as she stared at a black-painted
canvas with a red-tipped paint brush
aimed at the ground. Her clothes, an
over-sized white dress shirt and jean
capris, were decorated with paint
splatter, as were her bare feet, which
curled around the bar that kept the
front two legs of her stool together.
Without warning the brush in her hand
came up and stabbed the painting,
then, relaxing her arm, she drew a soft
stroke to the left.
Under her name, Dr. Merissa Row had
47 patents, which included a more
efficient way to filter water, and the
beginnings of a human stasis chamber.
Her paintings—gorgeous pieces that
contrasted a visceral red against a
solid black—had sold internationally,
decorating a museum on almost every
continent. She led a successful project
of inputting messages into a person’s
DNA, a complicated procedure that
involved having the A, G, C, and T
correspond to 1s and 0s, that when organized could be read like binary code. And she had
accomplished all this before the age of 40.
A second knock banged on her door. Merissa dipped her brush into the red of her palette and drew
a matching line above the first. The door banged again, like a wild animal trying to get in. Merissa
could no longer ignore it. She put her brush and palette down. Walking to the door, her bare feet
were caressed by a lush carpet, a feeling that always put a smile on her face.
The doctor took a deep breath before opening the door.
“Is this a bad time?” the man at the door asked rhetorically.
“You have a key, why don’t you use it?” replied the doctor as she turned and walked back to her
Without invitation, the man at the door entered the apartment. He was tall, with intense
features, the kind that put strangers on edge. However, this worked to his advantage. The people
he worked for had promoted him to the position of ‘handler’. It was up to him to keep the rest of
the government employees in check. This was a job he excelled at, except when it came to Dr.
“You know we do not have access to this loft…” the handler said to the doctor’s back.
“Yes, and my phone isn’t bugged, my emails are not filtered and there isn’t surveillance from the
apartment across the street. We are both too smart and too busy to play this game.”
The handler did not respond to her statement. He followed the doctor to her painting and looked
at it disapprovingly. He hated her paintings. To be more specific, he hated the doctor. The real
reasons were jealousy and pride, but as far as his ego was concerned, she was arrogant, selfish
“Is this the best way to spend your time?” the handler asked, turning to Merissa.
“Funny, I was going to ask you the same thing.”
The two stood in an awkward silence, which the doctor eventually broke. “Come on, out with it!”
The handler cleared his throat and spoke in a calm, slow manner. “Some people are concerned
about your lack of progress.”
“And are some people experts?”
“We are just going on your words, Ms. Row, you said the project would be completed and ready for
testing in a year…but it has been three.”
Once word of the doctor’s genius became public, every government and private organization hoped
to hire her. She turned them all down, except for one—her own government, which had the
groundwork completed for a process that would essentially provide free, unlimited energy: the
source being the sun. The government pitched the project to her with passion. A new synthetic
material, they told her, one they knew the doctor would perfect, which would not only yield an
80% conversion rate, but would also be very cheap to produce.
“It’s taking longer than I predicted.” She said. Hearing failure in the doctor’s tone put an
uncontrollable smile on the handler’s face. “Is that what you wanted to hear?”
“I am just here to make sure that is all it is; there are rumours the technology could be used for
different purposes, and that might be hindering some of those involved in completing the project.”
Sunlight poured from the window beside Merissa and bathed her face. She turned to the handler
with a look of exhaustion.
“Cut the shit, Trevor.”
“You’re right Ms. Row, we are too smart for this…we know that you understand this material may
have other uses once it’s completed.”
“You think it took me three years to figure that out? There are always two sides to any
technology…not to mention if it became public knowledge, anyone could build a sun trap in their
backyard and never have to pay for electricity again…I’m sure there are a few businesses out there
that are not going to be happy with that.”
“That is not our concern.”
“Of course it isn’t.”
“But what is our concern is that you may be sabotaging the project…or worse.” The handler let the
words hang in the air before speaking again. “It’s come to our attention that the frequency of
emails you send to your friend Diane has increased as of late.”
“Nothing…just suspicious…” the handler said, as he kept his eyes on the doctor.
“And has there been any change in the speech patterns? I know you keep track of things like that.”
When the doctor started working for the government, they had retrieved every message she had
sent and received from a year prior, and like a fingerprint, they could tell by use of language
alone, that a message was written by her. Any deviation from this pattern would arouse suspicion
of the possibility of messages being encoded in the email.
“Always the smart one, Ms. Row.”
