The common day
(Billings, Montana. Mid-21st century)
He planned to put 6 shots into himself … five of cheap whiskey with a 9mm hollow-point chaser. Five shots, and a large swig directly from the bottle as he screwed up another page of paper, discarding yet another suicide note idea.
it’s not easy being dead, you know.
He put the pen down with a sigh, drew a throat burning swig out of the whiskey bottle, and tore another page off in disgust. He just wanted it to end.
if you’re reading this, then I am already dead.
That sounded better, he noted internally. The whiskey bottle was sampled in celebration. There was a noise behind him and he started, turned quickly, like a school boy with his hand in the cookie jar.
His cat, Kofi, was biting into one of the balled up pages. The little teeth sunk into the page. Had it been a living critter it would have been dead and bleeding by now. He turned back to face the desk again and knocked the whiskey bottle over with a clumy elbow. He righted the bottle but it was too late for the paper. Another one wasted. He sighed. The whiskey brought a welcome blur to the world. A comfortable soft-focus. A barrier between the stone cold facts of his recent diagnosis of bowel cancer no longer in remission. It wasnt living to have your shit collecting in a bag outside your body. He wanted out, and he wanted it sooner rather than later.
“Haiku?” his inner muse suggested, and he began writing.
Slow lingering death
F—cking bowel parasites
I chose a quick exit
The nurse found him face down on his desk next morning, asleep. His gun remained unloaded and untouched nearby as it always did despite his moods. Sometime after the drinking (and she figured after the sleeping had begun too) he’d thrown up judging by the mess on the desk surface, in his lap where it had dribbled off the edge, and pooled on the floor next to his discarded whiskey bottle. She sighed. It was going to be a long day and it didnt bode well having to wipe up after the mess the admiral had left this time.
The doctor carefuly closed the file he had been reading adding a note of finality to the already strained silence hanging between him and his patient facing him across the large wooden desk. Before speaking the doctor took his glasses off and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He hated bad news.
“Your nurse tells me that there was another aborted suicide attempt this week?” He asked, more a statement than a question.
The admiral shifted in his seat and said nothing.
“Admiral, I’m afraid it’s bad news. The depression isnt responding to any of the medications that we’re trying. I am going to have to refer you to a collegue of mine, a specialist in a treatment known as ECT.”
The doctor moved the file to the left side of the desk, pulled a pen shaped object from his breast pocket and tapped its tip to the surface of the desk. A rectangle of the desk lit up and the doctor began laboriously navigating through to the archaic hospital scheduling software.
“Which would you prefer, this afternoon at 3pm or Friday at 4pm?” he asked. He waited. He looked up from the screen at his patient who sat stoicly in his seat still saying nothing. Still as unkempt at when he shuffled in. Still as internally aborbed, wrapped around the axle, as before.
“Ok, let’s strike while the iron’s hot then. 3pm it is.” the doctor made a few more taps with the stylus on his desk, dragging the admiral’s electronic records onto the scheduled appointment as an attachment.
“That’s …” he was interrupted by a sharp knock at the door and muffled protests from his assistant, “You cant go in there, he’s with a patient.”
The door swung open and both doctor and the admiral turned to look at the uniformed men standing there. Two armed marines flanked an older man. Recognition flickered in the admiral’s face as he saw him.
“Jim, you dont need to rescue me – I believe the good doctor and I were finished?”
“Doctor. Admiral.” The intruder – Jim – nodded to the both curtly in greeting, “Your appointment this afternoon has been moved up: we’re here to escort you to a chopper waiting on the pad, and from there to your appointment.”
The doctor frowned, “But, Doctor Sangeer’s office is only down the hall…” he let the sentence trail off, “… unless you’re planning on relocating him as well?”
The admiral stood slowly and moved toward the military men who’d burst in. As they moved off through the door, the doctor sighed. This wasnt helping his ulcer one bit. He looked down and noticed that Doctor Sangeer’s schedule had changed, showing “out of office until further notice”.
Doctor Sangeer turned out to be a thin, balding, middle-aged man of obvious of Indian descent but sporting a nasal New Jersey accent. Even the clinically depressed Admiral Feyessa was forced to smile when the wind caught his obscene comb-over. Hair from around his left ear lifted, pivoting around it’s roots above his right ear to stand strait out from his head. It looked like some crazy shampoo commercial but instead of a lovely model with rich chestnut hair flowing in the breeze, the middle aged man’s greying streamers of hair flowed, flapped & twisted in the down-draft from the helicopter’s blades. He spent the next few minutes trying to tame the mop of hair once inside.
The pilot turned around, “Doctor, forget the hair, strap yourself in or we’ll be forced to toss you out at 20,000 feet.”
“Oh, right.” Sangeer answered, securing himself hastily as the helicopter took off. He wriggled in his seat trying first to find a comfortable position and when that failed, trying to find a position where the bright morning sunlight wasnt shining right in his eyes. He guessed they were heading south-east from the position of the sun. The other passenger in the cabin with Sangeer dozed off soon after take off. For the rest of the flight he snored, head lolling, oblivious to the journey.
