Disassembling the World (6)

MCMTuesday, July 14, 2009

Next Monday, 1889 Books will be releasing The Vector, a science fiction novel about people trying to survive a slow apocalypse. When we start the book, things have already been deteriorating for some time, and no time is wasted explaining why. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been writing a series of background articles that fill in the back story. You don’t need to read these to understand the book, but if you’re like me, you’ll probably want to know.

Part VI: The Russian Wars

While China suffered terrible losses in its containment efforts, Russia was gutted by a lack of coherent strategy. The outbreaks that had kicked off the virus age worsened as incubators fell further down the criminal food chain, out of the control of the already-overwhelmed police forces. Within six months, the number of known viruses in Europe tripled, all thanks to Russian coders.

The Free Incubator Network (FIN), in a hotly-debated referendum, voted to filter Russian IP addresses out of the system, to prevent viruses to spread outside Russia, but also to prevent virus programmers from exchanging ideas. It did little to slow down the spread. Either the perpetrators found ways around the admittedly-flawed filtering routines, or they weren't collaborating in the first place. A third, protected network called S-FIN (Secure FIN) was set up with trusted nodes that needed to be re-authenticated daily, but they were simply no match for the spread of viruses.

The Russian government, fearful of the collapse of their nation, begged the international community to help treat their sick. It was a stunning admission of weakness that moved many nations to immediate action. But while the Russians had been expecting medical personnel on-site, all they got were loans and investments in technology. As one politician put it: "All the medicine in the world can't help us if there are no doctors here to administer it!" But this was as far as nations were willing to commit, fearful of becoming targets themselves.

Into the gap flooded organizations like Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which deployed hundreds of highly-skilled volunteers from all over the world, in an effort to stop the plagues before they eradicated Russian civilization forever. The doctors, nurses and technicians sent into Moscow and St Petersburg were welcomed as saviours, but even with all the technology they carried with them, they were only able to ease a patient's suffering in his last hours. Within months, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan were added to the "Black Zone" list, of countries deemed too dangerous to visit.

When a case of Moscow-22 was detected in western China, events became more urgent. Having just returned to stability itself, China was not willing to risk another serious outbreak. They demanded a 50 kilometre "buffer zone" around their borders. When Kazakhstan balked at the unprecedented request, the Chinese tabled a UN resolution to remove the territory rights to any Black Zone nation while it was under quarantine. The demand met with stiff opposition from Russia and the United States, killing it before a full vote.

Two days later, China mobilized troops along its north-west border, and delivered an ultimatum to Russia: either support the buffer zone, or China would wipe the former Russian Federation off the map. In papers filed with the UN Security Council, China argued that the Russian plagues presented an imminent threat to their nation, and as such were justified in taking pre-emptive action. Any doubt as to their resolve was quickly clarified when a civilian convoy near Zaysan, Kazakhstan was destroyed and burned for crossing within 25 kilometres of Xinjiang.

Against the wishes of American diplomats, Russia agreed to the Chinese terms, supporting the buffer zone and going further to ask China for any support it had in coping with outbreaks. After a two-week delay, the response came in another UN resolution: China requested special non-interference guarantees as part of an initiative it called the "Healing Program". It had equipped its former PHEU agents for travel abroad, and would bring its special brand of treatment to the world.

By the time the first PHEU agents reached Russia, they had earned the bitter nickname "Healers", infamous not for the infected they killed, but because they never actually cured the sick. They were the diagnosticians and the hunters. Others cared for the sick.

The MSF contingent in Russia had suffered staggering casualties. By some estimates, all the top-ranked medical minds of the world had died in the space of a year. Those that were left were desperate, unorthodox, and largely discounted by their colleagues at home. When the Healers arrived at their doorstep, fireworks were to be expected, and on November 23 of that year, a Healer was killed by a mob of patients at a hospital outside St Petersburg. Reports quickly singled out the leading physician, Dr Alberto Gauss, as the instigator. When China demanded punishment, MSF argued Dr Gauss, for all his faults, was an integral part of maintaining order in St Petersburg, and could not be removed. The Russian government, fearful of large-scale reprisals, went against popular opinion and arrested Dr Gauss for murder. He was convicted in a hastily-arranged trial and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. China was placated, but the public (and MSF) were furious.

The first wave of Healers spent three years in Russia before moving further west. The world they found there was nothing like they'd expected...

The story continues next Monday, July 20, in "The Vector". You can read the first chapter now, with new chapters every Monday and Wednesday.

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