Chapter One

The town looked like a cadaver–pallid and lifeless. The bare tree branches shivered in fear, and their fallen leaves fled from a portentous wind. They left behind a small high school that would have run too if it could. It was too fat and bloated.

Inside one of its classrooms, a timer went off and dispensers in the ceiling sprayed a rose-scented mist over the students. With the power of Pavlov’s bell, it cued them to inhale deeply. Not only was the air now garden fresh, it was also laced with the federally mandated, learning-enhancement drug, Improvesium. Thanks to Improvesium, students had never been more docile or more learned. They had also never been more drug-dependent. It was one way to keep them in school.

The students stared at a large I-mon that spewed news of a virus tearing through Northern Africa and leaving devastation in its wake. The entire city of Tripoli had been turned into a triage unit; people laid in the gutters, decomposing from the inside out, half dead and waiting in agony for the virus to finish the job. Highways were clogged with mass emigration, only people had nowhere to go. The virus was ubiquitous; they were trying to run from the air. They were dying in their cars.

"HRSV is an airborne virus with an extraordinarily rapid incubation period," a scientist on the I-mon said. His name was Dr. Sigmund White, the world’s preeminent expert in a field that was about two months old. He wore a white lab coat and had the kind of sloppy appearance that suggested he took pride in not taking pride in how he looked. "After infection, subjects begin to feel a burning sensation when they breath. They develop a cough and begin ejaculating blood and liquefied lung tissue. Eventually their lungs fill with viscous fluid and they asphyxiate. The infection spreads to the other organs in the body, turning them all to mush. The process takes less than twenty-four hours, at the end of which, the deceased involuntarily expels the mush out of their anus."

That was how the infected left the Earth: they blew themselves out their own ass.

Thanks to Improvesium, the students comprehended everything Dr. White said. And thanks to Improvesium, they displayed no reaction.

"There is no cure," Dr. White continued, "and even if we could come up with a treatment, there is no way we could produce it, distribute it, and administer it in time." He pointed to a computer model that demonstrated how in three weeks the virus would cover the entire planet. The clock stopped on April 1, 2084. "I fear the human race has run its course. This is our extinction event."

The timer went off again and another Improvesium-laced mist rained from above. The students inhaled, paused a moment to let the high hit them, then sighed in relief.

The teacher muted the I-mon. "The principal has asked us to inform you that, considering the circumstances, classes will be postponed until …" her voice disappeared. She was fighting back tears. "You’re dismissed." She burst out crying and ran from the room.

The students didn’t budge. They were a well-disciplined, well-drugged bunch. Like Pavlov’s dog they were waiting for their bell.

At the back of the classroom sat sixteen-year-old Clyde Sexler. Less than intelligent but more than stupid, skinny and on the ugly side of plain, Clyde lived in this world like a guest in someone’s house–always hesitant to touch something, always afraid to get comfortable.

As the other students watched the muted scenes of approaching death, Clyde fixated on the beautiful Candi Lovelace, the resident queen of the school. She was wearing a blue shirt that seemed custom-designed to accentuate her radiantly blue eyes. Clyde’s loins percolated with so much lust, they tickled. Candi was so beautiful, so unattainable, it hurt–like blue balls of the heart. Even though he knew it was highly improbable, Clyde had always held out hope that he and Candi would one day end up together. And now the end of all life on Earth was ruining everything.


Chapter Two
The President of the United States had the unfortunate last name of Poll. President James William Poll. And perhaps because he knew they would call him President Poll anyway, the poor man couldn’t make the simplest decision without asking everyone for their opinion first. It took him thirty minutes to order breakfast and he usually just had toast and coffee. So when it came to slightly tougher decisions, like how to handle an apocalypse, the President resorted to a three-point plan: form a task force, call for more information, and then go to the bathroom. Tough decisions tended to irritate his bowels.

The President had called an emergency meeting of his newly-formed Human Race Annihilation Prevention Task Force and he was already twenty minutes late for his own meeting. He sat in the bathroom, waiting for his nerves to settle … just a man and his toilet.

"It’s not fair," he said aloud. "Just because I campaigned on healthcare, they expect me to stop a pandemic?"

The toilet didn’t answer.

***

"All right, what do you have for me?" the President said as he took a seat at the conference table in the White House situation room. A large I-mon at the front of the room was playing an animation illustrating how the virus would cover the Earth within three weeks. It played on a loop.

