CHAPTER 1 – Painting the scene
The United Nations building rises up like a great glass slab alongside the East River in Manhattan. From a distance it is fanciful to imagine it resembling the monolith that Arthur C Clarke summoned up in 2001 A Space Odyssey. It too represents the hope for mankind’s future.
This is the organisation that spawned the magnificent document ‘The Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ in which the optimistic dreams of the world were enshrined. This was the world community’s apotheosis, and all that was required was the funding, power and will to put it into operation.
Unfortunately those ideals were never realised.
Within this building the General Assembly, representing all nations of the planet, meets regularly to discuss the issues and crises that threaten us. Within this building the Security Council also meets regularly. Their brief is to ensure peace throughout the world. They look for non-violent means for addressing conflicts and settling disputes.
It is not difficult to see that the United Nations has limited success when it comes to creating peace and resolving crises. The world has never been more fraught.
Unbeknown even to those members of the General Assembly and Security Council there is another body which also meets at regular intervals. The Strategic Planning Committee – the SPC – has no official standing. It is not recorded in any documentation, reports to no-one and to all intents and purposes does not exist. Yet this body, made up of members of the G7, has a huge remit and great powers. It operates to its own brief – to look for alternative methods for dealing with global issues. It is not subject to the same strictures, operates through clandestine facilities and can deploy a huge budget. It operates under military jurisdiction and protocol.
There are not even rumours of its existence. Yet it exists.
Beneath the United Nations building there is a committee room. It is reached by means of a number of circuitous routes all carefully protected, guarded and sealed, culminating in a single entrance by way of an elevator.
The room itself is extremely ordinary. The round circular walls look dour but conceal the largest array of devices ever assembled. The surfaces are polymer screens for projecting information. The screening devices are exceptional and updated by the hour. Even the seemingly austere mahogany-look table is really an array of extremely high tech facilities but they are only visible when required. The furnishings are almost non-existent, consisting of the single round table of standard dark polymer, with seven comfortable chairs. The purpose of the venue is discussion.
This is where the clandestine decisions are really made. Above them in the chambers the business is relatively mundane compared to this. In their own Synods and governments these seven people carry out their business but they all know that the global perspective is decided here. Their instructions come from another source.
The group is presided over by President Paul Shank of the USA and consists of the seven Heads of what used to be known as the G7. This assembly was created long ago and shaped by a group of extremely rich and influential figures who have always pulled the strings behind the various governments of the world. They operate globally and utilise the power groups to manipulate events and markets. History is largely the result of their various interventions. The fact that the G7 expanded to incorporate Russia, China, India and Brazil to become the G11 has had no impact on this select group. They, or rather their instigators, did not feel the need to expand. Neither is it likely to respond to circumstances should the Arab and African countries succeed in their pressure to be included in the G11. The SPC has a historical basis and is happy to keep it that way. They have no wish to become big and unwieldy and descend into a talking shop like the other bodies. They have no desire to include the others in their deliberations. Especially those they have never trusted. Seven is big enough. Here they can speak honestly and openly without fear of repercussions. Rather ironically they informally called themselves ‘The Synod’ fully aware of the significance of the word. There was nothing religious about them but they made the decisions that shook the planet.
They have the strongest power in the world behind them.
The current discussion had been focussed on the burgeoning world population with the horrific implications now being predicted. The natural world had already been decimated; the last tigers, rhinos and elephants had disappeared from the wild years ago. The chimps and gorillas were only hanging on by a thread through the extreme actions of a dedicated group of environmentalists backed up by the military. The frantic ravaging of the land continued apace. It was a rearguard action that was doomed to fail but that was a side issue.
The figures made for dismal reading. The predictions for the scarcity of essential resources, pollution levels and climate change were looking dire. The economic figures were also on a disaster level. The inevitable conflicts were already getting out of control.
If that was not bad enough, the population was still on course to continue its upward projection. None of the actions so far taken had slowed it down.
The seven of them flicked through the data, graphs and projections delivered to each of them on the polymer screen from the table in front of them.
George Handley was a small man with longish grey hair swept back from his receding hairline and bushy side-burns. His immaculate pin-stripe suit and Etonian tie were anachronistic by any standards but he wore it with pride and considered it set the tone. It provided him with a bearing of historical gravitas, or at least that was how he liked to see it. His voice was measured and conveyed the same message with its cultured tones and paced delivery. It made him sound aloof and superior.
