Author’s Note: I often wonder about how much better the world might be without certain plagues that afflict it. This story is about the eradication of the worst of them.
The scientist that took the podium looked, at first glance, more like a center linebacker for the Samoan National Football Team than a man of science — or, for that matter, of thought in any appreciable form. At six feet nine inches in height and some two-hundred seventy pounds he was an intimidating presence even from the back of the reporter-packed conference room.
Indeed, it was only upon closer inspection that one was able to appreciate the man behind the monstrous facade. The furrowed brow that initially seemed to signify an old-style drill-sergeantly dedication to severity turned out, at second glance, to be the mark of a man forever lost in thought and revelation. The piercing eye that seemed to have in it the primal, single-minded drive of a predator on the prowl was, rather, the glimmering beacon of an incessantly inquisitive mind hungry not for the flesh and blood of some less well-equipped prey, but for knowledge and understanding of the universe’s infinite riddles. Even the Herculean state of his body was misleading, invoking the ancient stereotype of brawn compensation for limited brain rather than immediately revealing the truer nature of absolute dedication and perseverance inherent in the man — qualities that he applied to the development of his science and his mind as completely as he applied them to the development of his body.
As it was, though, the huge press corps on hand, unable to give the scientist that telling closer inspection, chalked it up to intellectual wit on the part of the Congress that so severe a persona, so hangman-like an individual would be the one to actually carry out the termination. One reporter even wondered to his neighbor where the man’s black hood and bloodstained axe were. But then the scientist spoke, and, as the man’s resonating baritone voice washed over them, the tittering corps of the world’s most prestigious news correspondents fell into a humble silence.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the press — and of the world — my name, though unimportant to these proceedings, is Doctor Jameson Bright. I am the spokesperson for a global Congress composed of representatives from every major national and international organization of physicians, mental and moral health experts, historians, law enforcement officials, sociologists, anthropologists, national and world leaders, archeologists, economists, activists from all of the world’s major civil rights movements, environmentalists, philosophers and educators. The mission of this diverse Congress has been to assess the proper course of action concerning a disease that has afflicted humankind, from all indications, from its very inception. To be brief, the decision of the Congress, after extensive and intensive research and investigation, was to eradicate this plague at all cost.
“This decision is, of course, unique in its severity. Many times in the past the proposal to eliminate one lethal disease or another has ultimately been struck down by those appointed to determine whether or not to proceed with the termination of the pathogenic agent. In considering the possible benefits of the further study of these agents, as well as the unknown liabilities of terminating them, it has invariably appeared more prudent to confine even a single identifiable unit of even the most terrible diseases against possible future gain rather than eradicate it completely. Thus, diseases such as the Bubonic Plague, AIDS, malaria and the so-called Proletariat Plague, though they no longer express themselves in the human population, are alive and well in the storage banks of institutions like the Centers for Disease Control.
“The decision of this Congress breaks the precedent of our past counterparts for one simple reason — the pathogenic agent that we have studied is far more lethal than anything that these counterparts ever investigated. In fact, historically speaking, this agent has caused the debilitation, suffering and death of more people than all of the previously mentioned diseases combined. What’s more, the various mutations and strains of the agent you are about to see destroyed currently afflict more individuals than all other pathogens known to man. This is a plague that knows no bounds — it afflicts both sexes of all races, colors, creeds, nationalities, and economic and social classes utterly without discrimination. It manifests itself through the progressive debilitation of the logic and reasoning portions of its victims’ brains, eventually resulting in derangement, extreme superiority complexes, monomania and, in worst case scenarios, full-blown psychosis. Throughout history, which is fraught with well-documented examples of outbreaks of this agent, victims have been known to murder, rape, rob, and destroy without conscience. What’s more, the highly communicable nature of the various strains of this disease — and the fact that its victims, in expression of a completely unique symptom of the agent, actually set out, in their debilitated states of mind, to purposely infect others — make it a particularly significant threat to anyone who comes in contact with an infected person. Given these facts, the number of currently infected individuals and the fact that the disease doesn’t necessarily reveal itself through outward symptoms, it can truly be said, and is the conclusion of this Congress, that this agent, in all its various forms, is a threat to the very existence of humankind.
“Unfortunately, until recently, the greatest weapon we’ve wielded against this agent has been the education of the world’s population — but, as in the fledgling battles against almost every other disease that has ever threatened mankind, education has proven to be woefully inadequate at stopping, or even slowing, the spread of this agent. For these reasons, it is the decision of this Congress to terminate every strain and mutation of this agent and eliminate the very real threat to mankind that the agent presents.
“Many of you in the press have followed the efforts of the Congress’s field technicians over the past year or so as they have isolated the agents responsible for the various strains of this plague. At times you have questioned some of our tactics, but overall we are happy to report, as you probably are already aware, that we have run into no significant resistance to our efforts. Indeed, except for the protestations of many of this disease’s most significantly afflicted and mentally debilitated victims, we have enjoyed the overwhelming support of the world community, whose trust we of the Congress are honored to have been granted. Tonight, you will witness the culmination of both the Congress’s diligence in confronting and addressing this global threat and the world’s faith in, and support of, our efforts.
“As for those who have suffered from the ravages of this plague, we are pleased to announce the establishment of an as-yet-unnamed government agency to whom you or your loved ones can turn, free of charge, for the most sophisticated and effective treatments available to help alleviate whatever lingering symptoms you may be experiencing, regardless of which strain of the disease you have previously come into contact with. This agency, and agencies like it around the world, will also be implementing an in-school inoculation program at the beginning of the next school term in order to prevent a reemergence of the disease in those under the age of twenty-one years — who, according to the Congress’s research, have historically been the group most likely to be infected by this plague. Further details concerning the agency and how to get in contact with it will be provided after the termination, to which, I believe it is time to turn.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the press — and of the world — I welcome you to a new era. An era without the fear, debilitation, and destruction to which these many strains of this one indiscriminant plague have, for so long, condemned us. You are truly about to witness the birth of a new, healthier, and safer world as it rises from the ashes of the sickness that would have destroyed us all.”
As the scientist spoke these final words, the large curtain that hung behind him began to rise and he walked over to the control panels of the large, state of the art, atomizing incinerator that the curtain had been hiding. Behind the foot-thick panes of ceramiglass that defined the incinerator’s burn chamber, displayed almost attractively upon a rotating pyramid shaped centerpiece, were some fifty books of varying sizes, colors, and thicknesses.
Seeing this the press corps again began chattering enthusiastically among themselves, pointing out to one another those volumes that they recognized and wondering aloud about those that they did not. But then the scientist ignited the hungry inferno, and, as the machine’s low, echoing roar washed over them, the tittering corps of the world’s most prestigious news correspondents fell into a concentrated silence as each of them strained their eyes and camera lenses in unspoken competition for the distinction of being the last person to pick out from amidst the ravenous flames the titles of the burning, blackening, disintegrating books — the last to read the terrible words The Holy Bible, The Talmud, The Book of Mormon, The Koran . . .