General Caden Debuke stood and circled the table to the front of the room. Debuke was your great-granddaddy’s kind of general: a buzz cut shorter than a bald head, and eyes so mean even his reflection didn’t like being stared at. He was Napoleonic in the truest sense of the word and his ill-fitted uniform exposed the need for drastic alterations: his breast pockets were closer to his stomach and the crotch of his pants hung by his knees. A more sensible man would have gotten his uniform custom made, but to Debuke, anything that wasn’t standard issue was unpatriotic. He looked around the room and met each member of the President’s task force in the eye before beginning. "Make no mistake about it, ladies and gentlemen …" he pointed to the I-mon "… that is an invasion. Those damn germs have declared war on us. Mankind is in a fight for its very existence and we’re getting our clock cleaned. We have no defense against these bugs, and there’s nothing we can do to stop ’em from taking over the entire planet." He paused to let the animation demonstrate his point. "We only have one option: retreat."

"Retreat?! Retreat where?" Jenkins said, pointing to the I-mon’s sweeping depiction of pandemic death. Jenkins was the President’s chief of staff. Clean cut and well-spoken, he was one of the few people who still wore glasses instead of getting corrective eye surgery. He believed the glasses made him look more intelligent–a way to wear his law degree on his face.

Debuke clicked a button on the I-mon’s remote and the words Operation Colonization came onscreen. Operation Colonization was the government’s plan to colonize the moon to escape one of the many doomsday scenarios promised over the years–overpopulation, nuclear winter, global warming, impending ice age, approaching comet, solar acceleration, solar degeneration, a decrease in the orbital distance, killer bees, and locusts. It had been in development for over half a century.

"Operation Colonization is still in the test phase," Jenkins said.

"My plan calls for using the thirteen test facilities here on Earth." Debuke clicked a button and the I-mon showed a complex of domed structures in the desert. "They’re operational and should be able to support over a thousand human lives and plenty of food, water, and livestock to get us through the next four years. After that, according to the experts, the little buggers will all be dead." He zeroed in on the President’s eyes. "The ship is sinking, sir. It’s time to get people on the lifeboat."

"A thousand people," the President repeated somberly. "And what about everyone else?"

Debuke left it unsaid.

"I asked for a plan to save everyone." The President looked around the table. "Why isn’t there a cure for this thing? I ran on healthcare for crying out loud!"

The task force shrugged in unison.

"Look, people are hurting out there."

"Dying, actually."

"They’re scared. And you’re telling me there’s nothing we can do for them?" He turned to Jenkins, "It’s the media’s fault. All you see on the I-mon nowadays is stories about the virus and impending death. Perhaps I need to get out there, you know, tell a better story, change the narrative."

Debuke was about to say more when Jenkins checked him with a gesture of his hand. "Mr. President, if this operation succeeds …" he paused for effect "… you’ll go down in history as the president who saved mankind. How’s that for a narrative?"

A smile erupted on the President’s face. Jenkins was a master at manipulating his ego.

***

By the time the President and Jenkins regrouped in the Oval Office, the President had become upbeat and energetic. He began circling the room. "So, these thousand people … who gets to pick them?"

"Well, there’s no precedent for this sort of thing, but it certainly qualifies as a state of emergency. So I believe, as commander in chief, you can claim the right to select them."

"Good. Because I don’t want a single Republican selected."

"Of course not."

"And I don’t want that bastard Humbert allowed in, either." Humbert was the vice president. The party was grooming him for the presidency and they had forced him onto President Poll’s ticket. He was the party’s shining star, so naturally the President hated him. He would be the President’s biggest rival in a Democrat-controlled biodome. "Yes, the more I think about it, we’ve got to keep Humbert out."

"Understood, Mr. President. But, perhaps we should start thinking about who should be selected? We have to make sure that people with talents for science, engineering, and math are represented. Without any farmers we may end up with a world without agriculture. Without any composers we may have a world without music."

"Without any Republicans we’ll have a world without Republicans," the President said. It was the end of the world’s silver lining.

"I’m serious, Mr. President. Everyone selected should have a talent or function they can perform to keep life in the biodomes running smoothly–not to mention passing their skills on to future generations."

The President sat down at his desk, weighed down by the thought of his chore. "I see." After a long moment, he asked,

"What’s my talent or function going to be?"

"We’ll need you to provide leadership."

"Right." The President turned silent and drummed his fingers on his desk for several seconds. "And how exactly should I do that?"
***
Editor’s Note: Join us next week for another installment from Michael Eidam’s novel Medicine For Mankind. Click here to purchase on Amazon.
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