Raymund Eich

AffEctive Disorder


A near future biotech crime story – a Writers of the Future semi-finalist


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A Writers of the Future semi-finalist

A hard-boiled private eye meets a high-tech mystery, in this biotech crime short story by the author of the Stone Chalmers interstellar espionage series

A multi-millionaire heiress commits suicide after a biotech company implants an experimental treatment device in her brain. Her grieving, lawyer husband sues the company for millions more.

Enter private investigator, ex-cop Albert Jimenez. Hired by the biotech company to dig up dirt on the “grieving” husband. He expects the usual: greed, a mistress, emotional manipulation, a marriage on the rocks.

Instead he finds something far more sinister.

Questions of brain chemicals and free will.

Questions of what it means to be human.

Sample of “AffEctive Disorder”

AffEctive Disorder

The biotech company occupied a glass-and-steel lowrise in the manicured pine forests of Houston’s northern suburbs.

Albert Jimenez climbed out of his car at the front doors. While it parked itself, he entered a reception area. Terrazzo clacked underfoot, and chrome letters float-mounted and backlit on a curving wall spelled out AffEctive Technologies.

Why the italics? he mused, while he waited for Rachel Nguyen, the company’s general counsel.

Pantsuit, black hair to the shoulder, and an expression on the severe side of the knife-edge professional women had to walk between femininity and authority. Albert shook her offered hand. Smooth skin, warm, not moist. “I’m glad to match a face to your reputation,” she said. “Let’s go to my office.”

In Nguyen’s office, file folders lay on her desk like sedimentary strata, and on the credenza, a slideshow of family photos filled the unused monitors. The windows showed pines and the harsh light of a Texas summer day. “Have a seat,” Nguyen said, and waved at a chair facing the desk. The leather squeaked as Albert shifted his weight. Nguyen sat in a webbed ergonomic chair on her side of the desk and regarded him.

Half Albert’s business came from litigation-support investigations, a euphemism for parties in lawsuits seeking dirt on their opponents. “What’s the case?”

“A few months ago, did you hear about the suicide of Patricia Jameson?”

“I follow the news.” An heiress with psych problems. Houston had a thousand of them.

“One thing that hasn’t been reported is that she was a test subject in a Phase III trial of our device, AffEctor.”

“Device?” Albert asked. “It’s not a drug?”

“Not as such. Our device is a tiny biochemical factory—about a cubic millimeter in size—implanted in the brain. It contains an engineered strain of the bacterium E. coli. The bacterium name is where the marketing team came up with the typographical trick in the company’s.” She wrinkled her nose to express her opinion.

Albert frowned. “Wait, E. coli? People get sick from exposure to it.”

She raised her palm. “Our scientists could explain it more fully. I’ll summarize. We’ve knocked out enough genes to make it harmless. Our E. coli can’t live outside the device, so there’s no risk of a gastroenteritis outbreak from them.”

She flicked the air with two fingers. “Enough of what they cannot do. Here’s what they can. We engineered them to produce serotonin and endorphins. Those are mood-elevating compounds naturally found in our brains. Over twelve hundred people have used it up to an including our Phase III. Jameson’s was our first suicide.”

“Her family filed the suit?”

“Her husband. Phillip Jameson. He’s alleging wrongful death due to negligence. He wants millions, and so do our outside counsel to defend against him. Which is where you come in.”

Albert nodded. Hiring him to unearth Phillip Jameson’s secrets would cost AffEctive a tiny fraction of the prospective legal fees and damages.

Nguyen went on. “The worst of it is he helped us get started. His firm, Mizukami and Choudhary, works with biotech start-ups. He asked to get his wife into the trial.”

“That sounds irregular.”

“It’s uncommon,” Nguyen said. A pained look formed on her face. “Your fee is three thousand a day?”

He looked apologetic. “Thirty-five-hundred. The euro’s been strong lately. Plus expenses.”

Nguyen quirked her mouth, then sighed. “From what I hear, you’re worth it. Beam me your contract.”

A few moments later she swiped a stylus across her phone, then beamed back an electronically signed copy. Albert glanced at the swirls of her name on his phone’s screen, then asked, “Do you have a file started on Phillip Jameson?”

Nguyen nodded. “Yeah, it’s….” She turned to her computer, nudged the mouse. A legion of icons held formation on the screen. A few clicks. “Here you go.”

“Thanks.” His phone bonged with receipt. He swiped through the first few pages. A few general notes on Jameson. Not much to start with.

Every thing they left out means more work for you, part of him thought as he went to his car. From the moment it opened its doors for him, shame at the thought dogged him the entire drive home.

The next day found him at a neighborhood pool across town from his house. The diving board thudded, and a young boy shrieked and splashed in, knees drawn to his chest. “Thanks for meeting with me, Maria,” Albert said.

“It’s no bother—I haven’t seen you in ages,” she said. Solitary grays streaked her dark brown hair and she rubbed sunscreen into thickened thighs. Men had it lucky, he mused. At first glance, only our spirits embrittle and sag with age.

“How’s private investigation?” she asked.

He shrugged. “Better than HPD.”

She arched her eyebrow. “What does freelancing give you that we didn’t?” A faint emphasis rode her tone. He read it to mean she was between relationships again. Her brown eyes looked plaintive, and her gaze wandered over his face, then away.

He ignored her subtext. “Less paperwork. Now what—”

Shouts came from a corner of the pool. Maria leaned forward in her deck chair. A knot of eight-year-olds, her son among them, splashed and grappled. It took her a moment to loosen her grip on the arms of the deck chair. “I’m sorry, you were saying?”

“What can you tell me about Patricia Jameson’s suicide?”

She crossed her arms over the stretched spandex waist of her bathing suit. “A lot. But what’s in it for me?”

“Credit at the favor bank.”

“That’s all?” She put on a pout.


Additional information




Raymund Eich


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