Tag Archives: Covid 19

Recalling Cow Void

“Grandpa, what are those for? Can I have one, for pling practice? It’s just the right size. I’ll hang it up by its straps, this way round, like a little basket, over my bed. I won’t damage it, grandpa, I promise. Can I have one, or two, just in case, please?” 

Blief is doing her best to look and sound the nine year old angel she isn’t. She’s holding up a stack of blue, white and red face masks she must have found at the back of some drawer in the guest room cupboard. Incredibly inquisitive, kids, always turning any place they visit upside down. And disruptive. Bye, bye afternoon snooze, hello story time. 

Kyl hadn’t even been aware he still had the innocuous looking bits of fabric, but he does recall that particular season all too well. His memory might not be as sharp as in his youth, but the face mask phase of his first career, that’s not something he’ll ever forget.

Raising his armchair to a more upright position, Kyl clears his voice and goes:

“Well, Blief, you can have them all, and no worry about damage. They don’t serve any purpose these days. These were for covering our faces, to avoid breathing and sneezing at people, not to infect them with any bugs we might carry.”

The kid rolls her eyes opened extra large to signal disbelief.

Of course she does. She got her filter implants alongside her first vaccines at the tender age of four weeks. The devices have been growing with her ever since, neutralizing any infectious particles she might be excreting. A world without implants sounds impossible, to kids.

Blief’s parents, they recall anxiety and preemptive guilt instead of implants from their childhood years. But even they are too young to have worn face masks.

Barely anyone around, from the pre-Marvid years, and not because that disease is so particularily deadly. Even the fittest rarely make it past seventy under the best of circumstances, and Kyl is going to hit seventy eight next month, his slightly wobbly heart permitting.

“Yes, Blief, very low tech, they don’t look the life saving part, and you wouldn’t want to try to stop a serious bug like MARV4 with that kind of flimsy protection. But the face mask years, that wasn’t about MARV4. The face masks happened much earlier, when I was young.”

Seeing Blief once again roll her eyes, Kyl points at the shelf with his trophies and puts as much strength into his voice as he can muster to go:

“Don’t look at me like this, Blief, all doubting. There was a time when I was young. Very, very long ago, OK, but there was and I was. How the hug else could I have been a sports star?

And what we were playing in those days, football it was called, that was to pling what a storm is to a breeze. A leather football to your head can knock you flat out, Blief, believe it or not. With pling balls, they were called ping pong balls in my youth, you don’t even feel an impact.”

Blief nods her agreement so fast her head looks like ready to fly off.

Kyl knows where that enthusiam comes from. She’s scared he might deviate into one more endless rant, about his youthful striker heroics. He’d never subject his favourite grandchild to this torture, only his useless son-in-law gets bored out on purpose, but how would Blief know?

Kyl let’s himself sag a little lower to signal end of rant risk and pursues his tale:

“Don’t even recall the name of the mask bug, or the disease. Something like crow vet, or cow void. Yes, cow void, that sounds right, whysoever they called it that. Bovines or any lack thereof were not involed, to the best of my knowledge. 

Cow void came with what we considered a big bang, in those happy days. It made a mess, all over the world, not unlike Marvid. You could also get and transmit cow void without falling sick, not unlike Marvid again. But the mask bug was far less deadly than MARV4. It was just a matter of slowing its spread, not to have too many people fall severely ill at the same time.

Whenever and wherever we met people, we had to don face masks and keep our distances. 

Didn’t work well in my first sport. Fine enough for the masks. With everybody forced to wear them, everybody’s breathing was impeded in the same way. Cost me a full second of maximum speed, but I was still top game. Whereas the keeping our distances bit, that was far too leniently enforced.  The referees, they always looked the other way, instead of punishing close play hard and fast. Especially in the lower leagues, players kept rushing into each other as if no cow void.