George pouted with a look as if he were sucking on something vile. ‘There are just too many of them,’ he noted disdainfully as if he was talking about an invasion of cockroaches. ‘Too many by far.’
Paul Shank allowed himself a reproachful smile. The arrogance of George Handley always amused him. The man certainly had a high opinion of himself. It was all a result of his background and class. Paul himself came from good old American farming stock. His family were wealthy but had none of the pretensions that George Handley projected. His folks were much more down to earth. But that did not prevent him from feeling completely at ease in all company. He was used to rubbing shoulders with the greatest men and women from all walks of life. Nothing fazed him. He would not be in this position if it had.
‘Come now George,’ Paul chided with a light easy manner. ‘Surely we have to have an expanding base? The economy cannot grow without expansion.’
George glowered down at the charts on his screen and flicked it off. He’d seen enough. There was no amusement or lightness of tone in his voice. ‘They are not contributing,’ he pointed out. ‘They serve no purpose. You are all missing the point. You cannot even go downtown without a respirator. Things are desperate.’
‘So what are you suggesting George?’ Pascal Bosco enquired. His dark eyes flashed mischievously. His modern one-piece suit was stylish and comfortable and set the tone for his personality. He was forward looking. He knew how George’s mind worked and liked to bring things out into the open. ‘That we do away with them all?’
‘They serve no purpose,’ George repeated as if this was sufficient in itself. It amply conveyed his opinion. ‘They do not work or contribute to the global economy. They are merely a drain on the financial system. They are unproductive. Their consumption is causing the problem. They do not earn and so are not able to contribute. Not only that but their very presence is destructive. They are creating the problems we are having to face. Let’s deal with the root cause.’
Pascal sat back in his chair, laced his fingers and raised his eyebrows, unwilling to take that step despite the fact that he knew it was inevitable. He felt a sinking inside but persisted futilely in focussing on the economic aspect even though he knew it had moved well beyond that. ‘Perhaps consumption is sufficient to stimulate the economy. They provide a need.’
‘They are a canker on the face of the planet,’ George stated bluntly.
‘Come now George,’ Mya Jannot said, reacting to the harshness of his words. ‘There is a trickle down. They, in their own way, are contributing to the global economy. They are consuming.’
‘Not so you would notice,’ George replied huffily. ‘They are parasites. They require eradication. Besides this is no longer an economic issue. You’ve seen the data on climate and the latest pollution figures. It’s unsustainable.’
The room fell into silence as all seven of them reflected on the latest data. The population was spiralling out of control. Drastic action was needed.
‘It is true that we have to do something,’ Mya admitted with a frown. Her hair was unfashionably grey and bobbed. It fitted with the rather unflattering costume she insisted on wearing. ‘The natural environment is all but destroyed and we’re running short of every possible resource. There are mounting food and water issues plus the dire situation with the unrenewables. We cannot keep pace. It we do not take action now we can say goodbye to the last of our wild fauna.’
‘I do not care about the fauna,’ Virginie Chauvin stated with Gallic frankness. Virginie was a power dresser with shoulders squared and padded. It set the tone. Everything about her was bold and angular. Her make-up and jewellery was expensive, severe and precise. She was a woman who was used to being listened to. People normally took notice. ‘I care more about the looming conflict. We are already at each others throats. It cannot go on much longer. China, Russia and Brazil are all vying with each other and the Arab bloc is getting involved. Before long it will erupt. There is not enough to go round.’ Virginie surveyed the room with a magisterial gaze. ‘I agree with George. ‘They are surplus to requirements. They need removing.’
These were the thoughts that were normally suppressed in most people and certainly not aired in public assemblies but it was the remit of this group to think the unthinkable.
‘I am not so sure,’ Paul mused. ‘Every social model requires a wide base. It provides incentive for everyone. It is there as a warning. It makes people aware of why they are working so hard. That desperate poverty is something to be avoided. Just having it there is an incentive to all those who work. Perhaps we just need to focus our attentions on the problems the population is creating.’
‘Surely the size of the market has to be the guiding principle,’ Hans Schultz said also reluctant to step into the arena that he knew they must eventually address. The sturdy German had an acute mind when it was applied to the economic considerations. His round face was a little pasty looking and his eyes appeared small and insignificant, his clothing nondescript and bland, but his mind was shrewd. He was happiest looking at the situation in economic terms. ‘We need growth. It is the size of the market that determines growth and productivity. That’s what or friends upstairs want. They want a good return. Having a large body in reserve to call on is a reservoir of cheap labour. It keeps wages down, reduces prices and maximises profits.’
