This is a post-apocalyptic science-fiction piece; Mankind is facing extinction, can they survive?
It was written for a competition on the Kelley Armstrong OWG forum. The brief was that it had to be less than 1500 words, should have a post-apocalyptic setting, could be written from any point of view, and had to contain, “animals,” and, “a forest.”
Please let me know what you think in the comments…
The Ones Who Do Not Mourn
The Punjab, Northern India, January 2013.
The bullock carcass lay putrefying in the shallows. Human excrement floating into the gaping hole merged with the remaining liquefying intestines in the humid atmosphere. Flies buzzed. Birds pecked at the flesh, their droppings falling freely onto their meal. Despite the stench an emaciated dog licked at the mixture, licked himself, before wandering towards the town, still looking for scraps.
The Max Planck Institute for Psycho-Linguistics, Nijmegen, The Netherlands: Fox-P2 Gene Research Labs, January 2013.
It was 2am. Franz swept back his dark brown fringe and replaced his chin in the palm of his hand, resting the weight of his head on the workbench via his elbow. Two white mice squeaked at each other, foraging through the wood shavings for the ‘chow’ pellets within the Perspex maze. The algorithms he’d spent months coding performed their analytical magic, differentiating these imaged sound waves from those he’d recorded from the untreated control mice that afternoon. They’d found real communication differences between these mice transfected with human Fox-P2 and the controls… but the Holy Grail, a corresponding and provable change in their cognition, was still elusive.
Despite the squeaking, amplified by the mikes, he felt himself beginning to drift, his eyelids closing like the labs’ automatic door. The mice’s vocalisations became cadenced, a squeak-squeak version of Ping-Pong; initiate-return, initiate-return.
He jerked awake when his head went into free fall towards the workbench. He stopped his nose before it hit the woodwork, but his small round glasses skittered noisily onward. The squeaking stopped. Damn, he’d have to reinitiate the experiment now he’d contaminated the data. He needed coffee, badly. Standing, he stretched out the tightness in his lower back. The squeaking restarted as he was turning towards the door: he hadn’t imagined the rhythm! Call-response, call-response. He grabbed his glasses, nearly poking an eye out as he jammed them on his nose.
Within the maze’s mirrored symmetry, each mouse matched exactly the other’s equivalent position, in the same orientation, at the same time. Like a dance coordinated by telephone the mice moved together, synchronised, their squeaks providing the rhythm. Oh… my… god! Carefully Franz reached for the video camera, and hit ‘Record’.
Old Delhi, India, February, 2013.
Bitasok shoved the handcart with his hip, the press of bodies in front preventing him from reaching his usual pitch in the corner of the market. Usually he woke with the sun, the light breaking through the insubstantial weave of the cloth he hung over his cart in the evening to provide a little privacy and relief from the late day’s heat. This morning though, he felt sluggish, and had lain immobile until nearly mid-morning. Still nauseous, he had forced himself to rise. Now he walked, engulfed in a sea of white, khaki and colours. The rainbow brilliance of sarees and kurtas contrasted with the browns of the livestock, dogs and monkeys intermingling freely with the press of the crowds. His three goats and two pigs that he towed along kept getting under his feet. The sun relentlessly pounded the top of his head, pummeling the back of his eyeballs.
He had given the last of his rupees for these animals, and the best trading hours were passing him by. He couldn’t afford to be ill today.
“Khasēḍō! Padakṣēpa! Move!” The weight of humanity and beast constrained on every side, brushing up against him and his animals. He stopped to cough again, a smear of tar-like blood staining his palm. He wiped it on the edge of the cart shelf. Seeing a gap eddy in front of him, he pushed at the cart, but it wouldn’t move. Even as he drove his leaden muscles against its bulk his lungs strained, and the rank smell of animal was gripped and coagulated by the sharper fragrances from the spice stalls, before being driven like a scented piston up his nose. The whites, browns, rainbows and faces began to spin, whirling faster around him, becoming a kaleidoscopic blur as he felt his stomach propel his breakfast of puffed rice and milk out, in a crimson arc, across the crowd. A woman’s scream was underpinned by the guttural shouts of outraged men, but these quickly faded, replaced by the noise of a tropical wind filling his ears. As the earth tipped above him, the lapis-blue of the sky filled his vision briefly before he saw, rather than felt, the puff of dust as his head hit the ground. As he regarded the dusty sandaled foot perched impossibly on its ankle an inch from his nose, it darkened, and faded to black.
