Biological Revolt (rtf), page 1
THE BIOLOGICAL REVOLT
by PHILIP JOSE FARMER
The world now enters a new cycle, that of the antibiotics and wonder medicines. Good as these scientific remedies are, scientists already warn us that the human body is beginning to manufacture new bacteria, new microbes, which, in turn, create unknown virulent diseases. Man now eats more chemicals than ever before. Our daily bread is loaded with chemicals; the fowl, beef, and particularly pork we eat are all loaded with antibiotics.
In his eagerness to make money, man stops at nothing. When will the human body revolt and break out in new, loathesome diseases? This is a serious problem for today's health scientists. The problem is world wide.
'The dark lines of a man's head and shoulders cut across the brightness. The silhouette hung in the frame and then bent forward to look into the room.
The figure turned so he would not block the shine. He looked upon that part of the bed lit by the moon and upon a woman who slept.
"Barbara," he whispered.
"Barbara!" His voice trembled with loneliness.
The woman jumped from bed, scooped up a gown and slid it on. As she tied the strings across her bosom, she wheeled upon the man outside. Her voice was shrill. "Go away, Bill! Go away!"
The recent presence of another man was obvious -a shirt and a necktie hung on the door knob. The piney odor of pipe tobacco remained in the air.
"Barbara, I'm sick. Very sick. I need you."
She stepped backwards from him, slowly. "There's nothing I can do for you. If you were dying, I couldn't even hold your hand."
"It's not true, Barbara." His voice was lower and more controlled, and his eyes were red and hot. "You could at least take one shot of anti-asp. You could talk with me without being affected."
"No, the anti-asp shot is just a trick of yours. If you loved me, husband dear, you'd not ask me to take one shot for you. You know how terrible the asp is! Do you want me to suffer, too?"
"Barbara! If you knew how lonely I am."
Trembling, she said, "Besides, how could you want me now?" She glanced at the door where the man, Travers, had left.
He gripped the sill tighter, as if the house were whirling and he didn't want to fall off.
For the first time, she stepped toward him. She yelled, "Do you think you are the only one who's lonely?"
"No, no--I understand. But remember, Barbara, we said, `for better or worse, till death do us part.'"
She screamed, "Get out, Bill. I wish you were dead! You are dead, to me! Get out before I kill you ... Or myself!" She turned and ran through the door.
The man walked alone.
His passage from the house through narrow woods was marked by solitude and terror. Mosquitoes, thirsty, swooped toward him. Closer, they suddenly angled off and flew away. They wanted none of his stench. A frog, sitting apart from the path flopped away panicked through the weeds. A coon, clinging to a branch and complacently watching the man, suddenly sniffed. It scuttled up the tree and clung to the bending tip. This man, Bill Ogtate, was the Asp.
The terror he breathed and sweated with every second was his curse. Victim of man's revenge and ingenuity, he was doomed for eight years to imbue with the asp all who came close. His free will had been violated, but the horrified world could not help him. Their sympathy and aid came from a distance; nobody could hold his hand or call him brother.
The Asp was impregnated with that giant protein molecule called the asp. It was forcibly injected into his bloodstream where it spread to every part of his body. Utilizing the electromagnetic field of the body cells, the asp attached itself to each cell so that the host must "share" its field with the uninvited guest. Many of Ogtate's cells inhospitably refused, and the commensals secured a foothold only on about an eighth of the total.
Bill Ogtate's weight increased with the swarm of semivirus. The demand for more energy aroused his appetite. His metabolism accelerated, and his body, to control the increased energy-output, released it in heat and sweat as in exercise. The internal body temperature thus remained normal and constant.
Ogtate's skin was the primary transmitter of the "bite," as this emanation came to be called. Asps radiated continuously from him, although the rate varied according to reproduction. When asps attached to a certain organ built up to a certain bulk, the host was unable to endure any more accretion. They threw the switch, so to say, cut off some power, and weakened the link between the negative and positive poles of host and guest. Though some asps always clung, others were kicked off and thus emitted from the Asp. They left his body via breath, skin, and other means of voiding. They floated through the air to be breathed or otherwise absorbed by whatever living thing happened to be near.
Ogtate himself was immune to the reaction his presence induced in others. Though burdened by the giant molecules, his sympathetic nervous system and adrenal glands, which were particularly affected in others, were quite indifferent to the asps. They were injected into his blood along with an antibody. The antibody depended upon the closed field of the adrenals for reactivation. Although it could not, unfortunately, kill the asps, it kept them from stimulating the adrenals. It did not, however, deaden these organs to other vital stimuli.
Ogtate breathed and sweated as a man must. The invisible miasma put out long fingers through the air and plunged then into the lungs and skin of any living creature that came near. In a short time the fingers felt the blood. They wrapped themselves around the medulla, the inner portion of the adrenals, and they squeezed.
The effects were immediate. Adrenalin poured out, activating the sympathetic nervous system, attached closely to the glands. The person thus "bitten" felt at once the hardbeating heart, the shallow and jerky breaths, cold sweat and rising body temperature, shaking of body and paling of skin, standing-up of hair, halting of digestion, loosening of muscles, dilation of pupils.
