Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Fish Food




Fish Food

            The world is a strange place, it’s a list of conundrums. It's vast and minuscule, wild and civilised, discovered and mysterious. Humanity has long-ago shaken off the term animal and promoted themselves to a higher station. As a race we act without question or constraint, we build up, knock down, consume, alter, discard, create and destroy.  We do all these things in the noble name of species but realistically it is the greed of The One which drives us. Seven billion individuals, all scrabbling to have more then they need, careless of what they leave for those that follow behind.

            Nobody noticed the first few occurrences, which is hardly surprising as they happened mid-2018 and the world had more pressing matters to deal with. In America, Trump sat at the head of the most powerful nation on the planet. Nobody knew what to do with him, particularly the Americans. Across the world Mother Russia had its own issues of leadership, entrenched and devious in nature. What were a few dead cats in comparison to that?

            By 2022 the scientific world had started to focus in on the strange...well, beachings. You'd expect whales or dolphins but not birds, dogs, cats, rats and mice. Now that's weird but not weird enough to attract the attention of the public. It took some video footage of an incident on YouTube to do that. A woman with about a dozen dogs decided to capture her trip to the beach with a GoPro. As they drove up to the car park, the dogs began to go wild in the back of the car, barking and whining, pawing at the glass to be let out. As soon as the woman opened the boot of the car she was near floored by the wall of on-rushing animals. They raced across the car park and down the beach toward the ocean. By now the woman knew something was amiss and called them to heel. The animals ignored her and rushed straight in to the water, shoving through rolling waves and pounding surf until they were swimming well out of their depth. The camera bounced as the woman chased after her pets, screaming for them to come back. She actually managed to catch up with one old dog and pluck him out of the water. The hound thrashed and struggled, eventually snapping at the woman's fingers causing her to drop him. Immediately the little dog resumed his single-minded journey out to sea. The little terrier didn’t make it past the line of breakers. He was pushed down again and again by the waves until he drowned. Not once did he try and turn back toward shore. The woman’s anguished cries can be heard on the video as she called for her pets to return. One or two of the stronger ones made it all the way out of sight but most eventually bobbed and sank while the video rolled. Not one dog survived.

Bill Ashton had been working at The White House since the impeachment of President Trump. The country was still reeling from the chaos of those years. Thankfully they had a steady hand on the helm now in Dean Bell. Some might even say boring. No midnight tweets, no rants at other heads of state, no making up national policy on the back of a bar napkin and writing it into law the following day. Bill had heard all the stories and a little bit of him wished he had been around for the excitement. Today was another working day and Bill started shifting through the mountain of internal memos that waited on his e-mail. Whittling down what those above him needed to be bothered with. When he came across a request from the CDC, or Center for Disease Control for funding. Bill wasn't exactly sure what he should do about it.

The CDC was one of those sit-up-and-take-notice departments. A bit like the CIA calling to your house for a little chat. It was mostly nosiness that made Bill pick up the phone and call Professor Stanton, the requesting authority, to find out more. Basically Professor Stanton said there had been dozens of animal drownings across the country. He and his team were trying to figure out why. The latest find was a whole island of brown bears found floating near the mouth of a river in Canada. They wanted to go up there and do biopsies on the bears to see if they could match something to what was going on in the states. This needed to be cleared by The White House and permission sought from Canadian authorities. Bill promptly sent on the request up the line and forgot all about it.

Six months later a Greyhound bus on the Golden Gate bridge grabbed the attention of the world. Half way across the driver simply stopped the bus, opened the door, walked to the edge and jumped. That was weird enough but when nine passengers followed him over the edge the story made national headlines. One eye witness described them as sleepwalking or like zombies. The term Water Zombies caught the imagination of the world. Right around the country similar incidents began to happen and the press were baying for a statement from the President. An emergency meeting was called to formulate a response.

