The Conscript the Girl and the VirusPhillip Donnelly / Humor / Science Fiction
The Conscript, the Girl
and the Virus
By Phillip Donnelly
Copyright 2014 Phillip Donnelly
Table of Contents
Message from the Author
Captain McGuire strutted his way to the podium. He scowled, by way of introduction. Perhaps it was our make-shift uniforms, or the way we slouched rather than stood. Maybe he just had a scowlly face, but I think he no more wanted to command this army of shreds and patches than we wanted to be part of it.
But here we were, nonetheless. Some are born soldiers, some become soldiers and some have no feckin’ choice in the matter. We were conscripts, some of the last conscripts. Bottom of the barrel conscripts. You could cut the apathy with a knife, if you could work up the antipathy to wield it.
I could have dodged the draft, I suppose. There were plenty of ghost estates to lay low in, but what was I going to eat there? My belly was empty and so was my bank account. Not that you could buy much by that stage anyway, even on the black market. I could either join a gang or join the army. I figured there was less chance the army would rape me, kill me and eat me, so I took my draft papers, got on my bike and cycled to the training grounds. Nothing else to do now but hold a gun, button up some second-hand khaki, and head off to war. Anything for a free lunch.
Captain McGuire clambered his way up to the top of the stage and called for order. A large stained flag covered most of it, but it was torn in one corner, and you could see the wooden pallets underneath it. Our jabbering turned to mumbling, but when sergeant Driscall blasted a yell at us, we fell silent. He called us to attention, in that stupid way you see sergeants do on TV, making all the syllables merge into one and stressing the end of the word. We shifted about a bit and tried to stand up straight. A girl beside me stuck her chest out and that called my attention.
The captain said there was no time for formalities and went straight into the official debriefing. He warned us that the information he was about to disclose was top secret and that any attempt on our parts to divulge it would be treated as an act of treason, in accordance with Emergency Law such-and-such.
The top secret stuff got us all excited, but he didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. The government had been lying to us for years (managing information), but it was all for our own good (in the public interest), and it was all legal, thanks to the Information Management Protocols (hiding the truth).
He had a strange way of pronouncing long words, Captain McGuire. Slowly, with unnatural reverence. I guessed he wasn’t used to them. That and his thuggish body language told me our captain was an NCO, rather than a commissioned officer. What he had been before the crisis? A bouncer? A debt collector? It’s easy to shoot up the ranks nowadays. Yesterday’s toilet cleaner is today’s decorated war hero, with ribbons and medals and ration cards for luxury goods. I asked myself why I had put my life in the hands of a goon I would have crossed the street to avoid a year before. The answer came from my rumbling belly. Food. Napoleon said that an army marches on its stomach, and my stomach had marched me into the army.
“It’s the damn cow’s fault,” Captain McGuire informed us, after putting down his notes and moving off script. “The only good cow is a dead cow,” he spat. “Cows are breeding ground for all kinds of nasty bugs. Willing hosts for germs and filth. The boffins tried to help them with antibiotics, steroids, and all sorts of chemical wonders, but that only made things worse. It was almost as if they wanted to get sick.”
He gripped the podium and leaned into the audience, scanning the factory floor for contradictions. Nobody questioned his proposition on the volition of cows. I’m not sure anyone was really listening, except the girl beside me. She nodded enthusiastically and I watched her pony tail bob up and down, out of the corner of my eye.
Captain McGuire clearly had a thing about cows. He referred to them as “the enemy,” “the bov menace,” and “the udder creatures”. His eyes lit up when he pointed at one of the slides of the cowpires. “I personally lit the flame on this one, the Kilcock Mountain Pire of 2020,” he announced proudly, “Ireland’s biggest ever bonfire of the bovines.”
After half an hour of this, my feet started to hurt. Like everyone else, I’d been vegging out in front of the TV for months, and I was even more unfit than normal. My beer belly was gone though, mainly because there wasn’t any more beer. Instinct made me suck in my non-existent gut anyway, in case the girl beside me decided to check me out. Beer wasn’t the only thing I hadn’t had in months.
The captain stopped talking and I thought he’d finished, but he was only changing track. He nodded to Sergeant Driscall to change the PowerPoint presentation, and in place of the slick government production, we got of Captain McGuire’ own creation. The second bogeyman was burgers and he spent another half an hour nailing them to the cross.
“Every burger had the flesh of a hundred different cows. Every cow went into thousands of burgers. The Bo virus lurked unseen, skulking around our colon homeland. The enemy within, the stealth virus.”
A dramatic pause failed to deglaze the eyes of the audience. Some of the stoners at the back had already sat on the floor and were beginning to nod off. Other recruits twitched their noses and sifted the air for food particles. There was definitely some cooking going on somewhere.
My imagination moved back and forth, from food fantasies to female fantasies, and the reality of the captain’s speech grew ever more distant.
“Warts!” he shrieked, and made me jump. “Warts! What caused the warts?”
“You ma’s VD!” a tattooed wit chipped in, from behind a concealing hand. The girl gave the guttersnipe a contemptuous look and I suppressed a smile. I forced myself to listen to the captain again, so that I could refer to what he said later, if I could work up the courage to talk to the girl.
“Just a wart or two to begin with, usually where no-one could see them. Easily removed or ignored. Then a year of peace, of dormancy, followed by more warts. Not so easily removed this time. Not so easy to ignore, especially those on your… on your manhood. That’s when people started to worry. Vegetarian numbers soared. McDuckalds offered meat-free McHealthies, King Burguur sold more and more flame-grilled Whopperfuuz.”
I wondered if that was what was cooking. A Whopperfuuz would be fine by me. Hell, I would have eaten anything. Except meat, of course. That goes without saying. But all I got was another portion of Captain McGuire.
“The world kept turning and people moved on. So did the virus. The final stage, encephobovinitis, kicked in years later. It was funny at first, in a sick kind of way. You Tube videos of grown men and women going on all fours, lumbering down to the local park to chew on grass. Mooing at the moon. Humping each other in broad daylight. We were all laughing then!”
I don’t remember anyone laughing at those videos, but Captain McGuire was probably a bit of a sicko. In my book, anyone who gets paid to kill people has got to be a bit of a psycho. Conscripts excluded, of course.
“The laughter stopped when the grazers reached a billion,” said Captain McGuire.
He gave us another practised dramatic pause and I wondered how many times he had delivered this speech. How many men had this captain trained and sent to their death?
Numbers are thin on the ground these days. Real numbers, I mean, not bogus guesstimates from never-seen government experts. They probably don’t even know how many of us are left. Or care. You don’t hear from the government these days. Nor the regular army. They’re probably too busy looking after themselves, scurrying around some bunker somewhere, feasting on all the requisitioned goodies.
The only number any of us cared about at that moment was how many minutes of McGuire’ PowerPoint we would have to endure. Even the sergeant had to stifle a few yawns near the end. Many conscripts didn’t bother with such niceties and yawned to his face.
When it was finally over, he opened the floor to questions. Some young punk asked straight out when the food rations would be issued. When you’ve been hungry for months, you have a low tolerance for bullshit before breakfast.
Captain McGuire’s lip twitched and I thought he was going to flip out. But he controlled himself. Just. He needed every man, woman and child, I suppose. If you could stand on two legs and weren’t in a gang,