Copyright © Ian Irvine, 2000.
Note: Formatting issues from migration of my site will be fixed shortly.
couldn’t just sit here. I did a search on Ebola virus and went
through all the work done by the World Health Organisation, the
Institut Pasteur in Paris and the US Army Institute of Infectious
Diseases, among others. I found nothing useful – it was all too
old. I widened the search to include other filoviruses. That brought
in a host of information, more than I could read in a year.
had to be something! The virus couldn’t have come from nowhere.
I had another idea. I used my high level access code to get into
the Health Department’s data banks. They must know, by now, where
the first contact had come from. My degree in Database Mining started
to come in handy. I found thousands of documents – memos, answers
to Question Time in Parliament, statistics on disease progress
and variations, different symptoms, gene testing, mortality rates.
But I couldn’t find the origin of the pandemic.
tried the records of the Department of Immigration. My code let
me in there, too. Working back from the date of the first casualty,
and allowing for an incubation time of up to 21 days, I knew which
dates to check.
was little overseas travel in these days of recession and isolationism.
Less than a hundred Australian residents and visitors had been
in Central Africa in the time I was concerned with, and all had
been examined. None showed any symptoms of the disease, or even
any antibodies to it. That meant none had been in contact with
the virus. A memo to the Health Department noted that Immigration
had been unable to find any link to the African source area. There
were no reported cases overseas, anywhere in the world. The pandemic
was entirely confined to Australia.
about Defence travel? I scanned through an organisation chart of
the Defence Department while I wondered how to get into their systems.
Suddenly I struck a familiar name – General Samuel Anders-Lofts,
Deputy Chief of Staff. I recalled Ben saying that his uncle was
a general. I noted his address, but my code would not let me into
how had the epidemic come about? What if the infection was deliberate,
a new kind of terrorism? I searched for the records of the first
victim, the man who had died so publicly on the NetNews. His name
was Jasper Xavier Maxime. Unfortunately, every file came up with
the same message.
tapped in my high level access code again.
was more than one way to dress a flea. I looked in the Directory.
He was the only person in Australia with that name. He lived in
the western suburbs of Sydney, out past Strathfield. I did a search
in every database my codes allowed me access to: employment records,
electoral rolls, criminal records, traffic offences, credit details.
I did not find much.
Maxime had been single, mid-thirties, with no genetic deficiencies
of even the most minor kind. Occupation – laboratory technician.
He rented a one bedroom apartment, had been in the same job for
ten years, had no criminal record. The most that could be said
against him was a minor speeding fine and two parking tickets.
realised that it was 3 a.m. I was exhausted and getting nowhere.
I made some toast, heated a tin of soup in the fire and ate half
of it. It was beef broth, quite flavourless. I diluted half a cup
with warm water and fed it to Kirrily with an eye dropper. It stayed
down, which seemed like a miracle. I sponged her forehead, wiped
her mouth, lay down beside her and slept fitfully.
jerked awake some hours later. It was morning, still raining. I’d
found another way to attack the problem. The virus!
results of genetic testing showed that it had an unusual structure.
It was clearly derived from Ebola virus, but parts were so different
that it was hard to see how they could have originated naturally.
wasn’t a normal infection at all! I didn’t think it was terrorism,
since no organisation had claimed responsibility. It had to be
a laboratory escape. Someone in Australia must have been doing
genetic manipulation of the virus. Illegal research – no Ethics
Committee would ever have allowed such dangerous work!
the first victim had been a laboratory technician. Which laboratory?
I did a personnel search on all the laboratories in Australia that
worked with human or animal viruses. There were only a few dozen
and the name came up at once – the Centre for Advanced Bio-Engineering.
