John Who?

I’ve written a short novella and I’ve decided the best way to share it is to blog it, a chapter a night. This is the first part. Hope you like it.

We are so few, less than 1000, but we are strong enough. We have purpose. We will repair.

John watched as the nanite cloud streamed from his syringe and into the wall cavity. He knew the house was falling down; he’d been trying to get the builders in for years, but one look at him had brought abuse and derision rather than quotes and work.
He’d never been one for conformity. As a child, John had exasperated his teachers by refusing to leave the library; preferring the company of books to that of children, still he’d always passed tests and exams with top marks so, eventually, they left him alone and took the credit for his brains. His parents were far too busy with their successful carers to notice his disregard for personal hygiene and the staff were too scared for their jobs to say anything to them about it until his experimentation in micro-biology ecosystems was well underway. It was a study he had meticulously documented his whole life, and one that had helped him immensely in his development of the nanites. His understanding of the delicate balance and symbiotic relationships of the many bacteria and organisms had enabled him to develop the organic power system and the self-replication programme, as well as tethering the individual processors, enabling the nanites to communicate with each other. All this meant that, once he’d released this primary batch he’d be able to leave them to get on with the repairs on house and concentrate on his other research projects. The most pressing of these was his work on epidemics, again inspired by his micro-biology study. He was close to a break-through he knew, then he’d take his findings to the proper authorities. With his work the world need never fear a mutated bird flu or Ebola outbreak again.

Over the next few weeks John was so focused on his work he didn’t even notice that the rain no longer came dripping in through the roof, or that all the lights now worked all the time, or even that the heating came on and the water was hot. The day he finished his research and finally had something to take to the authorities, dawned grey and overcast, but he didn’t care. He packed his old rucksack full of papers, proofs and computations and headed out to the university. He’d decided that would be the best place to start, there was some hope that one of the professors would at least be able to grasp what he was trying to explain. He remembered back to those few months in his youth when he’d been a student there, before he’d got bored of the tedious classes and slow-witted staff. He retreated to the library again, devouring information and knowledge but they insisted he attend classes and so he’d left and continued his research alone. It didn’t occur to him to make himself more presentable, he believed that a man should be judged by the content of his mind rather than the cut of his pants. He pulled on the same grey raincoat he’d had for years and thrust his arms through the straps of the rucksack and set off.

Professor Brian Johnston looked reluctantly up from his keyboard as his secretary buzzed through.
“John Kirby is here again sir, he doesn’t have an appointment but he insists you’ll see him.”
Brian felt himself deflate; there went his day. “Okay Delores, send him in.”
The office door opened and the unmistakable form of John Kirby let himself in. He looked, if possible, worse than ever. His nails were long, ragged and filthy, his long grey hair merged with the matching, unkempt beard leaving an almost inverse mask of clear, although not clean, skin around the downcast eyes.
“I have found the algorithm to end epidemics with minimal isolation; even allowing for global travel patterns.” John announced, before he had even sat down.
“Hi John, how have you been?” Brian asked wearily.
“It is all a matter of ensuring the proper quarantine procedures are put into place as close to the point of infection as possible…”
John droned on, as ever, whilst Brian wondered how long it was since John had seen a shower and how much of his day this meeting was going to eat. It was always the same with John, he came in, droned on and on about his latest obsession without listening to a single word Brian said. Over the years he’d offered John so much advice but there was no evidence he’d ever taken a blind bit of notice.
Brian wasn’t even sure why he entertained John any more. He thought back to their short-lived friendship on campus, where they had shared a room for the brief few months John had stayed. Brian had felt sorry for him, even back then. It was like no one could see through the personality disorder to the brilliant mind behind, no one but him, anyway. When John had left Brian had felt he’d been let down and was determined to make it up to him somehow so, as he joined the faculty, he made sure his door was always open to John and his latest fantastic theory, but now, twenty years down the line, the man exhausted him. He sighed and looked over at John, who was still, inevitably, talking.
“John,” he interrupted, “you really can’t come down here anymore, with these wild theories of yours. Don’t you think the government has large, well-funded science departments working on these problems? Isn’t it more likely they will come up with the answer to the epidemic threat than one aging loner sitting alone in his room?”
“They don’t have the practical, long-term, research on microbiological ecosystems to call on that I do and they haven’t yet realised the importance of the symbiotic relationships they rely on to breed not to mention the ways they have of altering hosts’ behaviour to aid their reproductive system.”
“There have been many studies on parasitic behavioural modification of hosts…” Brian tried to interrupt.
“But not in relation to humans!” John countered, before continuing his monologue.
“John,” Brian decided to continue whether or not John slowed down, “you and I have been friends for a very long time but you cannot continue to use that friendship each and every-time you have another crazy idea. I can’t help you get your ridiculous findings published; think about what it would do to my reputation. John, please, stop talking for a minute and listen to what I am saying. It pains me to have to do this but you really don’t leave me any choice, I’m going to have to ask you to leave and not to come back again. Do you understand?”
John hadn’t even paused in his diatribe.
“John? Look at me. John?” Brian didn’t know how to break into John’s stream of consciousness. “John, I’m going to have to call security if you won’t even listen to me when I am speaking to you.”
John gave no indication he was even aware Brian was speaking.
“John, please,” Brian pleaded, “for the sake of our friendship; I don’t want to call security. I just want you to see you need help.”
“Help?” John looked up, giving Brian a rare look at his face, “of course I need help. That’s why I’m here. I’ve taken the research as far as I can. I am, after all, only a sample of one. I’m sure your boffins here with their computers and…”
“John!” Brian hadn’t meant to raise his voice so much, the force of it surprised him.
John was oblivious, continuing on with his ruminations about exactly what Brian could do for him.
Brian shook his head sadly, and pressed his intercom button, “Delores,” he said in a tone that screamed defeat, “please call security and have them escort Mr Kirby from the premises; he is no longer a welcome visitor, do you understand?”
“Yes, sir,” came the efficient reply.

