The Culex Experiment by Nik Eveleigh

typewriter

The thin penetrating whine dragged him from the warm recesses of sleep. He pawed at the air as he sank back into slumber but his swipe was ineffectual and the incessant drone continued. He turned on to his side. The insect followed. He sat up in bed, groaned and shook his head.

“Light”

The bedside globe reacted to his command painting the room a dusky yellow.

Where are you, you little…

He rubbed his eyes and scanned the ceiling. No sign of the intruder and no sound to track it by. Resigned to have to start hunting he stretched a lazy arm across his body to pull back the covers.

Ahh…there you are.

Sitting proudly atop his right forearm. Nemesis. Sleep stealer. Bastard. He drew his left hand back slowly, uncurling his fingers as he did so, before…smack.

“Gotcha!”

“Jason?” The voice was blanket-muffled and thick.

“Just a mozzie. Go back to sleep.”

“mm…”

Jason McQuay lay back down and closed his eyes.

“Dark.”

*

“Gotcha indeed Mister McQuay.”

“You’re sure?”

Zeke grimaced and scratched at his stubble-strewn skull. God-damn suits. Always asking the same old pointless… “Yes. I’m sure.”

“Good. Let me know when the diagnostics are available.”

“Sure. You’re the boss, boss.” Zeke watched the grey-suited man walk away and turned back to the holo-display. Although why in the name of the unholy trinity you’re in charge of anything is beyond me. He trailed his fingers in a series of tiny, intricate gestures pulling scattered points of light into his immediate field of vision. Using his thumb and forefinger he enlarged, spun and teased out a shape. Like pottery with binary clay. Satisfied, he sat back.

Replication sequence commencing

The voice was cool, liquid and female. It reminded Zeke of a rushing stream. A good sized chunk of his credits each month was spent on full immersion downloads in the history quarter. Forgotten relics like rivers, forests and glaciers were only a headset and a positive balance away.

Replication complete.

The mosquitoes had been Zeke’s idea from the start. Implanting them with a nanovirus payload was relatively simple but a method of delivering the dose gave him sleepless nights for nearly three months. The virus needed to be delivered deep into the dermis and therein lay the rub. Modify the insect too little and the frail body could not provide enough counterforce to achieve the target depth. Modify too much and a well-trained target would be instantly suspicious. The problem seemed insurmountable until, in the late hours of a random fruitless evening, Zeke smashed prototype M-1749R against the wall with the flat of his hand in utter frustration.

Problem solved.

No outward modifications, no filigree chitinous armour, just buzz, land and wait to be smashed.

Diagnostics complete.

Zeke activated the comms link embedded in his jaw. “We’re online Sir.”

Zeke knotted his fingers and cracked his knuckles. OK Jason McQuay. Let’s see what you can do for us.

*

The fake sodium spheres lining the street winked out as Jason perched on one leg stretching his right quadricep. The morning was grey and damp. But no wind. Perfect running weather. Jason continued his routine. Quads, glutes, calves, hamstrings. Peanut butter flavoured gloop.

“Training partner.”

“Training partner online. Select mode,” came the familiar response from his wrist panel.

“Personal best. Eight kay loop.”

“Personal best twenty-seven minutes. Commencing in five…four…three…two…”

“Shit.” Jason dropped to one knee to retie a shoelace.

“Personal best deployed.”

Jason watched as an approximation of himself sprinted off into the gloom. The lace cost him two seconds and ten metres. This is going to be a tough morning.

*

“Begin EPO sequencing. Seven thousand units.”

Sequenced.

*

Three kilometres in Jason’s holo-projection had gained forty metres and the gap was slowly widening.

“Last kilometre split three minutes thirty-seven seconds. Current pace is…”

“Too slow. I know.” Jason spat the words out in between ragged breaths. This was hard enough twenty years ago old man. What makes you think you can… The surge in his legs stole the focus of his thoughts. Not possible. Am I…gaining?

“Current gap thirty-six metres. Pace three minutes seventeen seconds.”

“Three seventeen!” Jason spoke the words in a mixture of delight and disbelief. I must be dreaming.

“Thirty-five metres. Pace three minutes twelve seconds.”

*

“Increase rate to nine thousand units.”

Rate increased.

OK Mister McQuay let’s see what else you’ve got.

*

Just before the five kilometre point, Jason and his virtual self merged into one form.

“Split. Three minutes four seconds.”

Jason whooped with joy, grinning like a madman. I really am dreaming this. His legs felt full of running, begging to go faster.

And so he let them.

