A Short Story. Original artwork by the author's very talented 16 year old daughter Alexis Ghansah.
December 25, 2017
Somewhere in the Amazon
Mother Nature was livid. From where she hovered, she could see the fires raging. General Chiroptera kept his distance. He always sensed it when she was in a rage and lately, they had been quite frequent. The butterflies who accompanied her everywhere circled Mother Nature and seemed to absorb her rage.
Finally, she turned and glared at the General. “Do you see that? To cap off a year of floods, hurricanes, and wildfires, this? Those humans are laying the planet to waste. Where is the weapon you promised me? The Ebola project was an abject failure!”, Mother Nature yelled.
“My Queen, we are working on a very capable system and we need some time”, General Chiroptera answered. “I hope it is not the SARS system again. We have tried that twice already and the results were subpar”, Mother Nature bellowed.
Overhead, dark clouds were collecting as if matching her mood. “Queen, but it is our best bet now. Please give me time. Worst case scenario we still have the Influenza program and with the increasing aversion to vaccinations, we are bringing some old weapons systems back”, the General said. “Look Chiroptera, take a look at the planet. You travel all over the place. Look what the humans are doing to the planet. And with the leadership now, it is just going to get worse so I do not want ifs. Next year by this time, I better have a weapon or…”
A clap of thunder drowned out the last words of Mother Nature but the General could not miss the look in her dark green eyes.
Then suddenly, she was gone with the butterflies.
The General sighed and flew off into the rain.
Mother Nature kept flying. The planet was lit up with the lights of the season though there were some dark spots. In spite of that, her heart was heavy. Her planet was dying with a lot of her children going extinct like the tiger in Cambodia, the northern white rhino, the Amur leopard. She sighed. These humans.
She missed the old days. She missed the generals from those days. Fighters with purpose. The greats — Rodentia and Siphonaptera. Architects of the greatest plague the world had ever seen. Plagues — the only things that kept humans in check and thinned their herds. She did not care much for their wars because the planet suffered too but plagues worked. That is when she could unleash her weapons on them. Now all she had was Chiroptera and Natalidae. He had had some success with the Influenza program in 1918 but she wanted something more massive. Of course, the HIV and Malaria programs were still ongoing but those had lost their impact. Yet all he could talk about was the SARS program. They had tried that twice before with not very impressive results. She wanted the big one. Anyway, he had a year.
She sighed and flew on.
December 25, 2018
Somewhere in a Forest in Yunnan Province, China
General Chiroptera was waiting at the edge of the clearing created by a ring of trees. Beside him stood Colonel Natalidae. He looked nervous. Chiroptera understood. As head of the SARS program, he was not in the Queen’s good books. Too many failures, but from what he had seen so far, he had a feeling this new weapons system was the best Natalidae and his team had come up with to date.
Suddenly, the Queen appeared with her entourage of butterflies. All the animals fell quiet. Some had come from as far as the Outback for this meeting. He could sense Natalidae shaking.
“Chiroptera! It has been a year. What do you have for us?”, Mother Nature barked out. “My Queen, we have a system that we think you will be proud of. Colonel Natalidae will fill you in”, Chiroptera said and stepped back. “Ok, Natalidae, I am all ears”, Mother Nature said.
Colonel Natalidae started: “My Queen, my team and I updated the SARS system. I am proud to say the new system is more lethal than ever. We took the old system and made a few tweaks. For instance, the spikes are sharper. The biggest problem with the old system was the ability of the spike protein to get activated so it could initiate cell entry. The old system depended on proteases in the cell. We found a specific enzyme called furin that can activate the spike protein. This means the virions can enter any cell along the whole respiratory tract. However, we want to aim them for the alveoli. We also have made them more able to then kill cells quickly initially.”
“Why?” barked Mother Nature
Colonel Natalidae continued:
“We want to incite a massive cytokine reaction that can lead to a storm. A potent cytokine storm will do more damage than any the virions can do — sepsis, ARDS, DIC, thromboses, HLH, multi-organ failure...those are all possible.”
There was a look of keen interest on Mother Nature’s face. Colonel Natalidae glanced over at the General. Chiroptera nodded. Natalidae went on: “If that happens, their ICUs are going to be filled with critically-ill patients for days. It will crash all health systems. Even if we cause this in 20% of all we infect, that is still a massive number. The attack will run rampant after that. Life in human societies will literally come to a standstill. This will lead to civil unrest that will compound the outbreak. The effects will be devastating.”
“You said that in 2000!”, Mother Nature retorted. Colonel Natalidae looked away and bowed his head. General Chiroptera stepped forward; “My Queen, I have seen the trials. They are impressive. If they fail, you can have my head.” “And mine too”, Natalidae said. A silence fell over the gathering. They had just heard the two most powerful bats in Mother Nature’s elite squad of assassins possibly sign their own death warrants.
