The Olliper Disease was a chemical weapon used by the resistance. It had infected the Human Genome, causing a change so severe that humans became like a radioactive virus, infecting anything they touched.
Ted thought of the irony of the towns name. Newtown. There wasn’t anything new about it, he thought, stepping over another large crack in the pavement. As he hurried past the crumbling walls and the tired, aging doors of the dismal street, he shuddered wondering how his little sister had ended up somewhere so poor. Pulling up his coat collar to stay warm from the cold damp air, he tried to hide himself from any towns folk that might see his colour as some kind of insult to their blandness. He imagined them like magpies invisibly circling, waiting to steal away the brightness of his being, or like an Ollipud wanting to infect him just for existing.
He looked again at the address on the note and then at the street sign above him. The letters were fading but he could just about make out the words, Markham square; he sighed slightly reassured that he was on the right street at least. Having no desire to slow down, he kept pace, passing each characterless building, noticing that each one was the same as the last, only identifiable by the small black numbers painted on the right of each house. He began counting them down. 42, 40, 38. He couldn’t escape the feeling of being watched although there was no one to be seen, in fact it felt unnaturally quiet. 36. 34.
There was little to give way that it was midday, any sunlight was hidden by the thin mist that filled the skies, and the streets were largely empty. It was only the pages of an old newspaper being chased by the wind that gave any sign that someone might be living there at all. 32.
As he got closer, the feeling of sadness and disappointment increased. He needed to compose himself, realising that the place was already stealing his colour. 28. He stopped and checked the piece of paper one last time. 28 Markham square. He had arrived at his destination and taking a deep breath, he pulled himself together and knocked forcefully on the door. The sound reverberated all the way back down the street. He painted a smile on his face, ready for whatever he might be faced with, then he stood in the silence waiting.
A curtain moved in the house, then a few moments later the door opened.
“Ted?” said a small voice from behind the door. “Yes Maria. It’s me Teddy.”
“Did anyone see you?” said the small voice from behind the door
“I expect so, although I didn’t see anyone.”
“Come in quick then.” The door stayed ajar as Ted squeezed his way into the small grey house. He came face to face with his sister for the first time in months. Her face was thinner. Her skin looked nearly translucent, clothes shabby and oversized, although they may well have fit the sister he used to know, all those months ago. Before her disappearance.
The house was dark, the white and purple wall paper fading, with parts of it, coming away from the wall. Ted went to hug her, feeling so many emotions, fear, relief, anger, disappointment all in one, but mostly it was relief. Afterall, up until yesterday he didn’t know whether he would ever see her again.
“Don’t hug me!” she put her hands out protecting her space. “Too many diseases in this place. You wouldn’t want to catch anything nasty” she said, coughing.
Ted’s painted smile was wearing off quickly, his lips were now just a thin straight line, he nodded his head. “It’s good to see you!” he said
She shrugged her shoulders, emotionless.
“Why did you leave? We thought you had been kidnapped. Mother contacted every TV channel in the province. There were alerts on ever security screen within 50 miles radius of the municipal. Every officer in section two was looking for you. We were all passed ourselves.”
Without saying anything she took the hem of the long jumper she was wearing and pulled it up to her chest. There staring Ted in the face was a perfectly round bump, it looked like it had been stuck to his sister’s waist.
He took a step back, jaw dropping and eyes widening, unable to take them away from the bump.
“Is that what I think it is?”
She nodded without saying anything
“So you’re telling me there’s something living in there.”
She looked to the floor nodding her head without making eye contact.
“OH my GOD Maria! What have you done? How did it happen?
“It was with Lenny the baker’s son. We were just messing about and. I didn’t know he hadn’t been de-fertilised. It just happened.”
You’re 16, why hadn’t Mother arranged for you been de-fertilised?”
“I was getting done on my 16th birthday. I didn’t even really know any boys so she didn’t see the need to rush.”
“Oh you foolish girl”
“I knew the authorities would take it out of me if they found it, so I ran. I left the province. Sold my watch at the hop and got a carrier to bring me here.”
Ted shook his head and closed his eyes, breathing in and out deeply as he collected his thoughts.
“It’s ok.” He finally said “We can find a way to work this out! We can bend some rules. We can speak to father; we can get you back into Oxiter without too much of a penalty”.
“I’m not going back. I’m not giving them this baby.”
“Oh Maria, it’s not a baby, you must know that.
“Yes, it is a baby. It is my baby and I’m keeping it!”