‘But that model breaks down when there is a looming battle over resources,’ Virginie Chauvin pointed out in exasperation. All this beating about the bush was a waste of time. They all knew it. They were going to have to grasp the nettle and the sooner the better. All this circling around the topic was a waste of time. ‘The dwindling resources create a different scenario. George is right. We have moved a long way from economics. This is a global catastrophe.’
They could all see the ramifications
‘It’s more complicated that just the size of the market,’ George stated belligerently emphasising his argument. He saw it as more than the mere market and profits. They had become a side issue. This was spiralling out of control. ‘There is the population’s productivity and wealth to take into account.’ He grimaced round the room. ‘It is related to their purchasing power. If they cannot afford to purchase goods then they are of limited value. If their tastes and proclivities are basic they are next to useless. One has to assess their aspirations, determination and willingness to strive for what they wish to procure. I do not see it. It is limited. Their needs are basically just to survive. They are causing a huge emigration problem. Then there is the terrorism. The pollution and climate are becoming apocalyptic. They are out of control. We must deal with them.’
‘Surely we can manipulate that?’ Paul remarked reasonably. ‘It all depends on marketing and propaganda. The scientists can deal with the environment.’
‘Not when it is a battle for severely depleted resources,’ Virginie Chauvin interjected.
‘Marketing cannot touch the have-nots, don’t-wants or can’t-gets,’ George remarked morosely. ‘I reiterate: there are huge numbers of them out there, billions, who are simply surplus to requirements. They are not consuming and they are not contributing. All they do is generate huge problems and the rest of us suffer. That is my point. We are better off without them.’
‘So how are they surviving then?’ Mya Jannot enquired with a petulant tone. She found George’s callous approach hard to take. ‘They must be consuming something.’ Mya knew that in the end it would come down to the economics. That is what upstairs always cared about.
‘They are scavenging,’ George Handley replied with an air of disgust. ‘Living off our detritus. They are not part of any chain of consumption. They serve no useful purpose. They are surplus to requirements.’
George’s phrase echoed round the chamber and set the minds racing. Was it as simple as that? They all knew what George was referring to. He was proposing the extermination of a good percentage of the world’s population. Surely there had to be a reasonable alternative. It was incontrovertible that the population was now raging out of control. The environment was teetering on the brink of catastrophe. They were in the last chance saloon.
‘So what are you suggesting George?’ Mya Jannot asked, skirting around the issue. ‘A huge welfare programme to bring them into the frame?’ She knew that was not the solution. Indeed it would only make matters worse. If they all started consuming at even a small percentage of the most affluent the resources would be exhausted and the world would be plunged into conflict. ‘A benefits scheme? A massive work programme?’ Even as she voiced it she could see the preposterous nature of the idea. ‘What are you actually suggesting?’
The whole room focussed on George Handley. It was quite clear what was on the table but they wanted to hear it from him.
‘I am simply pointing out that we have a large rump that is proving a drain on wealth creation,’ George replied, ducking the question. ‘There are billions who are surplus to requirements and of no use to anyone. They are a drain on our resources and serve no purpose. They are having a catastrophic effect that is costing us dearly and will only get a lot worse. If we do not do something drastic now we will end up paying far more later. I cannot imagine that is what our friends upstairs would want. We have to be decisive.’
They all knew what he was getting at. They had to face it.
‘We could stoke up a few more wars,’ Pascal Bosco proposed. ‘That is always a good way of reducing numbers plus it has the added benefit of stimulating productivity. There’s nothing like a good bit of arms trading to stimulate the economy. There are plenty of fanatics out there in the hinterlands and there’s nothing like religion or survival to focus the mind.’
‘One thing is certain,’ Virginie Chauvin remarked pointedly. ‘Natural processes do not seem to be working as well as they used to.’ She glowered round at them as if it was their fault. ‘Every time we have a natural catastrophe we get the Aid groups wading in. They pull at everyone’s heart-strings and the money pours in. There are too many do-gooders. They rush in and mop up before the natural processes have a chance to work their normal attrition.’
‘Technology has certainly taken the sting out of natural disasters,’ Hans Shultz agreed. ‘There is a rapid deployment of resources and so much more that can be done. Disasters do not reach the same proportions as they used to.’
