This is not a scene from The Immortality Virus, but a special extra scene that takes place 200 years earlier. I just wrote it for a bit of fun…hope you enjoy!
St. Louis, 2250
Alexander Lacklin knew he needed to quit his job, but he also knew work was scarce – even for someone with his reputation. A farm in Iowa was courting him, but the farms were beginning to make his skin crawl. Their contracts for indentured servitude looked more and more like slavery.
“It’s not ready for human testing,” Alex told his boss for the hundredth time. “We’ve barely had enough time to begin the animal studies.”
“Your reports said there were no side effects,” Maxwell Brice said, his normally pale, pointed face turning an interesting shade of crimson. That usually meant he had already made his decision and no longer wanted to hear arguments.
Alex ignored the silent warning. “I said there were not short-term side effects. No immediate side-effects. That is not the same thing as no side-effects! Two weeks of animal trials is hardly enough to consider such a dramatic change in every human’s diet.”
“It’s not that dramatic. People have been eating soybeans for centuries.”
“I’m not sure these are soybeans anymore!” Alex stood up, his wheeled office chair flying back. “I’ve said all of this if you’ve read the reports. I’m not ready to risk human lives on this.”
“You’re risking them anyway,” Maxwell said. “People are starving out there. There’s not enough food.” He didn’t mention last week’s deadly food riots in Washington, D.C., in which over a thousand men, women, and children had lost their lives. He didn’t have to. They both knew what was at stake, but Alexander also knew that whatever food source came out of this lab, it was only a temporary solution. Even if the cheap meal bar could sustain human life, it couldn’t keep up with the ever-increasing population. It also tasted like cardboard, but Alex knew that was a moot point.
Besides, the mutated soybean plant was now so unlike a soybean he wasn’t sure it deserved the same name, let alone the assumption that any and all dietary effects would be similar. For all he knew, it would sterilize the entire human race – which, despite the fact that they no longer aged, would be a disaster.
“I’m not signing off on it,” Alex said. “And you’re not putting my name on that thing.”
“I could fire you,” Max said.
Alex shrugged, supremely unconcerned. “I’m sure your boss has more useless grandchildren he can hire to replace me.”
“All right, then I’ll just have to demote you.”
“What?” Alex stood still, staring at his now nearly purple-faced boss in shock.
“I’m giving Ben the role of head researcher. He’s already agreed to sign off on human testing.”
“You can’t do that!” Empty words, Alex realized, even as he said them. Max could – and had.
“I’ll expect you downtown this afternoon to help us screen the test subjects.” With that, he turned and strode from the office.
Alex sat down, feeling numb. Almost unconsciously, he dialed his wife’s phone number.
“What do you want?” Susan asked, sharply.
“I just needed to talk to someone.”
“Did you miss the part where I’m filing for divorce?”
He hadn’t. He only hoped she would change her mind, and realize that he had been correct. Abandoning the human race by leaving with a colony ship would have helped no one save a handful of wealthy people with enough money to escape the planet before the population went from insane to ludicrous. They said the colonists were heroes, pioneering for the sake of the human race, which could only be true if there was any way for the rest of the human race to follow. There wasn’t. There just weren’t enough ships.
“They’re starting human testing,” Alex said.
Susan was quiet for a long time.
“I’m sorry, Alex.” She sounded like she meant it, too, and for a second he heard the woman he had fallen in love with, rather than the one who had abandoned him when things got too hard. “I wish I could do something, but I can’t, and I need to move on with my life. So do you.”
She hung up, leaving Alex with a hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach, but also a renewed determination.
An hour later, he joined the research group downtown, on the old courthouse steps not far from the Arch. Flyers had been handed out to the thousands of homeless people living under bridges, in condemned buildings, and in trash cans – they weren’t hard to find these days. The flyers offered food in exchange for volunteering in a research project, and they had turned out in droves. They filled the once-manicured lawns, now overgrown with weeds. They even filled the dried up fountain as they crammed in, elbow to elbow, each hoping for anything that would fill their empty stomachs.
Alex used his badge to push through the throng, noticing the hungry eyes of the people who stepped aside, as if they thought he might have food on him. More than one person brushed their hands against his pockets as he moved forward, and he sensed if he had anything in them, it would have been long gone. Luckily, he had been fitted with a state-of-the-art portable computer chip embedded into his skin, removing the need for him to carry money or I.D.
At the stairs of the courthouse, things were worse. Even with his badge, he had to push his way in, and the angry glares and mutters that followed him inside told him they all found him suspect.
“Where’s the food?” More than one person shouted, as if they were afraid the entire thing was some kind of sick ruse. Perhaps it was.
The research team was assembled at the top of the stairs. Ben, with a big smirk on his cherubic face, reveled in handing out orders, while the other members of the team looked from Ben to Alex in confusion.
“Now that Alex has had the courtesy to show up,” Ben said with as much disdain as he could manage, “we can start.”
Ben picked up a bullhorn, and began to talk to the crowd, telling them about the wonderful new food bar that provided a day’s worth of nutrition. That was debatable, since most of the monkeys they had used in the animal trials wanted at least three.
The crowd stirred restlessly, their murmurs making Ben’s announcement difficult to hear. He told them he could only take applicants in good health, and that each test subject would receive a week’s worth of nutri-bars.
When he finished, Alex took the bullhorn.
“What are you doing?” Ben hissed.
“Telling them the truth.” Alex pushed past the man, who was two centuries younger than Alex, with all the cockiness of youth. He stepped onto the platform and raised the bullhorn.
“What they’re not telling you,” Alex said, with the volume turned to maximum, “is that these bars have not been tested.”
Murmurs began sweeping through the crowd, a low buzzing that began to fill Alex’s ears, but he pushed on.
“We don’t know if they’re safe. We don’t know if they’ll kill you.”
The murmurs grew louder, now beginning to sound more like a swarm of angry bees.
“I urge you not to volunteer for testing, until we know they’re safe.”
Above the buzzing came first one angry shout, then another. Alex couldn’t hear the words, but he sensed the tone – they were mad. These people had been pushed around enough, and they weren’t going to take it any more.
Finally, Alex heard a clear question above the shouts and murmurs. “So is there food or not?”
“I think we may want to move,” Tom, the second most senior member of the team said.
Indeed, the crowd was surging forward, at first a few, and then all of them. The researchers exchanged looks, and then all of them ran inside the building, taking refuge in a room on one side of the hallway, behind the boxes and boxes of food.
What followed could only be called a stampede. The hungry people poured through the grand front hallway, tearing open boxes and grabbing as many nutri-bars as they could carry before running off with their prizes. As the boxes emptied, fights erupted, leaving men, women, and children bloodied or dying. Those who fell were trampled.
Finally, Alex couldn’t take it anymore. He turned away from the glass window and buried his face in his hands.
“I’m going to make sure you get fired for this,” Ben hissed in Alex’s ear.
Alex didn’t look up. “You don’t have to. I quit.”