The man worked at my own institute, where my sacred mother had
carried out her research. And I, who had been put in charge of
the investigation, had not been told. Clearly I was part of a cover
research was a very well-kept secret, for I’d not had an inkling
of it in the years I’d been at the Centre. But it was a very big
institute, with more than a thousand staff and half a dozen laboratories
wondered who the victim’s head of department had been. I searched
that out, too. Prof. Eolie Chalmys. The Director of the Centre.
did the money come from? That wasn’t hard to find out. There were
many documented sources of funding to the Centre, including a moderate-sized
grant from the Medical Inspector’s Office which had been received
every year for the past fifteen. But those grants were accounted
for on programs I knew about. How was the Ebola research funded?
used my mole program to crack into classified files I had no right
to see. It was a huge risk. If they detected the entry they might
trace me, and my career would be finished.
continued anyway, and found evidence of three grants, identical
large sums of money, provided by organisations I had never heard
of. Shelf companies, set up specifically to hide the source of
was as far as I got. I couldn’t find where the money originated,
what research was being done on the virus, or what it was for.
It was as if no records had ever been kept.
was impossible. Most researchers spent more time writing grant
applications and progress reports, and publishing scientific papers,
than they did carrying out their research. It was worse than strange
– it was highly suspicious.
PocketBook began to beep urgently. One of Ben’s security programs
had been activated.
ENTRY DETECTED. LINKS BEING TRACED.
I yelled at the mike.
LEVEL! CANCEL SEARCH?
panicked and did an emergency shutdown. High level meant something
higher than the police or even the Medical Board. Something like
National Security. I must be close to uncovering something very
nasty. Either incompetence on a grand scale, or
than a hundred thousand people were dead already. The truth about
the epidemic would destroy hundreds of careers. My life, and Kirrily’s,
weren’t worth a cent.
the other hand, the good thing about using the Tantalum satellite
uplink was that my account, and the records that could trace me
to here, were on computer databases in the US. National Security
must approach its US counterpart for the data. Procedures would
have to be followed before the satellite company would part with
the data. It gave me a little time, but I knew they’d find me within
thought was demolished by the next. Once Security identified me
they’d know where to look. I’d been scanned at a dozen checkpoints
since leaving home. This house was in my name.
could I go? With all the rain, I couldn’t drive anywhere that wasn’t
a proper road. The only place I could go was into the forest. There
was plenty of it around here. A skilled bushwalker could hide for
months. But I wasn’t a skilled bushwalker and I had Kirrily. I
couldn’t leave her. I’d been down that path before.
was an old track, I remembered, that led across the paddocks a
kilometer or so to the escarpment. The rugged slopes below that
were clothed in rainforest. There were caves, too. We would have
a last day together, if I could get Kirrily there.
threw bags, blankets, food and other essentials into the car, enough
to do us for several days. I lifted Kirrily onto the back seat.
She weighed nothing. I drove, wheels spinning in the mud, down
to the edge of the escarpment. It was raining heavily and banners
of mist streamed up over the edge. I carried her down into the
forest, and along to the third of the caves. There I laid her on
a blanket. I ran back for the rest of the gear, dumped it in the
cave and staggered up to the car. I thought my heart was going
to explode by the time I got there. My ankle, the one that had
been repaired, started to throb.
roared across to the house, parked the car, hid the keys and stumbled
back along the track. The rain was already washing away the car
tracks, I was pleased to see.
reached the cave. My ankle and foot were now extremely painful,
as if the bones had moved and were grinding against each other.
There are no miracles!
I thought. Kirrily lay on the blanket exactly as before. I dripped
a few more teaspoons of beef broth into her. She kept it down but
it didn’t seem to be making any difference. This was where the
real miracle was needed.
let’s say I had a day to find out the truth. There must be records
in several places. In the Centre, in whatever shadowy institution
was funding them, and perhaps in the Medical Inspector’s Office.
made a couple of reconnaissance searches over GoverNet but the
alarm went wild. It was too dangerous – their security systems
were on high alert. I had the same result with the Medical Inspector’s
computers. That left the Centre. I knew their system pretty well.
longer daring to use my access code, I used the mole to get in.
As I did the PocketBook lost the signal. I tried to get it back
but there was nothing coming through at all. What had gone wrong?
Had they frozen my account? If so, I really was finished. Then
I recalled that message in the handbook. Maybe the satellite had
moved out of range, or behind the escarpment, so it couldn’t get
through the roof of the cave.
ran outside, a garbage bag over my head and the precious PocketBook.