“But it isn’t a baby, babies aren’t grown in stomach’s, it’s a genetic rump… you are trying to keep a natural disaster.”
Maria’s face turned stony. “I knew you wouldn’t see it! You’re just like the rest of them.”
“But sweetheart, you know the odds. Natural born babies have a 90% chance that they will be born an ollipud. An ollipud! It will attack and kill you the moment it’s born.”
“But it’s not an oillpud. I know it’s not. This baby is safe. She’s safe” A tear rolled down Maria’s cheek. “I don’t want them to kill her. She’s a human, I feel her, I feel when she is sad, I feel when she is scared or happy. I feel her!”
Ted places both his hands on his sister’s shoulders, this time she didn’t move them. “But that baby has the potential to destroy humanity! It’s too selfish to take that chance.”
The monumental disaster of what had happened was beginning to dawn on Ted. He began to feel queasy. The grey of the place was already infecting him, life was draining out of him like an old man nearing his last breath.
“Can we sit down?” He finally said
“Let’s go upstairs!” Maria guided him up a steep staircase with dirty dark orange carpets. The colour couldn’t have matched any worse the colour of the wallpaper. He couldn’t help think someone was trying to add some kind of brightness to that dismal world but had failed badly and just left it in an even deeper level chaos and mess. At the top of the stairs they came to a small door.
The room inside the door, felt more like home; clinical white walls, dust free, shining white floors and the familiar smell of disinfectant. He sniffed the air, it definitely smelt clean. Maria ushered him to sit a small grey sofa in the middle of the room.
“So, when is it due?” he said, feeling safe enough to take off his coat.
“She is due in three weeks’ time.”
“And where will this happen?” he said as he took his seat
“Here, I’m not leaving this house until she comes out of me, safely”.
“But you will need some help.”
“No, I’m doing it alone! I can’t trust anyone”.
“But regardless if sh . . . it, is an Ollipud or not, you will need some help.”
“No, I will give birth to her, she will be clear and then I will bring her home. When they see she is safe, they will let me keep her.”
“You’ll need some help. No one can give birth alone. Look I have friends, in high places. Before the time of the disaster, there were nurses trained in natural births. I will come back. I will find someone safe, someone who you can trust and she will help you deliver this baby.”
For a moment they sat in silence
“How do I know I can trust you?”
“because I am your brother… And” he paused “You have my word.”
When Ted left that house later that afternoon, his head was full of conflicting thoughts. As he passed the dismal streets back towards the train station, he couldn’t shake the feeling that his sister had deceived herself, that the thing inside her was of course an Ollipud and that once it made it into the light of day, it would begin to infect and devour anything else in its path, starting with his sister.
Once on the train heading back to Oxiter, he got out his lap top. Ted knew most of the facts on Ollipuds but he began to search the internet to remind himself of the horror of the disease. The Olliper disease was a chemical weapon used by the resistance. It had infected the human genome, causing a change so severe that humans became like a radioactive virus, infecting anything they touched. The disease was so virulent it could be carried in the air. The life of an infected person, an Ollipud they’d become to be known as, was thought to be worse than death, their radioactive skin confining them to a prison like existence behind 3 feet lead walls, never able to touch or get close anything for the rest of their lives. Some actually chose a lethal injection, others eventually died as the disease ate away at them over the years.
In the latter part of the 21st century, scientists had learned how to stop the spread of the disease before it wiped out the whole of the human race, but most humans were still now carriers. If a baby was born to two carriers it would 95% likely to be born an Ollipud. In order to stop the Olliper disease spreading to the next generation, babies were now created in labs and genetically modified to ensure human safety. Natural babies needed to be destroyed.
Ted closed the lap top. As soon as he got home, in the warmth and safety of his penthouse overlooking the city, he began to make some calls. The fate of the baby would have to be decided once it was born. He must keep his word on that, but he knew in his heart of hearts, the baby could never live if it was an Ollipud.
Four weeks later, a secret team of nurses had moved into Maria’s home. They set to turning the inside of the house into what resembled a makeshift laboratory. Two large polythene tents were erected in the two upper rooms, connected through a small plastic tunnel. The nurses wore full green plastic body protection and large breathing masks.
Ted turned up at the house, the day after the nurses, dressed in a long black coat. They quickly went about swapping the coat for a plastic green outfit similar to their own. He changed into it and sat at a chair carefully positioned outside the tent. He watched maria helplessly inside as the nurses gave her various tablets and liquids. She looked so small and so child-like, strapped up to all the various machines.
