Sasha closed and locked the monkey’s cage door before turning and walking away. She was going home for the weekend and was looking forward to her young daughter’s birthday. She flicked the main switch, leaving the rows of cramped individual monkey hutches bathed in the glow of the night lights. The inhabitants, still puzzled as to why they were there were all trapped in solitude, with electrodes screwed into their skulls, resignedly settled in for another weekend staring at the whitewashed walls, their only source of stimulation and entertainment. They knew from previous experience that they’d probably go hungry, as nobody came to see them on Saturdays or Sundays, and that at least one would die from dehydration over the course of the next forty-eight hours. They each prayed to their god that it would be them.
It was a beautiful summer’s day, and Sasha arrived home in her BMW M6 Convertible, pulling in to the spacious driveway in front of her palatial home. The gardener was putting the finishing touches to the flowerbeds, while her husband was supervising the erection of a marquee on the back lawn. It promised to be quite a party for Gabrielle’s fifth birthday, although Gabrielle, staying over at her grandmother’s, would not see the extent of the surprise until the following day, Saturday.
Just after midday, Gabrielle arrived with her grandmother in her Lexus LX SUV. She jumped out of the car clutching a small wickerwork basket and ran over the front lawn towards the house, shouting excitedly. “Mommy, Mommy! Look what I’ve got!”
Sasha came out of the house, laughing. “What’s all this noise?
I thought the army had arrived!”
“Mommy, Mommy! Look what Granny Audrina has given me for my birthday!” Gabrielle held up the wickerwork basket.
Sasha could see that there was a small window cut in the side, and two frightened eyeballs stared back out at her. “Come and show me in the kitchen, Elle.”
Gabrielle opened the lid, revealing two very young ginger kittens sitting huddled and confused inside. She scooped them both up and held them close to her chest. “I love them so much, Mommy. They’re the best present ever!”
“Yes, they’re beautiful, darling.
“I’m going to call them Flynn and Belle. They’re so beautiful, and look...” Gabrielle showed her mother that the two kittens were almost identical. Each one had four white paws and a white tip on their tail, just like an artist’s paintbrush.
Very soon, the garden started to fill up with guests. There was a magician and clowns to entertain the children, while the adults socialized together, keeping a low-key watch on their precious little charges, who were all having a great time.
Although Sasha enjoyed such occasions, she always felt on edge in case the conversation turned towards work. She was quite happy to talk about everyone else’s job, but kept quiet about the fact she was a vivisectionist. She knew that as a chosen profession, it was hated, so she’d spent the past few years saying that she worked in research for the government, but couldn’t say any more because it was to do with national security. However, it made her feel uneasy, as she didn’t like lying. Even her husband and daughter didn’t know the full extent of what her everyday life held. She wasn’t ashamed of what she did, having convinced herself it was vital work, but she knew others saw it as evil personified.
As the weeks went by, Flynn and Belle grew, and Gabrielle spent as much time with them as she possibly could. She learnt to feed and house train them. They slept on her bed every night and would often snuggle down under the duvet when she was asleep. When the time came, Sasha took them to the vet, so Flynn could be neutered and Belle spayed. The kittens lacked for nothing, and Gabrielle loved them with all her heart.
A month or so later, Sasha came home from work, only to be met by a tearful Gabrielle.
“Flynn and Belle have gone,” she wailed, her face all blotchy and tear-stained.
“Don’t be silly, darling. I expect they’re just hiding.”
“But I’ve looked everywhere. They’ve gone.” Gabrielle burst into tears.
“When did you last see them?” Sasha asked, holding her daughter close.
“This morning... before I went to school. When I came home, they weren’t here.” Gabrielle sniffed and snuffled, trying to control her tears.
“Well, let me take my jacket off and I’ll search the house myself.” But after an hour of bending, stretching and calling, Sasha had to admit that Gabrielle was right. “They’ve probably just gone off exploring. I’m sure they’ll be back. Just wait and see.”
Two days passed, and there was still no sign of the kittens. Gabrielle was inconsolable. Sasha had to take time off work to comfort her, but on the third day had to return to her research center.
In the morning, she was helping a team experimenting on guinea pigs, smacking their heads against the counter to stun them before slitting their throats so they could bleed to death, when her supervisor said she was needed in another laboratory to carry out a process on a fresh intake of animals.
Sasha finished up where she was and hurried to her new position, where she received her instructions from the group supervisor.
“We want to test the effects of a new face-cream compound on the eyes, so take those cats from that pen and clamp them in this body lock by the neck so they can’t move their heads, and then inject this into the corner of their eyes. We want to see how much they can take before they go blind.“
Sasha nodded her understanding and turned to the holding pen. Reaching down, she saw two little ginger kittens that were almost identical. Each one had four white paws and a white tip on their tail, just like an artist’s paintbrush.