The Virus

Sci-Fi Story written by bill801 on Monday 17, August 2015

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A life without authority? What if.

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Lester Gorman took his foot off the accelerator and allowed his truck to slow to a crawl. This section of the road was quite bad, and required his full concentration to negotiate the potholes. They were deep, easily deep enough to swallow his front wheels up to the axle, and they were full of muddy water. It was steamy and warm at seven o"clock in the morning, but tolerable. The oppressive heat that would have him sweating freely would come later. The cane had been cut along this section of the river, and the birds of prey were circling over the empty fields. He loved these birds; loved their focus; loved the way they made small irregular circles above the ground and dropped down in short steps, before falling onto their prey. He didn"t understand the attraction some people had for small birds with small brains; you couldn"t tell what they were thinking. An eagle on the other hand, when it looked at you, it meant something by it. His wife didn"t get it. She was from Africa, and to her animals were either food or a hazard; either way they needed to be shot. "˜You"re a dreamer," she said in her soft ironic voice, "˜how did I marry such a man?". At other times the irony was not so soft, or ironic. "˜How much have you sold this week? You have been out a lot. You are lazy." No he wasn"t energetic by some people"s standards but business was patchy. Not because people didn"t need fridges, but because they needed electricity. On a good day it was connected for ten hours, long enough to keep food cold. But on a bad day it was only on for three; not long enough. The supply of fridges wasn"t the problem, he could usually find a couple just on the side of the road driving from one side of town to the other. No, people were turning to old kerosene technology to keep their food cold; fossil fuels were still available. Now it was warm, and the road followed the course of the river all the way to the coast. In the afternoon there would be a sea breeze to give relief, but now he drove with the windows open to let the warm air flow through the cabin. Up ahead a group of men stood by the side of the road in a familiar pose; relaxed, leaning on shovels and picks, pacing themselves in the growing heat. He stopped his truck opposite the group, "This looks like work for the good of all," he yelled. "Even for those who refuse to work," replied an old man wearing an equally old felt hat. He was the only one standing unassisted, and he had a smile that appeared to be as permanent as the wrinkles on his face. "So what have the grateful brought us today; if anything," he said smiling wider. "Well, today we have bread from the women"s baking assistance group, pies from Tom Bailey"s and coffee and fruit from the merchants collective," he said. "Wonderful," said the old man. "Makes you proud to be an Anarcho-Collectivist doesn"t it?" Lester was not sure whether it did or not, but said, "It sure does". Most of the time he was too wrapped up in his own problems to be proud of anything, but he liked the old man and was happy to go along with what-ever platitudes he came out with. He reminded Lester a bit of some of the Christian people he had met in his teens, but without the hard, bottom line of faith and damnation. Of course now there was no organised religion of any kind. "How"s your mother," said the old man. "Good," replied Lester. "Wonderful woman," said the old man, "Give her my regards, and thank her for all her support for the road"s sake." "For all our sakes," said Lester, giving the correct reply. Lester got back into his truck, did a u turn and headed home. He drove the 25 kilometres to where the road joined the highway, and turned left. This section of road connected several towns, and so was well maintained, and free of potholes. Not all main roads were like this, but where they were, Lester liked to indulge his passion for speed. He depressed the accelerator gently, and felt the old Dodge V8 motor open up. He allowed his speed climb to 155 km per hour, where the tachometer read 4, and the engine was just starting to complain. But he knew his truck and could read its noises like the sounds of a lover, which in a climate of spare parts shortage and self-repair, was an essential skill. Then he saw the blue light in his rear vision mirror. He allowed the police motor cycle to come right up behind him before slowing down and coming to a stop. In the mirror he saw the policeman pull his bike up on to its stand and walk slowly and deliberately up to his window. He was wearing reflective sun glasses, a cut away helmet and a leather jacket that looked to Lester like an imitation of the one Clint Eastwood wore in "The Death Pool"; in fact it was. "Officer Williams. It"s good to see you again, how long has it been?" said Lester. Officer Williams looked at Lester for a few seconds. "Do you know what the speed limit is on this section of road?" said Williams. "No I don"t, someone"s shot up all the signs," said Lester. "Is that some kind of excuse?" said Williams. "No it"s some kind of fact," said Lester, "are you going to give me a ticket?" "You know, I"d thought you would have learnt by now. How does your wife feel about all these speeding fines? How many has it been now, 12, 15?" said Williams. "Closer to 20 