“So be it! What’s the plan”, Mother Nature asked. “We will use couriers again. Our divisions in the Congo, Brazil and right here in China will distribute the virions into different couriers — civets, pangolins, grasscutters, rats, dogs and so on. As you know, those are the areas with the highest chances of a spillover…as they call it. We will keep delivering virions until we get a spillover. We will continue until we have 100 people infected in at least one area. We found out that is the number we need to kick start an effective outbreak. Then we’ll re-evaluate”, Natalidae said.
“I like that. So what do we call this operation?”, Mother Nature inquired. “SARS 3.0,” Natalidae replied.
“No! I don’t like that," Mother Nature said.
“I thought we always gave it a number and then replaced it with the name the humans gave it?”, Natalidae inquired. “Not this time. Not when Antarctica is melting. We need to take our planet back. We need to reclaim what is ours.
Operation Reclaim it is!”, Mother Nature said.
The gathering broke out in applause and chants of “Reclaim! Reclaim!” When the noise died down, Mother Nature asked: “So when does this get initiated?” “End of January. By then we’ll have all teams in place”, Natalidae answered. “OK! We’ll meet back here at the end of March to hear a status report’, Mother Nature said and then she was gone as quickly as she had appeared.
The animals slowly dispersed. A few came over to say hello to Chiroptera and Natalidae but the majority just avoided them. It was like they already smelt of death. The two bats finally flew off to set Operation Reclaim in motion.
October 19, 2019
Somewhere in the Congo Basin, near Equatorial Guinea
The gathering was taking place underneath a huge mahogany tree. The meeting in March had gone well. Chiroptera had been able to report that all the battalions were in place. He had dispatched swarms of bats loaded with the new SARS virions to Southern China, Brazil and the Congo from their labs in those regions. Mother Nature was worried about simulation exercises going on in the US but Chiroptera and Natalidae were not worried. Like Natalidae said, the world was not unified anymore. It was each for himself now. There was no clear leadership from any one country anymore. That had satisfied Mother Nature.
Now he was glad to report that they were sure they had spillover in China and were waiting for a breakout. Mother Nature was actually smiling. There was a lot of cheering going on. No one saw her disappear. She knew where she was going to be for the next 3 months.
January 23, 2020
Flanked by Chiroptera and Natalidae, Mother Nature watched as the city was getting shut down due to an outbreak of what they called the Wuhan coronavirus. The fear in the air was palpable. It made her so glad. She looked at Chiroptera and then at Natalidae. “I will let you live another month.” Then she was gone.
March 18, 2020
Mother Nature was actually smiling. Her two top military officers by her side. They had really come through this time. The infections and deaths around the world were mounting. All calls for early action had gone unheeded — just like Natalidae predicted in March, a year ago.
There was neither a vaccine nor a treatment in sight and overall, life was grinding to a halt. The fear was palpable. She was unhappy that the outbreak had been controlled in China but there was always the rest of the world…especially the US and those Americans looked as unprepared as can be. She rubbed her hands together in glee. The bats looked at their queen showing more emotion than she had ever shown and they knew their lives were safe.
As if she was reading their minds, she said, “You two came through. Well done.”
“Thank you”, they both said. “So what do they call it?”, she asked, “Well, they call the virus SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes COVID-19”, Chiroptera said. Mother Nature laughed.
“Humans can really make everything complex, can’t they?”, she said. “Yes they can”, Chiroptera answered. “So we meet again in a week, right?”, Mother Nature asked. “Yes! In New York City. Then we will unveil Phase II”, Chiroptera answered. “Phase II?”, Mother Nature asked, surprised. “Yes, My Queen, Phase II of Operation Reclaim”, Chiroptera answered.
Chiroptera could tell he had really piqued the Queen’s interest. He went on: “My Queen, have you noticed anything about the humans who end up in their ICUs and those who get really ill?” Mother Nature thought for a second…”They all seem older...”…then her voice trailed off as a look of realization crept over her face. “As the humans see mostly the older population dying, they will be lulled into a false sense of security that life can go on because that is a population they can sacrifice”, Chiroptera stated.
“The Children! Phase II is the children!”, the Queen exclaimed. Chiroptera nodded. “Who thought of this?”, the Queen asked. Chiroptera pointed at Natalidae. “I underestimated your brilliance, Colonel. See you in New York”, the Queen said. “We will, my Queen, but Phase II will not start there. That will be your surprise”, Chiroptera said.
“I hate surprises but I will make an exception this time”, the Queen said even as she faded away with the butterflies fluttering in her wake.
Originally published on March 23, 2020. https://medium.com/@ndghansah/operation-reclaim-a0d860b46f91