Pointing the aerial at the sky, suddenly the signal was back.
the search froze.
couldn’t believe it. My account balance had been over $8,000 when
I began. Surely the charges couldn’t be that high. I tapped in
my cheque account number. I held my breath.
I worked desperately, knowing that there wasn’t much in the account.
I used everything I had ever learned about computers, and what
Ben had taught me so long ago. I mined the network to the best
of my ability but what I was looking for simply wasn’t there.
must have been less money in the account than I’d thought, for
after twenty minutes,
only have the one credit card. I gave its number. It didn’t have
a high limit either.
files had to be in the Centre somewhere. They couldn’t run the
Ebola Program without them. Then I had a flash of insight. One
computer I had never seen
on the network was the Director’s own, that squat black cube in
her office. Maybe it wasn’t connected to the CentreNet at all,
the perfect security. Or was it?
scratched at a memory – something Ben had showed me in those late
night talks so long ago. It had to do with using the electrical
wiring of the building to network computers together. If the Director’s
computer was plugged in . I typed a search into the PocketBook
and up Ben’s program came. It found the Director’s computer right
away. I ran the Code Cracker and suddenly I was in. I searched
for my mother’s name. Jackpot!
Human Genome Cleansing Project
Modified Ebola RNA String shows considerable promise as a biological
agent. The Human Genetic Diversity Database indicates particular
problem genetic types which can be targeted by the virus, a concept
first proposed by Athanor, C (2004, 2005a, b, c, 2006a). Research
in our own Genetic Bio-Engineering Lab is now well advanced.
Shortly we will begin pilot testing with suitable clients.
felt a chill of horror. It couldn’t be true. The references must
have been put there to get at her, or
me. I highlighted the five references by my mother and called
had just begun to read when I heard the whuff-whuff-whuff of a
helicopter, flying low. They must have been desperate to fly in
this weather. It was blowing a gale, visibility was about 20 metres,
and the hills were wreathed in mist. The helicopter roared then
went away again.
the time I’d read the first reference there was no doubt. No wonder
these papers were held under the highest security. My mother’s
work on the design of future societies had proven unexpectedly
difficult, and she’d gone off on a tangent. A project to cleanse
the human gene pool of problem genes, by targeting it with particular
not been thinking about eliminating whole races, or genetic variants
– at least, she’d not written about doing that. I gave her the
benefit of the doubt. Surely her research had not had that intention,
though the possibilities were perfectly obvious from what she didn’t
research had redesigned
the future, in the most monstrous way possible. My first impulse
was to delete the files and try to cover it up. But I couldn’t,
not even to save my mother’s name, or my own. Anyway, the files
would be backed up somewhere.
discovery still didn’t give me what I needed so desperately. I
continued my search into the other two questions – the purpose
of the current research and the source of the money. Then I heard
the chopper again.
appeared out of the strands of cloud, only a few hundred metres
away. I crouched down between the rocks. I didn’t think they’d
seen me, among the foliage with a green garbage bag over my head.
But they knew I was here somewhere.
it was gone I ran down to the cave, gave Kirrily some more soup
from the eye dropper, bathed her brow and hugged her. ‘Don’t leave
me!’ I cried. She still looked no better, though she didn’t throw
up this lot either.
ran out under a tree, tapping furiously at the keyboard, running
half a dozen searches at once. Another chopper appeared, a big,
armoured military transport, bristling with antennae. It headed
down the escarpment in the other direction.
a different alarm went off and the screen went fuzzy. I shifted
to another frequency and the search continued. While it was going
on I set up the email program, searching the Directory for dozens
of addresses and popping them into the mail slots, one by one.
beeper sounded and suddenly I had it – a series of memos from Prof.
Chalmys, detailing progress on the Human Genome Cleansing Project.
The evidence was absolutely damning. The memos didn’t have an addressee,
but I found a link to videos of a face I knew very well, demanding
faster progress on the project. ‘The cleansing isn’t going fast
enough,’ the President, the great sporting hero, raged.
heard the military chopper coming back. I could have torn my hair
out. I only needed a few minutes but I wasn’t going to get them.