‘There you are,’ Pascal Bosco remarked triumphantly. ‘That’s where technology comes in. War is more efficient than ever. We can take out millions.’
‘But it’s so indiscriminate,’ Paul Shank argued. ‘It doesn’t just get rid of the ones you’d like to eliminate. It just……’
‘It is too limited in scope,’ George asserted, interrupting Paul in mid-flow. ‘War is too restricted. We need something on a bigger scale and something more general. We have scroungers everywhere now. They’ve become universal. We should cut out the cancer once and for all.’
It brought everyone back down to earth. They had viewed the latest figures and knew a few million here and there was going to do little to rectify the position. They did not like to admit it but George was right.
‘Besides,’ Virginie Chauvin stated fiercely. ‘Those damn weapons keep getting in the wrong hands and you get them coming straight back at you. We have damn terrorists holding everyone to ransom, blowing things up and destroying the economic base. It gets in the way and slows things down. War is no good. You cannot control it well enough.’
‘You could always go for the nuclear option, I suppose,’ Pascal Bosco piped in brightly. ‘Not much chance of missiles getting into the wrong hands.’
‘I wouldn’t be too sure of that,’ Virginie Chauvin muttered.
‘It would get rid of millions as well as stimulating the markets,’ Pascal continued eagerly without pause. ‘Just imagine all those jobs in reclamation and rebuilding. What a boost that would be.’
‘But Pascal,’ Paul protested. ‘That’s so messy. It would make things so unpleasant and as George has pointed out; it would not go far enough to solve the problem. We need something more universally effective.’
George was heartened by what Paul had said. It wasn’t often that the man sided with him. ‘Something drastic has to be done,’ he tapped hard on the table in emphasis. ‘Our growth is stagnating. Upstairs is not happy. We cannot go on like this. It is becoming desperate. There are far too many, billions too many. They are like leeches sucking our industrial blood. Something has to be done!’
‘We need some way of removing the ones we do not require,’ Teruo Yamada stated softly. He had remained quiet and thoughtful. Now he was ready to speak. He had worked it all out in his head before saying a word. He knew exactly what was needed.
‘We cannot go rounding up millions of people,’ Paul remonstrated allowing his mind to ruminate on the solution they were all talking about. ‘Hitler and Stalin have tried that. Imagine the scale of the operation. We would need to eradicate billions. Selecting them and rounding them up would be a night-mare. Think of the logistics. You could not keep an operation on that scale secret.’
‘Oh I wasn’t thinking of anything so pedestrian,’ Teruo Yamada said chidingly. ‘There would be no covert secret police or crude archaic methodology. We have the means to be much more clandestine, effective and subtle than that.’
There was silence in the room. The polymer screens shut down and the table resumed its former mahogany appearance. The blank walls had no focus for the eyes and nobody wanted to meet anyone else’s. They were all looking down at their hands.
Seven ageing individuals speaking a language developed in an obscure Northern European archipelago, were about to determine the future of mankind. This was the way things had been done since the dawn of civilisation.
Without speaking they were already in agreement.
The Valley Institute was an exceedingly pleasant place to work despite being located in the huge urban conurbation of the outer London suburbs with all its congestion and densely polluted air. That was probably because the staff in the institute were selected for their caring attitudes. That selection process tended to ensure that they were very pleasant friendly people. But that was not the whole story. The amiability was certainly augmented by the convivial surroundings of the Institute itself but it also undoubtedly had a great deal to do with the nature of their charges. The Mickel kids had an aura about them that filled you with good feelings. Just being near them made everything feel right. You could not help yourself.
The Institute building was a veritable oasis in the midst of the endless urban sprawl outside. In here they had clean air and space. No expense had been spared. This was a high end private facility that had been set up to satisfy a need and had set about doing that in the most expansive manner. Nothing had been skimped on and there was no limit to the provision. That was why it was successful.
London had been selected for the venture because of its centrality plus having the most extensive hub of transport systems – besides London still retained the cachet of old. It represented stability and standards. The Valley Institute provided a service for the extremely wealthy. They had created a business model that reflected that. In order for them to attract in the clientele they had to be the best and they were. From staffing levels, range of activities to comfort and facilities the Institute only offered the very best. The director, Victor Kumar, had research the model well. He had set out to fill a niche and had succeeded. They were full to capacity.
