At the End of the World, My Daughter Wept Metal – Eric Robert Nolan

 

At the end of the world, my daughter wept metal.

Her eyes bled mercury – metal tears ran in shining rivulets.  Her rose cheeks were the flush-colored banks of glittering streams.

She queried me, “Daddy?”  It was the last word that she would ever speak.

She looked up at me as metal ran from her eyes like bright liquid platinum.  Her high pink cheeks reminded me of her mother.  Then her cheeks were rendered into gray.  Her once soft brow became steel.  Her eyes held the sheen of polished aluminum.  Her eyes held the end of the world.

Annabeth Farmer.  My daughter.  Patient zero.

***

But first, let me explain what I tried to do.  Think of it as an epitaph, of sorts, if there is anyone left alive to read it.  Think of it as my apology for destroying the world.

My name is Jacob Farmer.  I have always been teased about my surname because of its association with agriculture and a simple life.  Other perceived that as ironic.  At the height of my career, I was the world’s leading thinker in machine technology.

“Machine technology” — it’s an awkwardly generic term.  What’s important to understand is that the early 21st Century saw what we might call a “confluence of sciences.”  Researchers working on various new technologies saw the products of their labor intersect.  The exacting art of microprocessors segued naturally into nanotechnology.  The development of modified new metallic compounds had implications for medicine – new and perfect stents and artificial hearts that the body would never reject.  In computer technology, new “neural networks” paralleled the brain, and were modeled from neuroscience.  Robotic engineering became an umbrella discipline – an encompassing science under which all others connected.

There was a sea change in the public’s consciousness.  The various technological fields became so incestuous that it no longer made sense to delineate them.  “Machine technology,” in the upper echelons of science, now defined the new and esoteric alchemy.  We pushed the boundaries of the definition while we refined our arts into one.

More about the hearts – that was an early coup of mine.  I was hailed as the new Da Vinci, and the savior of countless lives.  The world’s news media claimed that my development of new artificial hearts made cardiac transplants as simple as changing a tire.  Well, it was never that simple.  But … yes, it was revolutionary.

I drew my inspiration partly from the dreams of my colleagues.  Erin Strasburg in Australia had made amazing advances in neural networks, and the world imagined a machine brain that could “think” exactly as a human brain could.

“Machine brains?”  Yes, that was exciting.  But my aspirations grew elsewhere … drawing from the genius so evident in Strasburg’s published papers.

Instead of a brain, suppose we had a “thinking” human heart?  Or a kidney?  One that could repair or modify itself inside the human body, without subsequent invasive surgery?   What if we had organs that were simply programmed to self-repair in the event of any kind of failure, thanks to a microprocessor embedded in them before transplant?  What if …

Damn it.  I’m sorry.  If anyone is left alive to read this, they may have little interest in the intricacies of medical technology.  You can tell that I loved my work.  Talking about it …. even thinking about it … can be a kind of addiction.  Ideas are like wine to me, and I sometimes forget that not everyone imbibes as I do.

The point is this – I created thinking organs.  I have a genius for mechanics that rival’s Strasburg’s own.  (I am not a modest man.)  My early designs advanced cardiac and renal medicine to the point where patients carried machines inside them – machines that were self-sustaining.  The world changed, hundreds of thousands of lives were saved, and it was said that my name would go down in history with the likes of Jonas Salk.

History, unfortunately, was at an end.  But the world didn’t know that yet.

***

My fondest memory of my first breakthroughs was not the Nobel Prize that I received for them.  It was not the handshake with the President.  It was not the piles of grateful letters from patients whose lives I’d saved across the globe.

It was the smile on my daughter’s face.  Yes, I know how maudlin that sounds.  But it was true.  Among the countless faces that inhabited my life – the countless dignitaries who lauded me, and the countless appreciative smiles of those saved – hers was the most perfect.  Her face is a light pink rose that, even now, surfaces in my memory in the midst of the nightmare my world has become.  I remember her bright blue eyes twinkling in admiration for her father.  The light there had been restored, you see.