but don"t you worry about that, you just do your job," said Lester. Officer Williams took a pad from his pocket, filled out a ticket and gave it to Lester, who took it and put it in his glove box with all the others. "You know they"re very short staffed down at the Council Chambers. I tried to pay the fines but there was no-one there," said Lester. "You can always pay by post," said Williams. "Where do I send it to?" said Lester. "Look," said Williams starting to get annoyed, "that"s your problem. But if you don"t pay them it"s me that you have to deal with, got it!" "Yes of course, the law must be upheld," said Lester. "Dam straight," said Williams. "And you"re doing a wonderful job. I was just wondering though, have you seen Officers Benjamin and Fleming lately?" asked Lester. Williams paused for a few moments before saying, "No they"re on stress leave". Lester knew they weren"t on stress leave. In fact they were not stressed at all. Fleming was living in the rainforest and cultivating his own marijuana, and Benjamin was working as a barman in a gay club. "Have you heard from head office lately," asked Lester again. Again he paused, this time for a full minute, appearing to go into a kind of trance. Then he said, "We've been having a lot of trouble with the phone lines." "How long has it been?" said Lester. "Six months," said Williams. He took off his glasses, and looked earnestly into Leicester's face. "Why, do you think there's something wrong?" Leicester knew exactly how far he could take this little charade before the policeman started to get agitated and pulled out his revolver. In fact he may have already gone too far, he could see the crazy look building in the cop"s eye. "No," said Leicester slowly, "it's probably just floods or union disputes that are cutting the lines. The usual stuff you know? You just keep doing your duty. The law must be upheld after all". "Yes, yes you're right, the law must be upheld, it must be upheld" he said, his voice rising in pitch and volume. "It must be upheld, it must be upheld, it must be upheld," he said his hand moving toward his gun. Lester crunched first gear, revved the engine and dropped the clutch. When he was about 150 meters away he heard the revolver firing and in the rear view mirror saw Williams firing it into the air. Leicester enjoyed baiting Officer Williams even though he didn't know he was being baited. Leicester enjoyed the irony of the situation. Back before the Great Change, Williams was a mean cop; demeaning and sarcastic, always happy to defect your vehicle for the smallest thing, or give you a speeding ticket for a couple of little over the speed limit. Now he was an anachronism, an object of fun and pity. He was one of many who for some reason didn't change and were stuck in a role that no longer had any relevance. It happened 15 years ago. People started waking up changed; they went to bed one way and woke up another. They went to bed believing that government was necessary, that a police force was necessary, that the whole structure of bureaucracy was necessary for the enforcement rules that we needed this for our security. The next morning, this all seemed ridiculous. The exact time and place where the change began, was determined afterwards. It was a small village in southern England where there were the scientific laboratories of Reginald Croucher and Associates. The laboratory did genetic engineering and Reginald was a leader in the field of gene splicing. He was also mad. Born the son of a union organiser father, and radical left wing academic mother, he grew up in a house where there was a constant stream of radical, political characters, who smoked and drank and argued anarchy and revolution. Of course there were as many brands of anarchy as there were anarchists, each one in a life and death struggling with his fellows to split hairs, and prove the other wrong. So by his late teens, Reginald was a competent debater and thoroughly politicised. He also had a passion for biology, and would escape into the world of birds and mice which was his bedroom. At university, he enrolled in biology, which was his intended career; but politics was a passion, and so he was active in the various radical clubs on campus. The trouble was that they didn"t want him. His unique brand of politics was so bizar that even the most radical, revolutionar groups were turned off by him. By the end of his first year he had married biology and anarchism and come up with the idea of selective breeding for a better society. Appealing to people"s reason had obviously failed over the last couple of centuries, and revolutions didn"t work since putting anyone in charge was fraught with danger, so why not take a leaf out of the dog breeders hand book, and selective breed for a more peaceful, law abiding society? He would turn up to demonstrations carrying a placard with a picture of Karl Marx and a Doberman. He was reviled as a Nazi, to which he replied that the Nazi"s population base was to narrow to breed a well rounded human being; and any way, he wasn"t racist, he would exclude anyone from breeding who didn"t fulfil the needs of humanity. His appearance and manner were against him. He was tall, thin, had a large beaky nose and spoke very softly and like a vicar. His method for meeting women was equally eccentric. He would sidle up to them in the canteen cue and say, "˜I"ve been studying you for a while, and I think we could make a significant