“This should have been done years ago, Sir.”
General Arthur’s round face bunched behind the fist he looked near to swallow. His emotion or lack thereof hid beneath the bushy gray eyebrows.
“Hmm.” He said. “I wonder if you’d say the same thing if you had to deal with the aftermath. Countless body bags. The corp is going to be on grave detail for years.”
I nodded and pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose. “Sir, with all due respect. this isn’t a matter of life and death. It’s a matter of extinction. Ever since the anti-aging bill of 2089, the exponential increase in population has led to famine, war, poisoned water, not to mention the mass extinctions in the animal kingdom– all worse ways to die than age.”
The general stood, bracing himself with both fists against the table, nearly knocking over his glass of water. “You think I don’t know that?” He said saddened. “I read the intelligence reports every day. Whole regions destabilized, war lords everywhere. A mess.”
I walked around the table and found the file in my bag. TOP SECRET was stamped across the front in bold red letters. It and it’s sister file were the only two in existence, and of the utmost secrecy. They needed to be; news of a government-sponsored plague wouldn’t fare well with the public, although there were contingencies for such an event.
“Sir,” I said pulling out the mission overview. “You’ll want to read this over. It needs your signature before it goes to Director Paulson.”
He took the paper and recoiled as his eyes darted across the page. “This is…” He sighed and sat back down. “This is downright evil, Bryant.” He paused and closed his eyes. It looked as if he’d mouthed a few words– a prayer perhaps. “I almost feel this should be signed off by the President. To decimate a population like this… it just.” He reached for a pen in his jacket. “But,” He trailed off, signed at the bottom, and reached for his water pulling long from the glass.
I took the sheet and shuffled it back into the folder. “I almost agree with you General. The President should sign off on this. Death on this scale necessitates it, but we both know he won’t do it. Can’t do it.”
General Arthur grumbled. “And a weak-minded idiot. But that’s besides the point.”
I exhaled audibly. “What makes you say that, sir?”
“Never you mind, Bryant. Allow me a bit of frankness in these most trying times.” The general leaned back and disappeared the pen into his jacket. “You’ll bring this to Director Paulson and phase one will start immediately. But, I’m curious. How does it even work?”
I laid the folder back on the desk and allowed myself a smirk; one ping of pride after three years of work. “It’s quite ingenious really.” I looked up to the general; he did not share my excitement. “The virus works in two phases. After it’s introduced to a population through potable water it has a powerfully hallucinogenic effect on subjects. One assistant who’d volunteered to be tested on described it as ‘Ayahuasca on steroids.’”
The general nodded, and followed along the best a career military man could. He cleared his throat and downed the rest of his water.
“During this intense experience, one sees and hears things that aren’t really there. The subject believes that they are real though, triggering a physical response.”
The general nodded once again, this time blinking his eyes. He coughed and his pupils widened. His steely features melted into those of childlike wonder. Everything around suddenly became brand new.
“The second stage of the virus,” I continued, watching the general in wonder. “Is fatal. If the brain activity advances across a certain threshold the subject’s synapses burn out and actually fry.” I stopped to watch the general, who was now looking at his fingers as terror filled his eyes. “I’ve watched it on scans before. It was…” The general reared and let loose a full-throated scream. “Beautiful.”
I stood and watched the lights leave General Arthur’s eyes as the last remnants of fear rippled across his face. I had my signature. It was time to start phase one.