My wife, Mary – Annabeth’s mother – had died one year before my Nobel Prize.  It had been cancer.

Annabeth had been 12 years old when Mary died.  The memory of her on the midsummer evening wake twists in my heart when I recall it.  Her child’s shoulders had bent with the weight of bereavement.  She trembled before the still form in the dark hardwood coffin.  Her slim pubescent frame had bent like the soft stem of a flower, to kiss her mother’s cheek, one last time.

She’d withered.  She’d suffered not only from her mother’s death, but also from an absentee father.  Absorbed in my own salve of work, I tended to my own black grief, but not hers – being lost in my books and papers, hijacked by the internet and its global marketplace of ideas.

She’d withered with the loss of two parents.  I was a ghost to her, removed by my computer, with its e-mail-exchanged data and videoconferences.  In losing my wife to one disease, I’d unconsciously resolved to rid the world of disease itself.   Illness was my white whale.

She, meanwhile, had suffered from nightmares.  She’d dreamt repeatedly of a world where great gray wolves had overtaken the world.  They talked, as people did.  And in her dreams, they’d taunted her.  At the morning breakfast table, my detachment was so vast that I hardly reacted.

“Daddy?” she’d asked quietly one day.  “Can we talk?”

It had been six months following her mother’s death.  I had been on one of my midmorning smoke breaks behind our vast home in Glen Cove, New York.  I’d sucked on that cancer-causing cigarette as I did with all of them – with a kind of vengeance, subconsciously taunting the threat of the same disease that killed my wife.

Annabeth had been painting again.  Streaks of green had kissed the ends of her long, golden blonde hair.  Her smock was daubed in high hues of cherry, peach and lavender.  She was damned good at painting, I’d thought at the time – somewhat clinically.  It hadn’t occurred to me in my myopia that art was a kind of therapy for her, as work had been for me.

“Sure, Hon.”  I’m sure my voice was flat and disconnected.  At that point, I’d wished I had a machine heart – something that was hard and pure and felt less.  Something that was immune to grief.

“Daddy, sometimes … sometimes I feel like …”

“Like what, Hon?”

Her young blue eyes faltered and she looked away.  She looked listless … lost.  The long lavender streaks on her little smock looked like the tails of fair, violet comets.  The drops of cherry red were tiny supernovas.

“Like you aren’t  … with me.  When you’re always so hard at work.  It’s as though you aren’t there.  You’re so far away from me … all the time.”

The tears came, thin and crystal clear, organic, streaming down her soft pink cheeks.

“Sometimes I feel like you died along with Mom.”

Something in me broke then, some barrier that had been closed around my heart like a steel corset.  In a way, I looked at Annabeth as though I could suddenly truly see her for the first time after her mother’s funeral.  The steel corset snapped in a father’s epiphany.

I went to her.  I bent over to kiss her, perhaps not unlike she did as she’d said goodbye to her mother at her wake.  And, trembling then, I kissed away the clear tears from her cheeks.

That day had marked a change in the paths of our grief.  They were no longer two paths, but one.  Recognizing my obsession with work as a means of avoidance, I’d resolved to temper it.  I would extract myself from the worlds of the sciences … at least as much as it took to be beside my daughter – beside her in spirit, beside her in our grief.

***

And yet the high ether of discovery still tempted me, as it always had.  Ideas are like wine to me, and as I told you before; I like to imbibe.  I would rise, back in those days, in the middle of the night, to clutch at them in the same manner that an alcoholic will clutch at a hidden bottle.

If machines could be designed to repair themselves inside the human body, what if they could also be designed to actually create themselves there?  It would have to happen at the molecular level, to microfabricate cells.  It would have to involve nanotechnology such as had never been seen before … nanobots that could be injected into a human host, in a medium that wouldn’t be rejected by the natural defenses of human tissue …  And they would have to be programmed … thoroughly enough to act as independently as microscopic organisms.   And to replicate themselves, to multiply, using converted organic molecules as the raw material.  The result would be biomechanical cells that could “think” on their own …

Damn.  There I go again.  Even after all has been lost, I remain didactic.  My point is that my ultimate creation, the Midas Prototype, had been the germ of an idea even before my Nobel Prize.