Wasn’t meant to last. At the height of wave five, like two years in, some study showed bad numbers for football players, and out went my first sport. No problem for me, of course, discovered I like tennis better anyway, less harm to the legs. But it was a sad moment…”

Seeing Blief signal question mark in videospeak, Kyl pauses his story to give her to chance to raise whatever issue is on her mind. She doesn’t hesitate to ask:

“You say you were all doing physical distancing all over. But grannie, you must have met her close up, at some point? Otherwise, mom, she wouldn’t be, right?”.

Kyl likes his granddaughter, and her inquisitiveness, but certain topics are off limits.

Pretending to have been overcome by a sudden bout of senile fatigue, he quickly closed his eyes to savor the memory of that particular infraction in private.

They had kept their face masks on. Never will he forget the Nike logo on hers approaching, and how he had thought ‘funny, wasn’t even aware we’ve got the same sponsor, hopefully a good omen’. He of course never revealed that thought, preferring to talk about beautiful eyes and long lashes. Commercial can’t be allowed to intrude upon romance.

Undue Reticence

„What exactly do you mean by ‚It’s not working‘, Floup*? It can‘t be not working, not as such. Failure is impossible this time round. The mechanism is ultraoctople effective. Tried, tested, refined, retested, rerefined, reretested, and again, and again, and yet again. You know it, Floup, for the sake of clear waters, you were there and did it with me!

Our tool is as close to perfect as any such booster can get. We took all imaginable precautions, worked at maximum diligence, and we did it. We created an as good as perfect vector. We rolled it out and it will do its job. Nothing can possibly go wrong with this one. So tell me, Floup, what by the unholy rules of logic do you mean with this stupid ‚It‘s not working‘ statement?“.

Behind their joking tone, Smeech are bubbling purple with irritation. If they were into physical violence, they would lash out with their two strongest arms. But they‘re science personified, never lose control to the point of engaging in physical altercations. This is no muddy waters wrestling arena, it’s a lab. A place of peace and science.

More exactly, it‘s their lab, even if it technically belongs to the Pangalactic Promising Planets Preservation Project. The P5 bureaucrats might claim it as their place. But they have zero clue about species engineering, so how would they own this fine institution?

‚One can‘t own what one doesn‘t understand and can‘t recreate‘, any third grade youngster will manage to recite if woken in the middle of the night. They might need a little more alertness to be able to explain the axiom, never mind outline what it implies for sustainable social organisation and planet management, but the basic understanding…

Smeech suddenly realize Floup should by now have interrupted their thoughts with the requested confirmation. No such message is forthcoming. Instead, they‘re twisting their arms into the kind of knot suggesting pronounced embarrassment. Not a good sign. Same for their body pumping like the next compartment pressure leveler, and their visible heartbeat.

Something is very wrong, and Smeech need to understand what is going on. Switching from cheeky to bossy boss, they go:

„Floup, you bloody nuisance of a semicompetent pseudosentience, what the crystal is wrong? You either tell me at once, or you might as well brace yourself for a new career in shark breaking. You know the rules: The precious few safe and cuddly jobs in science and administration are assigned on the basis of intelligence and social merit. Social merit, Floup. Being truthful at all times is one major component of this criterium. You have to tell me, now. What – is – wrong?“

To Smeech‘s surprise, Floup actually pull themself together, and in a blink. With two thirds of their eight tentacles transformed into a solid column and only one third stretched out as stabilizing foot, they now tower a body length above Smeech and go:

„Shut up. Just shut up. And listen. We boiled it. Oh yes, you’re reading me right. We boiled it. This is one more gigantic boiling mess. Remember the glitch with our very first retrovirus, when so many of the dominant primate subjects came down with immunodeficiencies, instead of developing the photosynthetic ability we were trying to confer? One big bad boiler that cut our funding down to bare bones, as I‘m pretty sure you recall. Ah, I got your attention now, don’t I? No need to turn red, Smeech, and no cannibalism, please, the current boil isn’t that bad. But we might both be headed for the shark farms anyway.

