by Woody Evans
Tim opens the fridge to find a mouse in his noodles. He’s quick enough to grab the wee bastard and chunk her out of the airlock. The mouse stiffens, bloats, and floats away. Her rear left leg kicks hard once, then goes still but for the head-over-tail, slo-mo spin into cold darkness.
The noodles might be salvageable, but Tim doesn’t have the stomach for it anymore. Back to the gruel-in-a-pouch while he treadmills and watches late night celebrity interviews streamed up from Jezero Crater.
Was Tim right to toss the mouse? How do Tim’s rights and the rights of the mouse meet and interact? There are analyses elsewhere on posthuman and transhuman rights, but here let’s look for a minute at the mouse, the noodles, and Tim.
Tim has been up there a long time, and life is hard in low Mars orbit. He’s very often alone, and he only gets a delivery of Chinese food once every three months. Chow mein, man, with baby corn, little fancy mushrooms, and that crispy fried tofu… How the mouse got out of its weird little lab trap, Tim doesn’t know — an investigation to be opened. But Tim won’t get any more noodles for 2 months and 29 days. Sometimes it’s the little things that help you get through fluorescent-white Monday night headaches.
The mouse wasn’t wrong to sniff out the noodles. She took advantage of a fridge that had been too hastily shut and had bounced open a smidge — a crack just big enough for her to work her way in. The mouse was hungry, and the noodles were off-gassing umami compounds.
Tim reacted very quickly to the mouse. He didn’t sit and think about what he should do, he just moved. If he’d taken time to ponder the situation, he might have put the mouse back in her lab trap, then tossed the noodles out of the airlock, instead. But he was motivated by revulsion, and his fight or flight thing started flapping: ergo dead mouse. Mice (on Earth, anyway) carry fleas and can spread disease. Makes a kind of ancient common sense to nuke them. Tim wasn’t wrong, though if he could have muscled-down his disgust he might have slowed his reactions and made a choice that was less harmful — indeed, beneficial — for the mouse.
The mouse has a natural right to try to get the chow mein. In the context of the space station, the mouse’s rights are curtailed and controlled (lab trap food only, water dosage X per diem, dopamine delivered for task completion, etc.), but that doesn’t mean the mouse can’t or shouldn’t try to get some fried noodles if she can, even if Tim has a right to “have” the noodles as his own property, himself. She has a right to try — a “doing” sort of right. She has a right to “be” — and not to be thrown into hard vacuum. She has a right to “have” whatever is necessary for her to be, so her kibble and water are truly hers, even if the noodles were not her property.
Tim has similar rights to the mouse — the right to be, do, and have — but his situation is complicated by his role as steward of the station. Within that role, he has the right to kill the mouse, inasmuch as the mouse threatens the health and safety of the station and its inhabitants. Though Tim is the only inhabitant, he sure don’t want no noodle hanta! Tim would not have the right to kill a mouse in the zoo at the Cydonia Pyramids development, or back home on Earth.
Tim ponders his choice often, lately, in those long, late stretches of treadmilling and listening to Casino Versus Japan. If he could do it over again, his mouse pal would still be with him — sucking water from a straw in that bright blue lab trap, giving surly glances at the late night Martian celebrities. He might have even shared a bit of the chow mein… Muad’Dib, Tim used to call her.
He walks on, in place, as Mars spins beneath him and Phobos tumbles by above. God, to be back in Dubai, having a shwarma with friends and strolling Jumeirah beach on a winter night.
In’shallah, if the Good Lord would forgive him for killing the mouse, he’d exercise his friggin’ right to be back home by Eid al-Fitr.