After a moment, an elderly woman came to the door. “What?” she croaked, peering out through the black netting at me. “Who are you?”
In response, I asked her a question of my own. Pulling out a folder with the words “Project Angel” stamped across it from inside of my jacket, I held it up and inquired, “This is your research, isn’t it?”
The woman paused. Slowly, her tongue flicked out and ran up across her upper lip. Finally, she said crudely, “Yeah. What of it?”
I stared at her, shocked.
The woman waited a grand total of two seconds before she repeated impatiently, “For fuck’s sake – what? What about my research?”
I stuttered out in disbelief, “You – You created a drug that enabled humans to feel perfect empathy. And you regard this research as nothing?”
“It is nothing,” she told me matter-of-factly. “So what if I made that drug? Only one person in this world dared to take it. That was when I realized, too late, that the type of medicine that people crave, isn’t to heal others, but to heal themselves. Health is not the precondition of humanity anymore. It is the precondition of selfishness.”
“Wait, you can’t just accept that conclusion and give up. That’s too easy,” I argued back. “Part of science is to marry it with philosophy. You have to try harder to convince people to open up their hearts.”
She snorted loudly. “Yeah, kid, I’m telling you that that’s a horrible idea.”
“It’s not. The world could use a little more empathy.” I waved the folder before her. “You must have believed that, too. Else, why would you have dedicated your career to creating this drug?”
The woman paused. The cold, sneering look faded from her face, leaving her looking exhausted. Finally, she murmured, “Listen closely, kid. Stop caring about this drug. It’s for your own good.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, suddenly feeling afraid. I had given up twenty years of my life to track down this woman’s research and address. For her to tell me such pessimistic things seemed incredibly unfair, even if she had no reason to know that I had sacrificed so much of my life in pursuit of her original idea.
The woman’s eyes clouded over. She was clearly seeing something other than me standing before her. Then, she murmured, “The one person who did dare to take the drug – he was my husband. And you know what happened after he took the drug?”
I shook my head.
“He committed suicide. Because he empathized too deeply with the person he was standing next to – me.”
My mouth fell open.
The woman stood there for a moment longer. Then, she said simply, “No one needs that kind of shit. Burn it.” With that, she closed the front door, leaving me standing on the front porch, still holding this folder of useless ambition.