The Professor was irritated
. Severely annoyed
. He had run out of mustard
, necessitating a trip to the supermarket
-- the filthy, germ-ridden supermarket, where the neatly swept floors and well-lit aisles only concealed the underlying layers of detritus left behind by people touching everything. Picking things up and putting them down, leaving grubby fingerprints
on bottles and boxes. Letting bits of spittle fly out as they gabbed about their reality television shows and their sexual peccadilloes. Breathing
on things. Coughing
, who knows what else. And worst of all, the children. The babies, fetid creatures constantly oozing mucous and vomiting on themselves and laying in their own excrement. But at least the babies were somewhat contained, unlike the toddlers, who ran amuck unattended and unconcerned, smearing their germs on everything they could touch.
Oh, and what germs there were. This, indeed, was the subject of the Professor's expertise -- the genetic profiling of infectious diseases
. Every one of them, from the common cold
every kind of influenza
. He knew their deadly and debilitating ways, their every path of assault against the human body
. And though he had personally invented two dozen techniques for attacking them, neutralizing them, modifying their behavior to stave off their danger, the Professor knew with the gravest certainty possessed only by the greatest expert that there was no stopping the incessant advance of mutation by a trillion trillion pathogens. That one day, the human race would be all but wiped from the Earth by a deadly virus, and the few who were left wouldn't have the base of knowledge or resources to survive. And most of all that this inevitable plague would be carried and spread most insidiously in filthy, thoughtless meanderings of children.
And just now, as the Professor stood lost in these thoughts, such a germ
-infested child was running down the grocery store aisle, running right up to the Professor and grabbing the Professor's assiduously clean pantleg, violating it with foodstained fingers. The Professor jerked his leg away instinctively, and the child fell to the floor and began to wail pathetically. Only then, the Professor noticed, did its parent take notice of the child's mischief, walking up and grabbing it, giving the Professor a dirty look, as if to blame him for the injurious consequence of her offspring's uncontrolled conduct. He could not help noticing how oblivious the mother was to her little nuisance poking her in the face with sticky hands which, moments before, had been on the floor upon which the Professor stood.
Fuming, the Professor grabbed the nearest bottle of mustard and marched to the checkout line. Outside, he muttered impatiently to himself while waiting for the bus. He'd been a child
once, but never so unruly. His household had discipline
!! Had he behaved like that creature, he'd have gotten a taste of the switch, and rightly so. And as he boarded the bus, thinking these thoughts, what should he see but children. Parents with babies, with toddlers, with rambunctious teenagers. Scowling, he seized a seat by the door. Just his luck, the woman sitting in the next seat shifted her toddler to the other side, so that now it too was encumbering his space, fingers filthfully grasping about for something to soil. The Professor feigned a cough, hoping that would inspire the mother to move it away. It worked, for the time being.
But then the bus stopped again, and more people got on. People with children, with babies. And one woman walked right to where the Professor was sitting. She was holding a baby, and clearly pregnant with another. She looked at him expectantly. He was confused. "Can I sit down?" she asked. The Professor glanced around. Every seat on the bus was filled; a few other men were on the bus, but they were standing in the aisle
, holding the rails that hung from the roof from front to back. He was the only adult male in a seat. "I have a baby," the woman explained, holding out her runt as though it were a ticket with his seat number inscribed on it.
"What!?" the Professor snapped. "I should be inconvenienced because you've chosen to burden the world with yet another child, when it's already unsafely overcrowded? Every breath your child takes steals my air on the way in and pollutes it on the way out. It consumes resources, drives up the price of everything, and gives nothing back. And I have to live in a world of child-proof caps and school crossings because people like you can't be bothered to monitor the shells you foist on the world, because you thought a baby would be a doll to dress up, or you were enslaved to some biological clock
, or because somehow, somewhere, a condom
Stunned silence pervaded the vehicle. The Professor noticed that the bus had stopped again, this time for longer than usual. The driver cast a long shadow as he row from his seat and turned. "Get off the bus." It took the Professor a moment to realize that this imperative was directed at him.
"What, me? But I was here first!!"
"Off." the driver repeated, his finger held towards the door, his granite visage revealing neither nuance
. "You don't talk to a lady with a baby that way on my bus."
Some passengers cheered as the Professor walked down the steps. "That's right," he muttered, "cheer your own stupidity, you'll wipe out the human race with it for certain." Another bus would not be along for an hour. He began the long walk home.