On the day I received my Nobel Prize, my greatest pride lay not in my place in the world, but in how I had arrived there.  I’d arrived there with someone, and not alone.  I’d arrived through the terrible gray slumber of grief, with my best friend and companion, my daughter, whose tears I would again kiss away if they arrived.

I remember seeing my daughter’s bright, twinkling blue eyes dance in her pride for me as I accepted the Prize upon that stage in Oslo.  To the world, I may have been a great scientist.  But I was a father to her and her alone.

***

“Annabeth?  Tell me about the wolves again.”

“The what?”

“The grey wolves.  The ones in your nightmares.”

“Oh! I don’t dream of them anymore.”

We were at a picnic in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, on the eve of her fourteenth birthday.  We couldn’t go out on her birthday, the following day.  I was due in Manhattan for a conference with the National Institutes of Health.  We’d spent the day in Park Slope, because an art gallery there was exhibiting some of her work – at the tender age of 13. “Your daughter,” her art teacher at school had told me, “just happens to be something of a prodigy.”   My daughter was nothing less than the next Monet, I’d decided.

“Tell me about them, anyway.”

She arched her back a little as she lay in the spring grass, and munched thoughtfully on her peanut-butter-on-toast sandwich (her favorite).  Her eyes trailed the high and varied treelines of Prospect Park.

“I dreamt … I guess I just dreamt of another world.  It was one of those really weird dreams where I wasn’t in it.  Do you know what I mean?  I thought people were only supposed to have dreams about themselves.   You’re not supposed to dream about other people.  Anyway, in the dream, there were gray wolves everywhere.  You could see their gray faces, everywhere.  And they talked.  Just like people.  There was a girl in the dream, with red hair.  I think she was sad or something, because she’d lost people she loved.  And everywhere she ran, the wolves followed her.  I guess it doesn’t make sense.”

It actually did make sense, or so I hypothesized, having known at least rudimentary psychology.  I didn’t tell Annabeth, of course, but it seemed to me that the little girl might easily have been a proxy.  The wolves?  The gray faces?  Their significance might be harder to determine.  Were they metaphors for her grief?  And if they were gone now … did that indicate a kind of subtle victory in my efforts to ensure my daughter’s recovery from it?

“I have something for you.”  She smiled impishly.  “A present.”

You got me a present?  On your birthday?  You’ve got it backwards, young lady.”

The impish smile broadened even more.  Her golden blonde hair fell across the pink rose of her face, as she reached into her oversized bag and withdrew a parcel.  She unwrapped the white cloth, revealing a small painting within.

It was a heart – not the crude symbol of a heart, but an anatomically accurate image.  Annabeth’s eye for texture and detail was simply amazing.  Even a Philistine like me could see that.  But … the most striking aspect of the image was Annabeth’s color scheme, or rather the lack of it.  It was rendered entirely in shades of gray, with silver highlights around the edges.

It was one of my machine hearts.  It was my invention.  And it was beautiful.

“I love it,” I told her, grasping her elfin frame in an embrace, “and I love you.”

***

Brad Banks in Minnesota thought I was nuts.

“You want what?!” he asked at the other end of the phone, between mouthfuls of whatever it was he was wolfing down.

“I told you.  In my e-mail.”  Banks was one of the world’s leading experts in computer science at the Mirren Institute in St. Cloud, and yet he apparently needed everything repeated to him.

“Okay, Dr. Farmer.  Let’s just go through it again.”

“I want a computer program that can identify and analyze the contents of a human cell, and then develop an algorithm for replicating them.”

“Replicating them?  Out of what?”

