Amoeba’s Lorica: Outbreak

A work of fiction … we hope. Standard disclaimers.


Bring out your dead!

The summons came, not from a crier in rags, ringing a bell and preceding a human-drawn cart with corpses in it, but from loudspeakers mounted on an ambulance, which crawled down the deserted suburban street, stopping at every house and punctuating its monotonous message with an occasional whoop whoop from its sirens.

Andrew peered – carefully, he did not want to be seen – out from between the shutter slats of a second-story window as the aid car went by. He remembered when they first started appearing regularly in the neighborhood, about three weeks ago … three weeks, he realized with a start. He’d lived a lifetime in that three weeks – and that was more than most, perhaps now all, of his neighbors had gotten out of the deal.

In those first few days, the ambulances had not called for the dead. And they had been thronged. The scenes had reminded Andrew of crowds of greedy children chasing after the ice cream truck. Hey mister, I have a nickel, wait for me!

Until the fights broke out. When the EMTs in their full-body-armor hazmat garb ran out of whatever pills or shots or stuff they were dispensing that day, or couldn’t dispense them fast enough to suit the mob. Several med-tech teams died in riots. It only took two days for the authorities to respond by sending out, with every ambulance, a squad of troops, wearing similar head-to-toe hazmat protection and licensed to use the full-automatic force with which they were equipped.

Indeed, the first corpses that the ambulances hauled were those created by crowd-control procedures. But this source quickly disappeared, as did the crowds. There was, however, to be no rest for the EMTs, as the dead from bullets were quickly replaced by the dead from disease. Ugly bodies, contorted with the memories of pain and terror, and putrid with the sight and stench of piss, shit, puke, and blood. Especially blood, which gushed from every pore and orifice and stained everything that the bodies touched. For a week and more they came, first a stream, then a raging torrent, finally a tsunami. Often they were borne to the ambulances by persons scarcely less bloody than the dead they carried. Many of these asked to be thrown onto the piles, and if they were refused, they would settle the argument by shooting themselves in the head.

Then, abruptly, as if someone had turned off a tap, the bodies stopped coming. For the past two days, the ambulances had rolled through the neighborhood to solitude, and to no sound but those made by themselves and by the weather.

Andrew had taken part in none of this. He lived alone in his house, kept aloof from his neighbors, did not encourage visitors. He had had survivalist training, and took its principles and practices seriously. When he heard of the bioterrorist threat, that Someone had combined the deadly virulence of the hemorrhagic fever viruses with the ease of transmission and the environmental persistence of the noroviruses, was holding the world for ransom for ‘protection’ against this plague, and was promising a demonstration Somewhere, he paid attention. While his social media contacts were screaming ‘fake news!’ and ‘tin hat conspiracy theories!’ at each other, he was acting.

He had laid in canned and dried food, and water. He had dug a dunny hole in his basement, so that there would be no connection to his neighbors or his town through water or sewer. He had procured warm clothing and bedding, so that, when the power went out (as it did), his person would be protected against the oncoming winter. He had an entire room devoted to books, to keep his mind, perforce rid of electronics, occupied until it was safe to reenter the outside world – which he thought would take a year. When he had completed his provisioning, he shuttered and barricaded all possible entryways, through door, window, or vent, and then deliberately ransacked the inside, wherever it might be possible for someone outside to peer in; “See, the place has already been looted, there’s nothing here for you to bother with.” He fashioned a tent-like structure of dark-colored fabrics such as blankets and sheets, such that the inside had a rich, black, almost velvety feel, lit by a single gabled window high on the roofline of the house, through which no neighbor could, with any convenience, see inside.

And then, with all his preparations in place, Andrew ‘took a vacation’ and disappeared, for all his neighbors knew or cared. Just in time; for the threat was a promise, and the ‘demonstration’ – perhaps not fully at the will of its author – was far more widespread and devastating than even the most despairing pundits had imagined. His castle might not have been gaudy, but Andrew reckoned it secure, and from its keep he watched the obliteration of his community.

The aid car had finally left the street, taking its bring out your dead and whoop whoops with it. Sunset of another day was perhaps two hours away. Andrew went to the basement to visit the dunny and then select the items for his evening meal.

While he was seated on the long drop, the ground started to rumble under his buttocks. Surprised and concerned, Andrew focused on the rumbling, which was more of a noise than a shaking. After a few moments, he realized that he was experiencing the idling of a truck engine. Evidently, some vehicle, larger and heavier than an aid car, had come down the street and stopped just in front of his house. Just as Andrew was wrapping his composure around this new information, the bark of amplified voices shattered it.

“Status, Chicken Little?”

“All quiet in sector NR, Mother Goose.”

“Did we ever account for all the residents in that sector?”

“Negative, Mother, nor did we expect to. No one left alive to carry them out these last few days. We can smell them rotting in some of the houses.”

“No bomb-shelter types?”

