Novelist’s workbench: Viral Times revision, Chapter 6
Welcome to the next installment in my novel Viral Times. I’m sharing the “behind the scenes” notes about revising in this Ultimate Version of my long-crafted book. The storytelling has been built and rebuilt over many years.
As I said last time, this revision process is guided by taking the storytelling that was in first person and shifting it to “close third,” the kind that lets a writer deliver the POV character’s feelings and sometimes internal dialogue. All to serve the Man vs. Self conflict. Jennifer Nation, the evangelistic neuro-scientist, is the story’s main antagonist, taking her role as the person who stands in the way of my hero Dayton’s wish — to live in a world safe from the viruses that make biological touch-sex deadly. He strives to find love again after losing his wife to the pandemic.
But in a way, Dayton is also does antagonist work in the story. He helps Angie (introduced in Chapter 3) to erase the threat of the new man-made virus Jennifer desires to build.
These pages were a pleasure to revise because I liked the tension that was already there. I do wonder about how seamless they appear, since the scenes happen in different locales but the same time-frame. They felt heavy with scene, but the sequel was in there, embedded and concise.
In our entry this time, we learn more about , who’s Jennifer, who earned a Nobel for her work in brain mapping — the evolution of fMRI brain scan sciences of our current day. She’s left her post at PharmAlliance (see the First Four chapters for details). Now she’s on a road trip to recover her faith.
October 2021, Outer Banks, North Carolina
She missed her parents most on Sundays. It was the day they would picnic together, take photos and read aloud to each other. Sunday was also the only day of the week they prayed. Ten years later they were both gone, taken by God’s plan on that fiery day. He left her prayers for their survival of that crash in the woods unanswered.
In return, Jennifer believed God owed her an answered prayer. She prayed for resources to keep building drugs, this time the kind no company could hijack: biological pharmaceuticals. God could find her an HP Gross-spectral Epigenome Navigator. They didn’t look down her bra at that final PharmAlliance exit search when she was starting her sabbatical, so she snuck out her code for the GEN interface. That was a sign. The security team was usually anything but chaste. In exchange for her parents, the Almighty would have to get her a heads-up display for a GEN. She brushed her hair and felt the inputs for her brain’s neuron backplane. God didn’t build any of that, but it was like divine intuition to gene combinations and RNA derivatives. She played the GEN like Paderewsky on a Steinway. An investor angel, yes. She had faith she could find one to deliver such an instrument again.
So she started her pilgrimage on a Sunday with a road trip to search out fresh promise. She filled her heart with hunger and her passenger seat with her assistant Frieda. Jennifer was surprised that the woman felt a calling to follow her. She didn’t know if an acolyte or a friend was sitting in the Cooper beside her. When they arrived in the morning sun of the vacation town of Duck, the Pentacostal Wave Evangelical church was starting to fill. It stood alongside the steady surf of the Outer Banks, a windswept wooden building no larger than a nave and only a dozen pews deep. But when Jennifer walked in, it felt as big as the eager pounding in her chest.
From the pulpit, Thurungian Brother Ignacio spoke the words that galvanized her desire. The man with sandy hair and a well-freckled tan shouted a sermon to inspire hope. He spelled out the challenges to fidelity, but he had few answers.
“Sex is everywhere, spread across anonymous networks.” He paused to stare upward and wave his hand. “In game shows hosted by fornicating film stars. In the promises of lust that drain all the way down to web ads for Dry-Day Senior Diapers and Retro Flush antiviral toilet cleansers.” He called out most pernicious sin, lurid pornography, a word now out of vogue in favor of “passion.” Men and women who taught lessons over these nets about how to go down on each other, techniques to practice while inside the virtual sex networks.
Jennifer squirmed at the language. She had tried to program it all out of her web Fetcher and TVola Capture Deck. There was too much to erase it all, so she had to disconnect.
The Brother unfurled a campaign to drown those diseased morals. “No more promiscuity, led by pride and lust,” She rang with the words that he pealed out from the front of the church sanctuary. A woman with a tight French weave of brunette hair stood stock still to block the view, so Jennifer couldn’t see the brother’s face. But his words rose above all. “His holy army will wipe the hedonism off this planet. This New Flu is only the first wave of God’s attack on sins of illicit love.”