The boardroom was stuffed, Bill stood, after all he was only a bit player in this particular drama. They all waited on the leading man to arrive. Bang on time the door opened, and President Bell strode confidently into the room. All the chairs squeaked as people started to stand but the President said, "Stay seated everyone. Thanks for coming today. Ok, let’s get started, time is not our friend. How many incidents have we confirmed?" he asked taking a seat and looking around the table.

The Secretary of State coughed before speaking, "Over eighty. There's been a sharp spike of suicide for no reason, and unexplained drownings, but confirming they're connected is impossible. All the dead were autopsied, nothing in common. They come from different parts of the country, different economic backgrounds. The only thing that links them is this apparent hypnotized type demeanour before the event."

"Could they have been hypnotized?" asked the President looking around the table.

"It's impossible for someone to be made harm themselves under hypnosis, your brain just won't let it happen," said a lady toward the end of the table.

"And you are?" asked the President.

"State department, Sir, but I'm also a Doctor of Psychology," the lady said looking bashful now she realised who she was addressing. The President smiled to ease her tension.

"What makes someone take their own life?" he asked.

The lady smiled at him and answered. "Depression, lots of other illnesses, most of which stem from chemical imbalances. They take time to develop where all of these people seem to be alright one minute and then dead the next."

"Is there someone here from the medical examiner’s office?" asked the President and a man near the top of the table raised his hand. "Were there any drugs found in the bodies?"

"In some yes, in other no. Nothing common to them all. Nothing like Spice."

"Spice?"

"A synthetic marijuana. Sometimes called the zombie drug."

"So if it’s not a known drug could it be some chemical weapon?"

"Not one of ours," said a medal strewn General.

"Someone else?"

"It’s possible," said the General and he actually seemed happy about that fact.

The President rubbed his head as if a headache were building. At last he looked up, "Ok, I want the military to open up all research in this area to a discovery team made up of people from the state department and medical examiner’s office..."

"Sir, they don't have the necessary clearance," objected the General.

"They do now," said the President angrily. "and I want a CIA report on my desk about the activities of our enemies. Now my friends, the wolfs await." He got to his feet. In an adjoining room the press were waiting for their pound of flesh.


***

President Bell went before the nation and assured them that every action would be taken to assist the families of these tragic events and no stone would be left unturned to find an answer to this strange behaviour. Despite his assurances, the situation got worse. All across the globe mammals of all descriptions were throwing themselves into the water, lemming style, including people. Sometimes whole groups would be affected, sometimes it was just one in the midst of many who suddenly took to the water. It was as if they were being drawn to it. 

Oceans, lakes, rivers, pools, canals. It didn't matter the type. People were diving in and refusing to come out until they physically could not swim any more. Some even drowned within touching distance of the edge and would not reach out to save themselves.

The plague spread across the world. There were photos of the Ganges in India, so thick with floating bodies that it is possible to walk from one side to the other without getting your toes wet. Floating islands of corpses were found in both Atlantic and Pacific, bodies pushed from all over the planet by the tides. Ghost ships bobbed in the waters, all crew vanished forever. Despite the combined might of science, nobody could explain what was happening.

Bill was at his desk one day when a call came in that would change his world and the world in general forever, "Bill Ashton's desk," he answered. On the other end of the line an elderly voice coughed and spluttered before speaking.

"Mr Ashton, this is Professor Stanton from the CDC. I called you about a funding issue some months back, do you remember."

"Canada, I think. I'm sorry but I only really direct the mails, Professor, I don't grant the fees," explained Bill.

"No, no. I got the money. It’s not about that. I am calling because I think I know what is causing this crisis."

"You do? Have you not reported it to your superiors in CDC?" Bill said, getting excited despite himself.

"Of course I have but they won't listen. They call me a kook."

"At this stage I would imagine they would listen to anyone. This situation is...unprecedented."

"On the contrary, young man, this situation is so precedented it is down-right normal."

"What do you mean?"

"Evolution, my friend, evolution."

"Professor, I'm afraid I don't follow."

