Life, Death, and Silver Bullets

A Science Fiction story about the Age of the Superbug

There was something about her… a pale, reddish complexion, so rare these days… all the other desks in the dull classroom where occupied by students who faded together in their blue and gray hues… who snuck furtive glances at the ruddy newcomer, in her bright blue overalls and frizzy, untamed hair.

“Class, this is Sophie. She comes from a small town out West, and we will do our best to make her feel welcome, won’t we?”

“Yesss Mrs. Batesss,” hummed inharmoniously my classmates. I could not speak, my attention was fixed on Sophie’s almost indecently pink eyelids. Our teacher led Sophie to the back of the class, where a transparent clear cubicle had been erected to enclose the desk at which she would sit. “Only a temporary precaution,” Mrs. Bates tried unconvincingly to comfort the young girl so foreign to life in the Big City of 2063… She must feel awfully strange and alone, I mused. I couldn’t peel my eyes from her innocent and timid face.

“Alright class, let us proceed with today’s science lesson. Who can tell me the name of the scientist who discovered Penicillin?” The blue faces remained silent, that awkward pause that lingered until the moment we realized that Mrs. Bates was truly waiting for an answer. Then whisperings came tumbling out in broken syllables from cobalt mouths :

“Fleming? Alexander Fleming…”

“He may be the most familiar name”, piped happily Mrs. Bates, "but let us not forget the work of Howard Florey and Ernst Chain, who also shared the Nobel Prize with Fleming for their work on Penicillin. That was in 1945, a time when individual or small groups of scientists could still win such a prize… " Mrs. Bates trailed off dreamily, then suddenly came back to. “And what IS penicillin?” Silence. A question the difficulty of which we hadn’t anticipated. From the transparent cubicle came an answer.

“An antibiotic. It kills bacteria.” I stared at her peculiar face once again. She was smart too. How did she get so smart out there in the Country? Had I even seen this ‘Country’, where supposedly people kept dogs in their front yards, and many people still had pink faces… in pictures I had.

‘Very good, Sophie," Mrs. Bates gravely answered. "But antibiotics don’t kill bacteria, at least not anymore they don’t. That is why you all take your daily IrresistiBlue®, right?

“Yesss Mrs. Batesss,” in a loud monotone from the desks.

“Good. And Sophie, I spoke with your parents, you are required by the caring Health Officers of New York City to start your supplement drink immediately. Don’t forget, every morning before school.”

“Yes Mrs. Bates,” came the little lone voice from the back of the class.

I never heard the rest of Mrs. Bates lecture. I only caught strange words and phrases that echoed through my mind during the lulls in my daydreaming about Sophie’s crazy yellow hair, as fair as her non-blueish skin:
“Silver… antimicrobial… MRSA… Superbugs… a solution of tiny particles called a colloid….”
The bell rang. Thank the royal heavens. As my classmates rushed the playground, I hung back where Sophie was silently standing near the school Welcome flower bed… she seemed to blend into those stalky beauties. Her eyes shone with distrust, although she stood so bravely tall,

“You best’nt come near me, Teacher said.”

“How come you look so funny?” Not what I had meant to splurt out. She paused, then stated matter-of-factly,

“I just started taking the Blue… stuff. What’s in that awful drink anyway?”

“It’s made with silver Nanoparticles,’ I said, striving to sound smart. “Teacher says the Nanoparticles act like tiny warriors against the Superbugs.”

“Weird,” She said quietly, turning back toward the sea of flowers.

“Yeah, I guess those antibiotics…” (I was proud of myself for remembering her answer in class) “…don’t work on our Superbugs here in the city. Blue stuffs’a only thing that’ll kill ours anymore. My mom makes me take the Blue drink and that medicine that tastes like bubble-gum every morning. She’s real proud of me cause by now I remember all on my own.” I felt taller than the sunflowers that Sophie gazed upon. She stayed quiet. I felt nervous.

“I don’t wanna turn blue,” she murmured. I thought I saw her eyes glistening.

“Well, I think you’re… pretty.” I reached out and touched her soft gold hand. My heart fluttered. One Mississippi, two Mississ –
She squirmed her hand out of mine, saying “We better go in. Teacher is calling.” I had barely noticed the ocean wave of students pouring back in through the classroom doors.

I rushed back to my desk on Monday, ready to rest my eyes once again on Sophie’s salmon pink face. Class began, and the giant clock hand ticked ever onward, but still the transparent cubicle-enclosed desk sat empty. I raised my hand.

“What is it, Pierre?’

“Where is Sophie, Mrs. Bates?” I asked, pointing toward the back of the class, as if Mrs. Bates had forgotten about the wild sunny-haired girl. I didn’t like the pause that ensued.

“Sophie… has fallen ill. We all hope that she… will be back soon.” Mrs. Bates, interrupted, turned to the Story Board, even though math time wasn’t quite over according to the gray chime clock. I had a sick feeling in my stomach that Sophie wouldn’t be sitting at her desk anytime soon… and I forgot to breathe as I thought of touching her delicate hand with my steel blue one. But then again, maybe I was just having another bout of cramps from the IrresistiBlue®.
Rising Plague.jpg
Patterson, J. (2010). Rising plague Journal of Clinical Investigation, 120 (3), 649-649 DOI: 10.1172/JCI42104

Bacteriogram Image, by Erno-Erik Raitanen – created by cultivating bacteria samples on a colour negative film.

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