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Franz made a derisive noise, but Lyle seemed not to hear him. “I was doing this for you, Alycia. I was just going to kill myself, but then when he told me what he was going to do, I knew I had to take care of him first.” He flexed his fingers along the screwdriver’s grip. “I stabbed him, going right for the heart. Then he jumped up and I knew I’d missed. I knew I had to hit him again, but I just–froze.” He looked at her, his eyes shining with tears. “I couldn’t do it! I saw what I’d done and I almost threw up. I felt like I’d stabbed myself. What the hell is happening to me?”

That’s what we’re trying to find out, she thought. GLS-71 was an accidental treatment, a failed post-stroke drug that was intended to speed speech recovery. Instead, it found the clusters of mirror neurons in Broca’s area and increased their rate of firing a thousandfold.

Mirror neurons were specialist cells. See someone slapped, and the neurons associated with the face lit up in synchrony. See someone kicked, and the brain reacted as if its own body were under attack. Merely imagining an act, or remembering it, was enough to start a cascade of hormonal and physical responses. Mirror neurons were the first cogs to turn in the complex systems of attachment, longing, remorse. They were the trip wires of empathy.

Except for people like her all-stars. In psychopaths, the mirrors were dark.

“I know you must be confused,” she said. “GLS is making you feel things you’ve never felt before.”

“I even feel sorry for this piece of shit, even though I know what he was going to do to you. What he still wants to do.” He nodded toward the bed. “This morning, he showed me where he was keeping the knife. He told me exactly how he was going to rape you. He told me the things he was going to force you to do.”

Dr. Liddell looked at Franz. The man wasn’t smiling–not quite. “You could have called a guard, Lyle. You could have just warned me.”

“See, that’s the thing–I wanted to hurt him. I thought about what he was going to do to you, and I felt … I felt–”

Luuv,” Franz said.

The screwdriver’s tip jerked. A thin dark line appeared along Franz’s neck like the stroke of a pen.

“You don’t know what love is!” Lyle shouted. “He hasn’t changed at all, Alycia! Why isn’t it working on him?”

“Because,” Franz said, his tone condescending and professorial despite the cut and the wavering blade at his throat. “I’m in the control group, Lyle. I didn’t receive GLS.”

“We all got the drug,” Lyle said. Then: “Didn’t we?”

Franz rolled his eyes. “Could you please explain to him about placebos, Alycia?”

She decided then that she’d like to stab Franz herself. He was correct; he was in the control group. The trial was supposed to be a double-blind, randomized study, with numbered dosages supplied by the pharmaceutical company. But within days she knew which eight men were receiving the real dose. Guards and prisoners alike could sort them as easily as if they were wearing gang colors: the psychos and the crybabies.

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Credit: Owen Smith

Tagged: Biomedicine, drugs, fiction

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