Brother Ignacio spoke, and her skin warmed in a feeling of his rapt service to God. Joy powered her breath when she moved closer in the after-service fellowship in his to speak with him.
She pulled along Frieda. But Brother Ignacio looked at the brunette first before his eyes met Jennifer’s. Frieda nudged her and turned to wink, then canted her head toward the man. His blue eyes bore a searching smile for every woman he greeted in the departing congregation. Jennifer watched him shift the smile from firm to inviting when he talked with the women. She saw the Holy Spirit pump more life into his bronzed face when a female took his hand in fellowship.
“He’s called me, clear and strong,” she said to Frieda as they moved up the linoleum aisle between the rows of pews. Frieda lifted an eyebrow at her. “I want to be the first of us to receive his word,” she told her friend.
Just as in their work relationship, she uttered the words like a command. Frieda was no longer a subordinate, but her years of obedience had not washed away on the road to the tiny church.
Jennifer walked toward the church’s chancel to connect with this man. He had looked over Frieda’s head to lock onto her gaze. Jennifer felt a sharper breath, a burning like when she’d run along the riverbank on the PharmAlliance campus, her pulse high and a joy lifting her spirit.
He spoke to her first, praise God. A question of greeting came, something easy to answer and to match the fire she felt with each breath. God’s serendipity working in her life. Or maybe God’s plan, drawn down like a bolt to this lightning rod of a man. She could feel the Holy Spirit connecting the dots of her life. First the shame and disgrace at Pharmacorp. The vision of delivering righteous death as God’s revenge. She had dreamed of forming an army of joyful attack in a campaign. She wanted a man to draw other followers, sisters like Frieda.
“Sister, today you look blessed,” he said. He beamed a brighter smile. She heard his word spoken as “bless-ed,” as if the word itself had opened his gaze wider upon her. “What might you offer to God’s plan, I wonder? You look upon others as if you were a creator. God needs creators, now that the time for action is upon us.”
She was among the last to leave the church. When she poked her head outside, an army of clouds stepped across the sky. They had wiped away the morning’s sunshine and fogged some of her new-found hope. There was something about the clouds that reminded her of what she yearned for. They hung low in the sky, their mottled bottoms darker in the places that threatened rain. The winds pushed the clouds that carried the wet-hay tang of the beach community’s anti-viral spraying.
The clouds bristled in a thick veil above the parking lot. An opening bounced a weak sunbeam off the silver Bug Wraps that covered the few remaining hoods and their air intakes. It had been weeks since it rained, so the Outer Bank barrier islands were coiled in anticipation of a downpour. The forecasts said the rains that might deal airborne diseases.
Maybe not this afternoon, she prayed with a look at the remaining sunbeam. She descended the steps from the church portico two at a time while she searched for her car. As she hit the bottom step she twisted an ankle. It would slow her, but she looked down at enough short boot under her skirt to keep her moving, even though it hurt.
Then the first big, wet drops slapped onto her head and off her brow and then grazed her hands. She held the Safe-Band on her wrist up to the drops and watched it turn from light green to deep orange. This rain was hot. The viruses which could travel among cloudtops were riding these showers. Safety was a matter of how much rain fell on her body’s exposed skin. She had to make it to the Coupe before the skies opened up.
She steeled herself with a prayer. After all, God led her to Brother Ignacio, under the portico and worn down with questions from Frieda. Jennifer fetched the car. It was no time to panic, though her ankle pounded with each step.
She started to skip off her good leg, covering her nose and mouth while she struggled toward a run. A boom of thunder followed a lightning flash, so she counted like she did as a child. Nearby, just five. The charge of a bolt could spark even more virus activity. She nearly stepped in a puddle that looked hot enough to pool up in a Level 4 virus lab.
A band of dark green clouds was sweeping across the west side of the parking lot. She had only moments to make it to the haven of the car. She looked back to judge the distance to return and could see the Brother and Frieda watching her. Bolting back would take even longer.
