Under the Influence
By Sean Craven
While there were always a million things to do, Henry didn’t have any pressing business that day, nothing to engage him, and he had a vague feeling that he deserved some kind of reward for general good behavior. The Colonel was visiting the Flores house; now that everyone knew he was responsible, he could come and go as he pleased. Henry was uneasy with the idea of the Colonel treading the hens in the chicken yard, but Heather said Henry was a prude, and she needed the eggs.
They were good eggs. And the Colonel didn’t complain.
Henry was lonely, but he wasn’t going to admit it to himself. Dissatisfaction gnawed as he considered his options until he wound up on the couch with a bong and a bottle and some old monster movies cued up on the TV.
When the doorbell rang, Henry thought about ignoring it. Then he set his glass down on the coffee table and lurched to his feet.
It was Nelson Kim. “You’re wasted,” Nelson said.
“Not quite,” Henry said, and motioned Nelson inside.
“Getting wasted by yourself, that’s a bad sign,” Nelson said.
Nelson’s semi-pug, Leader, pulled his leash taut as he jumped against Henry’s leg. Leader was short for Dear Leader. Henry thought the name in bad taste, but bad taste was part of his relationship with Nelson.
Nelson said, “You ought to get therapy, man. Cheryl left two years ago and you still put the seat down.”
“Yeah, well, fuck you and everything you stand for,” Henry said. He caressed the dog’s slender, fox-like head. “Hey, Leader. How you doing, buddy?”
“He stinks,” Nelson said, went to the living room and twisted into an armchair.
“Gin and lemonade?” Henry asked, and stood up.
“Ugh. Yuck. Sure,” Nelson said.
When Henry got back, he handed Nelson a tumbler and collapsed back into his seat at the end of the couch. Leader crept into his lap, whining, then lunged at Henry’s face. “You don’t love this dog enough,” Henry said.
“I know,” Nelson said. “I can’t help it. His breath smells like a bunch of syphilitic walruses fucking in a pile of rancid salmon guts.” He took a pull on his drink, careful not to spill. “Hey, this ain’t bad.”
Henry nodded, which put his face where Leader could get at it. Henry jerked his head back when the cool, moist strip of dog-tongue hit his face. “Shit. He went right up my nose,” Henry said. He sniffed. “Ah, his breath’s not that bad. Like he’s been licking a bottle of cheap fish sauce.” Then the wheels of his mind, which were a little elliptical from the gin, rotated. “I bet it is a fish smell. I bet it’s trimethylamine oxide breaking down. I can fix that if you want.”
“What do you mean?” Nelson said. His voice was suspicious.
That made Henry’s pride give the wheels another crank. He said, “I’ll whip you up some bacteria that’ll metabolize the chemical components of dog breath and make it smell better than anything you’ve smelled in your life.”
Nelson looked at the blue and magenta plastic helmet in his hands. “This looks like a regular videogame brain interface. Why’s the cable so thick?”
“It’s got receptors and transmitters from three different sets in there,” Henry said. “This is research-grade. It’ll zap the part of your brain that registers smell, then chart your emotional response. There’s a free app this food chemist has on line that’ll spit out the right chemicals to deliver the profile you want. And the chromosomes for all that crap are in the public domain.”
“That’s too easy,” Nelson said.
“The only hard thing in the world is getting an idea in the first place.” Henry could hear the booze in his voice, and decided not to talk anymore. It might undermine Nelson’s confidence. “Yeah, nothing’s hard but ideas. Put on the helmet, dude.”
Six hours later, the chime on the compiler rang; the genes had been sequenced, inserted into bacteria swabbed from Leader’s mouth, and the results cultured. ...Tweet