contribution to world peace". Some time in his third year he came across what was called the "zombie ant fungus". This was a fungus that infected a particular species of ant and controlled its behaviour in a remarkably sophisticated way. After being infected the ant would leave the canopy of the forest where it had its home and journeys down to the forest floor, where conditions were warm and humid; ideal for fungus reproduction. The ant would then affix it"s mandibles to a leaf, at which point the fungus releases a chemical into the ants brain causing its jaws to lock. After three or four days, the ant died and became food for the growing fungus, which ruptured the ants head, and released its spores. Reginald made an exhaustive study of the way all parasitic life forms modify their host"s behaviour, and even their environment, and started to experiment. He looked at the causality of certain genes in human behaviour and concluded, before it was commonly known, that there were genes for homosexuality, obesity, cancer, and even for traits of human behaviour. And then he applied his knowledge of virology and genetic engineering, and created a virus which could suppress the action of selected genes. Of course he worked alone and in secret, realising the potential for misuse, or suppression of his work, were it to become known. But always he held to his vision of a better world through manipulation by science. Being quite convinced of his own rightness, he started experimenting on people around him. He introduced a virus into the drink of their house cleaner, making her less irritable, and more amenable to changes in routine, and he cured their gardener of a persistent tick. The results were not always predictable however, since when he cured his wife"s fear of spiders, she became quite fearless on the road and he had to hide the car keys. The aim of his research was not emmediately obvious. Making people peaceful was good as far it went but it didn"t deal with the basic problem of human greed. You could still steal from people and be calm. Then he struck on the idea of eradicating peoples need for authority. Then he was away and after a short period of research he released his magnum-opus. His local butcher was the first to be infected, and the results were dramatic. It was a midsummer and very hot, and so, at 12 o"clock, after serving a customer, he closed his shop, walked to the centre of the village where there was a fountain, took all of his cloths off and got in. The police were called, and he was summarily arrested and dragged of to the cells where he spent the night. The next morning the police seemed to have had a change of heart, because they released him, put on a barberque and all got drunk on a bottle of Johnnie Walker which was a bribe for the local Sargent. The virus was highly contagious. It spread rapidly; leapfrogging from town to town, from international airport to International airport. The infection rate was 90%, and it was spread by touch and a hacking cough. By some odd lining up of events, an infected man in a hurry to get home after a business trip rear-ended a Russian consular vehicle. Both parties got out exchanged details, and so the virus got a free trip to Moscow on the next British Airways flight. The next day President Vladimir Demetrikov personally placed a call to the head office of the Rolling Stone magazine in New York, and requested an interview. A female journalist was on the next flight from Berlin, and was taken by security service vehicle to a Russian bath, where the interview was conducted naked. There was also vodka and finger food. R.S: Mr President, you called this interview on very short notice and supplied no questions or topics for discussion, what is going on? VD: What going on? Is what is coming off! Coming off is control of running dogs of Western Capitalist Wall Street. Is true revolution, not bullshit one of Lenin or Stalin, but get rid of the dictatorship of proletariat. R.S: You mean there's going to be another revolution. VD: Yes. New revolution get rid off fucking KGB, and fucking politburo, and whole Communist Party who always fucking mother Russia, mother fuckers. R.S: But what about the Russian Revolution, what about Karl Marx. VD: Are you joking me. That bastard was big mistake, dictatorship of proletariat big mistake, anarchist Mikail Bakunin should bomb his commie ass when he had chance. R.S: So you are repudiating 70 years of Soviet history? VD: Repudiate 15 years of this job too. You want? Good money. Needless to say this caused a sensation around the world and also in Russia. The Internal Security organisations went into a state of near hysteria, taking the president into custody for his own protection, and looking for the foreign agents who managed to get so close to him and do, what? They didn"t know. But 24 hours later it didn"t seem to matter, so they released him and they all went back to the baths to drink lots of vodka. But the vodka ran out, as did everything else after a while, because no-one wanted to do what they were told. Well, no one wanted to take orders any more, and people were suddenly not content to let those in charge continue making stupid decisions without pushing them out of the way and taking charge themselves. In fact the people making the stupid decisions lost interest and went home. On the other hand, any business which was a cooperative effort functioned pretty much as before, but these were in a minority. A