John was mid-flow when the security men arrived, he hadn’t noticed their approach so he was somewhat taken aback to be suddenly manhandled, he shrugged himself free and attempted to regain his flow, only to have the two men grab hold of his arms and forcibly move him towards the door. John was confused; he couldn’t understand why Brian would just stand there; why he wasn’t helping? Surely he could explain the misunderstanding to these goons.
John started to struggle, loudly protesting, hoping Brian would be stirred into action and come to his aid. When that didn’t work John protested louder and his actions became more and more violent until, suddenly, he broke free from one of his captors. Unfortunately the man’s momentum carried him backward and he barrelled into the door frame with a sickening crack, then crumpled to the floor, unconscious. Brian flew across the room but not to John, he knelt beside the stricken goon then called to the woman in the outer office who replied she was already calling an ambulance.
John looked at the scene before him, it felt like one of those television programs he hated was being played out before his very eyes, the secretary’s hard voice cut into his thoughts and he heard her pointedly ask the dispatcher on the other end of the line to send the police as well as an ambulance. She called him a dangerous maniac! Him! If Brian wasn’t going to help him he certainly wasn’t staying here to be called names. He stuffed the papers that he had scattered over Brian’s desk, as he tried to explain his theories, into his bag, which he clasped tight to his chest as he stepped over the still unconscious man and headed for the lobby.
“John, wait!” It was Brian. “You can’t go.”
“Well I can’t stay here. That woman called me a maniac. I’m not a maniac, a maniac is a violently insane person, I am not violent or insane…”
“John, you just knocked a man out!” Brian interrupted.
“He was man-handling me. Self-defence in any one’s book.”
“He was merely escorting you from the building.”
“Why would he do that?” John asked.
“Because I told him too!” Brian sounded exasperated, whilst John felt astonished.
“You did? Why?”
Brian took a long, deep breath and looked at him, “Because, when I asked you to stop ranting on about your latest hare-brained project you ignored me, just like you always do.”
“Hare-brained project!” John was indignant, “that hare-brained project could save the lives of millions of people.” John stared at Brian, he’d always known the man was an idiot but he’d never before thought him a fool. Now he knew Brian would never be any help getting his research accepted. He raised himself up to his full height and gave Brian a rare stare to the eyes, “I will waste my time with you no more,” he said, and turned, once more, to leave.
“You can’t go; the police will need to speak to you.” Brian called after him, but John had stopped listening and carried on his way, choosing to walk the four flights of stairs down rather than wait for the lift. Thoughts of the police far from his mind as he worked out a new method of getting his research out into the public domain, where it could do some good.

John had no idea how long after he got home the police arrived but he was at a particularly difficult stage of setting up his latest experiment so, when they wouldn’t go away and were making enough noise banging on his door to wake the dead, he yelled at them to go away. It didn’t work, it just seemed to make them more determined. The noise they made, the pressure of knowing they were there, Brian’s betrayal and John’s realisation of it all meant that he lost concentration on the experiment he was trying to set up. He dropped just a little too much sodium into the test tube.
There was a blinding flash and a deafening noise and he found himself hurled across the kitchen at a terrifying rate of knots. The noise obviously spurred the police on in their efforts to get inside the house because he hadn’t even managed to shake himself free of the debris that used to be his kitchen table when the room was full of black boots and shouting voices, all demanding different things from him, all at once. The cacophony of noise was too much and he lunged at them, yelling for them to get out of his house and leave him alone.
The next thing he knew he had been shoved face down on the ground and several young officers were sitting on him. They thrust his hands up behind his back and he felt the handcuffs snap shut over his wrists. Their violence towards him only served to intensify his struggles and he tried anything to get the men off him, bucking, kicking, head-butting and even trying to bite anyone that came even vaguely within reach. It was to no avail and only served to earn him a sharp blow to the head, which knocked the fight out of him and left him woozy and only vaguely aware of what was happening.
He felt himself being dragged out of his house and wasn’t surprised to see some of his neighbours jeering after him on his front lawn. He knew he’d been flung into the back of the police van with more force than was absolutely necessary but he didn’t feel the pain he knew he should as he hit the floor.
John wasn’t sure how long it took them to get to the police station, but he thought he might have slept because he couldn’t remember the entirety of the journey and that was unusual for him.
He was surprised to find himself standing before the duty Sergeant, he couldn’t even remember getting out of the van. John tried to protest at his treatment, he knew his rights, he was going to sue them for wrongful arrest and use of excessive force. At least that’s what he tried to say.
“Have you been drinking, Sir?” the Sergeant asked then obviously decided he had, when he couldn’t understand John’s reply. John saw the man’s eyes roll heavenward as he intoned the caution mechanically then, turning to one of the two policemen now holding him up he said, “put him in number five, we’ll question him in the morning, when he’s had a chance to sober up.”
John felt himself being pulled away from the desk, he tried to go along with them but his left leg didn’t feel like cooperating. He was beginning to feel very dizzy and quite sick too and his head felt like someone had a pickaxe lodged in his right temple. He wondered how much sodium he’d poured into that test-tube and made a mental note to be more careful in future.
As they removed his handcuffs and took off his shoes he sunk gratefully down onto the hard bench, momentarily grateful the nanites would take care of the mess back at the house for him. He closed his eyes and welcomed the sleep that might end his headache. And that’s how they found him when they opened the cell door in the morning. Flat on his back on the bench with his eyes closed, only he wasn’t asleep and the headache would never bother John again.


F: Hellen Riebold’s Author Page


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