In this instance being full to capacity actually meant that they had their quota of four. That was all they needed. And there was a sizeable waiting list of another four. Victor had his eye on that one. It was possible that in the near future he would consider expanding through the creation of a second unit. At present that idea was being kept in abeyance. You had to study your market. You had to be absolutely sure that there was an ongoing market sufficient to warrant the outlay. Setting one of these up was incredibly expensive. Right now there was probably sufficient demand to make such a move but who knew about the future? You had to be certain that there would be sufficient interest from the sort of people who could afford such an expense and who felt it was right for them to send their kids to such an institute. That market was extremely limited and could be wiped out with a single development. Much research was presently going on with virus vectors in the hope of providing cures for a range of genetic disorders. What was in Victor’s favour was the extreme rarity of the condition. It was hardly worthwhile for a major research facility to devote time and money on a ailment with such a limited number of victims. It was not worth their while. They would never get a return on the outlay expenditure. However, that did not mean that there might not be a simple spin-off from a technique derived from another source that could be applied to their disorder. It was probably best to be cautious. Victor had seen a number of organisations crash to oblivion due to greedy over-extension. World-wide there were only 256 known individuals with the disease; Mikel’s Syndrome was exceedingly rare. Victor knew that he was very fortunate that at least four of them happened to occur in the wealthiest classes and so could afford the standard of care he provided. It did not come cheap. The chances that there would always be eight who could afford those levels of finance were remote to say the least. No. It was best to consolidate and have a healthy waiting list. It stimulated demand. Besides he had other ventures to focus on. It was always best to diversify. In this business you did not put all your eggs in one basket. Who knew what the future might bring?
Doctor Angstrom sat in his office flicking through the latest research data. It was always best to keep up with the latest developments and he knew Victor Kumar would no doubt quiz him on it when he came in next. He tapped the plexiscreen off; there were no new break-throughs.
He looked out through the Plexiglas walls and smiled contentedly. Most of the facility was open-plan or transparent. It was always good to keep an eye on what was going on around you at all times. All four of their ‘youngsters’, as he encouraged all the staff to call them, were out in the area they thought of as ‘outside’ along with their carers. They did not always operate on a one to one basis basis but they were doing today. In reality, the concept of an ‘outside area’ was rather an arbitrary term as the whole Institute was enclosed in a Plexiglas dome and was continuous with the areas inside. Only the individual rooms were opaque and even they could be made transparent by means of a simple request from Langston’s monitoring desk. But outside was where the vegetable gardens were, the flower beds, lawns and play areas with various apparatus. To all intents and purposes that was outside.
At that moment Esi, Jan and Mina were all in the vegetable patch supervising Anwar, Jelphi and Mardra in the planting of seedlings. All the children took great delight in propagating and planting. It was one of their regular activities and usually all four of them were excitedly clustered round their carers vying to use their dibbers and carefully transfer the seedlings they had germinated. It was good for them in many ways. It not only exercised their fine motor skills but also nurtured their caring attitudes towards each other and the natural world. Not that this was a quality that required a great deal of nurturing. All four of the children were delightfully caring and gentle. It seemed to be a feature of their condition.
Mickel’s Syndrome was a rare genetic disorder that had only recently been identified by David Mickel, a geneticist who had been working in the area of Down’s Syndrome. Mickel’s Syndrome was a similar condition to that of Down’s with many similar characteristics. It was caused by a partial trisomy of chromosome 21. A large part of one of the chromosome 21’s had duplicated and attached to the end of the chromosome. You would not credit how having too much of something could create such a disruption. Those with Mickel’s Syndrome were fertile and could live independently but were rarely given the opportunity. The world was too harsh and cut-throat. They were too trusting and taken advantage of. The Mickel’s Syndrome children were utterly delightful, inquisitive and gentle though they never seemed to mature; even as adults they retained their child-like qualities. They had previously been largely diagnosed as Down’s Syndrome children. They had the characteristic features yet they were different. They were high order functioning with IQs up into the 80s and even beyond yet with a characteristic naivety that lay them open to abuse. Left in the mainstream they often became victims. Their gentle nature and air of wonder made them unworldly and open to ridicule and their sensitive nature had no defence. It was like putting a defenceless rabbit in with a pack of hungry wolves. The ‘normal’ kids appeared positively feral.
