When Thomas Boyer, Jr., the richest and most powerful man in all the land, detected that public consumption in all provinces had leveled out and showed no signs of breaking through what appeared a consumption ceiling, he sponsored a study to find out why. In fact, he sponsored many.
Surveying messengers were sent far and wide and they, as charged, took the consumption pulse of every province and city in the land.
When they returned with their findings they all said, “People need to sleep.”
Ah, thought Thomas Boyer, Jr., if people didn’t have to sleep, they could buy and consume so much more.
“Find me someone,” he said (or yelled, for he yelled most of the time) to his small army of Personal Assistants. “Find me someone who is very, very good with biochemistry and who can figure out how to keep people awake twenty-four/seven. What I need is some sort of genius. Yes, that is what I need. And I need him now,” he added like a threat (which is precisely what it was).
“Yes, Sir,” said the PAs in one voice.
The PAs were very good at what they did and they also valued their lives, so, within the month they returned with Forrest Anderson, a tall young man with a pony tail who knew all about sleep, for he had studied nothing but sleep and its whys and wherefores for most of his life.
“Make me a pill that will keep people awake twenty-four/seven,” said (not yelled, this time) Thomas Boyer, Jr. to Forrest Anderson.
“I am not sure that can be done,” said Forrest Anderson.
“I am sure it can be done,” said Thomas Boyer, Jr. in that way of his that made other people sure as well—if they liked their heads and valued their lives.
“It’s going to take some time,” said Forrest Anderson.
“Some, but not much,” warned Thomas Boyer, Jr.
“I need a laboratory, and I need equipment, and I need assistants,” said Forrest Anderson.
“You will have all that,” said Thomas Boyer, Jr.
And so it came to pass that Forrest Anderson, who in his late teens had discovered the biological quantum clock that regulated sleep, made Thomas Boyer, Jr. a pill that could keep the population awake twenty-four/seven. Thomas Boyer, Jr. was very pleased with this and he called the pill Awake.
Once Thomas Boyer, Jr. had verified that the pill indeed worked he threw Forrest Anderson in a dungeon and tossed the key in a trash can, for he did not want this bright young man to get any ideas about making a better pill for someone else, or heaven forbid, to make an antidote to it.
That same evening a cleaning lady found this odd-looking key in Mr. Boyer’s trash can and decided to keep it rather than throw it away. When she got home she asked her husband what kind of key it might be and to her surprise he recognized the type: “This,” he said, “is a dungeon key. Why would a dungeon key be in your boss’ trash can?”
“I don’t know,” she said. But the key was so intricate and so beautiful that they decided to keep it, and they put it in a little box which they put in a drawer in their kitchen.
With Forrest Anderson safely locked away, a new law was proclaimed in that land: Everyone must take one Awake pill each morning for the rest of their lives, regardless of age. And to make sure this law was followed, Thomas Boyer, Jr. established a Pill Police who were given detectors that could sense whether a person had taken the pill or not.
A first offence (not taking or forgetting to take Awake) was a warning.
A second offence was death.
The population soon got the message.
As a result, and much to the delight of Thomas Boyer, Jr., buying and consumption began to rise, and rise, and rise, and it soon broke through the previous consumption ceiling and from there just kept rising, for no one slept anymore but now stayed awake to buy and consume twenty-four hours a day, seven days of each week. The Pill Police and quite a few heads on televised pikes had seen (and continued to see) to that.
One morning five of Thomas Boyer, Jr.’s most trusted advisers were shown into to the powerful man’s office.
“What do you want?” said Thomas Boyer, Jr.
“We have some, well,” and some clearing of throats here, for they all liked their jobs and liked their heads, too.
“You have some, well, what?” said (almost yelled) Thomas Boyer, Jr.
“We have some bad. Well, not really bad, say disturbing, yes that would be the word. Some disturbing news.”
“What is this disturbing news?” wondered Thomas Boyer, Jr. not unlike a cat would wonder what a mouse was up to.
“India, and China, and Africa are using far too many resources. And their rate of consumption keeps growing, much faster than ours, in fact. Soon there will not be enough for us.”
This got Thomas Boyer, Jr.’s attention, and he sat upright in his large chair. “This is worse than disturbing news,” he said. “This is terrible news.”
The five advisors looked at each other, each wondering whose head was going to roll.
“What do we do about this?” said Thomas Boyer, Jr.