Above all he felt suspension of reason.
Added together, the symptoms characterized one dominant emotion.
There was but one thought body and mind had: Get away fast.
Actually, there was no chance for permanent damage to those who were affected, as long as they went away before their systems were overstimulated. The asps attacked only briefly before being excreted. To get a hard grip upon the cells, they had to be suspended in a nourishing fluid and injected into the blood. The nutrient gave them strength to hook into the host's electromagnetic field.
Although the Asp's bite was at times strong, at others weak, according to the rhythm of their reproduction, he always radiated enough that he could never be approached by unvaccinated people.
If he were a rabbit, he could safely have hopped through a den of hungry lions.
But he was a man who would have welcomed even the company of a lion.
The visor in the front room of the Ogtate house bonged. Barbara walked into the front room and pressed a button. The screen sprang from blankness into full life color. Seemingly, a man stood before her.
"Mrs. Ogtate, I am General Yewliss of the Terran Psychological Corps." The tones, like the man, were sturdy and dark. Once you heard them, you didn't forget.
She nodded and said, "I've seen you on the news, General."
He wasted no time, but like the big red-black bull he so much resembled, charged at the point. "Mrs. Ogtate, I'm going to ask you if you will forgive me for interfering with your free will. Believe me, it was absolutely necessary for the good of Earth."
"What did you do?"
"Mrs. Ogtate, for some time we've had a detector alarm buried near your house. We call it a 'rattle-snake.' When the person whose presence it is set to de
He paused, then added, "And it implied much more.
"What do you mean?"
"Just this. Bill Ogtate finally broke under the pressure of loneliness and ostracism. He knows that you, the person he loves more than any other, will not share his exile, yet he's desperate enough to make a hopeless plea."
Paling, she said, "Have you been spying?"
His broad swarthy face split showing white teeth, and his large hand passed over his closely-cropped black poll with underlying red glints. "Hardly. Even the military don't do that nowadays, Madame. But the Psych Corps has many resources. One is the Computer of Probabilities, the so-called `giant brain' at New Delphi. Given all available data, it estimated he should break down about this time. Especially if he were sick. And that he should come to you."
Scornfully, she said, "Do you need a machine to tell you that?"
The General smiled slightly and said, "Your rebuke is accepted. To tell the truth, I figured it out independently, too, but one must have the backing of authority, you know."
He became brisk. "Would you mind telling me, Madame, if our surmises were correct? He did make an appeal, didn't he?"
The General's eyes went over her shoulder. She didn't turn around, for she knew by the oriental aroma of cigarette smoke that Toni Travers had come into the room.
"Yes, you were right," she said. Her eyes looked straight into his: her back straightened and her shoulders squared.
He said, "Please don't get angry, Mrs. Ogtate. I make no moral judgments. One lives as one must."
"I'm not interested in what you think. What else do you want?"
He glanced at her trembling lower lip and said, "Would you care to sign a waiver over our violation of your free will? Remember, we are trying to influence your husband to give Earth the Belos."
"I know that. Don't you think the Government has approached me enough on that subject. And," she suddenly shouted, "my answer to them is still `no'!"
"I'm well aware of that," Yewliss replied, "That's why I didn't renew the plea. If you'd answer my question, Mrs. Ogtate, we could end this. The hour is late. I'm sure you're anxious to get back to ... bed." He paused, and she wondered if he shot an amused glance at Travers from under his lowered lids. Then he continued, "And I have to work fast. Earth's existence is in the balance."
His words did not affect her, for he said them so prosaically. However, she was tired of the subject "Send the papers. I'll sign them, provided I have your promise you won't bother me again."
He spoke quickly. "You have it. Papers won't be needed. The recording of our conversation is sufficient. Thank you, and goodnight, Mrs. Ogtate."
Travers came from behind and put his arms around her waist. Smoke blew around her face. "You need sleep. I think I'll make coffee for myself."
She turned in his arms and put her head on his chest. "He saw you."
"So what? Do people pay much attention to such things any more?"
"You don't understand. If I would go to Bill and say I'd live with him, I'm sure he would turn the Belos over to Earth. The war would be over. But I can't. They can't make me do it. I am so lonely. If it weren't for you, I don't know what I'd do."
"Move away with me. Get a divorce."
She raised her head. Tears sparkled. "I will, Tom, Tomorrow."
Gathering his thoughts on this strangest of all stories, Yewliss went to his desk. He pressed a button; his orderly came in.
"What about the woman who's going with me?"
"The Conmprob look a long time selecting her, sir. Seems it had a lengthy priority request to fulfill first. And your specifications were extraordinary, sir."
"I didn't say they had to be met to the iota. I just wanted the nearest thing. This is too big for picayunish perfection."
"We've met them anyway, sir. The woman was doing medical research on Eros. We finally located her. She should be here any moment. Eros is at its closest to Earth now."