“If there are any, they’ve got a whole bunch of nasty surprises coming. Unless they’re making their own sterile air, the plague will win through to them sooner or later. If they leave their holes, they’re dead within hours, either from the plague or from our perimeter guards. And if they stay put, they fry.”

“Well, they can go to Hell, where fire’s their only friend. Just like it is ours, it being the only thing that will touch this damned pestilence. And the sooner we cauterize sector NR and the other sectors like it, the better our already-slim chances for saving what’s left of humanity on this planet. T -5 for Operation FireTornado, Chicken Little. Suggest you clear out.”

“On our way, Mother Goose.”

The rumblings briefly increased in volume and frequency, then gradually died away as the truck pulled away from its parking spot and towards wherever the perimeter of sector NR was, presumably directly downwind from the starting point of the burn. A rumbling remained: it was Andrew’s knees. With panic barely under control, he returned to his second-floor room, threw open the shutters, gazed out the window. For a moment, the horizon was near-sunset serene. Then, it erupted in a series of explosive flashes. Instinctively, automatically, Andrew gasped, raised his arm, pointed.

The finger was covered in blood.

Andrew screamed, then collapsed, and knew no more. His body lay in a puddle of fluids on the floor of his rich, black, velvety sanctuary, which the setting sun, augmented by the glare of the coming inferno, lit with a garish red light.

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Reg and Syd: That Sucking Sound Is Coming From the Cloud

Reg: Hah! Still think any of this climate change nonsense is going to hurt business, Syd?”

Syd: “Let’s just say, Reg, that I continue to look for prudent investment opportunities in this sector.”

Reg: “Of course, of course! As do we all, for every sector. We will happily take the military’s money for so long as they’re convinced that they’ll have to move or refit bases due to sea levels rising or weather doing strange things. But the consumer sector? They’d better be talking real money, not like these Uber or Lyft or WeWork scams! God, how stupid can people be?”

Syd: “Stupid enough to not know that their actions speak way louder than their words?”

Reg: Exactly!”

Syd: “I thought that’s where you probably were going with this. We’ve already talked about how the millennials said one thing about cars but did exactly the oppositeNow what?

Reg: “Do you stream stuff on your phone?”

Syd: “Are you kidding? Business only! I have a hard enough time keeping up with the miserable level of intrusion I get from that. My sonon the other hand … [sigh].”

Reg: “If your son uses his phone for streaming, and social media, and all of that half as much as my daughter, I will have to offer you my most sincere and heartfelt condolences.”

Syd: “And she’s still doing the climate warrior thing? Sounds like it’s who should be offering the condolences.”

Reg: “None needed. I have the upper hand, and she knows it. She tries to hammer me with some video about polar bears or something, I just text back ‘so how big a carbon footprint did you need to send me this garbage?’ She gets real quiet, real fast.”

Syd: “The carbon footprint of the ‘cloud’ is as big as that of air travel?? And is growing?!? I knew that Big Data is big, but not that big!”

Reg: “And yes of course, the ‘cloud’ providers are promising to do something about that footprint. Someday. Nice propaganda, that ‘someday’. Makes the ignorant, and the wishful thinkers, believe that ‘someday’ might actually happen at the speed of business. Sorry, hopeful monsters, that ground’s been plowed. Investors aren’t going to be letting snake oil sellers walk away with billions while their money goes down the rathole. Show me where the profit’s going to come from, now, I might be interested. In the meantime, there are excellent reasons why no real decline in fossil fuel use, globally, is projected until 2050, and my portfolios will reflect those realities.

Syd: “No free lunch, is there?”

Reg: “Of course not. You get worried about one aspect of some problem, like climate change, you go to work on it. You think you’ve fixed it, but you find you’ve only shuffled the problem someplace else, and you don’t even know it’s there until it bites you in the ass. Mostly, because you refuse to look until after it’s too late. Now iterate.

“I’ve said repeatedly, the only way that this climate change thing is going to go away is for the human population to, at worst, stop growing, and for each person in the remaining population to use less. On the order, in these United States, of about 2/3rds less energy per person over current levels. Right. Good luck prying those cell phones out of the hands of your grandchildren. Good luck turning off the air conditioning on all those retirees in Arizona and Florida, and, increasingly, in Hawaii, which set a lot of high temperature records last month. Good luck stopping people from traveling when and how they want to. And if you try, and our Donald has gone away, his followers are right there to remind you that they are not going backwards. Not for the likes of hypocrites posing as social liberals. Only if there’s a national emergency will people, for a short while, contemplate making personal standard-of-living sacrifices.”

Syd: “You mean, like the war with Iran that our Donald is picking?”

Reg: “Do not be unworthy, Sydney. Under whose Presidencies have the last two major economic booms occurred and been sustained?”

Syd: “Our Donald’s. And [ptui!] Clinton’s.”