This salty nuisance of an alien target species once again develops side effects we didn‘t see in our local model, for whichever salty reason. Perhaps it’s related to their lack of fur. The young ones are doing fine, just like our specimens. They integrate our virus without so much as a sneeze, forming a marvelously symbiotic partnership with it. Couple of generations on, their brains should display the intended improvements. Just in time to keep the planet viable for our cousins, hopefully, and accidentally for themselves, too. So far, so fine.

But some of the old specimens, and there‘s an awful lot of those around, they must be damaged in some unforeseen ways. They start well, no negative side effects for days. And then, out of a sudden, their lungs fail, unlike anything we‘ve seen during testing. In some cases to the point of them dying. And, guess what, Smeech? They hate it…“

Deflated, Smeech let themself sag flag to the bottom of a lab they no longer dare call their own. 

They don’t need to listen to the rest of Floups tale. The dominant species on their assigned promising planet might be stupid, often outstandingly so. But it is also stubborn. Especially when fending back against any lethal dangers simple and imminent enough for it to grasp. It‘s going to prevail, again. Smeech and Floup boiled it, again. Their best efforts won’t be enough. One more promising planet with wonderful oceans is at high risk of getting turned inhabitable. They probably won‘t be allowed to try again, and reassignment to the shark farms looms large indeed.

On the upside, Smeech always wondered if this shark breaking business really needed to be so tedious. By means of one more retrovirus, it should be possible to cure the undue reticence of the beasts and teach them to love pulling carriages. Improving alien primates might have been beyond their skills, but re-engineering very local lazy sharks, that should be within reach.

* Please pronounce Floup like soup

Bolda Bookbinder

„Blinking is not going to work, Arthur. With antique visio readers, the bat of an eyelid won’t get what was considered a display when this was called tech to move on to the next section. No embedded RMT connection. That kind of sophistication wasn’t even invented in the glory days of this device. You have to touch and swipe, to move on. Let me show you.”

Bolda grabs the resuscitated device, as expertly and confidently as befits a third year trainee, to show this coward of a novice how a pro handles an artifact.

She only wears her gloves and mask to protect an irreplaceable object, not out of fear of legacy germs. All kinds of nasties are known to lurk in the innards of antique information storage devices, but visio readers are as good as harmless compared to paper and carton books. To shy away from this innocuous morsel of history, that’s so sissy.

Bolda would never tell Arthur, she’s a polite person, but she considers him a terrible wimp.

How he always hesitates to touch the objects they’re working on. How he’s wearing cutproof ceramic chain mail gloves under the mandatory latex ones. How big beads of sweat form on his forehead as soon as they enter the vault to retrieve the next load of artifacts to be transcribed. Arthur is so sissy. Why did he decide to train for a craft, if he doesn’t have the guts? He’s the office type, should never have crossed the threshold of a workshop.

Bolda is still swiping away hard at the visio reader, browsing through its electronic library to check for anything worth transcribing.

The first dozen of book covers scream romance. Beaches, sunsets, flowery gardens. Holding of hands, hugging, kissing. Very traditional lady-loves-lady kitsch, basically.

Quite a lot of pure text, though. Anything above ten percent signals well practiced reading skills that were already getting rare in those days. As a third of this library comes without any pictures beyond the cover, the owner must have been an intellectual. 

Except there weren’t any of those around yet. The science of that age was more fairy tale than physics. Bolda tries to recall how the teacher called the phenomenon. Her mind delivers brontointellectuals. And probiointellectuals. Both don’t feel right. She has to activate her memory support implant to bring back the correct term: Protointellectuals.

The twenty first was awash with protointellectuals who thought they had figured it all out, despite considering most of what makes the universe go round a mystery, a.k.a dark matter and energy.

Must have been scary, to have so little clue, never mind control. Poor forebears.

If it wasn’t for the epochal obsession with extremely light skinned lead characters featuring ridiculously flat hair, some of this early twenty first century romance stuff might be worth republishing in a modern format. There’s good entertainment value in dire conditions.

