I finally got some time to come back to NaNoWriMo. I'm sure the Gang of Four (not their real group name) are thrilled.
CHAPTER V: The Hour of Lead
You wake up every morning convinced that it's possible. It has to be. If you made the thing, you can make it manageable. Set up some control mechanisms, moderate the infectiousness, add a self-destruct of sorts, and you'll have on your hands the finest biological weapon ever created and, more importantly, whatever amount of money you'd care to ask. You are thinking a cool billion. It's not too much — no reason to be greedy — but still enough to be taken seriously.
By noon you have usually come up with an idea. Your virus is clever and flexible, but the overall pattern is fixed. It's just a matter of finding the right weakness and making sure it will stay there. Like a spare key hidden in a garden, it has to be easy to find by you, but not by anyone else.
It only takes you an afternoon to implement most ideas. Viruses are fast, you have the right equipment, and, let's face it, you are just that good. Logic subroutines are encoded into protein complexes, and from those to gene networks and a DNA patch. A sufficiently fast computer array is indistinguishable from being patient, and all the simulations are completed before the end of the day. Then you key your lab to spun the virus while you treat yourself to a future billionaire's dinner. By now you have thought for so long about what you'd do with the money that it has ceased to feel important. Mostly, you want to get rid of this.
The virus is waiting for you when you get back. Time to run tests. But you begin to get nervous by that time. The tests have to be perfect. You remember too well what happened when you were careless, the areal pictures of corpse-strewn streets. It takes time to design a protocol, and to decide whom in the military to approach.
By midnight you feel terrified by the risk you're taking, and equally terrified by the thought of somebody else doing it first.
You take a couple of sleeping pills and go to bed, wishing there was a way you could earn your billion dollars without killing the world again.
You wake up every morning convinced that it's possible.
(There's a fridge in your lab with two dozen variations of the virus now, all of them as far as you know as capable of ending the world as the first. Not trusting the laboratory's network, you keep track of them in a little black notebook.)
* * *
One day you wake up with your mind feeling unusually clear. It's as if you had shed something heavy on your chest. Everything seems slower and simpler, and nothing in your morning routine, from the shower to the first cup of coffee, to the not very long commute to your lab, holds your attention. If someone asked you, you'd say you are not thinking about anything.
It feels great in a hazy way.
The first thing you do when you reach your lab is to lock up the door from inside, as you've done every day since coming back to life. Then you make another cup of coffee and check your work email, reading each of them very carefully. You decide to make a second cup of coffee and deal with the clutter that seems to plague every laboratory you have ever used. You had never done it before, and it's almost an hour and many equipment placement experiments later that you wonder if you are just procrastinating.
It's an interesting question. You play some Tetris while letting it stew in the back of your mind. You are playing very well at first, with the reflexes of a trained person not thinking about what they are doing, but your heart isn't in it, and eventually lines accumulate too fast. Time for another cup of coffee.
You change the coffeemaker's filters while you are at it. It's an old one. Maybe it's time to upgrade? You check online for the newest models, ignoring the way your stomach begins too twist.
It's surprising how close sickening fear and too much coffee feel alike. If someone asked you, you'd say you aren't feeling anything. You make another cup of coffee to drink while you check your email again, but you don't touch it. The emails seem to carry with them a feeling of sadness and loss. You answer a few, skim a week's of online papers, and realize surprised that it's too early to leave. Plenty of time, if you could face what for.
It'd probably be easier to distract yourself if your didn't work alone. Or maybe they'd be just another thing to juggle, just another think to keep from blowing up.
If somebody asked you, you don't feel tired. A part of you could swear you've been awake for a year.
You remember shooting yourself. By then things had been pretty bad, and you had heard plenty of gunshots that night. You remember trying to drink and giving up, the knot in your stomach too much. You don't remember pulling the trigger.
You've run out of things to do, so you go to the fridge with the electronic padlock, take out a random vial, and stop yourself just before smashing it against the floor. It'd kill yourself and the rest of the world.
You realize you are snapping. Too much tension. It's a perfectly reasonable conclusion, and you feel very rational while watching your hands shacking up. You put the vial back in the fridge as quickly as you can, lock it, and sit down on the floor, wondering if you'll throw up.
You don't, and it feels like a premonition of worse things to come.
(The company you work for, the one who had paid you last time to come up with a weapon to kill the world, has an appointed psychologist to oversee all researchers. Department of Defense regulations, of course. But they are more concerned with spies and terrorists than with emotional health. Nobody fully sane to being with could do what they did, not without breaking down.
And no-one would believe you anyway.
But you still have the gun.)
* * *
"Then I remembered I still have the gun," said the man. "The same one I killed myself with last time."
The woman sitting on the bed seemed attentive but unafraid. It was rather impressive, thought the man, as he had just broken into her home, woken her up, and rambled at her about his virus and his predicament. Psychiatrists were though.
"How did you choose me?" asked the woman. Rather than defensive, it sounded like a genuinely relevant question.
"I picked your name at random from a web search of local psychiatrists," said the man. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. You made the right decision to come and see me."
"Are you humoring me? That could be dangerous, you know."
"Are you saying you will kill me?
"Oh, no. Well, not you in particular. The gun was just to get your attention. But I'm afraid that if I get really crazy I might release the virus on purpose."
"Why not destroy it altogether?"
"I can destroy the samples I made, but I already know how to make it. I'd have to kill myself to destroy the method, and I don't want to. I don't really want to die."
"Or maybe you are afraid of shooting yourself and waking up like last time."
"Perhaps. What pills should I take?"
"I don't think yours is a situation that can be approached exclusively through medication. There are some drugs that will help you deal with your anxiety, yes, but the deeper roots of your issues will still be there."
"Doctor, I know I'm the one who asked for your help, sort of, but I don't really think therapy is going to make this away. I already know that I hate my father and I'm a very fucked up son of a bitch. I don't have a problem with that, it's been working for me so far."
"Let's go back to before you killed yourself. You said you first tested your virus without fully knowing how dangerous it was?"
"I wasn't trying to field-test it, not fully. I suspected it was going to be an slipper bugger, and U just wanted to make a vaccine. I didn't know what would happen."
"Of course not. You don't strike me as a mass murderer, at least not on purpose. But the virus did get out."
"Worse. I had kept it in a very attenuated state, but interacting with my immune system, well, challenged it, made it evolve. After that, it was a matter of time."
"Are you sure it killed everybody in the world?"
"You mean, do I believe it killed my family, or my girlfriend, or some psychoanalytical crap like that? It might not have happened, but it was real."
"That wasn't what I asked. Are you sure the virus was going to kill every human being in the world?"
"I didn't stay that long, but yes. No way anyone was going to find a cure. The polymorphic engine was too smart and too aggressive. It'd be like trying to fight every pandemic in the next five centuries, all at once. Maybe someone could survive for a while on a virus-proof self-contained facility somewhere, but I doubt it. Hell, the virus had co-opted all sorts of micro-organisms, so it wasn't just spreading in the usual ways. Not to blow my own horn, but it was unstoppable."
"Then it was the end of the world." The woman rose from the bed. The man thought for a second that she might reach for the phone or his gun, but instead she picked up her robe from a nearby chair. "That's very interesting. I'm making myself breakfast. Would you care for some tea?"
"Coffee, please," said the man, following her to the kitchen. "I don't want to alarm you, but the crazy man still has the gun."
The woman turned on her microwave and waved his comment away. "You aren't crazy, as you well know. Not any crazier that you were when you created that abominable virus, anyway."
She washed a pair of cups while talking to him over her shoulder. "Let me tell you about the Loop."