“Are we done here? I would like to finish my painting.”
The handler stood in silence and turned to the unfinished piece. “I must say…you are a better
scientist than a painter.”
“I find it therapeutic.”
“We all have our _hobbies…_though you do mix colours well…” The handler stuck his finger in the
still wet paint. A glob of red attached itself to his fingertip. He rubbed it with his thumb. “How do
you get such a sharp red?”
“Mixing colours is a science.”
The comment put a smile on the handler’s face. “Very well, Ms. Row, I will leave you now, let’s
hope the upcoming weeks are a little more productive.”
With that, the handler left the doctor alone with her painting. He closed the door shut behind him,
like a dog owner making sure his pet could not escape. Merissa sat on her stool, unfazed. She
dipped the brush back into the red and raised it to fix the blotch the handler had created. But
before the tip pressed into the canvas, she saw his fingerprint had been imprinted on her work.
She smiled. Then, she lifted the brush to a spot above the fingerprint and finished her painting,
while leaving the evidence intact.
~ * ~
That following Monday, Dr. Row woke up an hour later than she usually did. She took a long
shower, sent out an email, dressed casually, and then headed down the elevator to the
sub-basement. That was where the government lab was located. The apartment building stood in
the middle of a populated downtown city. No one suspected the tenants were all government
employees who did research below the building’s parking lot.
With a familiar ding, the elevator doors opened and Merissa was greeted by her co-workers. One
female and three males stood in front of her—the four people the doctor had spent the last three
years of her life with. She kept strictly professional with all of them, but one. Hank Miller was a
man she had spent some time with off the clock. It was nothing romantic, Merissa did get lonely
like everyone else, but she found her relationships didn’t last: she got bored quickly. What Hank
and Merissa had was purely sexual. Hank was a tall, thin man. Merissa would run her fingers along
his ribcage bones while she straddled him. He was not bad looking—his hair line was receding, but
it helped to bring out his beautiful brown eyes. And, he was a better lover than most she had had,
although Merissa usually preferred the company of women.
“Morning Merissa,” Hank said with a smile, “I have exciting news! There might have been a
breakthrough.” The doctor faked a smile at Hank’s excitement. “I was thinking about it this
weekend and realized if we change…” She let Hank go on like an excited child doing show-and-tell
in front of his class. When he was finished, Merissa nodded politely.
“That sounds good…can I ask you something?”
“Do you ever think about the consequences of our work?”
“On the world?”
“To be honest, no…that’s for the politicians to figure out.”
“But we play a part.”
“If I spent too much time worrying about what could go wrong, I would never get anything done.”
“But this is a lot of power to hand over to one organization. Maybe it would be better off as
“And maybe it’s too much for the populous to handle. Listen Merissa, you are, without a doubt,
the smartest person I know, but even you cannot predict the future. You never know what people
are going to do.”
Merissa took a seat on a stool in front of the lab bench and sank her head into her right palm. “I
don’t know, Hank.”
“Well, lucky for us we don’t need to know. Even if we wanted to skywrite our findings for the world
to see, we could not even hire a pilot before the government stopped us. This is their work, and
we are going to be under surveillance until they decide to make this information public.”
“And if we could get this information out?”
“We can’t, period. And technically we don’t have any information; this might be a problem that we
Merissa looked off into the distance. She had already done both.
“Oh well…too late now…” Merissa whispered to herself, “Hank, I might have had a breakthrough
~ * ~
Within an hour, the doctor wrote out, and explained, the solution to every problem the scientists
had, the solutions to the problems they had yet to reach, and the final working, tested compound.
Her co-workers sat around her in a semicircle, dumbfounded, like kids at a birthday party who
could not figure out how the magician pulled the rabbit out of an empty hat. Hank, who had
already swallowed all of his pride when it came to his interactions with the doctor, was the first to
“Indistinguishable from magic,” he joked, which caused the doctor to smile, but agitated the rest
of the scientists.
The room was silent. Every one of the doctor’s co-workers stared at the equation, all doing the
same thing: using every ounce of mental energy they had to find some flaw in the doctor’s
solution; to prove they were still useful; to prove to themselves the last three years of their lives
were not spent in vain. But they would find their efforts to be futile. Even Hank gave it a quick
thought and glance, but he knew she was right.
While the group cogitated, Merissa quietly walked up to Hank and whispered something in his ear.
She pulled back to look into his eyes, and he softly nodded yes. Then, she left the lab.