She stopped for what felt like an eternity to shake off her boots and gain speed. She ran in Tyvek Protect hose, holding the boots in one hand to cover her face. As she neared the Cooper she slapped a palm onto the bio-lock while she shrieked “Door open!” She flung herself headfirst into the car and hit the panic button to seal the door.
The mucous rain pelted those beige boots she had dropped outside the car. She never liked that pair much anyway. She shook as she pressed her face to the window’s glass. Being saved from this act of God must be an act of deliverance, even more so at the Brother’s church. She reached overhead to feel for the flame of Pentecostal faith. Brother Ignacio emerged from the portico bearing an umbrella and a scowl, but he smiled once, and so she honked her horn and waved at him.
After the rains, the brother carried her and her twisted ankle back to the church. They sat together and searched for the solution for his unsaved world. God would not leave her side. She had already lost the two people she loved most in that jetcopter crash. She told Ignacio her secret — that she felt her parents fading from her memory.
“It’s not that you don’t love them anymore,” he said.
In the little church’s fellowship hall, his hand lay near hers on the table. She stole glances at his fingers while she replied. “I do love them, brother. I just can’t remember much of them. Now I see what God intends for me, not my past, the things I cannot reclaim.” She picked up the cup of Cafe Motion and peered over its edge at him. She found him waiting for her look. His eyes were set like traps.
She unspooled her vision of a virus that would wipe out the sinners. He kept at her with the dogged demand of a wolf. “You must do this one thing you have envisioned. It will be a thing the world calls awful, madness, full of terror.”
“Who calls it that?” She wanted to fall into those traps of his, surrender to his vision. She wanted to let it lay down over hers.
“We know who’ll call your mission awful. The unsaved, and–”
“The fornicators. The men and fallen women, hungry for what God intended only for holy unions, not today’s science of lust.”
“They lose God’s dreams for love in those suits,” he said. “Couples in marital love make families strong. The Suit sinners make our world weak while they revel in pornography they can touch upon each other. The Lord God’s blessed sex is the only way to keep his creatures safe in these times. Tested, protected and pure in fidelity. This blessing is offered to any who accept salvation.”
“Yes, family and love.” She flashed on my night back in that forest. “God’s love for us.” She swallowed. “For me, I mean.”
“Very good. I mean, God’s words welling up in your heart and then spoken. You must feel his calling to safe families.” He paused. “So feel it with the passion of a mission.”
She retold how God took her family for a reason, part of His plan. The sadness, a feeling of being lost. Then an aunt who delivered her to the academy, that first school of science. From there, the scholarship, the pharma work. “Even the Nobel,” she said, gazing off away from his face. “I didn’t finish my list with Praizone miracle, the one PharmAlliance twisted. Turned into a burning mockery of a drug to compel lust.” Hot as her mug of Motion in her hand.
“I praise your path to this mission, hard as it has been,” he said. “Not all of heavenly justice is served in one sitting. God’s love must keep you in his palm until the ending.”
“I still love them both. But then I saw that He gave me so much to do. I couldn’t have them, plus make this virus God has called me to create.” The she stood and shook her head slowly, weak at her knees. He drained his cup and held it toward her.
“We must drink from this cup the Lord gives us to drain. Now it becomes time to use your ability to forge a creation that God meant for you. Unleash His sacred sword, as only a called creature can do in faith.”
“All I know, Brother, is how much I ached until I caught my calling. You are my guide to His path.” She jumped at the warmth of his hand when he placed it upon on shoulder, gentle at the edge of her damp, sleeveless top. She felt a deeper pull from inside. Jennifer struggled to admit that this luminous Brother could now stand before her, under God’s watchful eyes, without any sin in the air of the church. Ignacio’s eyes, his mouth and voice. All move in God’s rhythm to unearth something richer from my life.
She stepped toward him. He lavished a look like God was staring, even daring her to embrace this task of terror. This brother was God’s gift to her, too — not just a guide of spirit, but one she now had to take up in a fresh sweep of faith. God would understand her feelings in Ignacio’s presence. This was not like any encounter at PharmAlliance, when she had sinned once in a dark night to protect her Praizone. Brother Ignacio would encamp in her life, infusing his energy with hers. But his terms seemed daunting: only if she could establish a base for the acolytes and creators she would call the League of Joy.