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On the day of the interview the EBC sent a taxi for me. Well, I say taxi. It was more like an armoured car actually. And the driver was a soldier. If you were going to go outside of the safe areas in cities, heavily armed protection was a must, and I had to get from Bristol to Bath.
The area around the University where I worked was fairly safe; though the people of Clifton kept agitating to have a wall built for them which might have resulted in us being cut off outside. Thankfully we brought in a lot of money, and did a lot of valuable research. My department did particularly well, as governments around the world were keen to learn as much as they could about the Ferals in case the Plague infected their countries too.
The scariest part of the journey was getting out of Bristol. It was too big a city to be protected completely, and that meant driving out through the uncontrolled areas. As something of an expert in the local Feral community, I was fairly relaxed about the trip, but my young driver was clearly nervous. Thankfully he didn’t end up shooting anyone 'just in case'.
Beyond the city, the army had done its clearance job well. The land for a couple of hundred yards either side of the road had been burned clear and salted so that no new vegetation could grow. Parts of Keynsham and surrounding villages, and even parts of Bath outside of the wall, had been razed to the ground. There was no chance of us being set upon by a Feral ambush. We were safe as long as we kept moving.
Inside the wall, Bath was almost normal, or at least what I could remember as normal from my childhood. People went about their daily lives – shopping, having coffee or lunch – as if city streets were the most normal and safe places in the world. Which, of course, in most parts of the world they were, though you would never know that from watching EBC broadcasts.
The one big difference between Bristol and Bath was the population. Bristol still had a large population descended from people who had immigrated to the former UK from the Caribbean, South Asia and Africa. They mostly lived in uncontrolled areas, and few had decent jobs, but they were still part of the city’s community. Bath was 100% white English. There were DNA tests if you wanted to live there. I’m not sure that I would have qualified. There was Spanish blood on my father’s side of the family. Trace that back far enough and you might end up with Moors.
The EBC had long since abandoned its large, hard to protect offices on Whiteladies Road and had relocated to the Guildhall in Bath. The city council hadn’t been too happy about this, but the money they got for it helped maintain the wall so they were not complaining too loudly.
I was escorted through several levels of security (even inside the wall, people were paranoid) to a small radio studio where Lindsay Wickham’s show was already in progress. Through the glass walls of the studio I could see that even on radio she was as heavily made up as she appeared on the few TV shows that EBC could afford to broadcast. As everyone knows now, she was born Lindsay McKie, but changed her name when she began working in journalism. Any name beginning with “Mc” or “Mac” was as sure a sign of Communist sympathies as an ending of “ski” or “ov” had been in the 20th Century. If you listened carefully you could still hear traces of the Scottish accent that she had worked so hard to eradicate.
Eventually my turn came.
‘This is Lindsay Wickham for Fox News on the EBC, and my next studio guest is Doctor Rosalind Burton who is an expert on the Furries. Welcome to the show, Doctor Burton, or Roz if I may call you that. We are all ordinary people together on this show.’
Call me whatever you want, I thought. Clearly your researchers have done a rotten job. In any case, you call the Ferals “Furries”, which you know is a pejorative term cooked up by your colleagues at The Sun.
‘Thank you, Lindsay, and yes, I am a researcher specializing in the study of the Feral Plague and its victims.’
‘Can you explain to our listeners, Roz, in non-scientific terms, what the Furry virus is, and how it affects people?’
‘Simply put, Lindsay, the virus affects the hormone system of the victim. It hijacks glands in the body that produce hormones, and causes them to pump out a chemical similar to testosterone. Now testosterone is a chemical that causes boys to develop into men. It helps build muscle, but also has other effects such as deepening the voice and causing facial hair growth. The chemical that victims of the Feral Plague have in their bodies boosts these effects, causing the victims to become stronger and more aggressive.’
‘Yes, they grow body hair all over.’
‘Well, not exactly. They don’t grow claws, or fangs, and they don’t change shape depending on the state of the moon, but they do look a bit like old-time movie ideas of werewolves.’
‘Testosterone is a male sex hormone, Roz, why does the Plague affect women too?’
‘Well on the inside men and women aren’t as different as you might think. Women’s bodies react to testosterone, and to the version of it produced by the Feral Plague, in much the same way as men’s bodies do.’
‘Is it true, Roz, that in decadent Communist countries such as Scotland and France, women are forced to take testosterone to turn them into men so that they can serve in the army?’
‘I believe that it is called gender reassignment, Lindsay. And yes, it does have remarkable effects on the body. Why people have this treatment I couldn’t say,’ because if I told the truth I’d be hauled off to prison for spreading immoral propaganda.
‘Is this perhaps a clue to where the Furry Plague came from?’
Ah, I see where you are going with this now.
‘One of the theories about the origin of the Plague is that the virus was produced by a military research laboratory. Even as far back as World War II the Germans were experimenting with the use of testosterone. They hoped it could be used to make their soldiers stronger and more aggressive.’
Let’s see how you handle that, bitch.
‘I’m sure that Chancellor Hitler had to resort to many desperate measures in his noble efforts to hold back the tide of Communism. Had Scottish MPs in the British parliament not prevented us from coming to his aid until much too late perhaps he would not have had to do that.’
