Archive for the ‘Viral Times: Novel’ Category
By Dayton Winstead
Austin, November 29, 2021
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 HIVE-5 is more aggressive than its viral ancestors. It enters the body while you battle the New Flu, a disease with an airborne range of 10 feet that’s soared into a 19-month pandemic. Nobody gets close now without designer masks, antiviral clothes, 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, now breeding faster than mosquitos in a holding pond.
I write to disinfect myself from my mission tomorrow and so I 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, gamingtouch technology grown up to serve sex.
Real sex now means 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 Security 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.
For good or for ill, politics can be part of the prescription for stopping an epidemic. Policies can permit a nation’s resources to play a role in the healing. In Viral Times, a battered country permits drug testing to take on a swifter pace, hoping for a cure to HIVE-5. The drug doesn’t emerge, but others do. Fear ensures the loss of civil liberties, more swiftly than pharma research yields a new drug. The government permits those losses, too.
In our current day it appears that politics has at least helped to stem the tide of Ebola. More specifically, the virus has disappeared from our media coverage by this week. One week after the US midterm elections, Ebola stopped scaring us all. Cases are still on the rise in Africa. We’ve created no drugs to stop Ebola. It’s just gone underground, somehow, since nobody in office can profit by calling for more government resources.
Shepard Smith of Fox News (not kidding here) broadcast the best three minutes of news coverage about Ebola during the pandemic panic. He noted that the party in power during an epidemic needs to be seen taking action, while the party out of power needs to be seen calling for investigations about the lack of virus-protection resource. Now that the GOP controls both houses of the Congress, we’ll watch to see how much more our government can do to protect us in our current viral times.
The world is so far behind on its supply of anti-bacterial drugs that the US government is paying a major pharma to create and test formulas more quickly. This government aid to pharmaceutical giants like GlaxoSmithKline rolls into full tilt in Viral Times, just some five years from now.
But this year, pressure has mounted for accelerated creation of drugs to fight superbugs — things like MRSA and worse, for which there appears to be no protection. Going to the hospital is a serious decision itself about maintaining health.
From the New York Times:
Government officials, drug companies and medical experts, faced with outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” are pushing to speed up the approval of new antibiotics, a move that is raising safety concerns among some critics.
The need for new antibiotics is so urgent, supporters of an overhaul say, that lengthy studies involving hundreds or thousands of patients should be waived in favor of directly testing such drugs in very sick patients. Influential lawmakers have said they are prepared to support legislation that allows for faster testing.
The Health and Human Services Department last month announced an agreement under which it will pay $40 million to a major drug maker, GlaxoSmithKline, to help it develop medications to combat antibiotic resistance and biological agents that terrorists might use. Under the plan, the federal government could give the drug company as much as $200 million over the next five years.
“We are facing a huge crisis worldwide not having an antibiotics pipeline,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration. “It is bad now, and the infectious disease docs are frantic. But what is worse is the thought of where we will be five to 10 years from now.”
If you play out this trend, two aspects emerge. First, the defense of our populace from disease will make the military defense budgets look small. While you’re unlikely to be attacked by a rogue cell of terrorists, catching a superbug is a genuine possibility. Uncounted billions will be tossed at this threat.
Second, this is only drug defense against bacterial infection we’re seeing in the Times story. Viruses are much more adaptive and evasive. We have fewer successful anti-virals than anti-bacterials. It’s reasonable to imagine that pharmacos, like PharmaCorp in Viral Times, can grow larger than a defense contractor like McDonnell Douglas.
In my home here in Austin, we’re hearing reports about a rising number of infections from the West Nile Virus. The mosquito population here never carried this disease, at least not until this year. Now there’s been seven reported infections in the Austin area, and at least one death statewide. A few people in my family are scared.
What’s notable is that the warnings and reports include the word epidemic. One doctor said he’d never seen an epidemic like this in Texas. He’s relying on a definition of the word that people who’ve seen Contagion may not understand — but it’s not the right term. An epidemic is a series of infections which are high in number across a geographic area. The number of infections, in total, doesn’t create an epidemic. You need a concentrated geographic area.
He may have been using comparative thinking, but seven infections among a Texas population of more than 15 million — anybody who gets a mosquito bite could be infected — well, that’s not a high number. Not high enough for an epidemic. Under one definition, an epidemic has to spread quickly, too. An epidemic is in a concentrated geographic area. We’re hearing our reports about Travis County. But that’s only seven reports.