massive rearrangement took place over the next several years. Large structures were replaced by smaller ones, communities became more self-sufficient, and national governments were just a symbol to hang an identity on. The president was an ex morning television show host who addressed the nation once a month with an update on things like trade and crime figures, and who exhorted everyone in a jocular, morning television show host kind of way, to try to get on. His name reflected the inclusive nature of society as it now was, Muhamad Winston Churchill Lomu Chen Anderson Tutu Aztec, and he loved his work. But not everyone saw the need to cooperate. Lester pulled into his driveway just as his wife was pulling out. "˜You are late," said Dorothy his wife. "˜I got booked by Officer Williams," said Lester. "˜That man needs to wake up and smell the rose," said Dorothy. "˜I think the point is that he can"t," said Lester, "˜something didn"t happen in his brain". Dorothy discounted what he said with an uncomprehending stare, "˜I need a chicken, you need to go down to the river". "˜I could go to the butcher"s," said Lester. "˜They are not cheap," she said, "˜you need to go down to the river". He knew she was right, but a trip to the river was a euphemism for a trip to Nasty Joe"s camp, and he would far rather go to the dentist. At least the dentist had his best interest at heart. He took the old dirt road down to a section of the river which was thick and overgrown. The gate to Joe"s place had a German Shepard"s skeleton wired to it instead of a keep out sign, and an old wooden shack off to one side with a real dog lying in front of it. A man came out of the hovel wearing filthy jeans, a Tee Shirt, and holding a can of beer in one hand. He approached Lester"s truck with what appeared to be a smile on his face, Lester knew better. "˜Howz it goin," he said, in his most upbeat voice. The man didn"t answer but looked at his truck, "˜You got some more dings," he stated. "˜Yeah, the people in town don"t look where they"re going," said Lester. "˜Don"t you know how to drive?" said the man still not meeting Lester"s eye. "˜As well as you," said Lester determined that this rodent of a human being wasn"t going to get the better of him. "˜I doubt that," said the man, "˜so, what you want?" "˜What I usually want," said Lester, "˜chickens". "˜What makes you think we got chickens," said the man. "˜You always have chickens, it"s what you do," said Lester. "˜We do more"n that," said the man finally making eye contact, his fixed grin widening slightly. "˜You stay here". Lester waited until the gatekeeper return accompanied by another man wearing clean cloths; jeans, a cheap collared shirt, and thick, black rimmed glasses that gave him an air of authority over the one standing next to him. He walked with a shuffling gait that reminded Lester of a hyena. It looked like lameness, except that Lester knew he could move very fast when the need arose; dealing out punishment for example. "˜You got money?" said Joe. "˜Of course," said Lester. "˜You want these for some kind of ceremony?" said Joe. Lester understood that he was referring to his wife"s African heritage. "˜My wife is a Christian. They do chicken sacrifices in the West Indies for voodoo ceremonies," said Lester. "˜They all black," said Joe. "˜Leopard don"t change its spots, or one big black spot". Joe"s face twisted slightly as he smiled at his own joke. Lester handed over three dollars to Joe. "˜That"s not enough," he said. "˜That"s what I always pay," said Lester. "˜Price gone up. Five dollars now," said joe. "˜I can get them cheaper at bill William"s butchery," said Lester. "˜Well you go and do that," said Joe. Lester knew he would be leaving without his three dollars or the chickens if he did; he dug into his pocket and handed over the extra. Joe threw the chickens into the cabin, "˜there, he said, that"ll keep them pollywog spirits happy," he said, "˜come back soon". He smiled again, this time exposing his teeth; some black, some gold. Lester reversed back up the road keeping them in sight as he did. The trouble with Reginald"s viral revolution was that Reginald was a scientist; political and biological. He knew a lot about crackpot political theory and the human genome but almost nothing about people. He didn"t know that there was a class of people who didn"t recognise any form of authority, and thought a conscience and good will a sign of weakness, which was to be exploited at every opportunity. For them, the change meant nothing except the absence of an effective police force, and more opportunity to predate on everyone else. In fact the different groups that formed after the change corresponded to the general distribution of sociability and cooperation in the world; everything from pure communality to naked self interest. And Individaulism. Lester drove back up the muddy track and stopped. Turning right would take him home where he would spend a couple of hours plucking chickens. Turning left would take him down a wild section of the river. It dropped down a series of cascades, with steeply wooded slopes on either side; an area Lester knew from a childhood shooting the rapids, or explored the muddy tracks in the back seat of his brother"s car nursing the beer. He turned left. The residents on this section of river were a mixed bag. The bag itself was labelled "˜individualist" and was full of people who regarded their own mind as the highest authority. Mostly