I realised something unusual had happened as soon as I entered the lab: dead cotton rats littered the floors of many of the cages. I hadn’t expected fatalities so early. The team had only given them the flu virus the day before and we thought it would be a few days before they developed symptoms. The powers that be had told us the virus came from South East Asia but that could mean a lot of things. It might be a natural mutation, or it might be of Chinese Government manufacture. It made little difference to us, our job was to assess it not trace it, and epidemiologists use cotton rats because they’re a good model for studying human influenza.
We’d inoculated several batches of rats and when I checked the figures, I found that the older the rat, the more likely it was to have been knocked over by the virus. The younger ones didn’t seem affected at all and that got me thinking.
I spoke to my boss, Dr Oakwood. He was well connected and had the ear of the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government. Still, the speed of take up surprised me. A week later I was in the medical facility of Belmarsh prison, supervising the injection of prisoners with the new virus. Ironically, we’d told them it was a vaccination against the winter flu.
The results were astonishing. I’m not saying that all the oldies died and none of the young ones were affected, but statistically they weren’t far off that when you took into account asthma sufferers and other people at high risk. Apparently, once he’d got over his shock, the Governor was happy with the resulting space in his prison.
It is not true I had any involvement in what happened next, whatever the papers said. I did not invent the virus neither was I responsible for the flu vaccine they administered that winter. It immunised the population against several strains of flu, but not this new one. I’m genuinely sorry that ten million older people died in the UK alone, in the ‘Grey Death.’ Having said that, look at what it’s done for the economy: at one fell swoop it’s solved the housing shortage, released huge amounts of capital, and the waiting lists in the National Health Service have disappeared. Worldwide economic growth has been incredible.
I’m not saying it’s all positive – I mean, kids miss their grandparents, generally speaking, and now that most of the old people’s homes have shut, there are a lot of out of work nursing auxiliaries.
Blame, like water, flows downhill and I took the fall. I was probably the most unpopular man since Adolf Hitler, thanks to the Daily Mail. The Government put me in the Witness Protection Program, I grew a beard, had a nose job, started wearing coloured contact lenses and moved here to Crete. You’re the only one who knows my true identity, Doctor, as you have my medical records.
I’m a colourful local character now, I drink in the village taverna, and get work conducting tourists around the few sites of archaeological interest. I can’t speak Greek, as you know, but that’s not a problem, I just speak English with a heavy accent and, what with the costume I wear, the tourists assume I’m some sort of educated peasant. The locals just ignore me, they think I’m touched. I’m quite happy living on my own, in my caravan, on the outskirts of the village.
So, why did you ask me to come to see you, Doctor? Oh, it’s September, time for my flu jab. In the left arm, please, I’ll just roll my sleeve up.
Banner Image: Pixabay.com