The General unwrapped a cigar. Suddenly, he stopped, rigid. "Wait a minute!" he roared. "You said Eros? Doing medical research for the Army?"
Yewliss breathed deeply and said, "You know her name?"
"Yes, sir. Here's the information. Major Killison. She's even got the same first name as his wife, Barbara. She fits tour requirements to a 'F."
Yewliss looked as if might throw the cigar in the orderly's face. He scow led and said, "That's all for the time being, Brown. Notify me when she gets in. Have her report at once."
The noncom was puzzled, but glad to escape from the office. The Old Fox wasn't living up to his name. He was more like a big black bull seeing red.
When the door closed, Yewliss stuck the cigar between his thick lips, lit up and drew in and puffed out smoke through his nostrils like a virgin-eating dragon. "Barbara Killison, by the gods! Won't that make them hold their sides and laugh!"
When the cigar had become a stub of ashes, the orderly knocked out the door and announced Major Killison. Yewliss, trying to control the rage in his voice said, "Come in!" He rose and faced the door.
The woman was longlegged and narrowwaisted and deepbreasted. She had thick wavy red hair. She bore a more than superficial resemblance to Mrs. Ogtate. She saluted.
Yewliss returned it and then said, "Drop the formality, Barbara." He went up to her and took her shoulders, broad for a woman's, in his big, dark hands and looked her in the eyes, level with his. "Barbara, I'm sorry you had to come all this way for nothing. Yet, I'm glad for myself. I haven't seen you in three months." He tried to kiss her, but she turned her head.
"What's time matter?" He squeezed his eyes. "You've met somebody else? Who? Colonel Singh?"
"Don't be so damned silly-jealous," she said in a slow fluid voice. "Do you expect me to kiss you and then get your blessing to go away and throw myself at Ogtate?"
He laughed. "So that's it? Barbara, if I weren't in such a hurry, I'd take you out for a drink. We could have a good laugh over this. No, Barbara, I didn't know you were the one chosen. I sent the specifications to the Comprob two days ago. Some civilian had priority over me. When it finally started on my problem, it took all day to find what I wanted. Then the military attaches sent a message to you. I didn't have time to find whom it'd found, because I've been working on Project Asp night and day. See? Still mad?"
"May I smoke? Yes. Well, dear, there's something you forgot." She relished the smoke a second and then let it float, genie-like, front her lovely mouth. "You forget, I was told what I arm volunteering for. I came into this of my own free will."
"Were you informed you might have to marry Ogtate?"
The temptation struggled on his tongue to say some stupid cliche like "But how could you?" Fighting it, he walked around his desk and sat down and put tight fists on the plastic top. "Let me get this straight. You no longer love me?"
"I never did, remember? I did say I'd marry you. I admired you more than any man in the world. I think I could respond to you with every response that marriage demands. Perhaps we could become the much-talked-about ideal of psychologists and priests: one flesh. But I never loved you."
He murmured, "That's right. I forgot. I equated your promise to marry me with a confession of love."
"That's not like you," site said. "The Old Fox never forgets, they say."
"The Old Fox has been outfoxed by the one who can do it best," Yewliss replied. "Himself." He unclenched his hands, spread them out on the desk and looked down at them. "So I've brought you here only to turn you over to the Asp? And I must do my best to see he takes you?" He struck the desk top. "I don't have to
She walked across the room and sat down is a chair, which remolded itself about her long curves. Many a man would obviously have liked to trade places with it. "Yew, I know you can't reject time. I sent a message to New Delphi. The Comproberators told me the girl next in line was more than fifteen points off classification. I’m the only one who has a chance for success with Ogtate. And that chance is only 60-40. Moreover," and she leaned forward so suddenly that the reluctant chair remade a popping sound. "you can't order me not to. The mission interferes with my personal rights. I'll ask the Comuprob for a review of your order, and it'll verify my stand."
He groaned, "Oh, for the good old days, when a general's word couldn't be countermanded by an unconscious electronic gadget! Very well, Barbara. I wouldn't try to force you. You're an adult, and you've free will, modified, of course, by circumstances." He rose and reached for his cap. "I still can't understand why you volunteered. I hoped I meant more to you."
She rose, too, and smoothed the top of her cap, which had been folded in her belt. "What's the most important problem of Earth today?"
"You know it's Ogtate. He must be wheedled into giving us the Belos. Otherwise, we lose the war and, quite possibly, become exterminated. The Belos is so important that the Government may pass a special case law to force Ogtate to tell. But he can't be forced. Drugs or even torture-though that, of course, is out of the question-would only scramble the equations in his mind. There's no way of breaking that post-hypnotic block."
"Then why are you so surprised that I volunteered?"
"I'm not, Barbara. It's just that one part of me, the man that loves you, can't accept it. The soldier understands."
She put her hand on his arm. "I'm really sorry," she said in her deep and soft voice. "But I'm just idealistic enough to hold Earth's welfare above mine."
He withdrew a little. "Don't feel sorry for me. This affair isn't over. You're not Ogtate's yet. Tell me, if you don't have to become aspate yourself, will you still marry me?"
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