Wow, you really have drunk the Kool Aid, haven’t you?
‘I’m sure he deeply regretted such desperate measures,’ hopefully said without too much obvious sarcasm.
‘But could a modern bioweapons lab have developed this technology and loosed it on England? A lab in Scotland, perhaps?’
It was San Monte. Everyone knows it was San Monte. They even filed a fucking patent from their lab in Hemel Hempstead. Besides, the EU has strict laws against bioweapon research. That’s why San Monte’s European operations are located in England. But we are not allowed to say that. Several of the Cabinet are on the San Monte payroll, and many of their directors have seats in the House of Lords.
‘That is one of the more popular theories, Lindsay, yes.’
‘Well it certainly makes a lot of sense to me. Those filthy Commies in Scotland would stoop to anything.’
McKie, sorry Wickham, gave a contemptuous flick of her perfectly coiffured blonde hair. Her engineer burst into applause, probably taking his cue. If you heard the broadcast, that was him clapping, not me. And possibly a backing track of additional applause as well.
‘What we need to know, though, Roz, is how we can Protect Our Children from this terrible plague.’ She pronounced the words I have highlighted slowly and deliberately, clearly for emphasis. ‘Other than being bitten by a Furry, in what other ways can you get infected? Is it true that the virus is spread by taking drugs?’
‘We are still not really sure how the Plague is spread. Studying the victims is quite dangerous. We can’t go into Feral-controlled parts of the country to do research. Even if we were prepared to take the risk, it wouldn’t be allowed.’
‘But drug-taking involves injecting substances into the blood. That would be an obvious way for the virus to spread, and explain why it primarily affects young people. We know that drug supplies in England come primarily from Scotland, so that would have been a way for them to infect us.’
Not true, actually. England is the world capital of illicit pharmaceuticals. Most of the drugs available on the club scene in Bristol are new varieties being tested on people no one cares about before they are released into more lucrative international markets.
‘Injection is certainly an obvious way to pass on the virus. But there is no clear proof that the drug scene is involved. We have a significant number of drug addicts passing through hospitals in Bristol, and none of them show any trace of the Feral Plague. They wouldn’t be admitted if they did.’
They keep coming back, too. The police haul them in when they find unconscious people on the street, but there’s no money to pay for them to go in to rehab so once it is clear that they are uninfected they are discharged and go straight back to drug taking.
‘So how is the plague being spread, then? The Commies must have some means of attacking us. Why is it mainly young people who become infected?’
‘I wish I knew. My department works closely with Avon and Somerset Police. As you know, the missing persons list keeps growing. Teenagers are going missing from home at a disturbing rate. Why and where they go is a mystery.’
‘Are they being kidnapped? Everyone knows that in an open city like Bristol it is easy for Furries to sneak in and attack civilians. Perhaps the Commie Furries are eating them.’
Oh, you would love it if they were, wouldn’t you!
‘That would be a matter for the Police and the Army. I am sure that they are doing everything they can to protect us.’
‘So what’s your theory, then, doctor.’
Hmm, sounds like she’s getting irritated with me. Clearly I am not following her script.
‘As I said, I don’t know. We spend a lot of time in schools talking to friends of the kids who disappear. They don’t seem worried, either for their own safety or for their missing friends. Those who have gone are sometimes referred to as having “changed sides” or even as having “escaped”.’
‘In that case they are clearly being brainwashed by the Commies. I don’t know about you, listeners, but I put that down to the awful popular music that they listen to, much of which originates from Europe and incorporates dangerous black rhythms. We need to be very careful about what music we allow our children to listen to. And with that in mind I would like to close today’s show with another fine tune by Sir Edward Elgar.’
Cue patriotic classical music. And that was the show done. I had been the last guest. Wickham made it clear that I was dismissed.
‘I’m sure you will understand why I won’t shake your hand,’ she said, ‘we can’t be too careful these days.’
With that she turned to her secretary.
‘Amanda, have the studio fumigated. I won’t use it again until we are 200% sure that it is safe. And get onto Bristol University for me. They promised me one of their top researchers, not someone that they pay so badly she can’t afford any decent clothes.’
I looked down at my outfit and shrugged. I was wearing denim shorts, a sleeveless t-shirt and stout walking shoes. My hair was up in a pony tail. What my mum called my “Lara Croft outfit” after some ancient computer game. Whatever. It was ferociously hot outside and the army vehicle I had travelled in had no air conditioning. I’d dressed for a field trip, not lunch with lady friends. Not that any academic made anywhere near as much money as Wickham did. High salaries were reserved for the University’s administration staff.
We were half way back to Bristol when a radio message came in. It was Professor Mike Grant, my Head of Department.
‘What possessed you, Lin? Why did you say those things?’
‘What things, Mike?’
‘About kids going AWOL on their own initiative. The government line is that it is a drug problem, you know that.’
‘But it is not true, Mike, is it?’
‘Truth doesn’t matter, Lin. What matters is what people expect us to say. I’ve just had Mary Ingram from Corporate Communications on the phone ripping me a new arsehole. Apparently the VC has already had two calls from MPs. This is serious, it could affect our budget.’