I didn’t have any other accounts. I typed in the number of my main
typed in another, the Centre’s petty cash account.
had cut off my access to those accounts, of course.
noise of the chopper was deafening. They knew I was here. What
could I do? I remembered that Kirrily had a savings account with
a few hundred dollars in it. It could also be operated by my signature.
I battered the number into the keyboard and prayed.
felt like smashing it with my head. Had they frozen our personal
accounts already? I checked the number in my personal directory.
I had a digit wrong. I corrected it, hit the button.
of all, in case I didn’t survive and Kirrily did, I typed a brief
letter explaining about her and her father, attached copies of
the incriminating files, added General Anders-Lofts’ email address
and put it in the mail queue.
late! With a deafening roar the big military chopper landed on
the grassy edge of the escarpment, not fifty metres away. Leaves
and water droplets blasted into my face. About twenty soldiers
leapt out, waving weapons.
queued the files, clicked TRANSMIT and turned on the video eye
above the screen. Then I ducked away between the rocks and came
out on the other side of the chopper. Putting up my hands, I walked
slowly toward them. I had no idea what to expect.
soldiers surrounded me, their weapons raised. They did a body search,
very thoroughly. They were coldly courteous. And why wouldn’t they
be? Any one of them could have broken me in half, bare-handed.
I wondered if they had orders to shoot me.
don’t think you’ll be needing all those weapons,’ I said with an
attempt at a smile.
don’t look quite . what we expected,’ muttered a burly soldier
as he handcuffed me.
you come with us please, Dr Athanor?’ said their leader. He was
younger than me, though a full Colonel. ‘Stand here!’ Weapons were
trained on my chest. He seemed to be under some strain. ‘If you
attempt to escape I have orders to shoot to kill.
her computer, and the child!’ he barked to his troops. A group
ran off in the direction I had appeared from. I held my breath.
It would take some time to transmit all those files, even if Kirrily’s
money lasted .
have to go to my daughter!’ I said.
where you are! Where is she?’
gave directions. ‘She’s dying of the fever. You’ll need isolation
medics were despatched down the track, shortly to return with Kirrily
on a stretcher. She looked so tiny.
you find it?’ the Colonel demanded.
said the first medic.
wanted to sit down. My foot was killing me. I would have cheerfully
exchanged it for the old one if it could have saved her. I took
Kirrily’s hand. The medics put her in a portable isolation chamber,
with a drip in her arm.
Colonel began to talk urgently on the radio. He kept looking back
at me uneasily. ‘I’d better have that in writing!’ he snapped into
response made him jump. He issued orders. ‘Form a firing party.
Don’t shoot until I give the order.’
soldiers led me to a solitary beech, a gnarled old thing covered
in moss and trailing lichens. Six others pointed their weapons.
I didn’t feel anything except a strange, momentary exhilaration.
My atonement, at last.
Colonel paced back and forth. ‘Anything on the fax?’
shouted someone from inside the chopper.
fog swirled in and reduced visibility to a few metres. The firing
party moved closer. I didn’t say anything, and nor did they. I
knew what they were thinking, though. How could this little woman,
hampered by a dying child, possibly be any threat to the nation?
the chopper a radio began to chatter. I couldn’t hear what was
said, but I heard the operator say incredulously, ‘Confirm, confirm!’
radio chattered again. The operator came running out and spoke
urgently to the Colonel.
party, lower arms,’ snapped the Colonel. He personally unlocked
the cuffs. He didn’t know where to look.
escorted me to the chopper. I strapped in beside the isolation
chamber. We sat uncomfortably, waiting for the fog to lift.
wonder,’ I said casually, though my heart was going flat out, ‘if
we could see what’s on NetNews. You might want to collect my PocketBook,
over by that rock. I dare say it’ll be evidence – you’ve been on
the net for the past twenty minutes.’
