‘It’s already dead. You killed it.’ His words bounced around my brain for hours. Was he right? No, madness! I had done as I had always done; one small slip up couldn’t mean death.
I looked away whenever he walked into the room; there was no chance I would give him the satisfaction. Days went by, and the event replayed in my mind. Again and again, I poured the water in, I could hear the voices cry. I had done it a thousand times before, but this time, I had set the temperature wrong, and now an entire colony was gone, destroyed.
They weren’t even sentient. No one else in the lab thought so, so why should I?
I continued my work. Placed one sample, scrapped, peered through the scope, tiny specks. Were they looking at me?
How could one mistake haunt me so?
‘Don’t blame me,’ I muttered.
‘It’s OK,’ a voice said. I whirled. There he was again. ‘It happens to the best of us.’ To the best of us. His smug face showed me all I needed to see. Judgment. What, I can’t do a man’s job? ‘They’re not even sentient,’ he smiled and left me to my work.
I hadn’t even thought about it. All these years, it had never entered my mind. Of course, they’re not sentient, but why would that question only be raised when there was a mistake, a death, a slaughter?
Maybe my colleagues felt guilty too; this was them trying to assuage their guilt? Perhaps. But the thing is, I didn’t feel guilty about killing a colony. I feel guilty for not even having thought about it ‘till now. What if we discovered they were aware, that they knew? And all this time, we’d never even raised the question?
The first time I asked about the new experiments and their cognitive structure, I was laughed at, the second time I was ignored. This last time saw a report against me, but I don’t care. I’m thinking now, I wasn’t before. I’m conscious, even if our subjects and my colleagues aren’t, at least I am. They know only as much as what the colonies we experiment on know; next to nothing.
But I am here, I am free.