A Better Monster

Tor Pikko's laboratory is located on the mind-numblingly, face-freezingly remote Norwegian-ruled island territory of Svalbard, where you can get away with close to anything because the chance of you doing anything significant enough that'll survive the five hundred kilometres or so of icy sea separating your... let's say, "work"... from contiguous European civilisation are minimal. It's the kind of place where you build bunkers, not just because anything put in the bunker is probable to survive a hundred thousand years plus completely undisturbed and maybe even undiscovered, but because a bunker is the only practical way to stay warm.

Svalbard, like many island territories of many countries of the world, looks pretty minute when presented in map form, but in practice is large enough to get lost in without a map, and large enough to hide in from those who do have maps.

This, Iceland, Bouvet Island, the Shetlands, and other more equatorially located but no less highly isolated islands, are prime location for two tasks. One is creating, in a laboratory much like Tor Pikko's, biological weaponry capable of bringing about the Apocalypse. Or, more specifically, Armageddon, since "apocalypse" is simply Greek for "revelation", and bringing about a global revelation of some kind isn't the kind of activity for which you need to retreat to Svalbard. The other is retreating there in order to escape the results of bringing about said Armageddon.

It's difficult to get stuff done such a great distance from the industrial universe and it's difficult to get stuff done so close to the North Pole. That means that the kind of EOTW scenarios hatching at Svalbard are the type hatched by the industrious, hardy, determined, resilient would-be world-enders. And the lunatic accidential geniuses. Pikko is among the latter.

His laboratory used to belong to somebody else, but Pikko inexplicably came into a rather large quantity of funding and was able to raise a personal army and capture the existing site. This was easier than building it himself. It is remote even by Svalbardian standards, highly defensible and came with extensive readily-accessible biological research equipment, which saved time.

It is now thirteen years since that capture operation, and another international joint task force is about to recapture Pikko's laboratory. To a dangerous extent the man has relied upon security-through-obfuscation, or rather, security-through-it's-far-too-cold-for-anybody-to-get-here. That's done now.

The actual front door is smaller than one would expect, and designed to keep the cold out, not so much people. The advance team gets through it in a few minutes. Then they're into ice-blue and concrete-grey corridor behind it, exhaling frosty air. There are four of them, and three of them carry big black machine guns. The fourth man, hanging back and sticking as close to the third man as possible because the third man is his designated bodyguard for this operation, shouldn't really be heading up the expedition into the Pikko laboratory in person, but he has a vested personal interest in the events about to unfold. His name is Smithson.

The creeping forward proceeds uneventfully for almost thirty minutes, at a snail's pace. All angles are covered and the map is frequently consulted to ensure that no modifications to the original laboratory floor plans have been made. They haven't-- Pikko's financial reserves have been spotty and unreliable since the original occupation of the lab and he can't afford to dig out new holes in the rock and pay enough people to cover up that kind of excavation process. So the money has gone to the research.

And so, without finding booby traps or prominently-placed security cameras or guards or even so much as a locked door to slow them down, the team of four emerges into the operations floor. This is a long, domed room mostly filled with scientific equipment and humming data banks. Pikko is working at a terminal attached to one of the big computers. There are four other nameless scientists around the place. It's surprisingly warm, relatively speaking.

"Pikko!" shouts the fourth man, striding forward. Even though he's wearing the same blue and grey and black camouflage as the rest of them, he carries himself in a completely different way. He is a political man. "Where are your damned books? We're here to do you a favour and burn them."

"'Pray don't disturb my circles'," Pikko suggests in return. "I can understand why you're angry. In a way, I'm even more angry than you--"

"To hell with your circles. Oh ho ho ho! You probably thought you were so clever, didn't you? You probably thought that the whole concept of a thing which can't die was smart and romantic, and that and a couple of terrible books was enough to start mucking with the source code of the human species! Okay, let me list off all the astounding advancements that you figured out which could have revolutionised the whole world as we know it and which you squandered on your asinine fantasy. Number one. Accelerated healing. Using a frankly brilliant protein-compression mechanism to store vital building blocks of cells inside other nearby cells, for quick access in the case of damage. You eat a lot more and you weigh a lot more but you come back from a severe knife wound in a matter of hours and being completely crushed to powder is survivable if you get to an operating room fast enough.

"Healing factors! Brilliant! Number two, you beat senescence too, figured out how to restore length to those long wiggly proteins which determine how old you are! And even though there were other, incredibly obvious ways to power these mechanisms, like, for example, using food, you made it, you rigged it so that the best source of energy and matter was human blood plasma. You made it so, number four, people could have elongated fangs and, number five, washed-out colourless complexion, so black people become blacker and white people become whiter, because that fit with your grey and blue Gothic vision for the future. And then, number six, you rigged the heart of any individual with these ridiculous vampiric qualities was basically hypersensitive to being stabbed and incapable of the healing that the rest of the body can manage, so there was a weakness. You deliberately altered people's skin cells to be ultrasensitive to ultraviolet light. Even nocturnal creatures manage during the day but you made people allergic to the Sun, allergic to getting vitamin D the healthy way, allergic to being able to see properly, allergic to going on holiday and reading a book on the beach."

Pikko says, "Well I'm just sorry I couldn't figure out the bat transmogrification. Or flight."

"You located the functional parts of the brain behind religious belief systems. You wrapped all of this up inside a blood-transmissible viral package and set it loose in the most crowded and unprotected African cities you can find like a monstrous hyper-HIV as if there wasn't enough of a problem with regular HIV. And you managed to include this brain-virus, this first-ever literal contagious memetic virus which adds in all the vampire-to-vampire subservience--"

"Mind control without speech and hearing isn't practical, the human brain doesn't have the transceivers it needs. Yet."