Colonel almost had a heart attack. He ran and fetched it himself,
then sat there, just staring at the open files.
you didn’t shoot me,’ I whispered.
addresses I had transmitted those files to included the Prime Minister,
the Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the
Department of Defence, every news agency in the country and key
agencies in New York, London, Paris, Singapore and Tokyo. The video
of my arrest had run live on NetNews, until the Colonel closed
down the PocketBook.
was more than enough. A State of Emergency had been declared. The
President had committed suicide, his wife was under arrest, as
was Margaret Mulcted of the Medical Inspector’s Office and Prof.
Eolie Chalmys. The Government had fallen, the Centre and the Medical
Inspector’s Offices were sealed and guarded by a batallion of troops.
The story was on all twelve channels of NetNews.
was over and I had won, though I could not have cared less. Kirrily
was no better. She seemed to be slipping into a coma. When the
fog lifted we flew straight to Sydney and she was whisked into
a hospital ward.
sat by her side day and night. A thousand people wanted to see
me, and though I avoided most of them there were some I had to
see. Like the new Prime Minister, and the Deputy Chief of Staff
of the Defence Forces, Ben’s uncle, who had been ordered to have
me killed but had stayed the order.
was a handsome, harried man who reminded me of Ben. He gazed at
Kirrily through the isolation chamber. ‘Ben was always my favourite,’
he said, shaking his head.
was also a very persistent man from the Centre, who looked rather
like a ferret. I refused to see him. He refused to go away.
doctors tried a variety of new drugs on Kirrily, some experimental.
She got worse, and I knew she was dying. Then she got better. Then
she got worse again. I despaired. My terrible crime was getting
its due at last.
I’d been awake for days, I could not sleep. I dozed fitfully in
the chair by her bedside. I held her hand all night, taking comfort
from it as I slept. Then, just as another day was dawning I felt
her fingers slip out of my hand.
shock woke me at once. I sat up, expecting to see her lying dead
in the bed. She wasn’t there at all. ‘Kirrily!’ I screamed.
felt something touch my other hand. ‘I’m starving, mum,’ came a
hoarse little whisper. ‘What’s for breakfast?’ I knew I was dreaming.
I knew she was dead. Then I turned my head and she was kneeling
on the floor by my chair, smiling up at me. She was so terribly,
terribly thin, my Kirrily, my love. She was going to live.
are you doing out of bed?’ I said.
sick of bed. Is there anything to eat?’
you want in the world,’ I said. ‘And after breakfast .’
want to go looking for frogs.’
old nurse, who had just come in, was scandalised. ‘We don’t have
any frogs here. Nasty, slimy things!’ She lifted Kirrily back into
not slimy!’ Kirrily croaked, annoyed.
soon as you’re better,’ I said, ‘we’re going home. You and I are
going looking for frogs.’
don’t know where to look,’ said Kirrily.
used to find them between the old water tank and the wall of the
house, when I was nine.’
mum!’ said Kirrily, as if I was the most wonderful parent in the
imagined that I was, for a second, until old memories drifted to
the surface. I put them as far in the past as they would go. I
would never be free of my baby. I didn’t want to be.
man from the Centre pushed into the room. ‘I’ve got to see you!’
ferret-face said self-importantly.
glad you’re here.’ I handed him a letter. ‘It’s my resignation.
I’m finished with the Centre.’
. I’ve come to offer you the position of Director!’ He dropped
his voice. ‘We’re even prepared to destroy those papers of your
mother’s. No one need ever know what she did.’
don’t think so,’ I said.
surely you want to protect her reputation?’ he exclaimed.
just an instant I was tempted. Then I thought better of it. Cyssa’s
work had laid the foundations for the world that had just come
crashing down, maybe even the Genes
Act itself . ‘Not
if it’s a lie. I plan to put all her papers on the net, so everyone
will know the truth.’
about your research? This is the most exciting opportunity in the
country. There’s thirty years of damage to undo. A whole new society
don’t want it. It was never my work anyway. It was always hers,
and now I’ve finished it.’ Though not the way she ever intended.
‘I don’t plan to do any of my own. Anyway, it’s folly for anyone
to try to design the future. Nature does it so much better.’
went out. I hit the TRANSMIT button on the PocketBook. It was done.
My baby could rest in peace.
get some breakfast, Kirrily. What do you say to waffles with cream
and maple syrup?’
much as you can eat.’