“Just suppose that we had an unlimited supply of raw material.”

“This about nanobots?  Like Andrea Sparks’ work in Japan?”

“Yes.” I told him.  It was indeed about nanobots.  And it was indeed about Andrea Sparks’ incredible advances in a joint research project between Osaka University and MIT.

“Can’t be done.”  Munch, munch.

“And why is that, Brad?  I told you to call me Jacob, by the way.”  Evidently, he’d needed that repeated to him as well.

“Because the bots can be designed to do the work just fine.  Hell, I’ll bet they can.  Especially the little buggers Sparks says she’s got.  But this is all just hypothetical, right?  You’re always at square one.  There’s still the toxicity problem.  The human body will always reject the inorganic nanomaterial if it’s just left there.”  Munch.

Did he honestly think I didn’t know that?!  Did he even know who he was talking to?!  I almost said something to Banks that I would have regretted, when he interrupted my unkind train of thought with a good-natured laugh.

“Hell, Dr. Farmer … Jacob.  You want me to take a shot at it, I’ll do it.  Should be fun.  And of course I know I’m working with a legend.  Do you know they call you the new Da Vinci?”

“Yeah, Brad.  Thanks.  I knew that.”

“Did you know my girlfriend’s uncle got one of your artificial hearts?  He can beat me in a game of basketball!”  Munch.

My next move that afternoon was to send an e-mail to Tokyo.

***

It took me a very long time to admit it to myself, but the inspiration for the Midas Prototype came from the disease that killed my wife.   Cancer is creation without purpose.  Renegade cells rise and multiply.  I wanted a new “cancer.”  I wanted cells to a rise and multiply in an orderly fashion.  I wanted them to adhere to a program – a hardwired behavior for an artificial microscopic “organism” – that was where Banks came in.  And I also wanted these “organisms” to be able to adapt – to actually reconstruct themselves physically in any way that allowed them to propagate in the manner that they needed to.  If Sparks’ work was all that she claimed it was … then machines, at a microscopic level, could change in order to reproduce.

***

“Daddy?   I dreamt of the wolves again.”

Annabeth appeared at my bedroom door just past midnight.  Her golden hair indeed looked exactly like that very same precious metal in the half light.  Her blue eyes looked soft, uncertain.

“Sit, Honey.”

She sat beside me on the bed.  Her eyes seemed stricken, hollow.  Dear God, how much better Mary had been than me in situations like this.

Annabeth’s eyes rested on the long wall above my bookcase, where her paintings for me had charmed the décor into blue hues.  Her favorite subject for her artwork had been the sea.  In four separate vistas, blue waves rolled over tan sands, whitecaps were their foamy riders.  The blue of the waves perfectly matched Annabeth’s blue eyes.  Had she realized that when she painted them?

I drew my arm up around her shoulders.  I could feel her heartbeat under her thin blue striped pajamas.

“Tell me.”

“Tell you … ?”

“Tell me about the dream.”

Her eyes fixed on one of her paintings in particular, as though drawing strength from its azure waves.  Trembling beside me on my bed, I think she sought solace in imaginary tides.

“I dreamt I was in a factory.  I dreamt the wolves had chased me there.  This time it was me in the dream, not that other girl.  They … they chased me in there and I locked the door with a chain, so they couldn’t get in.  I was safe, sort of … for the time being anyway, but I knew that they were just outside.  The factory was making these sounds.  It …”

“Yes?”

“It was making things.  There were these rhythmic sounds like … metronomes.  Or clocks keeping time.  Everything was gray.  There was a conveyor belt, and there were all these long lead boxes passing by on it.”  Her shoulders trembled harder.  “The boxes had deadbolts.  I … pushed back the bolt on one and … I saw Mom inside.  She was dead.  The boxes were lead caskets.  The factory was making thousands of them.  Millions, maybe, or even more.  You know how dreams sometimes don’t make sense sometimes.  Every single one of them had Mom inside.”

