Sunday, November 25, 2012

Short Story: The Doctor

The tall, middle-aged man paced back and forth in his spacious room, circumventing the large glass tube that stood in its centre, his eyes darting around like a hunter’s.

A colourful assortment of pie charts, digital maps of the human brain, chemical analyses and scan reports stood in stark contrast against the sterile white walls. The man, however, seemed interested in only one of the objects: a Neural Activity Tracker graph that had many areas highlighted in orange, mounted within a black frame.

“Target areas apparent... transmitters go there... but where is the bull’s eye?” he muttered. His hands absently traced the letters ART embroidered on to his blue coat.

Short for Art Repression Team, ART was a clandestine group of the most brilliant psychologists and neurologists in the world on a relentless quest for singling out the creativity centre in the human brain. Art, the manifesto of the organization maintained, was the cause of all dissent and discord on earth. Art encouraged needless debates. It instigated rebellion, incited revolutions. For a peaceful world order to prevail, it was essential that all creativity be suppressed.

Naturally, successive World Governments had been generous with funding.

And so, here was The Doctor – not just any doctor, the imperial head of the team himself – analyzing the brain, well-mapped out with the help of state-of-the-art equipment. After years and years of research, the team had recently narrowed down their search to the scattered areas in the right hemisphere of the brain. ART members had been riding on the momentum of the biggest breakthrough in the recent history of the organization, but the euphoria was slowly wearing off…


Interrogation of Case #1,
Five PM, a robotic voice announced.

The pristine room suddenly seemed to hum with energy. Just outside, twenty blue-coated figures smartly stepped out of twenty different Intra-Building Teletransporters, filed into the room and occupied the seats arranged in a semicircle right in front of the Doctor’s unoccupied chair.

“Reports?” The Doctor’s authoritative voice boomed from the back of the room.

A young psychologist stood up. “Case One has finally started talking, sir. Abnormal activity in the right brain, as usual. Exhibits signs of violence, as well as an affinity for the abstract – “

“No precision,” The Doctor snapped, “We are not a team of amateurs, doctor. Affinity for the abstract is a common quality that all artists share.”

The psychologist trembled, the prospect of facing The Doctor’s wrath being formidable. “I apologise, Doctor. By abstract, I meant in the very extreme. She’s a reported abstractionist, but it is the first time she has mentioned the S-Word since she has been the subject of our experiments, sir.”

The silence that ensued was palpable. The Doctor walked towards his table, one eye still on the NAT-graph.

“Hmmm. Go on. And kindly use the word properly, doctor. The Censor Board will not come barging in here. And while the recently unearthed ancient epics maybe full of fantastical claptrap, they do have one thing right – Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself. Now proceed.”

Swallowing the lump in his throat, the young doctor said, “She keeps repeating that art comes from the – comes from the – soul.”

The Doctor sneered. Soul – the bane of all reason, all logic. That nonsense concept attempted to erode the foundations of scientific progress. It was rightly accorded the first place in the Black List of Censored Words.

A few mutters cut through the silence, immediately quelled by The Doctor’s loud, clear voice. “Alpha-Alpha-Beta Activate.”

The humongous glass tube in the centre of the room glowed blue. At its base, a circular section of the floor slid out of vision smoothly and a metal platform revolved upwards, seemingly from beneath the room. On the platform was a single chair, chained to which was a woman. In ART, she was known as Case One.

She was only twenty, but her appearance belied her age. She was weak, emaciated, with stick-like limbs and a pale, sunken face. Her flowing white robes emphasized her frail profile. Her hair had greyed since the last time she had been injected with Creosuppressants. But her most striking feature was her eyes – too large for her bony face, too owlish, but they still shone like a pair of supernovae. She smiled at her rapt audience.

The Doctor, having no time for niceties, immediately got to his point. “Why do you create your so-called art? Tell us.”

Case One merely smiled.

Inside the tube, two long silver needles sprouted out off the chair handles and pierced the girl’s hands. She did not flinch. “Why do you create?” The Doctor’s voice was no longer soft. It had risen an octave higher, an almost hypnotic quality to it.

She continued to smile, like the miraculously well-preserved portrait that was discovered in the ruins of the Louvre Museum that belonged to Previous Human Era.

“Where does you art come from? Why do you create?” repeated The Doctor. The others present in the room lifted their voices in harmony with his. They sounded like a swarm of bees about to sting somebody who’d disturbed their nest.

The smile did not waver.

But The Doctor’s placidness did. With a snarl, he threw the pen in his hand across the room and shouted, “Why do you create all this rubbish, you no-good artist?”

Her smile gave way to peals of laughter, the sound echoing throughout the room. Her body convulsed. The bio-bonds, designed to tighten at any sign of resistance, wrapped themselves more firmly around her wrists and ankles, but she didn’t seem to mind.

When she finally spoke, her voice was surprisingly clear. “Very good, doctor. You are learning, slowly so, but definitely learning. You are learning not to be a robot. They can’t feel, they can’t create, because they don’t have a soul like you and me – don’t interrupt!”

The Doctor’s retort died at the tip of his tongue and he meekly sat down in his chair, like a properly scolded schoolchild. The glint in the girl’s eyes seemed almost manic, like the laser sculpture (saying ‘You cannot oppress us forever’) that had condemned her to a life of test doses.

“You are searching for the creativity centre, are you not? You think you have the target area. You think you only have to find the bull’s eye. Then, let me tell you – you will never find it. The bull’s eye is invisible yet visible, touchable yet untouchable. I am art. Art is me.”

She smiled and said nothing more.

The Doctor stared at her. He had heard similar things from the other guinea pigs, but something about the conviction in the puny girl’s voice had broken his conviction that they were lying – at least, partially. He thought of the years of toil, the thousands of scholarly articles, the scores of newly-developed drugs and equipments.

He suddenly recollected that the word for ‘art’ in one of the ancient languages (was it Tamil?) was ‘kalai.’ But the same word also meant 'disturb'. Dismantle. Destroy.

I may have not found my bull’s eye, The Doctor thought, but art certainly has.


This story was accorded the first place in the Short Story contest (HSS) held as a part of the Chevayur Sub-district Youth Festival. The theme was 'Bull's eye.' I'm still trying to figure out why I came up with a sci-fi story, of all things, as I've never read a sci-fi story in my life apart from Isaac Asimov's 'True Love' - and only because it's part of our +1 syllabus.

How did I fare? Looking forward to the feedback on this!


  1. to think of something like that happening in dont wanna think about it :-o the whole concept was really good! Great work :)

    1. I did have the same terrifying thought when I completed the story! And thanks for reviewing :)

  2. Mind blown Zainab! Masha Allah...I still can't believe someone so young can come up with this story!
    It's too good..I am not a big fan of sci fi myself..but this one had me hooked! And love the layers of meaning in it..
    And like Malavika said, the prospect of this happening in the future makes it all the more chilling!

    Over all- Excellent piece!

    1. First of all, thank you so much! I'm glad you liked it. :)

      You know, the more I think about, the more I want to explore sci-fi. Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" has been sitting in my wishlist for a while. It's set in a dystopian world where reading books is not encouraged and there's a team of people who are out to burn every book they can find.

      Now that's what I call chilling.