He watched her across the room as she peered into her microscope, jotted down some notes, replaced the slide and repeated the action. She continued changing slides and making notes through the entire tray representing the last week's subjects. With each slide she seemed to grow more tired. When she finished, took off her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose, he spoke."New strain?" She nodded her head in response but did not speak. "More compound dwellers? I had leaflets last week - under my door." "No," she said. "Just some mildly paranoid proselytizers. A few apocalyptic tendencies but nothing too volatile."
"Well, that's good I suppose." He said.
"Good? No, it's not good. I'm not worried about the exact characteristics of the strain. It's just that we're seeing a new strain nearly every week. Do you realize that close to 89% of the population feels the 'presence' now?" She sighed and visibly slumped on her stool. "I really think it's time that we act. I think it's time we look into adding anti-virals to the water supply."
He raised his eyebrows at the suggestion and looked at her over his glasses, but didn't say anything.
Her own worries and insecurities leaped to fill the silence. "We would have to do it with complete secrecy or it would be the fluoride scare again, only worse - much worse. But it's a much bigger public health concern than tooth rot. I don't see how we can keep from acting soon"
"They will not love us for it." He said softly.
"I said, 'They will not love us for it.' Even if the anti-virals are completely successful as they seem to be in the lab, it will only be the next generation who will benefit. If we do this and it works, there will be chaos. 89% you say; that's probably a low estimate. That many people suddenly cut off from the presence..." He whistled a long low whistle. "Even if we eradicate the virus, the thoughts and the memories are still there, if they find out or even believe a rumor that's close to the truth, they will tear us down and any institution that protects us. Are you prepared for that?"She cocked her head to the side and mockingly replied. "Who's paranoid now?"
"Not paranoid. I just don't want you to have any delusions about what it means to remove the delusions of the god-spoken. When the presence is gone they will seek a reason. Most will assume they have been abandoned due to a lack of faith and zeal. A religious mind deprived of the presence will try to work harder, pray harder, to do something. Kill the viral body and you sow the seeds of zealotry. Some will claim to feel the presence returned and will lead the others. If god has abandoned our nation, our people, it must be because of 'them'. You don't burn your neighbor's house and kill his family if he looks like you and talks like you, he can't be the problem, but another neighborhood, another town... What if they look different, talk different, eat different food? Civilization will burn."
"Could you be more melodramatic? Have you no faith in humanity at all? You make it sound like we shouldn't even try. How many wars and genocides has the presence caused and you say that removing it will cause even more... Supposing you are right, what do we do?"
"You know my stance. We inoculate our children and those we trust and slowly spread through the world, a population of the immune. And there have been some promising results from trials just using rational argument to combat the virus. The team at Cern has indicated that under a certain weight of evidence the virus just gives up and leaves the body."
She laughed derisively, "You are walking paradox. First you see humanity as a volatile mob that can't be trusted with its own freedom from delusion and now you think they can be trusted to take evidence to combat a virus. Wow! You do never cease to amaze."
"Wish you were right, for my son's sake and yours, but I fear your way too."
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