“That’s a very hard question to answer,” said his advisors. “India’s and China’s and Africa’s populations keep growing and as these countries and continents grow richer each citizen buys and consumes more and more and more. They all look to our land as a model of comfort and luxury and they all want what we have. If they keep this up, we are soon going to need more than just this one planet to provide the resources for all this consumption. We’re going to need two, three, five even, or more, perhaps. Planets.”
“What. Do. We. Do. About. This?” said Thomas Boyer, Jr.
The advisors looked at each other again, definitely wondering about rolling heads and who they were going to belong to.
Finally, one of them, the most senior of them and a long-time friend and trusted advisor to Thomas Boyer, Jr., risked an observation. “It’s not as if we could kill them all off,” he said.
“Now, there’s a thought,” said Thomas Boyer, Jr. Then he said, very loudly—loudly enough to be heard through doors and walls—and very emphatically, “PAs. Get in here.”
The small army of PAs arrived, notebooks at the ready, awaiting orders.
“The populations of India, China, and Africa are threating our well-being and consumption growth,” he said. “We need to wipe them out.”
No one answered, nor did anyone write anything down.
“Did you hear me?” said Thomas Boyer, Jr.
“Yes, Sir,” said the PAs.
The advisors looked dumfounded from Thomas Boyer, Jr. to his PAs and then back to Thomas Boyer, Jr.
“Find me someone, and fast, who can figure out a way to kill them all,” said Thomas Boyer, Jr. “What I need is some sort of genius with viruses and such. Yes, that should do the trick,” he added.
“Yes, Sir,” said the PAs, and turned to carry out his order.
And so, before long, a horde of messengers was scouring the land for a virus genius who could figure out how to wipe out India, China, and Africa, without harming the land itself or any of its allies.
Meanwhile, freedom-loving people being what freedom-loving people are and doing what freedom-loving people do, a grass-root resistance to the Awake pill (and to the Pill Police) had began to form, lead by Susanna Fairweather, a mother of three, who had fled to her deep-forest cabin with her husband and children to avoid the Pill Police and that cursed pill.
From there she had managed to contact and gather other like-minded Pill-resistors to form a small but growing movement. Their first order of business was to set Forrest Anderson free, for yes, it was well-known that the inventor of the Awake pill had been thrown into the Boyer dungeon and that the key had been tossed in a trash can. And this Forrest Anderson, they reasoned, correctly, would be the only one who could discover and design an antidote to Awake, and an antidote to this evil pill was what the world needed most.
That’s why breaking Forrest Anderson out of the Boyer dungeon was their first order of business.
And so it was that they came to discover who cleaned Thomas Boyer, Jr.’s office and now they had contacted her and indeed found the key. One night Susanna Fairweather and three others managed to enter the outer dungeon and with the key gain entry to the cells. And that is how they sprung Forrest Anderson and brought him back with them to the Fairweather cabin.
“Do you know what is going on now?” Susanna asked Forrest.
“No,” he said. “Tell me.”
She did. Then she asked, “Are there any side effects to the Awake pill?”
Forrest Anderson looked concerned. “That’s just it,” he said. “I’ve given this some thought—I’ve had the time, as you know. My guess is that two things will soon begin to happen, if they have not already. First, older people will begin to die, since they are using up their allotted awake hours at an alarming rate. The body only provides so many, you know, and by staying awake like they do, they will deplete that store. In a few years, younger people will begin to die, too, for the same reason.”
Susanna Fairweather looked very concerned. Then she asked, “And what is the second thing?”
“The second thing,” said Forrest Anderson, “is that if you take Awake for too long, I’m afraid it might sterilize you.”
Even more concerned now, Susanna Fairweather asked, “How long is too long?”
“I don’t know,” said Forrest Anderson. “A year, perhaps, give or take.”
“Oh, my,” said Susanna Fairweather, shaking her head. “That is terrible news.”
“I know,” said Forrest. “I tried to tell them that we needed more time to consider the side effects. To run trials.”
“Oh, my,” said Susanna Fairweather. Then she asked, “You designed the pill. Can you make an antidote?”
“Not without a lab and more time than I believe that we have.”
“Are you saying that the Awake pill might sterilize the country?”
“Oh, my,” said Susanna Fairweather for a third time.
Back at Thomas Boyer, Jr.’s office, the PAs’ messengers returned with a very large and spectacularly well-dressed man named Hunter Jack, a virus genius who said he could solve the India-China-Africa problem for Thomas Boyer, Jr.
“Let’s hear it,” said Thomas Boyer, Jr.
