Viral Times Prologue: Heat in the Night
Austin, November 29, 2020
While the rains fall, we fall back in retreat from disease.
I type those words into my ScribePad and wipe sweat off my brow. I’m sweltering in my apartment while my Condo Cooler is forced to idle. I’m not supposed to be home now, a journalist writing in his private journal while the sun sets on a Texas hot with climate and viruses. Government clocks cycle our energy to restrain the temperature. But in these times, nothing we’ve tried controls the viruses.
They fall on us from the skies in rainstorms and leap between us in casual touch. These times have caused love to fail. A half-century ago people had sex–dad would say make love in one of his editorials–with no fears if they used simple precaution. Even when I grew up, sexual disease needed blood to cross between bodies. But HIV-5 is more aggressive than its viral ancestors. It enters the body while you battle the Blue Flu, a disease with an airborne range of 10 feet that’s soared into a 19-month pandemic. Nobody gets close now without the Hugo Boss masks, antiviral clothes, the viro-screen gel. In the ultimate of social distancing, the lucky ones can suit up and go virtual for sex. Secure Sex, they call it, breeding faster than mosquitoes in a holding pond.
I write to disinfect myself from my mission tomorrow and leave behind this record.
First the Flu, then HIV, and at the last, AIDS Ultra. Can love survive the terrors of touch? Nobody has an answer yet, although the new Simulation Suits mimic touch to make sex safe again. General Connectrics owns the field of haptics, game touch technology grown up to serve sex.Real sex now courts death, not joy or peace or rest, or even work. Germs work to kill off sex with an AIDS any man or woman can catch. Small bugs bust up large towns and break down long lives. Have sex and die, or don’t and feel your heart grow cold.
I can’t push that kind of writing past my editor Roni at Viral Times, my latest media outlet. I skip work tonight to write this testimony. Tomorrow I have to risk everything on a mission I can’t dodge, to try to break into the Government Health Camp outside Waco. The camps pen up the infected. Healthland Safety says the detentions ensure national security. I report these official lies because they need light to wither.
To crack into that Camp I’ll be on the move in tomorrow’s wan light, a dim path compared to the quartz lights of show business video stages. My celebrity stories at SatNews were easier. Entertainment people liked to talk to me about themselves, their projects. Then my wife Melissa swept into my life and challenged my charm. “Do more good,” she said. A fat lot of good her legal doings have brought our dreams. She started fighting for the rights of the sick. The feds fought back by locking her up in the Health Camp where she went yesterday to depose Ultra victims.
I wipe sweat off my forehead and onto the table. We missed that wetness, the smell of us, the one night we played with prototype Suits. They record sex, too, but I don’t have the stomach yet to replay that episode into a Suit. I won’t need the replay if I can get her out, somehow.
SimSuits surfaced when HIV hit the rich. You can use them now if you know the right people. The right people are fucking each other now in SimSuits, safe from disease and stimulating each other across their bodies. Outside the suits, people are dying. Inside, freedom, and maybe addiction.
People cocoon indoors, order basic needs, receive their work online and deliver it. A few, the lucky, open a package in a SafeFoyer at their front door from General Connectrics. The Suit connects them so they can touch each others’ bodies. You don’t risk being corralled into a Camp with Ultra if you can have sex in a Suit.
Melissa wants to stop the detentions, even empty the camps. She always wants something for somebody else. We could’ve had it easier, if she didn’t always want to do the hard thing. “Hard is what makes it good,” she told me. “If it were easy, everybody would do it.”
Ultra crams sex into the back alley of the Suits. After just nine months, they’re already leading a revival of the screw-anything ’70s. Low-cost SimSuits, in viral times, to hook up anonymously–well, there will be nothing to stop a leap into what preachers call the wanton wasteland.
The Evangelical Party rails against “hell-bearing acts of filth in a populace linking up in full rut.” But words can’t stop sex, not even with the fear of God. What difference can sermons make? Not even, “God has a plan to wipe out this state of lust — to restore the blessed order of man and woman rejoicing in safe, married relations.”
I feel my head grow wet, but not with sweat. The rain patters against my skylight, where a small crease admits drops. I duck out of the way and disinfect with viro-screen wipe, then spray down the table. I throw up a sealer blob against the skylight to patch the hole. The viruses can travel in the rain, drops of nature nobody can be sure are safe. I gotta rescue Melissa from the viruses raining through that death camp. I want to talk God into saving her.
I do more than pray for luck to extract Melissa. Milo Sensi down in the Times info-digger bullpens helped me snare the Camp’s GPS maps, then used his probability algorithms to trace her trail inside since she entered. I check the seals on my protective SafeCloak, then stretch to ready my muscles, both slow-twitch and fast, the strength of a high school gymnast and speed of a cyclist. All that strength and desperation might not be enough to rescue my lover. I can at least die trying to save our dreams.
• • • •
When I wake in the hour before dawn, I rise to find my brown journal, the one with all my bad courting poetry and good memories. The fountain pen feels different in my hand. But applying ink to paper suits my dim wanderings among words. A dream has sparked memories that I grope to recall on the journal’s page.
I wanted to make Melissa my wife, so I knew the kissing had to go well. I couldn’t be sure how I’d done on our first kiss. It was late that night, well into the cricket-and-cicada movement of the evening symphony. I wanted to hear her moan on the next kiss. That sound would be certain.
She giggled on that first kiss. This was no laughing moment to me, not this early in our courting. Through the threat of flu, kissing had become serious, dangerous, mysterious. I wanted all three from her.
She stood at the tip of Enchanted Rock that faced the charcoal canyon, the stone growing darker before the moon would rise. I wanted her facing away from that canyon, so her eyes would be focused on us, not on the dying vista. But I needed the beauty of the rocks in my view to romance the moment. The rest was up to me.
I held her close, our breaths still coming short after our climb onto the tip of the rock. She grabbed my arms while I gripped her waist. Then she cocked her head back. I thought of horses at a racecourse start, eager for the gates to fly open and begin the gallop.
I rushed to her lips, but then I remembered her complaints on the habits of kissers she’d known. I didn’t want to know how many of them, only what she disliked.
“Too hasty at the start,” she’d said earlier, over coffee in a café beside those crickets. “Most guys are in too much of a hurry.” I took it to heart.
On the second kiss I pressed our lips tight, my fingers playing the wide chords of her back. I inhaled her breath as our mouths nibbled then lingered, tongues still not touching. How many moments could I make out of one kiss? She helped me find more than I knew. On the whisper of the canyon wind, I heard the moan I desired, drawn out of imagination and into my ear.
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