Trevor was with Mike in the play area. They had a routine they went through that was designed to exercise all the muscles and joints. One of the side-effects of the disease was a problem with support tissue collagen resulting in the ligaments tightening and articular cartilage decay. Regular use of all the joints kept everything supple and working smoothly and Trevor loved it. Mike was putting Trevor through his paces and the sound of him squealing with delight rang through the whole dome as Trevor swung between the bars on the climbing frame. The sounds filtered through to Angstrom and warmed him through. Just being in the vicinity of the Mickel kids made you feel good.
Langston looked out through the Plexiglas dome at the world beyond. It was early afternoon but it was already murky enough for the domes lighting to kick in. The air out was not quite thick enough to cut with a knife but he was glad he didn’t have to breathe it. It reminded him how privileged they were.
For Trevor life outside the dome was unimaginable. He did not even think about it. He liked the beauty of the big dome as it arced overhead. Sometimes he would stand right up to it and peer out. There were great blocks of apartments out there with walkways and pedistreams with hundreds of thousands of people all moving off into the distance looking like ants in their different coloured identical suits. He liked to watch them all purposefully trickling down from the blocks every morning to feed into the throngs packing the pedistreams to be whisked off to distant places but he did not wonder why or where they were going or what they might be doing when they got there. He liked the patterns they made.
Then in the evening he would watch it seemingly go in reverse as the people trickled off the packed pedistreams back to the apartment blocks. The system was always packed but in the mornings and afternoons the exaggerated movement created patterns that he found mesmerising.
Today Mike was playing with him on the apparatus. Trevor loved Mike. Mike would tickle him and know just how to make him squeal. Mike was so clever. He always urged him to do more. He could get from one end of the bars to the other now. It was easy peasy. None of the girls could do that; not even Jelphi and she was very daring. Jelphi would jump right from the top. Trevor did not think he could do that yet without hurting himself though Jelphi did not seem to find it hard. But Jelphi couldn’t get to the end on the bars!
Mike taught him how to dangle down from the top with his knees, and how to climb the rope, and how to swing. Mike taught him everything and Mike gave the best cuddles ever, even better than Dr Angstrom or Daddy, though probably not quite so good as Mummy. Mummy was so soft and warm and she smelt good. Mike didn’t smell like that. Mummy was coming soon.
Trevor climbed to the top and balanced. He knew Mike would catch him if he fell. He waved to the girls and Anwar waved back. Anwar was his favourite. He loved Anwar. They often played mummies and daddies. When he was old enough he would marry Anwar. They had already decided. Jelphi and Mardra would be their bridesmaids. They had all talked it through. Dr Angstrom and Mike seemed to find it very funny when they had told them.
‘I want to plant seedlings,’ Trevor said.
‘OK, come on down then,’ Mike said.
Trevor launched himself into Mike’s arms and he caught him and swung him round. It felt so good.
Dr Angstrom watched as the peals of laughter rang round and Trevor was deposited on the ground to awkwardly run across to the girls with Mike in pursuit, arms outstretched and fingers making tickling movements. It was a strange quirky type of run the children had; it was like a canter, with heels kicking out sideways. It looked awkward but there was poetry to it.
Trevor got to the garden and instantly there was a transformation. The fun evaporated to be replaced by a look of wonder. Trevor delicately picked up one of the seedlings off the trolley and was studying it with awe. Mike stood back with hands on hips and watched. Trevor held the tiny plant up close to his face and studied it closely as if he had never seen one before. Delicately he stroked a leaf with his forefinger. Everything about it seemed to fill him with wonder.
When he had drunk it in he gingerly made his way over to the prepared patch where the girls were carefully planting the cabbage seedlings. None of them talked but they all beamed at Trevor as he joined them. The children shared an almost telepathic empathy. You could feel the vibes that flowed between them. They projected a warm glow as if they were surrounded with a bubble of emotional well-being. Trevor was carrying the plant in its fibrous pot as if it was a most precious piece of ancient porcelain – and in many ways it was. For the population outside, the idea of actually growing vegetables like this would have been unthinkable, something only seen on history programmes on the vee-dee. Nothing in their world outside the dome approximated to real food, nothing the mass of people ate bore any resemblance to real vegetables. Their food might resemble meat and vegetable in shape, texture and even taste but nobody was under any misapprehension regarding that. They all knew it was produced from the same mycoprotein processed to order. If they had been able to see through the mirrored surface of the Plexiglas dome that mysteriously sat in their midst they would have been astounded. To have that amount of space and real plants was almost unimaginable. Not that they ever thought much about the presence of what appeared to them to be a large mirrored dome. It wasn’t their place to wonder on such things.
