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art by Melissa Mead

Pavlov's Final Research

Gary Cuba's short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Jim Baen's Universe, Flash Fiction Online, Universe Annex, and Crimson Fog. He lives in South Carolina with his wife. To learn more about him and to find links to his other work, visit him at thefoggiestnotion.com. This is his first appearance in Daily Science fiction.
The front doorbell jingled. Ivan Petrovich Pavlov reflexively pushed his aged body up from his chair, his bones creaking in protest, and shambled to the foyer to answer it. Was it the postman, delivering good news? Probably not, he thought. He hadn't received any good news for years now.
Pavlov opened the door and, after a moment of mental confusion, recognized Sergei Mikhailovich Tyshenko, his old friend and patron, now the head of the Soviet Bureau of Physiology and Psychology. "Welcome, comrade! It's been a long time. Years!"
"Sadly, yes," Sergei said. "And I apologize for that. May I have a few words with you, Ivan?"
Pavlov ushered the man into his living room. "Tea? Or perhaps vodka?"
"The latter, I think. But only if you join me with a glassful of your own. I don't like to drink alone!" Sergei chuckled and sat down.
Pavlov moved to his credenza and poured two glasses. "So, what's the news from the latest science politburo? Am I now considered a persona non-grata? Will my stipend end, and my name be relegated to the dung heap of history?"
"Nothing like that, Ivan!" Sergei accepted his vodka and took a swallow. "You should know that the Soviet Union still holds your prior work in high esteem. You're a Nobel Laureate, after all--albeit, granted before the Revolution. Nevertheless, Comrade Lenin honored you greatly, and so also our new Premier, Comrade Stalin, wishes to do the same. Subject to learning of your subsequent research, that is. Which is why I'm here."
"Ah," Pavlov said. "He wants new techniques to use to condition his populace. To make them salivate over his murderous initiatives."
Sergei sighed. "Ivan, Ivan, Ivan. Can you not turn off your political side for even a moment? You've already jeopardized yourself enough with your previous public polemics. Just show me what you've done since the last time I visited. Then I'll get out of your hair."
"Very well," Pavlov said. "Come into my kitchen, where I will demonstrate how I have trained cats to eat whatever I place before them. It's taken me years of conditioning to achieve this!"
The men marched into the kitchen. Pavlov opened a pantry and placed dried herring into a bowl. He called "Here kitty, kitty!" and a Siamese cat suddenly appeared. The cat, its tail erect, trotted over to the bowl, sniffed it, then sat down next to it. It meowed, lifted its right paw and shook it.
Pavlov turned in a counterclockwise circle.
"What was that all about, Ivan?" Sergei asked.
"Just part of the conditional training. Perfectly normal. Just wait."
Pavlov opened his icebox and pulled out a bottle of cream. He poured it over the cat's food.
The Siamese sniffed the bowl and sat back down. With its left paw, it scratched on the floor next to the food.
Pavlov stood on his left foot and patted his head while he hopped in a circle.
"Ivan, what on Earth--"
"Wait, wait! This is all part of the standard process of conditioning..."
The cat yawned. Pavlov descended to the floor and bowed toward it, in kowtow fashion.
"This is ridiculous, Ivan. Get up, at once!"
The Siamese leaned over the bowl and started to eat the food.
"See, comrade? See? It works! Stalin will be pleased with this result, don't you agree?"
Sergei shook his head and turned to leave. "Yes, Ivan," he said at the doorway. "You are truly a brilliant man. I'll try to get your stipend renewed, my old friend."
Pavlov found himself salivating at the words "stipend renewed."
The End
This story was first published on Monday, September 16th, 2013

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