It is said that drosophila do not feed on blood – that they do not even have the ability to bite – but still this one is biting him as it has bitten him for years. The itch is like fuel touched with a lit match. Blasting from his skin, burning a hole into his starched labcoat, flaming out into the mesosphere. He is amazed that no one sees this. That such pain could be invisible.
But then he remembers those first failed tests and the way the fruit flies vanished. Did they pop? Suffocate? Burn? Then there is the question that he never allows himself to ask: did they suffer?
He is a man of logic and so he knows that this is not one of the original fruit flies. Under his shirt, on his back, creeping across his skin. He knows this.
All of the human eyes in his laboratory are fixed on screens. But those behind him? Their eyes are always on him.
They watch as he paces past their cages, curling and uncurling his fingers. They watch as he pulls at the too-stiff collar on his too-white shirt. They watch as he pats at the ghost of the fruit fly on his back and as they watch they growl, or squeak, mewl or grunt.
As the screens turn to static, heads shake and papers are thrown.
They didn’t make it.
The press, of course, will be told a different story. One of two stray dogs, taken from the street, dressed in matching hand-crafted uniforms and paraded in a cardboard rocket for the other side of the world to see.
His part will be hidden, as it always is, like the mound of carcasses in the locked back room. Retrieval then dissection. There are notes to be made and questions to be answered, but not the question. Never that question, although the answer is as plain as their mangled bones.
And still, they insist that he carries on. Because they want to send something bigger next time. Bigger than a dog, but smaller than a human.
The fruit fly has returned. He slaps at his back, retrieves his clipboard and turns to the cages, where a sea of black eyes retreat in fear.
Will we suffer? They are asking him. Will we suffer?
Gaynor Jones is an award winning short fiction writer based in Manchester. She is part of The Word Factory team, a judge for the London Independent Story Prize and runs the Story For Daniel competition to raise awareness of childhood cancer support and blood stem cell donation. She was named Northern Writer of the Year at the 2018 Northern Soul Awards. She is known for her strange and surreal takes on contemporary life.