‘So what’s going to happen?’
‘I’m sorry Lin, HR has emailed me. Your contract has been terminated.’
‘Do you want to speak to Andy before you go? I can do that for you.’
‘No, it is OK. We spoke just before I left this morning. It is a dangerous journey,’ I lied, ‘we knew I might not make it back.’
‘OK, well goodbye Lin, it has been good working with you. I hope you make it somewhere safe.’
My driver had already pulled over to the side of the road. He looked at me sadly.
‘I’m sorry, Dr. Burton, you know what this means, don’t you?’
‘Of course I do.’ Without a job I would not be allowed back into the controlled areas of Bristol. My ID card would already have been deactivated. Nor would the army be willing to protect me. I wasn’t officially a citizen any more.
‘I have a spare pistol and some bullets if you’d like them.’
‘No, thank you.’ I realised that I didn’t know the lad’s name, and yet this freckle-faced kid with a Liverpool accent was offering to break regulations to try to save my life. ‘I never learned how to shoot; I’d be useless with it.’
‘Take this, then,’ he offered a small packet. ‘It’s a cyanide pill. Standard issue for soldiers on active service. We have them in case we get captured. Orders are to take one rather than risk getting infected. The army doesn’t want trained soldiers becoming Furries.’
‘Thank you, that’s very kind.’
‘And a bit of advice, ma’am. Don’t go into Keynsham. It might look like shelter, but there’s a Furry gang based there. You wouldn’t last the night. Head north-east instead. If you can avoid leaving too much of a trail there’s a chance they won’t hunt you down. If you can make it to Fairford there’s an RAF base there that may take you in and help you get to one of the protected farms. There’s always a need for farm workers.’
I thanked him again, shouldered my rucksack, and got out of the vehicle. He shut the door quickly and sped off. I didn’t bother to wave. Military vehicles had external cameras and I didn’t want to get him into trouble by seeming too friendly.
Once he was gone, I trudged across the road and across the clearance zone to a small copse of trees I had spotted. Once there I rummaged in my pack for the small radio transmitter, clambered up a useful looking oak tree and placed it as high as I could in the branches. Then I climbed back down and settled in the shade to wait. I allowed myself a swig of my precious water supply.
After about half an hour the drone arrived and I exchanged some brief messages on the encrypted channel with Andy, letting him know where I was and that I was OK.
Andy Mills, my research assistant, was a bit of a whiz with electronics. He’d found the drone thing in a junk shop and had nursed it back to life. Initially we had used it to try to spy on Feral colonies, but that had proved dangerous. Some of them had guns, and they were nowhere near as stupid as the official news sources made out. Then we came up with the idea for this project, and the drone was going to be my lifeline.
I would never have risked this without intel, of course. Andy was gay, and as that was a hanging offence these days he had to take a lot of risks to meet other people like him. There were still gay clubs at the foot of Park Street, and Andy would go there of an evening, sneaking out through the controlled zone at the top of the hill. That’s how he got to make contacts with the Feral community.
It turned out that a lot of gay guys had a thing for Ferals. Whether it was the thrill of danger, or the prospect of a really rough shag, I wasn’t entirely sure. But Ferals would come to the clubs and be well paid for sex. Other people would come, too. People who did not seem to be Ferals, but clearly had contacts with Feral communities. Andy called them “recruiters”. They were looking for teenagers who wanted to defect.
I had lied when I said to Wickham that I didn’t know why teenagers were going missing. The research that Andy had done for me had revealed an extensive underground railroad. There was no other term for it, it was like the networks set up to help people escape from slavery in the American South, or to help Jews escape Nazi Germany. Now a similar system was being used to help disaffected English teenagers escape their heavily restricted home lives and join Feral communities.
One of those who had vanished was my niece, Amy. She was a smart, sensible kid. When she had gone missing she had been half way through a biochemistry degree in Cambridge. Being something of a child prodigy, she had started that at sixteen. Cambridge was a walled city like Bath, and still something of an academic hothouse. That didn’t seem to have stopped Feral recruiters from getting in and talking to the students.
Amy had left a note. My brother, Danny, had contrived to get me invited to an academic conference in Cambridge – which I travelled to by helicopter! – so he could pass it on in person. Email and voice communications were all monitored by the AIs at GCHQ, while snail mail was so rare that the government censors had no trouble intercepting and reading all of it.
Amy’s note had read, 'Please tell Auntie Lin that I will contact her if I can. Don’t show this note to the police, as my life may be in danger if you do.'
Where were kids like Amy going? What happened to them there? Did they inject themselves with the Feral virus, or were there whole communities of uninfected kids living among the Ferals? Someone had to find out. The government didn’t want to know. They were quite happy for the Ferals to remain a mysterious menace. It enabled them to keep the population in a constant state of fear, and in a constant state of near slavery for many people.
So Andy and I cooked up this idea of having someone go out into the countryside and try to make contact with the Feral communities there. That person was me. I had emergency rations in my pack to last a week. I had maps telling me where to find fresh water. And I had Andy’s drone to help me send back as much information as I could, just in case I never made it back.
I was on my own now.