I shuddered.  The damned poor kid had had a nightmare that would scare even me.  Did my efforts at comforting my daughter after her mother’s death somehow fail yet again?

My eyes followed Annabeth’s gaze to the paintings – to all those wonderful and varied shades of blue.  Over the waves, the skies were rendered in dawn yellows and golds, deep reds, white clouds, or the pale violets of twilight skies.  Pondering the significance of her nightmare’s iconography, it occurred to me that Annabeth had never employed gray in any of her paintings – all except one.

***

The final piece of the puzzle … if it even existed yet, would come from Karen Bellicec in Great Britain.  I needed a medium to carry the Midas Prototype, and one that living tissue would not reject.   It would be no mere drug delivery system – the medium itself needed to remain there indefinitely to carry and sustain a kind of beneficent “infection.”

Approaching Bellicec might be a delicate matter.  There is a kind of zeitgeist in science, one in which the dreams and aspirations of one researcher are readily apparent to the next, even in the absence of published papers.  I knew precisely what Bellicec had been working on … I’d anticipated it, based on what I had read of her work.  I am an unusually intelligent man.  (Again, I am not modest.)  I believed I had accurately deduced not only her current private project, but also its outcome.  How might Bellicec react if I’d contacted her and asked directly about the fruits of her secret labors?

It was a full week before she returned my e-mail.  (Thankfully, it was a week in which Annabeth’s new nightmares had at least temporarily subsided.)  And I was thrilled at her response.  Bellicec’s tone had not only been polite and easy, but also grateful for my interest.

Her note began:

     Dear Dr. Farmer:

     It should go without saying that I read with great interest your queries about my work.  I am also quite flattered at the evident thought you have devoted to it, given your apparently clairvoyant prediction of what I have endeavored to create.  (That was a joke, Sir.)

     Your reputation precedes you, Dr. Farmer, as I’m certain you are aware.  I would be honored to collaborate with you in any manner you felt would be appropriate.

     The toxicity problem is a daunting one.  But there is hope.   Allow me, Sir, to introduce to you what I hope may be an entirely new field of machine science – something that I and my colleagues have begun to refer to as biometals

***

That night, I have a strange dream of my own.

 I am at Prospect Park again, with Annabeth.  She smiles at me yet again, impishly, as she did on the day before her fourteenth birthday.  And again she gives me a gift.

 But this time, as she unwraps the white cloth, the painting she presents to me is different.  It is the face of a gray wolf.  Its ashen eyes are strange and flat and dull.

 “It’s beautiful,” I tell her, somewhat belatedly.

 “I had inspiration, Daddy!”  She chirps.  “And I brought it, too!  Look!  It’s right here!”

 She reaches into her handbag and withdraws a beating heart.  It is gray and lined with silver.  It is one of my hearts.  It is my invention.  It beats and writhes and pumps in her hand.

 “Isn’t it beautiful, too, Daddy?”

 Gray blood runs down my daughter’s slim hands.

 ***

I had taken ill the morning when Bellicec’s package arrived from Britain.  It was a bitch of a head cold, but it didn’t dampen my spirits.  For, with the addition of Bellicec’s near-magical new compound, I was able to lay before me the ingredients for a new age.

Bellicec’s creation was the color of lead – a thick, dull, viscous, gray liquid that was nonetheless miraculous.  My computer held Sparks’ various schematics for nanobots.  And the unique new program I’d fashioned after Banks’ initial models were perfected and ready to run.

The Midas Prototype would redefine “nanotech” as we know it.  It would be to 21st Century man as the wheel was to his primitive antecedents.

Midas would remain and sustain itself in the human circulatory system, or even elsewhere if necessary.  Its nanobots would identify diseased tissue of all kinds and then simply … absorb it.  And then replicate a better, healthy “version” of that tissue.  Heart transplants and kidney replacements could be conducted via injection.  Even bone marrow could simply be replaced, or “converted,” in cancer patients.  Midas could simply remake human tissue, as God had made Eve from Adam’s rib.