“I will be back in a bit,” he said to the rest of the group as he followed behind Merissa, though
they barely acknowledged his departure.
~ * ~
The two spent the next hour wrapped up in each other’s arms: no math, no equations, no
thoughts. Just flesh. Merissa needed the release. Hank tried to talk about the compound, and told
her she should be the one to report the results to the government as the others were sure to take
undeserved credit. But she only shushed him with her index finger. She persuaded Hank to go to
his loft, knowing hers would not be empty. Merissa undressed, lay on her back, slowly lifted her
right knee and invited Hank to get on top. The last few days were spent making the toughest
decision of her life, one she was not sure she had made correctly, and for the next hour she
wanted to give up all control and just enjoy the moment. Hank was happy to oblige.
~ * ~
With messy hair, the doctor walked to her loft and saw the door was slightly open. This came as
no surprise to her. She raised her right hand and pushed the door open. Sitting on the couch was
the handler. He had a light brown folder in his hand, and a smile on his face.
“Congratulations,” he said as he stood up and walked over to the doctor. He carried himself with
the air of a peacock; it was as if it was his visit alone that resulted in Dr. Row finally figuring out
the chemical compound. The doctor said nothing as the handler gave her the folder.
“Your next project…I’m sure you already know we are going to have to keep you here for a bit, just
until we figure out how we want to utilize the compound, and we thought you would like to keep
The doctor opened the folder. Inside were the very rough beginnings of a project for synthetic
food, pills that could be manufactured for next to nothing and provide the sustenance of a three
“I know how you like the humanitarian thing,” the handler said, “I thought this project would be a
Merissa looked over the notes quickly, then closed the folder. “I will look into it.”
“That’s a good girl.” The handler nodded at the doctor and then started to leave. But the doctor
was not done with the conversation.
He already had one foot out of the door. “Yes.”
“I do thank you for thinking of my boredom, but as far as ‘keeping me’ is concerned, that will not
be necessary, the compound has already been made public knowledge.”
Trevor’s eyes narrowed as he swallowed hard. With his right hand he closed the door behind him
and took a step towards the doctor. “A joke, Ms. Row?”
“No joke. Every corner of the world has the information I gave the government today.”
Merissa smiled. She was never one to accept that word, impossible. Without saying anything, she
walked over to her easel and stool. Trevor slowly followed behind her. Beside the stool was her
palette, and beside that was a small needle. She picked up both.
“Do you remember when you asked me how I got such a sharp red?”
Trevor said nothing. The doctor picked up the needle and pricked the tip of her index finger. A drop
of blood oozed out. Then she squeezed the drop out and it landed in her red paint. Picking up her
brush, she mixed the blood into the paint. “‘Hemocryptography’ was what we called it. You
remember the project—using DNA to encode messages—it was that project that attracted me to
“Even if you did something so foolish they would need a key to translate the DNA, and we…”
“Monitored my emails…you used my speech patterns from a year before I worked here, but I have
been tailoring those to work with my coding system. If you check, you will see the email you are
monitoring was opened a year and a half before I started working with you. A girl has to be
prepared. I sent out the email with the key this morning.”
“How many paintings did you send?”
“Dozens…at least one to every populated continent. The last one I sent went to England. It’s
going to hang in the British Museum. You saw that one, it’s the one you put your fingerprint on. I
made sure to leave your print intact so they could personally thank you when they figure out what
you gave them access to.”
“There will be consequences.”
“No there won’t,” the doctor replied with a smug smile—the smile of a person who knew she could
not be replaced. “You need me.”
“No one is indispensable doctor, don’t forget that.”
Trevor held a threatening stare. The doctor did her best not to blink but she could feel the anger
in his eyes. Without exchanging another word, Trevor left the apartment. He would have to talk to
his supervisors to discuss what to do with the doctor. Although Merissa was worried about the
government’s reaction, she was more concerned if she had made the right decision in releasing
such a powerful technology on the world. She would have to wait and see how the annals of
history would wield its brush. Doubt and worry started to creep up in her mind. But before they
could take over, she picked up the folder and began to study the notes for her next project.
Nicholas M. Bugden lives in Toronto, Canada,
where he went to York University for his degree
in psychology. His work can be read
internationally from publications such as Harren
Press, Contemporary Verse 2, Third Flatiron
Publishing and The Wifiles.
Follow him on his website: nicholasmbugden.com
or tsu: https://www.tsu.co/nicholasmbugden