"What is causing the behaviour is a parasite. A microscopic worm called Dipyllothrium or Dippy for short. It’s a worm found in fish."

"Professor..."

"You have to listen to me. I must get this information to the President. You are the only one I know in The White House, you must get me in touch with him. The future of the human race could depend on it." Bill hung his head. This old guy sounded like a kook and if his own people wouldn't listen to him, how much of a fool was he going to look bringing this to the president. On the other hand, people were dying, and nobody had any answers. Could he live with being the man who would not list to the man who held the answers?

"Ok, Professor, give me your number. I’m not promising anything, but I will do my best."

Bill brought his information to his supervisor and the decision was made to fly Professor Stanton up to Washington and present what he suspected to a panel of experts. Bill was told to attend, after all, he was the one vouching for this man.

Two days later the meeting room was filled with doctors and experts of all description. Bill met Professor Stanton at the gate and escorted him up. The man produced ancient laptop with Star Wars stickers on the cover and Bill groaned internally. Stanton must've been seventy years old if he was a day. His hands shook as he tried to fit the projector cable to the side of the machine. Bill felt his job slipping away from under him. That was the moment the meeting room door opened and President Dean Bell walked in. Bill's stomach went into knots. The room jumped to its feet and Bill's supervisor went to speak to the president.

"Is this the man," asked President Bell, nodding toward the white-haired Professor.

"Yes, Sir, but we haven't assessed his theory yet. I was going to..."


"Well I'm here now, why not see what he's got," said the President walking past Bill's supervisor and approaching the Professor with his hand extended.

"Dean Bell," he said shaking the Professors hand.

"Jim Stanton," said the professor warmly.

"Show us what you got, Jim," said the President moving to stand beside Bill rather than taking a seat at the table with the polished brass of his administration.

Professor Stanton was surprisingly short, "This is Dipyllorthrium or Dippy for short." he said indicating a small nondescript squiggle on the screen. "It’s a parasitical worm found in most species of fish. Basically, one fish eats another, they are transferred to the new host, bread and reproduce. They are completely harmless to both the fish and those that eat the fish, or at least they were. As you are aware, the global fish stocks have been diminished by over fishing in the last number of decades. With less fish, there were less fish eating fish and the numbers of these worms were being wiped out. This triggered a drastic change in they way these little creatures act. I believe they have evolved to produce chemicals that make their host unstoppably attracted to bodies of water, and as such, returning the worms back to their breeding grounds. All Dippy wants is to be fish food.

"How small are they?" asked one man.

"Tiny, invisible to the human eye," said Stanton.

"You are telling me something that small can control what we do and think."

"Viruses are far smaller and yes, Dippies in numbers could produce enough chemicals to make even a host as big as a human their drone.

"You say all fish have these? I ate tuna for lunch, why have I not lept into the Potomac?" said the same man who had questioned the size of the worms.

"Have you seen the Potomac since lunch?"

"No."

"Well you might well do, yet. You see, I believe this chemical reaction is triggered by what we see. These worms tend to gather, on mass, in brain tissue, including optical nerves. Also, not all Dippies have evolved to produce this reaction, but they are learning. Therefore more and more people are being affected."

"What evidence have you of this theory," asked President Bell, sounding more respectful than the previous questioners.

"In a group bear drowning in Canada I found elevated numbers of Dippies in all the bear brain samples I collected.  I have since went back and biopsied all the samples collected from earlier events and found similar numbers. I offer no guarantees only a possibility," said the Professor, folding his arms across his chest. The room remained silent for a long time. In the end it was President Bell who spoke.

"Get this information out to all medical examiners in the country. I want all available victims tested for this...Dippy worm and I want the results on my desk before they go on anyone else’s. " Nobody moved. "Now please," said the president quietly and the whole room jumped to its feet and rushed out. When only Professor Stanton, Bill and the President were left, the president turned to the older man and asked, "What can we do to stop this."

"Simple really. Don't eat the fish," said Stanton.

"And if we have?"

"Stay away from the water."



The End
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