For the rest of the day Bitasok’s prone body was searched and stepped on. As enterprising individuals realised there were no friends or family coming to help, his animals were escorted away through the crowded streets by their new owners. It wasn’t until late evening that some of the Shudra caste removed his body and dumped it in the sacred waters of the Yamuna River, where it floated through the countryside, down to the sea.
Excerpt from a report from the Chief Scientific Advisor, Prof. Xun Ch’en, to the UN Emergency Biological Threat Committee: March, 2013:
Geographical Origin………………….Northern India, Punjab region.
Genotypical Origin……………………Highly mutated strain of anthrax virus.
Now with only 72% original genome.
Transmission Vector(s)…………….Canines, rodents, avians, humans, domestic
livestock including cows, horses, sheep, goats, pigs.
Environ. Durability…………………..Presently no known limit. Has dormant state. Experiments continue.
Environ. Viability……………………..Heat: Resists degradation up to 120°C
Cold: Enters dormant state. Resists degradation above -80°C.
E.M. Radiation…………………………Highly resistant – No vulnerable frequencies
Radioactivity…………………………..Resistant to 80250 Rems.
Biological Inhibitors…………………None yet found.
Chemical Sterilisation Agents….Resistant.
Ph. Change……………………………..Viable Ph. 1-14.
Effective Cures……………….None known. Immune to all currently known antibiotics.
Effective Treatments………..None Known. On infection Virus #1453/16A-D
occupies intracellular space. Exhibits unusually high
mutation rate, and generation of newly resistant genotypes.
Threat Level…………………..Critical: Has exceeded World Health
Organisation Pandemic Phase 6.
Excerpt from the “Dissolution Proclamation”, broadcast live worldwide from UN headquarters, NYC, USA, June 2014:
“… and so in the current climate of political mistrust, international tension and hostility, coupled with the complete cessation of all international travel and trade, and each member state’s struggle to maintain law and order within their remaining panicking populaces, I am forced to announce the formal dissolution of the UN. We are no longer able to effectively fulfil our stated objectives as international peacekeepers, rights-advocates, and promoters of social and economic development. We can only urge our remaining and former members to remember our shared humanity, and refrain from further opportunism and aggression…”
The Max Planck Institute for Psycho-Linguistics, Nijmegen, The Netherlands: Fox-P2 Gene Research Labs, July 2014.
Franz knew no one was sure how the breach had happened, but the bio-hazard protocols had been broken, and now most of the research staff, and seventy per cent of the military guarding the Institute, were either infected or dead. He suspected the virus had got through the filters and into the decontamination block during the last power outage.
As a centre of genetic research the Institute had been one of the last havens from the barbarity and decimation taking place ‘outside’. Society was dying. There were some governmental and military strongholds that still held off the mobs, but with no infrastructure left to supply them it was only a matter of time. They may last a year, maybe twenty, but the virus’ dormant state was extrapolated to be far, far longer, and now passively carried by so many animal vectors it was part of the planet’s ecology. Earth was immunising itself against humanity.
As part of humanities’ massive effort to overcome its own extinction the Institute had been transformed into a viral research centre. The mice research had, of course, been suspended, but Franz had kept them alive. He knew what he had seen. He coughed, black blood filling his handkerchief. It wouldn’t be long now. He staggered down the corridor, keeping his shoulder braced on the wall for balance.
There was nearly half a square kilometre of forested land in the grounds of the Institute. Plenty of places for mice to hide. The female was pregnant; a generous litter of nine healthy embryos. He pressed the exit bar, swinging the door open with a crash. No one was there to notice; all were needed for perimeter security. By the time he’d covered the twenty yards to the trees he was on all fours, the world starting to spin around him, a rushing in his ears. He pulled open his sandwich box, and gently shook out the mating pair into a space between the roots of a tree. Without a backward glance they bounded off through the grass between the trees. As Franz’s vision darkened he knew peace. It was their world now; he’d christened them Adam and Eve.