*

“Push it to ten thousand.”

Zeke scratched his head. “Sir, I don’t think that’s a great…”

“Ten thousand. Do it now.”

“Increase rate to ten thousand units.”

Thromboembolic markers critical. Advise?

“Sir I really think we need to pull back. It’s just the first…”

“Override it. Or find a new job.” Grey-suit stared at Zeke with grey dead eyes. Zeke matched his gaze for a moment and then turned away with a sigh.

“You’re the boss, boss.” Zeke cast aside several warning lights with a flick of his hand. “Override markers. Critical threshold reset. Increase rate as directed. Maintain pace.”

Override acknowledged. Dosage increased as directed. Neural blockers deployed.

Grey-suit smiled.

*

“Split. Two minutes forty-seven seconds.”

The voice of the training unit shocked Jason back into reality. Too fast old man, slow it down. His legs began to feel the burn of unfamiliar speed and he shortened his stride pattern. Three steps later his stride lengthened once more unconsciously.

“Current pace two minutes forty-four seconds.”

Enough. Slow yourself down.

Adrenaline coursed through him as his legs ignored the impulse from his brain. Slow…DOWN.

“Heart rate in red zone.”

Jason felt panic rising. His legs continued to piston their way forward, his body carrying his brain like cheap luggage. With a burst of mental effort he willed his body to the right, aiming for some bushes to break his progress. His body deviated for a step and then returned to the centre of the road.

“One kilometre mark. Heart rate in upper red. Advise slowdown. Current pace two minutes thirty-nine seconds.”

Jason howled along the street where his circuit began. At seven hundred metres he could see the light on in the loft room of the apartment. He thought of Maggie as the clot detached in his right calf. Her face was still in his mind when the clot reached his heart. He was dead before he hit the floor.

*

Zeke bowed his head as the display in front of him panned left and right across the asphalt before collapsing into black.

Host lost. Voiding sequence initiated.

“Find me a new one. Today.”

Nik Eveleigh

Header Photograph: By JJ Harrison (jjharrison89@facebook.com) (Own work) [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

13 thoughts on “The Culex Experiment by Nik Eveleigh

  1. I wonder if you wrote this before you started your running? It’s scary stuff. I don’t trust scientists and there you are you proved me right in this dark and disturbing piece. I enjoyed this – thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Diane. The idea did come to while running funnily enough but at a much slower pace than poor Jason. I guess there’s a little bit of truth in all fiction – science or otherwise…

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  2. Hi Nik, I enjoyed reading this and liked the way you set the time in the future with, ‘forgotten relics like rivers, forests and glaciers’. I am sure being stung by a mosquito is every athletes’ dream, a great excuse for performance improvement. However, the sinister big brother approach of conducting live experiments on the unwary is, in my opinion, a real and present danger in our real world. On an other track, I love the idea of a training holographic partner to run against giving an immediate visual indication- just like a real race.
    But I think the message here, for me, is the total disregard of human life by large co-operations. Just a thought. Good thought provocative read.
    James.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very glad this provoked plenty of thought James. As is often the case with my stories I had two threads in my head for a while but no way of connecting them (the hologram runner and nano machines) – then one night a mozzie woke me up and this is the result! It seems that most of the themes I was aiming for have resonated with you which is always such a positive. Could certainly do with one of those training partners to drag me along at the moment – got a marathon next month and my bones are very weary! Thanks for your comments and opinion – always great to hear from you. Cheers, Nik

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    • Thanks Tobbe – it’s so hard to judge if what you’ve written comes across in the way you intended so the fact the pace of this has been mentioned in a number of comments is a real plus for me. Appreciate your thoughts as always!

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s definitely slowed me down on my long Sunday runs! Thanks for reading and commenting Jess – I’m glad the balance of entertainment and fear came across and if you start seeing holograms when you run you’ll need to take on water 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Nik, I reckon that whatever bit me whenever I had to run injected me with concrete.
    You have made me read Science Fiction. But more’s to the point, you have made me enjoy it!!
    We are never far away from performance enhancing drugs scandals so this gives your story a relevance to the futuristic element.
    Excellent!!
    Hugh

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Hugh. I like to play around with different genres and settings but the key for me is always it needs to be something that interests me and that there is a story at the heart of what I’m writing – I’m not saying there isn’t a place for tech wizardry or indeed tetchy wizards but I tend to shy away from hardcore elements of any genre. So…for you to pick this up, read it and enjoy it in a genre that doesn’t generally appeal to you is the best kind of feedback I could receive. Thanks for your support 🙂 Nik

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