As he walked, the Professor thought. Indeed, he did more than think, he formulated -- and his formulations were majestic!! The human race had poised itself for extinction through contagion spread by its plague of endless reproduction. But he was a scientist, and this problem he knew to be within the grasp of his considerable abilities. He would save mankind from itself!! By the time he reached his house, he was virtually a light with excitement. He went straight to work. For the next two weeks, every waking moment was spent at the laboratory. When his colleagues inquired, the Professor told them he'd had a hunch that might lead to a breakthrough. This was true enough, and he'd buried himself in work before like this. No one raised an eyebrow. In those two weeks, he developed his proof of concept. It took another month and a half to perfect it.
On the sixtieth day, the Professor gathered up a set of a dozen used vials and marched down to the disposal room, brimming with purpose but trying to appear nonchalant. Ten of the vials he threw in the specially sealed container used for biological experiments. But then, he turned just so that his body blocked the security camera monitoring the chamber. To view the camera would have been to see the last two vials follow their fellows into the container, but the Professor had substituted a different pair of vials, a pair hidden under his clothes and only made to look used and soiled. The last two vials from the lab took their place.
The Professor wasted no time. He went home. He walked to the park, not too far from his house, where the children often came to ply their recklessness and disregard for hygiene. There was a water fountain at the center of the park, from which these children often drank. He bowed to take a drink, and as he did, he carefully poured the contents of his two vials over the fountain. On the spout, on the handle, on the rim. Then he walked home and read the newspaper while a news channel was on in the background (a longstanding habit).
It took about five weeks for anybody to notice anything amiss. The organism he had created-- if it could even be called an organism-- was not at all deadly to humans. It was not, by itself infectious even. It had only one function, to add a sequence to the RNA of any virus to which it could attach itself (for which targets would be plentiful in this ubiquitously virus-laden world). This extra sequence, this hitchhiker, in turn had only one function. It would direct the virus to add to its menu of cells to be infected as factories of regeneration one additional kind of cell. The human egg cell. The ovum
. And, in so doing, it would direct the destruction of this particular kind of cell, imbued as it was for instructions to overcome all of the defenses peculiar to them. Five weeks after the water fountain, the first report came of a seeming dip in pregnancy rates. The Professor's sequence had no effect on pregnancies already underway, and it took some time for the sequence to spread-- but not much, for it latched itself as readily to every common cold virus as to deadlier breeds like hepatitis
or the measles
, and even to viruses which had no effect on humans, infesting the world without drawing attention to themselves.
By the sixth month, the world was in a panic. Pregnancy rates had dropped to fractional levels. The Professor had hoped rational minds would prevail, that people would see that this was an absolute blessing. No more time and money spent at the beck and call of infants!! An opportunity to direct the resources of the world to the resolution of real, adult problems. Instead, there was much ignorance, accusations and recriminations between nations; whipped-up religious fervor. Militancy, hoarding. Didn't these people realize how precious human life had just become? Who in their right mind would gear up for war with no new generation to replace the casualties of the old? This he had not expected; he had overestimated mankind, thinking that people and nations would realize how fortunate they were to be turned back from the brink. He occasionally thought of making some sort of statement, even of claiming credit for his deed. But he knew that no matter how great a thing he'd done, those ignorant, self-centered, baby-loving fools would hang him for it.
Three years passed. A very small number of pregnancies were occurring still, perhaps one tenth of one percent as many as had come before. Indeed, the Professor had anticipated just such an immunity rate to his creation, and sighed wistfully at the thought that future generations would have to deal with a return to normal reproductive rates. But at least the children being born now were treated differently. They were watched very, very carefully. Most were taken, along with their unusual, fertile mothers, to special facilities -- one such place was in Missouri, another in Moscow, still others in Bavaria, Beijing, Queensland, Paraguay, and Ghana. The Professor hoped these ones were being raised with some discipline and focus, for a change!! For as small a number as there were, resources could finally be effectively directed towards this. The baby aisles in the supermarkets were no more. The nursery schools were solemnly closing their doors, one by one. No more did women board the bus pregnant or with a newborn in tow and seek seats. No more did toddlers wander supermarkets unattended.
Some older children still played in that park. The Professor shrugged and shook his head. It no longer bothered him so much to see the filthy children running around. Soon they too would grow up. The world fretted and continued to point fingers of blame, and rend occasional acts of violence. But in a few generations, there would be the most sublime and quiet peace of a population brought from the billions down to bare millions. Peace and quiet, the Professor blissfully contemplated, at last, at last. Momentarily, his peace was interrupted by a sneeze, and then another. He clenched his jaw just a bit in irritation at the cold he'd caught.