The girls moved aside to allow Trevor through. He crouched down and gently placed the seedling on the soil. They watched intently as he stroked one of the leaves and lovingly traced the outline of its venation with a rapturous expression of wonder. All the children seemed to share in each others delight as if connected. Nobody was more empathic than a Mickel’s child.
Mardra handed Trevor the dibber and he carefully used it to prod a hole into the soil, pulling it from side to side to enlarge the cavity until he judged it was wide and deep enough to receive the fibrous cone of the root-ball. Trevor handed the dibber back to Mardra and lifting the plant up he carefully surveyed it once more before reverentially placing it in the hole he had prepared. He then carefully patted the soil down around it and Jelphi stepped forward to water it with her little watering can.
Then they all stood back as if a special ceremony had taken place. The carers looked on with quiet admiration.
Mike clapped and they all beamed up at him.
Langston Angstrom pulled his eyes away from the joyful scene. You’d imagine they had made a major discovery from the excitement generated and not merely planted a cabbage. He could watch them all day but that would never do. They were so adorable it was contagious but there was work to do.
Angus Blythe was adept with the simulated arms. He could use them so adeptly that he had become renowned for it. By manipulating the controls he was able to exert any degree of force ranging from the power to crush steel to the delicacy of stretching a spider’s web. It wasn’t surprising. It was what he did most days. He enjoyed it.
Right now he was using the arms to inject virus strains into medium. It was not a major task. Indeed it hardly required any concentration at all. This was the routine tedium for Angus.
He watched the screen in front of him as the needles adeptly applied the required samples to their new breeding ground. He could do this bit in his sleep.
The actual operation was occurring safely behind screens in the secure quarantined section of the research centre. The quarantine was 100% secure and needed to be. The viruses they were using were lethal. There had to be no chance that they could escape.
The particular virus Angus was working on was an extremely virulent strain of Ebola. It killed over 90% of all who contracted it. Though seemingly that was nowhere near sufficient for Angus Blythe’s masters; they wanted 100% mortality and a virus that was not just passed on by contact with body fluids – it had to be contagious through droplets. That created a whole new ball-game. They wanted a disease that not only killed everyone who it came into contact with, but was one you could catch merely by being in the same room as the person carrying the disease.
Angus did not concern himself with the morality of his actions. He was paid enormously well for his expertise but that was not the motivating factor; Angus was one of those scientists who loved doing pure research and solving problems. This job enabled him to do that to his heart’s content. He’d do it for nothing. The morality did not trouble his mind. That was for the politicians to take care of. He assumed they knew what they were doing.
This project had been running for years and Angus had been provided with all the equipment and facilities his heart could desire. Nowhere else on earth could possibly have a set-up on this level. You had to hand it to the yanks. They certainly did not stint. If there was anything he lacked or desired he only had to express it and it would magically appear.
Angus had been gaily splicing and inserting RNA bases into virus RNA and noting the results. In the course of his studies he had wiped out whole armies of chimps and so far come up with three absolutely lethal strains. He knew these worked on humans just as well as chimps because they had been used to successfully exterminate a host of criminals. Angus’s viruses had been used in place of normal lethal injections for a number of convicted murderers. Seemingly these men and women had volunteered to be guinea pigs on the understanding that if the virus did not kill them they were free to walk. Angus supposed that was not a terrible deal. The normal lethal injection was 100% fatal; at least with the virus they might have had a slim chance. That had not proved to be the case and they had all succumbed to what was a quite disturbing end. Effectively the virus acted on endothelial cells causing the breakdown of capillaries. Their internal organs had virtually dissolved. Angus, in his capacity as research professor, had observed their demise and found it extremely distressing. The victims appeared to suffer a great deal in the process. Professor Angus Blythe was not used to feeling such disturbing emotions. He had been forced to accept restorative therapy and was fine again now. Part of his therapy had been to study the terrible crimes the victims had perpetrated. He was sure they all thoroughly deserved to die. Yet no matter how much therapy he went through Angus could not shake off the memory of those gruesome deaths. It might all be necessary for the advancement of science but it was on a different level to killing off chimpanzees. They were bred for experimentation. People were different. Killing people had profoundly disturbed Angus – much more than he had anticipated.
Producing the lethal viruses was merely one element in the process. Professor Angus Blythe had two other equally exacting tasks. Having ensured the virus was lethal he had to encapsulate it in an influenza sheath (the influenza virus was of the orthomyxoviridae which was a type of virus spread by aerosol – one sneeze and you’re all dead!) and produce a vaccine that was 100% effective.