My alteration of Bellicec’s leaden compound had rendered it into shimmering silver.  It glittered in the petri dish like mercury – bright and shining, liquid metal.  I thought again of the primordial soup, as I had so often in the past.  Here, by comparison, was the silver elixir of man’s greatest age.

Here, at the threshold of that new age, I knew precisely who I wanted to stand beside me.  So I rose from my oak chair and went up the stairs to Annabeth’s room, but I found her with her eyes closed.  A new canvas had been set upon her tripod – the beginning of yet another blue ocean.

I hoped that she was sleeping peacefully.   Seeing her, I realized that I, too, was exhausted.  Drained by creation, I went to my own room and lay down.

Dreams defied my peace.  Thinking of the countless lives to be saved, I expected the dreamless sleep of the just.  Instead I found myself winding down into a fitful sleep, where great gray wolves whispered and brayed in the blackness.

***

“Daddy?”

It was Annabeth’s voice.

“Daddy?”

It wasn’t a fearful voice, exactly.  It was more … plaintive, apprehensive.  “Timorous” might have been too strong an adjective.

“Daddy?”

“Annabeth, Honey – are you okay?”

“Daddy?”

An alarm rose within me.  I wasn’t panicked by Annabeth’s tone.  Again, the voice wasn’t fearful, exactly.  Rather, it was how she repeated that same word in the exact same tone and inflection, over and again, like a skipping record.  It was perfect, and it was all wrong.

I rose, and went to my daughter’s room.  And I found her dying with a question upon her lips.

“Daddy?”

What had happened to Annabeth was almost impossible to describe.

She appeared to be weeping metal.

Her eyes bled mercury – metal tears ran in shining rivulets.  Her rose cheeks were the flush-colored banks of glittering streams.

She queried me again – “Daddy?”  It was the last word that she would ever speak.

She looked up at me as metal ran from her eyes like bright liquid platinum.  Her high flush cheeks reminded me of her mother.  Then her cheeks were rendered into gray.  Her once soft brow became steel.  Her eyes held the sheen of polished aluminum.  Her eyes held the end of the world.

Annabeth Farmer.  My daughter.  Dying before me.

I am an unusually intelligent man.  My mind can make connections quickly – even when those connections are agonizing.

I realized at once how Annabeth had met my creation.  She’d come nowhere near my laboratory or study, of course.  Midas would have had to come to her.

I thought of Midas, and how it analyzed, absorbed, and reproduced molecules.  I thought of working on Midas while I was sick.  And I thought of my head cold.

Like so many pathogens, the rhinovirus –the cause of the common cold – is deceptively simple in structure.  There is some debate among scientists about whether viruses should even be considered proper lifeforms, given their simplicity.  It would be simplicity itself for Midas to “remake” a rhinovirus – including the microscopic “sails” it employs to make itself airborne.

I had “infected” Midas, and Midas had claimed the infection for itself.  And then it had sent its silver germs airborne to infect Annabeth.  Its pathogenesis would have been quick.  As with any common cold, it would have entered her respiratory tract and clung to the surface receptors there within only 15 minutes.

At the threshold of madness, I also recognized the Midas Prototype’s truly unpredictable effects.  In a catastrophic malfunction, its programmed imperative to spread led it to absorb and recreate all tissue, and not just that which was diseased.

It was in the process of overtaking my daughter’s very flesh.  The mercury tears were its medium.  So, too, was the bright aluminum that now inhabited her eyes.  Bright silver lights rode her irises.  The soft down of her young eyebrows were made into glittering fine wire.  Her hair was lustrous threaded platinum.

And her flesh … her flesh was swept up in waves of lead gray.  I saw her turn to metal before me.

And I heard her too – “Daddy?”

At the moment of her apprehensive query, perhaps as she’d risen from bed that morning, Midas had seized her brain.  “Remaking” that gray matter into new gray matter, it had frozen her in time.  The elfin silver statuette she’d become would now repeat that single word, transmitted endlessly through her newly metal mind, like a computer program running in a continuous loop.