"--subservience and the mortal fear of religious symbols. And you're clean, right? And all four of us are clean, and so are your staff. All watching the show here, I notice."

"Well, I think they think that there wouldn't be much point in trying to fight," says Pikko.

"You could have just given us the good parts. That's the worst part. You could have made people live forever and just taken a Nobel Prize for your trouble. You'd have lived forever and you'd have been known for the rest of eternity as the father of what 'modern humanity' would become within a generation's time. Do you know what Africa looks like right now? Cairo, Casablanca, Israel, Turkey? It's spreading like wildfire. And behind the wildfire, there's starvation! It's ruinous! Because you can't get nutrition from vampire blood! It has to be human, and humans are in increasingly short supply! You instigated an undead apocalypse. Excuse me, Armageddon. Do you know what London looks like now? America is shut down."

"'Armageddon' is the name of a hill."

"Shut up. Anyway. It's a virus. Vampirism is a virus in reality and as a concept it's a virus in your mind. Why did you do it?"

Pikko's eyes flick towards his bookshelves, which is over in a remote corner of the laboratory. The fiction bookshelf, that is. His factual bookshelf has huge tomes with thicknesses measurable in inches and multiple authors (some of them Pikko himself) and titles like "Advanced Genetics". The fiction bookshelf has smaller books, mostly conventional paperback sizes with black covers, pen name authors and titles like "Nightfall in London". "Okay," Pikko confesses. "Perhaps this is not the best way to take an obsession."

"There isn't a cure for viruses and there isn't an antivirus outside of computers. The only way to beat the vampire virus is with a better virus. We need you to make something to revert people to normal. Or make them better still."

"I will not create a better virus for you. I need inspiration. I can't work on something I don't sincerely believe in. It's just not how I apply myself. I'm not a normal person."

Smithson steps forward, pulling several books out his pack and leafing through them. "You need a better idea, then. You like to read? You like experimental modifications to the human body? Here you go. Let's try some cyberpunk, cyberpunk." He hands over some Gibson, some Stephenson, some Stross, some Morgan and some M. Banks. "I want uploads and superpowers. Omni-adaptability, particularly for space travel and other worlds. I want an electronic thinking world and life-support for a billion infected people. Sounds good?"

"I'm going to need at least a week to read all of this," says Pikko. "And... then years more to work."

"That's okay," says Smithson. He walks away, collects an office chair, drags it back and sits down facing Pikko, with his legs and arms crossed. "I'll wait."

Discussion (8)

2010-11-28 17:42:17 by qntm:

1679 words. Running total is 49868 words. 4868 words ahead of schedule. Actually, less than that, since this story was due yesterday. I almost made it to the full month but yesterday (Saturday) was pretty busy for me so I took a chance that I'd be able to write two stories today. Here is the first. I had a brief flash a day or two ago and wrote "VAMPIRES" on my big (rapidly thinning) list of ideas. I decided that the main problem with vampires is not so much their unscientificness but the sheer implausibility of their scientificness. There's no way they could exist in reality with all their magical properties, they would have to be engineered. But then there's no way they could exist in reality with all those magical *weaknesses*, so they would have to be engineered by an *idiot* with an unhealthy obsession with vampire fiction. That idiot, I decided, would be best cured by being supplied with stories about better ideas for monsters.

2010-11-28 21:59:25 by Knut:

Nice one! I can not conceive how you manage to output so many actually pretty good stories so fast. It blows my mind. Especially concidering the at times excruciating wait between Fine Structure installments... Also, yey Norwegian-controlled territory! Although Svalbard isn't as mind-numblingly cold as its latitude would have you believe. The Gulf Stream takes a detour up to the archipelgo and warms it up, so the annual average temperature in Longyearbyen is a not too cold -4º C.

2010-11-28 22:04:45 by qntm:

Why Fine Structure took longer: (1) Editing. You will see internal inconsistencies in this story on its own, and FS is about 50 times as long. "A Better Monster" didn't even get one pass of editing. I was forced to invent the name "Smithson" when I was about 80% of the way through it, when Pikko asks, then went back and blindly inserted it earlier in the text, but you can see points between these two when I didn't have a name in mind. There are spelling errors and logical problems in all of these first drafts. (2) Planning. This is the big one. You can't just create at random. Something you write in chapter 6 of what will probably work out to be around 35 chapters can SERIOUSLY come back to bite you plot-wise when you come to write chapter 31. And you can't go back and edit chapter 6 because everybody has read it, a year ago. You have to tread incredibly carefully, then, when writing chapter 6, and keep chapter 31 in mind the whole way. Especially if you want to lay ground work for a conclusion and not pull it out of thin air. (3) Laziness. There is always something else to do (the amount of programming I want to do which has mounted up over this month has been incredible).

2010-11-29 16:01:13 by LabrynianRebel:

At least he didn't make them sparkle.

2010-12-01 16:07:46 by Solteur:

Yay you mentioned Iceland! (I live there) This story is a step towards making vampires cool again.

2010-12-01 16:12:07 by qntm:

It is? That wasn't really my intention.

2011-03-15 21:31:47 by Paradoxia:

Having vampires be genetically engineered suddenly makes them cool? Nevertheless, original idea if you ask me. Brilliant considering the time-frame you had to write in.

2021-12-23 19:50:51 by MadcapPomposity:

"But I don't WANT to cure cancer! I want to turn people into dinosaurs!"

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