You’ll be ok, he mouthed through the plastic sheeting. A few minutes later she screamed as the tablets began to take effect. Her contractions had begun, and the birth room sprang into action. Monitors starting beeping faster and the nurses were rushing around.
Ted paced the floor, or made cups of tea in stained tea cups. He was getting used to dreariness of the house now and began to notice a few nice things here and there, like a painting on the wall and a few colourful pots.
Out of the blue, there was a knock on the door.
He rushed downstairs, peering through a curtain to see an officer of the order. His heart began beating quickly as he saw the black uniform and bright shiny silver badge. What would he say? The team had arrived in the middle of the night, and he was sure they were undetected. Think. Think. He thought as he walked towards door, he turned on some music on his phone, hoping it would drown out the sounds from upstairs.
He finally opened the door.
“Hello officer” he said calmly.
“Hello sir.” The officer took a step back, Ted realised how out of place he must look, his bright clothes, shiny shoes and glowing skin, he had all the health and vitality of a person from the provinces and yet here he was in an outlying region, Newtown, a place where only poor people, criminals and the unwanted came to live.
“May I ask, what brings you to these parts sir?”
“Let’s just say I have business here!” Ted gave the man a nod and a wink, before taking out his wallet. It was not uncommon for a rich person to visit the regions when carrying out some kind of illegal activity. Money of the provinces meant most things could be bought; women, drugs, children, slaves and the law. He took out a 100 krona coin. The officer’s eyes widened. It was probably more money than he’d seen his whole life; as soon as Ted handed it over though, he wished he’d given something smaller. This amount of money was a sure sign he was doing something terribly illegal. The officer said little and walked away with the Krona, muttering to himself.
Ted ran back upstairs, willing for the child to arrive. His sister was sweating now, her legs balanced apart with some kind of metal contraption. He watched as the nurses told her to push. “Keep going” they said. “You can do it!” Keep pushing!” Ted tried to get a closer look. He thought he saw something coming from between her legs. His sister pushed again, one last time and a small head pushed its way out. Robotic arms, extracted a small mound of blood and skin from his sister’s womb. A shriek filled the room. It had healthy lungs at least. If the baby was an Ollipud though, within minutes it’s skin would begin to react with the metal. All eyes in the room watched as the baby dangled in the air, screaming and gasping for breath, minute after minute went but nothing happened. The radiation monitor didn’t change. The robotic arms were not burned up. They lifted the baby and controlled by a nurse, their pincers cut the cord between Maria and the baby, they slowly then began to move her little body in the direction of a small baby unit by her side. Still nothing. Not an eye in the room was dry as they all watched the tiny little girl dangling in the air. She was human.
Just then a smashing like sound came from the downstairs and voices and sounds of boots came quickly towards them. Three officers tore up the stairs bursting into the tent room. One of them armed with a gun, looked to the tent and the horror on his face was clear as without hesitation, he fired towards the robotic hands, hitting the baby square in the head. It stopped crying and its body went limp. Maria screamed violently, her pain echoing throughout the house. Ted ran at the officer knocking the weapon out of his hands but it was too late. The act had been done. One of the officers called through on his radio to whoever had ordered them to the house.
The other two officers tackled Ted and wrestled him to the ground. “You bastards!” he cried as he tried to get free “It was just a baby. It was just a baby! She was safe!”
Firmly handcuffed, the officers took Ted down the stairs and out to the street. He was placed into the back of the security car and they drove back out of Markham square. Ted looked up at the dismal streets, concrete buildings and aging walls. A tear fell down his cheek, the pain too unbearable.
But should he have stayed in the house longer, he would have heard another silent cry. The robotic arms that had placed the lifeless baby Erica in her unit were back in place, waiting at the entrance to Maria’s womb. As the officers dragged Ted down the stairs, his little sister began, silently, to push again. In whispers, the nurses encouraged her on. “Push” they whispered “keep going!” with tears rolling down her cheeks, the pain of the death of her first baby tearing at her heart, she pushed and pushed and just like baby Erica had come, the second child’s head burst out from between her legs and was caught by the robotic arms. There was no sizzling or burning metal. No radiation warning. As Ted drove off with the three officers in their patrol car, the second baby, a little boy, was handed to Maria by the robotic arms and this time when she reached out to take him, there was nobody there to stop her. As he cried out, she gently placed her hands over his mouth and caressed him into her bosom. He was alive, he was safe and nobody was going to take him away from her.∎