The BTR Pandemic (Better than Retinol)

Professor Septemus was sure who was responsible for the BTR Pandemic (abbreviated from Better-Than-Retinol) that rocked humanity in the year 2023.  He knew it specifically because the instigator, a fellow scientist, had divulged it to him, at the Bose-Maxwell award’s ceremony hosted in Vegas that year, with the distinct reason of mind-fucking him. “Any fame is good fame, Septemus,” was what Professor Chang was telling him as he sipped from his green-fungus cocktail.  “But you would not understand.”

“What I don’t understand is your accent,” snapped Septemus, “There is no point talking like an Arab when your eyes are such giveaways. “

Chang nodded, pressing the bamboo straw into his lips, he said, “But the ladies like it…you know. And now that I am famous, many of my clientele are the Ladies-”

Of course Septemus knew that. 

He snapped at Chang, “And what do you mean.  You think I am not famous?  I made renewable petrol! Offsetting the carbon footprint by two decades. Besides, it is better to be famous for noble causes. Not…Frankenstein!”  Here Septemus made a grimace that was meant to communicate to Chang that he was superficial, had no respect for science, or the natural balance of things.

“Frankincense,” Chang corrected, and let out a laborious sigh, that seemed to bubble up from his gargantuan tummy, “This is the name of my discovery, but surely you know that. “

Of course he knew it.  Frankincense, or whatever Chang had called, it was a virus.  Transmitted from the pigeon collection that Chang had in his backyard, festering them for the no scientific purpose but as mere playthings for his bored indoor cats. Whenever the idiot felines got too antsy, he let in a few of them birds, with no qualms for the bloodshed that followed.  It was a perfectly sanguine arrangement, and even animal welfare cared little for the pigeons.  Septemus himself would have cared lesser, had it not turned into a pandemic.  One of the idiot felines must have captured more than a pigeon, and then proceeded to cuddle with Chang because no sensible woman would cuddle with him anyway, and LO BEHOLD, the man had caught a deadly virus. Well, mostly deadly virus. And instead of owning up to his mistake, he made it viral in more ways than one.  First, he created sufficient proof to indicate that the virus reversed ageing. And second, he told everyone it was sexually transmitted.

So Chang being an egoistic, unethical fool, was spreading the virus to the whole universe, boasting about it, and now shamelessly patenting it.

“Pah,” said Septemus, “Frankenstein, Frankincense. What does it matter, the name. You will cause the death of humanity. It is a pandemic.”

“Ah Septemus. We disagree always, and healthily so, like my wheatgrass cocktail, which I cannot ever get you to try. But this time I agree with you. My pandemic is popular. Everybody wants it.  We cannot say that about your discovery now. Hmm…renewable petrol, eh?  I hear the LIKEs are not great. People don’t like the smell of it, I hear. Smells much of yoghurt, I am told.”

“Science is not made out of LIKES!” he said, and then saw his mind pick a scent like a hound, “Besides, I have a solution for the smell. A revolutionary one, “  Here he stopped, his hand fingering the material in his pocket. But no, it would not be POPULAR. Nothing he did was. He never got the knack of popular.  And would that be his utter failure?

At this point, Elanor walked up to Septemus and held his trembling hand. Perhaps she knew that he was fast approaching a meltdown with this showdown with Chang, or perhaps she just felt the need for her intelligent husband upon her elbow.  Whatever it was, it calmed Septeumus down a little.  Knowing that Chang could never hold on to a good woman like Elanor.  Whatever Ladies attention he was getting, at the end of the day he was still-

“Ah Chang,” Elanor was saying in a voice that tinkled like chamgpagne rocks, “Lovely to meet you. I hear great things about your work. Perhaps even a Nobel prize in the making, I’m told,” she bowed her head respectfully, and then extended her hand, and just as Chang was about to return the handshake, Septemus dived like a pregnant dolphin, and pulled her hand away. “NEVER!!” he screamed.

That was enough. The whole Max-Boson crowd had seen it.  It did not matter that he was protecting her from the virus. It did not matter that nobody knew how the virus spread.  All it mattered was that Septemus had been vile and childish in front of everyone.

Nothing helped him or his cause, or concerns that this was a virus that was killing. The media reports that the virus was spreading fast and killing faster, was only instigating more of the celebratory mood. We were all going to be young soon, seemed to the be the slogan. Sure, the older generation and those with co-morbidities were badly affected. But such was the cost of beauty. Your granny and the sickly child next door would die.

How far were we as a race willing to go to live beautifully and die otherwise?

Very far, was what Septemus was beginning to see.   He could hear Elanor’s sweet voice sharpen suddenly, like the sharp edges of a notebook. “I do not understand your problem, Septemus. Why you insist on behaving in this childish manner.  And inflict endless unhappiness on yourself and everyone around. Everyone is saying you are doing it just because Chang may win the Nobel prize instead of you. And that you are nothing but a jealous twat. You know how that makes me look? Do you ever stop to consider how that makes me look?”

Her words made him stop dead in his tracks. He was now treading like a cat upon leaves, but also doing everything to avoid popping like an angry balloon at his belt, he said, “What did you just say, my precious?”

Elanor was dabbing her eyes, and looking at the window, she said, “I said that you never want to make me happy. You never think about how all this makes me look.”

That was when a slow realization popped in his brain. Was it likely that Elanor had tried to shake Chang’s hand so that she too hoped for the virus. For even she could not resist the charms of so-called porcelain skin.

He said nothing. He felt no anger anymore.  If he didn’t stop this. It would not be just the end of humanity.  It would be the end of his self-respect. His own existence.  Because Elanor would most likely end up with the virus. Or sleep with Chang. Whatever was first.  

He had to stop this. And he knew exactly how. He took Elanor’s ringed hands into his, and looked deep into the stars that were her eyes, and said, “Elanor, you know what?  Why don’t we invite Chang over for lunch?”

Forever the sapiosexual, her eyes widened as he had expected. A chance to dine and wine with another intelligent man, even one as base as Chang. Her doe eyes had opened for him, and her voice danced like the wind, “Really, my love? But why?”

His words were softer now, his breathing in sync with hers, he said, “I just want to show what a mature man I am. But my precious, I have one request.”

Her throat was suddenly long like a swan’s, and her lips moist ready, she said, “Oh anything for my honey-bunny…”

From his pocket he extracted something and handed it to her.  “Take a look at this, my love. It is a wearable, as I call it. And invention of my own. I hope you would see it as a token of my pitiful love.” 

“But what is it?” she said.

“It is merely a quirk invention, nothing serious really.  The original design was some kind of fashion statement in the deserts, where women used it when they served as spies. But I have improvised upon the same, and the material is gauze, you will observe, and is extracted from the hind-feet of a rare chimpanzees seen only in Eastern Europe.  Then I infused it with Patchouli for further protection, an aromatic oil for the purposes of charm, an element you have much of, surely, and you may not see the need for such a paltry invention, but still my early experimentation on lab rats show that it makes them irresistible and charming to their mates, and I thought, I must ask my love first, and see if she sees any value in it–”

“I will wear it!” she said and grabbed it and put the mask upon her face.

Let them talk of that yoghurt smell, now….


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