Reg: “The two Presidents since Andrew Johnson who have had articles of impeachment read against them. Don’t you see the service they’re providing us, especially Donald? They provide the sideshow, while we run things to our liking, and are trusted to do so. And war remains the most profitable enterprise possible, especially if those trusting employees of ours can be induced to make the sacrifices that will help society – meaning, mostly, us!”

Syd: “OK, I guess. But I do hope that the Iranians and whomever they get to help them don’t sink any of our nuclear-powered warships, especially our carriers. Speaking of environmental damage.”

Reg: “Sam? A bottle of our finest from the cellar. I can’t think of a better way to help Sydney here get back to his normal, chipper, upbeat, supportive self.”

Sam: “Sounds like your friend’s been beating around the bushes, sir.”

Reg: “Well, don’t you do the same. Off you go.”

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The Dude and Dude 2019 Year in Rear View

Ay, dude!”

“Ay what?”

“Yer lookin’ at tha same thing I is, an’ ya know dam well what ay’s about!”

“Well, ay dude yerself! What tha hell ya think a year in rear view’s saposed ta look like, yeah?”

*            *           *           *           *

6 January: He and She start the new year on a sound (and fleet) footing by ripping off a local burger joint. (Not intentionally.) The surprise comes when they try to make amends.

20 January: On a Saturday morning in the year 2047, Charles seeks to sleep in and have bacon for breakfast. But the artificial intelligence in charge of the health care system has other ideas – and the power to make them stick.

17 February: The Dudes get stuck backstage at another one of YFNA’s orchestra gigs. They have plenty of time, and reason, to meditate on lost causes. They didn’t know that Robert E. Lee was Hawaiian …

19 March: Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba tries a rant and gets ranted on, up one side and down the other, for his pains. No practice what you preach, no cred.

13 April (despite appearances, not a Friday): He and She didn’t have to put up with a volcanic eruption, or any of the fake news about it, in 2019. This, though, did not stop their favorite Hawaiian Island from throwing things at them.

21 April:
 Charles (see 20 January) has another run-in with the health care system. This time, he is rescued from the tender mercies of the Surplus Humanity Service by mind-altering bacteria in his gut – which, when removed, will cure his depression, or else. He does lose his supplier of contraband bacon.

5 May: So how do you cook, and serve, eggs Benedict for 127? All at the same time? In South America? To gorillas [sic] that are armed to the teeth? In your dreams? Yep, that’s about right. Well, perhaps not yours. But for the ones that She has …?

12 May: A simple(?) “Please may I have” at a sandwich shop begets an unexpected, but perhaps not inappropriate, response – reflecting on what it is that We the People really “want”.

2 June: He and She experience the start of summer in Hawaii. Gnaturally. Especially at bedtime.

7 July: Reg and Syd, the virtual fat captains of industry, gloat over the grand strategies and petty tricks that have left half the labor force of the Untied States out of the current economic boom, and convince those left behind that they’re happy about it.

4 August: A change in radio station ownership caused the Amoeba to wonder when the music of his youth became the music of old people, and why it had to.

10 August: He and She decide that they absolutely have to do something about the tyranny of the car in front.

16 September: Why is the ocean blue? Because, as He and She discover, and wrangle over, it’s made a whole lot of really bad lifestyle choices.

21 September: A father sends his young son to his room for asking too many probing questions about the meaning of adulthood.

27 October: Reg and Syd cap off five years of ‘I told you so’ with their reaction to the report that millennials have purchased just as many automobiles as generations before them. Thus, the millennial ‘save the world’ rhetoric, which sounded like the Baby Boomer ‘save the world’ rhetoric of forty years ago, is suffering the same fate.

3 November: Dentists can’t afford fake news. They have to deal with the tooth as they find it.

10 November: When a doctor does go wrong, he is the first of criminals. He has nerve and he has knowledge. As when Research Director Casper W. Chinn, Ph.D., is assaulted by his superiors at Orcin Extermination one time too often.

17 November: He and She confront the age-old conundrum: “If it’s tourist season, why can’t we shoot them“? He suggests a solution: onerists. Half as many!

24 November: Alexa Health Services, the global AI wellness and medical provider (see 20 January, 21 April), identifies Mark and Kathy as ideal candidates for an unrestricted procreation license, at a time when, due to climate and resource issues, it is driving down human population overall. Until …

7 December: … the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

14 December: The scientist compares the blithe imaginings of youth in 1971 with the increasingly onerous realities of maturity in 2019.

18 December: Articles of impeachment are read against the 45th President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump, three years after it was too late. No sitting President has yet been convicted (Richard Nixon resigned rather than face trial), and with Republicans holding the majority in the Senate, the chances of Trump being convicted are small. Sound and fury, signifying nothing. See 7 December.

22 December: The Dudes end the year doing a thing. And you thought you knew what a thing is. Never mind a thingy.

May your 2020 be all that you hope from it!
(Hey, there’ll be this magnificently useless sideshow to watch in Washington DC!)

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