“Daddy?”

***

I want to die.

And I will, in all likelihood.  I have absolutely no idea how I have been spared infection so far.  Perhaps it is because, in recovering naturally from my own head cold, I’ve effectively been inoculated to Midas’ current strain.  The same cannot be said, of course, for others who’d come into contact with it.

Like the perfect machine, Midas had done its job.  It had absorbed and replicated a “disease,” in the truest sense of those words.  In my mind, I can so easily see those nanobots reconstructing themselves to fly, and to spread, just as a common “cold bug” has always done.  Only in this case, their programmed capacity to adapt made them vastly improved at this directive.

You know the rest.  The world ended.  It began in Glen Cove, New York, and then spread to Five Boroughs of New York City.  By then, Midas would have been impossible to quarantine – and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.   Its flair for adaptation was simply too great, its algorithms borrowed from the hardy little cold virus that first mated with it.

By the time the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Homeland Security could even think of containment, Midas had arrived in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Miami.  And from there, it spread abroad.

Machinery became a contagion.  Machinery propagated.  It spread as an illness.  And it spread everywhere.  In Britain and the rest of Europe, it was called the Gray Death, and Farmer’s disease.  In the Asian world, it was called the Gray Sleep.  Here in America, it was called the Midas Touch and the Tin Man Virus.

I refused the order to report at the CDC in Atlanta.  I also refused the United States Army’s order to report to Fort Detrick, Maryland.  I knew that they would prevent me from killing myself, you see.

They came for me, of course.  The voices of the men in uniform were as angry as they were terrified.  They stormed my Glen Cove home with fully automatic rifles and frantic shouts.

“Daddy?”  Annabeth’s voice emanated plaintively from upstairs as they surrounded me in my living room.

And then Midas saved me.

The man in charge of the cadre of seven doubled over, and tore away his biohazard visor.  He vomited something that looked like lead soup.  Then he appeared to turn to lead himself.  Another man collapsed in a fit of coughing.  When he tore away his own visor, his horrified face was one of polished iron.

The news finally stopped broadcasting a week ago.  The last I heard, all of Europe had “gone gray,” and Midas had finally found a way to Australia – probably by someone infected with a mutated strain with a long latency period.  Africa was about to fall as well.

Tonight I wander the streets.  Everywhere, there are people made of metal.  Everywhere, there are gray faces.

The most curious aspect of the Midas Touch is how it “carried” a programmed behavior into every other infected host.  Annabeth’s last word, like an audio file, is now spoken by every person subsequently infected.

I hear my daughter’s voice at a thousand street corners.  The low tones of her last desperate question are omnipresent.  “Daddy?” she queries me, over and over, out of a million mouths.

I wandered all the way to Queens the other day. The dogs and cats and birds have claimed New York City as their own.  I also saw a family of raccoons inhabiting a storefront on Flatbush Avenue.  Midas was always coded to human DNA, so they are immune.

I drink.  I pass out.  I dream in ones and zeroes.  I dream that I am metal too.

I have a Glock 9 mm. pistol.  If I place the gun in my mouth and aim slightly upward, I know that it will do its job perfectly, as Midas did.

It isn’t fair that I was spared infection.  I will die too, I’ve decided.  If anyone deserves it, it’s me.

I will lean down to my daughter’s face, and I will kiss away her tears, as I once did so very long ago.

I will sit in my oak chair.  Maybe I will finally be infected, if my lips meet the silver streams down her face.  Maybe shining gray shapes will rise in my irises.  I will pull the trigger.

My blood behind me will gather in pools like liquid mirrors.  Or teardrops made of mercury.

Goodbye, Annabeth.  I love you.

I am sorry that I made the world a gray place.


 A previous version of this story was previously published in the anthology ‘All Hail The New Flesh’ – Dagda Publishing 2013

 

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