A lot of people were still living, or rather surviving, precariously, in the frigid zones in the early twenty first. In those inhospitable areas, the outside gets way too chilly, for months. Without fur or feathers, people were forever fighting for mere survival, and the technique to grow these wasn’t invented yet. People resided in enormous ugly shelters with complex temperature control arrangements instead, to avoid freezing to death. And no just-in-time harvests. Most modern plants were yet to be bred, and shockingly lopsided diets did endless harm.

Bolda is proud not to limit herself to the technical handling of information devices. To do her bookbinder information preservation craft right, she takes an interest, cares for content. The vocational counselor back in her schooldays said so, and how right he was. Why would you strive to resuscitate a visio reader, if you don’t care about what it can reveal, about the past?

When Bolda picked her first craft and the corresponding second name, she opted into a tradition that combines a broad range of technical skills with intellectual pursuits.

Bolda Bookbinder sounds good, too, but this was just an afterthought.

Whereas Arthur Bookbinder, honestly? Bolda  can’t help adding ‘& Company’, in her mind only, because this name is so calling for alphabetical expansion. With some first names, you have to stay clear of certain professions, period. Unless you’re a total jerk.

Talking of total jerks, where the hell is Arthur?

Definitely not where he belongs. He should be right at her side, as close as possible, close enough for her to feel his body heat and hear him breathing. Otherwise, how would he get a good view of her skilled performance and learn loads? Arthur turns out to have repositioned himself a few steps back, as far away from the workbench as the wall allows.

Not at all hiding her irritation, Bolda goes:

“Heel, Arthur! Can’t have you not seeing anything, that wouldn’t be fair. Now you tell me what is on display here. Come on, Arthur, take it, it’s not going to bite.”

Most of Arthur’s face is hidden by his mask, he always chooses them extra large, but his eyes widen in terror and he retorts:

“But I’m first year, Bolda! First year, that’s ‘see yes, lots, touch no, never’. The tutoring instructor said so, Bolda. What if I let it drop and it breaks? I don’t want us to get into trouble, Bolda. Very kind of you, to be prepared to share the opportunity to handle such a valuable artifact…”

Bolda makes what she likes to think of as her poker face, despite being hopeless at deceit, while pretending to wait for her junior sidekick to step forward and take the gadget. He won’t, obviously. But she’s going to make him pay for being such a wimp, by forcing him to keep pleading.

Arthur is actually rather good at coming up with excuses. He keeps it up for a couple more minutes before ending on a unexpectedly conciliatory note:

“… OK, OK, OK, see your point, Bolda. See and touch it is, then, as you wish.”

Bolda is so surprised she doesn’t even try to withold the visio reader. She lays it into Arthur’s outstretched hand instead, half expecting him to drop it. But no, he doesn’t shrink back. He grabs the device instead, so firmly a tiny drawer pops open, revealing a shiny metal… thingie.

Now it’s Bolda’s turn to step back. And to set off the biohazard emergency alarm.

This bloody idiot of a novice is going to get them killed. Never ever does one open an artifact. Resuscitate, yes, no recovery without restoring the energy supply by hushpropping the rudimentary battery. Browse, yes. Open, no. No as in no, no, never. Not without wearing a full body suit and breathing from a safe oxygen tank.  What wrongs did she commit, to get herself paired with the most stupid jerk to ever enter this profession? Bolda is so mad at Arthur.

Five weeks later, things are starting to brighten up in the quarantine section of the local hospital.

They’re both recovering well, from the Covid 19 infection Arthur brought upon them. Walking to the table is no longer a challenge, their rejigged lungs will reach full capacity any day now.

They’ll have to spend another two months in quarantine, though, but that’s fine with Bolda. She needs some more time, to convince Arthur of a couple of details.

Where to celebrate their marriage. How to customize their two future kids, to make the best of their combined genes. What type of flat to rent. Arthur very much into bamboo, for their future home, Bolda insists on palm. And she’ll get her way. She always does.