The first and second tasks had proved fairly easy. It was the third task that was causing the problem. So far he had not been able to produce an effective vaccine or antidote for any of the three lethal strains. It was extremely frustrating. But that was all part of the great puzzle that made life so exciting. Angus got up every morning determined to come up with a solution.
After throwing everything he could think of at the problem Angus had come to the conclusion that it might be better to produce a lethal fourth or fifth strain and attempt to come up with a vaccine from that. So now he had a two pronged attack.
He was confident. If he could not construct a vaccine for one of the three they had then he would eventually come up with a solution with strains four, five or six. It was only a question of time.
Meanwhile he would breed up quantities of virus, study the RNA and splice in some other code sequences until he came up with one that worked.
It was the anticipation of the day he experienced that eureka moment that kept him going. Angus could imagine the feeling when he finally came up with a functional vaccine. Professor Angus Blythe was a stubborn, rugged completer finisher. He would keep at it like a terrier until he’d finally cracked it.
He deftly sealed off the sample tubes and placed them in the incubator. He glanced up at the chronometer. The time passed so quickly because he was so focussed on the task in hand. It was late. It was time to call it a day and catch up with the soaps on the veedee, get a bite to eat and contemplate which of the selected RNA sequences might just work. Perhaps tomorrow would prove productive?
Angus studied the screen. Maybe one of these thousands of batches would prove the one. He watched the sample tubes all sitting benignly in their racks in the incubator. Who knew?
It would happen one of these days he was sure.
‘A new strain of Ebola has taken hold in the latest outbreak in Zaire,’ the announcer reported. ‘The crowded pedistreams, crowded work facilities and domiciles of modern urban life have proved an ideal environment for the spread of the disease.’
A shot panned across the urban sprawl of Kinshasha. The pedistreams were full to overflowing. It cut to one of the modern factory units using Three-Dee modelling to create goods to order. Thousands of individuals sat in lines at their computers all speedily drawing up the necessary programmes to produce the required merchandise. It cut to the densely packed domiciles in the community where blocks of ‘beehive’ housing provided the accommodation for millions of workers.
It did not take much imagination to see how easily a contact virus might be spread. You did not need to be an epidemiologist to work out that this was going to spread fast.
‘The World Health Organisation is working with the Zairian government to ensure shut-down and containment’, the announcer reported. ‘All entry and exit from Kinshasha is now restricted.’
The shot displayed heavy army presence at airports and stations. All transport was shut down.
‘Pedistreams are being scanned for signs of people displaying fever,’ the announcer informed everyone as the holo showed a close-up of the normal security vee-dee’s with the implication that these were being used to monitor the crowds. ‘Anyone suspected of having symptoms of the disease is being quarantined in the special isolation units that have been specially shipped in for the purpose.’
The holo displayed one of the satellite isolation clinics set up on the outskirts of Kinshasha. The mobile devices of clear white Plexiglas were standard for an outbreak of this nature. They were shipped in as needed and deployed rapidly. The key to containment was rapid response and shut-down. They had learnt that lesson to their cost from the catastrophic Ebola outbreak of 2015. The world had simply not moved fast enough and it has been allowed to gain exponential growth to break out of Africa to the West. Nowadays things were much more organised. The response teams slipped into gear.
‘We are confident that we will contain this outbreak soon,’ Dr Thabo Menzies reported. His broad black face peered out sternly through the visor of his protective suit. Behind him it was possible to see hundreds of units each with their patients ensconced in beds. ‘We are administering vaccines to the population of Kinshasha and treating the patients who have gone down with the Ebola Haemorrhagic fever,’ he explained reassuringly. ‘This new strain has proved difficult but we have rapidly deployed our forces and are firmly in control.’
The face of the reporter appeared back on the holo.
‘The World Health Organisation believes that due to rapid responses from the world community, the disease will be rapidly contained and the death toll should not exceed a million.’
‘Now let us turn our attention to the latest news on fresh water production……’
If you are tempted to have a read of one of my Sci-fi books in either paperback or digital I have provided some links below:
My best Sci-fi books in the USA:
Ebola in the Garden of Eden
Starturn – Intergalactic Rockstar
Sorting The Future
My best Sci-fi books in the UK:
Ebola In The Garden Of Eden.
Sorting The Future
Starturn – Intergalactic Rockstar