“A cloud,” said Hunter Jack. “A viral cloud that covers the Earth for four weeks.”
Thomas Boyer, Jr. nodded. So far so good.
“This is a cloud that will kill most humans who breathe the air, and that will sterilize those too healthy to go down on the spot, so to speak.”
“And our land?” said Thomas Boyer, Jr. “And our allies?”
“The populations in our land and those of our allies will be inoculated to shield them from the virus,” said Hunter Jack. “I have already devised the antidote.”
“Beautiful,” said Thomas Boyer, Jr.
“We’ll have to make those inoculations mandatory,” observed Hunter Jack.
“Naturally,” said Thomas Boyer, Jr.
At the cabin, Susan Fairweather listened to the emergency broadcast that directed every citizen in the land to report to the nearest hospital for an important inoculation. Against a rapidly spreading deadly virus, the very stern announcer said. Inoculation was mandatory, he added.
“What virus,” she asked Forrest Anderson.
He shook his head. “I haven’t heard of any such thing.”
“What is he up to then?” said Susan Fairweather.
“I don’t know,” said Forrest Anderson.
“I’m going to take my children to the local hospital,” she said. “Just in case there’s something to this. You should come too.”
“I can’t,” he said. “They’ll spot me and arrest me on the spot. But you go, just to be on the safe side.” Her husband agreed, and said he would drive them all.
What Thomas Boyer, Jr. was up (to answer Susanna Fairweather’s question) to was to inoculate every man, woman, and child in the land.
Also, he had, on profitable second thought, decided to leave his allies—along with the rest of the world—in the dark, and had not extended the service to them. This, of course, to safeguard the long-term supply of natural resources for the land, he told Hunter Jack, who agreed. Good idea. Wise move.
Once the large majority of the people in the land had been vaccinated against the virus, Hunter Jack’s virus-cloud was released from a fleet of high-altitude war planes, and within days the entire planet was covered by a blueish-white cloud whose tendrils reached all the way to the ground and that swept a viral mist across all of the world.
Much was made of this in every country, including the land, and even more was made of it once older people everywhere in the world except in the land began to take ill and die. Then younger people fell ill, too, and died, and only the very young, and very healthy, were strong enough to withstand and survive the virus.
At first, many countries blamed the land for the cloud, but Thomas Boyer, Jr. said, look, we are as much a victim to this natural disaster as you are. Our land was covered, too, as you know. And since that, of course, was true, the other countries soon stopped blaming the land—being too busy by now burying their dead.
Forrest Anderson soon died, too, for there was no way for him to avoid breathing the contaminated air, while Susanna Fairweather, her husband, and her children along with two other families that also lived in the cabin, survived, since they had all been inoculated.
Thomas Boyer, Jr., who, of course, had been safely inoculated against the virus, had never trusted the Awake pill (privately heeding Forrest Anderson’s repeated warnings that more testing was needed), and so had never taken it. Thus, he lived out his child-less life witnessing his handiwork—the slowly unfolding catastrophe of mankind’s demise.
Two years later, those in the world (outside the land) who had survived the cloud were now discovering and confirming that yes, definitely, they were sterile, and these populations would soon die out.
Unfortunately, for the human race, the same conclusion was now being reached by the people in the land. For even though they all had survived the cloud, they all had, as decreed by law, continued to take the Awake pill. And this same conclusion was that, yes, they, too, were now sterile. The people in the land would soon die out, too.
Leaving only the very few who had refused the Awake pill, but had been inoculated, and of those there were not very many. Among them, though, three families in a cabin deep in a forest.
The years have rushed by, a thousand of them now, undisturbed by those few humans who survived the catastrophe and who have since clung to life.
And among these few humans, one name has survived a millennium that has seen global warming recede and ocean levels drop again as the ice caps reformed and anew provided safe abodes for polar bears and penguins.
Yes, one name has survived and is remembered as the first mother of those who now remain and who now finally begin to see their number rise again:
A band of perhaps twenty or so are entering the ruins of New York City by hand-carved canoe, the bridges long since collapsed and the tunnels caved in. They make landfall and set foot near West 57th Street which will take them to the big park in the middle of the city, where another small band of humans have made their home.
Many buildings still stand, though the majority have collapsed to some degree or other.
Some of the people who now set foot on Manhattan Island offer silent prayer to Susanna Fairweather, the mother of all good things, that they will find their fellow humans in the park in good health and glad to see them, others are trying to make out the lettering on the few standing street signs.