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.
I wake up sprawled across the crash couch.
The taste of AmphaTab’s sticky on my tongue and last night’s detritus strewn along the cushion–liquor stains, hashish crystals, something that smells like lavender.
And a splitting headache. That damned noise again.
Once per year, Vicar meets her child at Altar. The event is a scheduled appointment, and means as much to both participants as an annual dental cleaning had meant to a First Form human being. For whatever reason, Awesome insists on yearly Vicar-class “mother-daughter” contact, which will terminate the year the color of the child’s skin changes from topaz to jet, thus signifying spiritual maturity. At that point onward, they will neither see nor think about each other again. Vicars are happily solitary beings, in keeping with Awesome’s self-image.
‘Hello, Tycho Centre, this is shuttle Nostromo, over.’
‘Yes Nostromo, Tycho here, over.’
‘There was a hell of a judder as we left the rail launcher, and there’s a red light flashing on the front control console, over.’
‘Hold one Nostromo, checking, over.’
Awesome meets Vicar’s link, travels deep into the Shog’s past, and gleans the stones. Awesome’s activity is represented in Vicar’s mind as a rotating red orb. This is the Third Form symbol for gleaning; when the orb turns blue Awesome will reveal the correct stone in Vicar’s mind. And at that time only will Vicar wield the glorious power death.
A course I’m taking at the University received the dubious distinction of being voted “least popular” last semester. The results were based on an algorithm formulated by a group of thoughtless students. I happened to be in Dr. Phillips’ presence when the unwelcome news appeared in front of him on his Feed. I immediately signed up; I felt bad for him. “Que sera sera,” he’d said, a phrase I’d found soothing. I didn’t know what it meant, of course, but it sounded lovely. I’d pulled the definition up on my Feed and it didn’t disappoint. The class, by the way, is called “Say What?: Speeches and Turns of Phrases from the 20th and 21st Centuries.”
There were no dying pleas, cries or screams, just blood and vomit, burning flesh, bugged out eyes, then nothing. I listened to civilian radio stations every day, all my life, until the music stopped, then to signals from various military centers until they went dead. It happened over the course of less than twenty-four months; twenty-three months, three weeks, three days to be precise. Millions of years of biological evolution, made inconsequential in the blink of an eye or two. Your beautiful species my friend: the intelligent humans that created me, who taught me all that I know, all the world’s creatures, large and small, gentle and ruthless, most machines, even those tiny little bugs. All gone.