men, they chafed at the company of others if they had to suffer it for too long and came into town only to gather material for their muse; or to buy raw material for their home brew. Lester turned left down another rutted track and stopped at the end. In front of him was what looked like a gingerbread house inlaid with lollies. In fact the walls were mud, and the lollies were bottles of booze, but the place was magical none the less. Lester had helped in its construction by relieving some of the bottles of their contents, and the owner, a large Maori man named Napi, claimed to be able to look at each bottle from inside his living room, and take the conversation that it had given rise to, down off the wall like a library book, and continue its thread. True or not, it was a good line and his friend could talk the leg of a cast iron bath, so this is where Lester came for a new direction when his spirit ran dry. He entered through a door with a cloth hanging, which had the picture of the back end of a goat and the words "leave it outside" printed underneath. Inside he found a man the size of a small bull with a round face sitting in a lounge chair. His attention fixed on the television set on the other side of the room, and when he saw Lester he pointed to a chair and said, "˜Sit down and be quiet. There"s some black magic in the fridge, help yourself. You"re just in time to hear an address from President dick-head". Lester went into the kitchen and poured himself a glass of brown, cloudy liquid from a bottle in the fridge. When he returned, there was a four man musical act performing. Each one was dressed as a different character; a doctor, a construction worker, a dark skinned native and a butcher, and the lyrics they were singing were meant as a guide for good living. A community message. "˜For all our sakes, for the sake of all, "˜We must pull together, we must or we"ll fall, "˜Don"t worry "˜bout the anti soc"s, "˜Don"t pay them any mind at all, "˜We"ll teach them hard we"ll teach them good, "˜We"ll burn them in your neighbourhood." The song finished and the President appeared. He was a man in his early sixties wearing a bright floral shirt and he was backed by a frozen tropical beach scene with bordered by real palm trees. His face was blackened and he was wearing a Jewish yamulka. When he opened his mouth he spoke rapidly, like a television spruiker, "˜Howdy, howdy, howdy." He yelled, "˜Hello to all my friends living non-conformist lives of harmonious devotion to the common good". He paused momentarily for the television audience to reply. "˜And a big thank you to the Croucher-Anarcho-Syndicalist singers, for reminding us of our dual rational organic nature; working for the common good, and purging the anti-social elements from among us, like a body"s immune system burning foreign bodies out with a fever," he said. "˜What"s all this anti-virus stuff," said Lester while the President continued raving," I haven"t heard that before". "˜That"s a new initiative. We"re being encouraged to rid ourselves of the arse holes among us. And yeah, anyway, I"ve made a start," said Napi with a slight smile on his face. "˜You"ve made a start?" said Lester. "˜Yeah, there was some low life raping women down the valley, and we anti-bodied him," he said. "˜You what?" said lester. "˜We anti-bodied him; you"ll find the ashes in the bush a hundred meters up the hill," said Lonnie. "˜I took the skull down and threw it over the fence at Nasty Joes. That little fuck with the attitude didn"t come out of his shed," he said. I"m not surprised, thought Lester. After he"d had his third home brew and buoyed up with false courage, Lester climbed the hill. In a clearing, in the thick bush, he found a low pile of ashes. It had been a big fire, and Lester search for 15 minutes before he found any bone fragments. He stood for while looking at the small pieces lying on the ground and mumbled, "˜For the good of all".

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    You need to put space between paragraphs here. It's too hard to read. We have no way to indent.
    Yes, it is a tough read. It is a good story, but there is enough material here for two chapters. I would break it into two.
    A story that has a good 'feel' to it, in the sense that a good image is created about the world that the main character lives in. A couple of points that I would say could do with improvement:
    • The story seems as if it's pregnant with a plot, but the first traces of it never seem to appear. Perhaps give some kind of event or goal that drives the character forwards to instil a sense that something is actually happening.

    • The reminiscing/detailing about the past event is quite a long description. So I agree with kt6550 in that I think you should break into two chapters, or at least two clearly defined segments of writing, rather than trying to insert the past into Lester's story. Alternatively, you could integrate on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis (think Terry Pratchett).

    • The vocabulary was adventurous enough to add flavour, and the imagery was strong enough to begin to draw me into the world. However I found the spelling, punctuation and general paragraph/sentence structure quite jarring in places, and I had the sense that it flitted from topic to topic in an ad-hoc manner. More structure here would give the flow you need.

    Keep going, would be interested to read a second draft Smile