OZONE

Ozone was the latest in a string of pricey psychoactive drugs that arose out of people's need to relax and distributors' needs to stay out from under the government's thumb. Law enforcement had reached a nonviolent and spectacularly effective solution to enforcing drug laws. It involved the routine deployment of short-lived nanobots that identified, targeted, and transformed specific matter into neutral, useless gunk. In short: it was a mist that turned pot into dust. The only evasion was to invent drugs that were exceptionally difficult to make those bots for.

That was usually accomplished by engineering drugs that were very, very similar to other, legal, and more common chemicals. The chemistry of the aptly-named Ozone drug closely resembled that that of the ozone of the upper atmosphere. Afraid to be adventurous about deploying something that could mistake the latter for the former, drug enforcers had already spent a year and a half researching and developing, and they hadn't performed a single trial. This in comparison to the typical month-or-two turnaround for nanobots particular to the average illicit substance.

Pea prepared a syringe and rubbed at her inner arm with a towelette. She shook the needle and searched for the faint blue color in the gassed saline to satisfy herself the Ozone was pure. She found a vein quickly in the bright light she kept on her and she pressed the needle in.

Pea's pulse slowed almost to a stop. Her respiration became undetectable. The world in front of her eyes quickened. Her muscles relaxed and her head was filled with endorphins. The calming and gratifying high that felt like minutes left her unmoving in her chair for hours.

Pea was an employee of the government. Specifically, she was a scientist on the massive, funds-hogging team tasked with making the Ozone-killing bots. The work was monotonous but it paid her well. In the morning she cleaned up, dressed, then stared at her feet while she took the train to her lab.

She spent the day like she did many before it: following basic procedures and not doing much else. Noncompliance by drug enforcement scientists wasn't a common issue; drugs were typically made unusable before anyone had a chance to become attached. But Ozone had stuck around, and it had earned favor. It was a feedback loop that was causing higher-ups to doubt the permanency of the present ecosystem. The longer a drug went on existing, the more time it would take to finalize a solution against it.

The head of drug enforcement was a bold man, and he was under terrible pressure from all directions. That evening after being taunted, ridiculed, and blatantly insulted he had absolutely enough. He declared in a conference: "This has gone on too long. We test the nanobots now!"

Pea enjoyed another dose of Ozone and another peaceful night of sleep and another silent ride on the train. She came back to the new instruction.

Things carried on just like procedure dictated. Preparation involved the sealing of a large room, the placement inside of the target drug and whatever it might end up getting mistaken for it. The trick was just how small a nanobot could get. They slipped through cracks none ever knew was there. Journalists raved periodically about how dangerous it was to live close to any such lab.

A mist of bots was manufactured and pumped into the test room. Everyone in the lab watched through the cameras and nobody breathed for fear something would go terribly wrong.

The Ozone turned to dust. The ozone did not. Neither did any of the hundred-something other essential chemicals present. Some scientists cheered, and so did most of the overhead personnel. Most of the staff only tried to not look miserable.

Pea stared at her feet while she rode the train home. She injected herself with a final shot of Ozone before the mist worked itself into her house and into every cranny and destroyed her supply in the night. Come morning she rubbed the newly-grey, no-longer-Ozone liquid in her fingers and sighed. She cleaned up, dressed, and attended the new announcement at the lab that told everyone what new drug required analysis and defeating.

Written by Sophie Kirschner