There was a welcoming committee on the pad when the chopper touched down. Two orderlies helped the sleep-fogged older man out of the cabin and into a wheelchair. Sangeer was was met by a mean looking marine with an ugly scar that ran from the centre of his chin to left cheek. The marine was tall, well over 6 feet, and solid muscle. Sangeer had visions of the big man picking him up like a ragdoll, tucking him under his arm and stomping off saying “resistence is useless”. The only thing worse that that would be if he offered to read Sangeer some poetry along the way.
The marine led Sangeer into a door and through featureless grey concrete corridors. It seemed like the moment he felt completely lost, a rat in a maze, the marine stopped and took up residence next to a door much like any of the others they had passed. It was clear that he was meant to enter.
Admiral Feyessa woke up in a pleasant hospital room. Really woke up this time rather than the shambling zombie state he’d been in after the helicopter ride. Someone had put a bunch of bright yellow fresh cut flowers on the night stand. He closed his eyes and sniffed. Very pleasant but didnt completely cover the distinctive hospital aroma that surrounded him. What he’d taken to be a window across the room from his bed turned out to be a flat-screen TV mounted into the wall and a remote sat on the nightstand with the flowers. The screen showed a pleasant outside view, green pasture with mountains in the background and a handful of content looking brown cows grazing. Feyessa couldnt be bothered to search for something to watch, it would most likely be re-runs anyhow, so he turned over and went back to sleep.
Sometime later he was woken by a cheerful nurse pushing a gleaming metal cart. She took his pulse, gave him a pill and explained that the doctor would be along soon. From the cart she lifted a syringe, “…and a little something to help relax you.”
The injection was painless and she bustled off out the door. Whatever she’d injected brought a warm glow and a gentle fuzziness to his mental state. Feyessa was just on the verge of dozing off when a man stepped into the room. His entire bearing was military, crisp and precise.
“What is this, grand central station? Cant a man get some sleep around he?” Feyessa demanded.
“No sir.” the man responded, “we’re on the clock here. I am Captain Lansdowne, and all being well we will meet again after your procedure. The sedative that the nurse injected us both with causes memory loss so you’ll forget the ECT procedure itself, and this converstation will be lost to both of us. I have, ” he glanced at his watch and back to Feyessa, “two minutes before we begin losing the thread of this conversation and I need you compos mentis. I also need you to forget this entire conversation ever happened, the drug and the ECT will take care of that. Memory loss might be the only thing saving our lives if you accept the mission I have for you.”
Feyessa laughed, “Mission? Did you not read the reports Son? I was told 8 months ago that the cancer was gone, along with most of my bowel. The bastard is back, and here to stay. Taken up residence in me, along with his cousin, a few aunts and uncles and their mangy dog called Clinical Depression. Im already dead, Im just too stupid to know about it yet.”
Lansdowne wasnt put off, “Admiral, you are unique.”
Feyessa snorted but kept listening.
“What I am about to tell you will, by its very telling, infect you. We are fighting a meta-entity, a life-form unlike anything we’ve faced before.”
“You’re talking aliens here?”
Lansdowne shook his head, “No, this is terrestrial in nature … it’s frankensteins frickin’ monster come back to bite us on the ass. Computer viruses have been around for years – active, virulent and easily scanned for. As you know, tensions are running high in the conflict with the Machines. Our boys have been looking for the edge – something to take them down – something post-viral. Whatever they created got out. I dont pretend to understand it nor do I know the full details. They call it a memetic entity and its worse than a virus. A virus you can at least defend against. This thing, if you simply know about it, you’re already infected. Take a clean system and write code to scan for it and the very act of looking for the entity means that it’s already there, already infected the host, because the clear knowledge of the thing is enough.”
“And what does that have to do with me?” Feyessa asked.
“You’re already dead. Said so yourself. Multiple failed suicide attempts. If the thing infected you, you’d be useless to it. Doc says you might need several ECT treatments – like reformatting your inner hard-drive – so an infection would be flushed out if it began anyhow. If the thing infected you, Im sure you’d be happy to hit self-destruct should the time come. We need you to lead a team to dispose of this thing.”
“Wait a second,” Feyessa interrupted, “You said this was a computer virus?”
Lansdowne nodded. “Sure, it began as one. Code was created as a payload to give it a destructive edge. It was tested as a virus, but they switched its infection vector. Made it post-viral, memetic, and that’s where it initially broke loose. The programming team were the first to die. Its a meta-entity, it exists while there’s still knowledge of its existence, while not actually existing fully itself.”
Lansdowne stepped out of the way as a nurse wheeled an empty wheelchair into the room.
“Will you take the mission or should I find someone else?”
Feyessa paused. A mental fog was beginning to encroach on his memory of the man standing by the bed. He couldnt recall him walking into the room. “The mission? Sure, unless I die first.”
Lansdowne watched the nurse wheeling the old admiral off down the corridor before turning and finding a waiting area. He stretched out on an uncomfortable couch allowing the drugged fog to sweep away the last vestigase of the conversation. The fact that he’d not left the building would be prompt enough later on for him to resume the next phase of his orders.