Our world endured an H1N1 pandemic over the past two years. That’s an infection across vast geographic areas, though not necessarily high in overall numbers. Despite that official UN health organization’s designation, the 2010-11 infections didn’t change the world’s physical contact between persons, or reshape laws about sanitation and disinfection. Or spark a tremendous business sector devoted to protection. That’s the stuff of Viral Times — although the governments of my novel are not responding evenly, or with enough resources.
A report from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment says changing climate will affect the likelihood of contracting a new deadly strain of the flu. Never mind the heat — it’s the infection that will get you.
It’s the shifts between El Nino and La Nina weather that will wreak havoc with the bird migration patterns. Birds, migratory birds in particular, play a central role, by either passing a flu strain directly to humans (as in the case of H1N1) or indirectly via an intermediate host, giving the virus an additional opportunity to evolve.
The El Niño-La Niña oscillations cause significant changes in regional rainfall rates and wind patterns, which in turn affect the migration pattern of birds. And these shifts lead to different groups of of bird species coming into contact with each other in a given region, allowing for new strains of influenza to develop that eventually jump to humans.
In Viral Times, birds are an active transmission agent in the spread of the New Flu and other viruses. The dominant breeds of birds, especially starlings and crows, are among the deadliest of these agents.
The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) refers to the state of the tropical Pacific Ocean as it sloshes back and forth, like water in a huge bathtub, west and east between Asia and the Americas. This movement affects temperatures and weather patterns worldwide.
One means to combat the infection might be to reduce use of fossil fuels. But after generations of burning coal and oil, it might be too late to reverse the Nino-Nina bathtub slosh effects. It’s back to our firewall of protection against viruses: natural immunity.
An article on the Slate website interviews a medical researcher whose specialty is discovering ancient remedies to diseases. One such remedy, broccoli, was so often prescribed that the Roman leader Cato advised all residents of the city to grow their own. In one instance it appears to have been used for colon cancer treatments.
Then there’s the spider webs.
In the world of Viral Times these are the remedies pursued, tested and used by naturopathic healers like Angie Consoli, the woman who finds the prospect of recovering love that she lost in the viral pandemics which sparked AIDS Ultra. Given the right cocktail of these healing arts, diseased people without medical plans sometimes survive without pharma medicine.
Viruses exhibit legendary behavior, especially in the power of their ability to spread. It’s one reason why something that spreads without any barriers is said to have “gone viral.” Now there’s a website that’s devoted to the concept of kindness spreading like a virus.
Good Virus has a 2-minute movie that leads you into a site that’s devoted to the mission of revealing kindness as an essential human element. We’re all infected with it.
The purpose of Good Virus is: 1) to illustrate that—contrary to what you may see, hear and read in the news—kindness is all around us (THE GOOD) and 2), to inspire people to spread that kindness (THE VIRUS). Good Virus is all about the small things, tiny acts of kindness that don’t cost a lot of money or oblige praise. The essential premise of this project is that many small acts of kindness may make more of a difference than a few big ones.
In Viral Times, one unstoppable defense against disease is love. Love breeds faith, and any faith in immunity raises the level of natural immune system defenses. A wide range of other healing arts are needed to survive a pandemic. But inducing kindness is simpler than raising the level of T-cells. Plus, the former can lead to the latter: meditation for example, shown to be an element in the increase of immunity.
If there’s a learning curve to spread the virus of kindness, nature compensates with a few barriers for disease viruses. There are natural flaws that a biological virus can exhibit in spreading. Scientists report that H1N1 doesn’t spread as effectively as a flu virus. From the journal Science we learn that aerosol transmission hasn’t been a feature of “bird flu,” the root of H5N1. Good thing.
A distinctive feature of avian influenza viruses in general, and H5N1 viruses in particular, is that they are incapable of being transmitted among humans by aerosol. Because pandemic influenza strains originated in avian influenza viruses, it can be argued that past pandemic influenza viruses were once avian influenza viruses that “learned” how to jump to and transmit by aerosol in humans.
The New Flu in Viral Times is a precursor to other disease. Nothing is more effective than the flu in propagating itself. Good Virus’s film states that scientists believe kindness spreads like a flu virus, however. So go spread a virus.