The Tipping Point
“But, Dad, you said that the virus was only mild when it started?”
“Yes, yes, indeed I did, son. And I was wrong. When the experts got together and sorted through the information, it became clear that, without specialist help, it would almost always result in certain death.”
“But you had the Gravida Virus, and you survived it,” said the boy with pride in his voice.
“I did survive – yes,” added the man, “but it was only through the specialist help that I came through… thank god I am a party member, and they treated me so well. non-party members fare very badly.” He shook his head and stared sadly at the floor.
“Even so,” he said looking up, “the virus did damage my heart valves and the future is not good.”
Robert had never seen his father look so sad, nor indeed drink beer like this.
“Is it serious?” he asked concerned.
“Yes, I’m afraid it is” was the reply, “I could even die in the near future” he added, putting the most optimistic and brave face on the “truth”. The “experts” had told him of the realistic and grim prognosis.
“Have you told mum?” he asked with tears in his eyes.
“No, I cannot bother your mum with things like this and, actually, I wouldn’t know how to tell her.”
After a silence:
-“Will the virus kill me and mum if we get it?”
“No, not at all,” said the father shaking his head and smiling: “Because all our family are party members, we will get the best treatment and you and mum will be just fine.”
“… otherwise, we would die?”
“Yes – for certain. I spoke to my friend Leon, sorry, I should now call him Commander Leon, who is the top doctor in the city, and his instructions are that every one with the virus must go to the “Healing Unit” to have a chance of saving their lives.”
“What if they are not party members and they refuse?” asked the boy.
“Well,” said the father looking serious, “we must then insist that they go into the unit – if required, with the help of the police!”
He paused, aware that there were problems in what he was about to say, “I saw my friend, Martin today who has the virus and he refused to be admitted… he is an old friend, and though I could be in trouble, I could not bring myself to call in the police… I will go and see him again tomorrow, but he will certainly be dead.”
“Oh,” said Robert as he had fond memories of Martin, a close family friend, “You often told me he was a genius.”
“Yes, yes,” said Anthony slightly testily, “but that was last year, and that has all changed… he has not updated his views and does not follow the party guidelines. He would be in real trouble now if he had not received the gold ribband for saving the life of Brother-Commander Edward.”
“Wow!” said the boy as this was a famous household name.
After a pause, Anthony continued,
“And even though that diagnosis has been overturned by the committee, his special dispension continues.
“Does truth ever change then, Dad?” Robert asked thoughtfully.
Anthony remained quiet for a while.
“It’s called the narrative,” he finally said, “Sometimes, facts must be altered to fit the needs of the people – that is the wise web which the party weaves to explain everything to our citizens.”
The two sat in silence, hoping there would be other times together.
This was no time for tears; Martin had disobeyed the guidelines and must pay the price. Anthony drove sombrely with the death certificate book ready on the passenger seat. He pulled up at the little country cottage; Martin had never received the money and acclaim he deserved as he had never been a successful “committee-man”.
He let himself in through the front door to find a man, who looked just like the late Martin, sitting in an old rocking chair reading a book.
“Martin?” asked Anthony in astonishment, “is that really you? I can’t believe it!” Martin smiled.
“But how? I brought your death certificate with me!” he added with a note of delight in his voice.
Martin closed the book and put it to one side.
“There are more things in heaven and earth than have entered your committee rooms” he chuckled. “I would share them with you, but the truth might get you into trouble… Hospitals can sometimes be machines of death themselves.”
Martin seemed really quite fit and, although severely disabled with arthritis was able to make some tea as the two friends spoke of wonderful times gone by; as always, Anthony was struck by the incisive, questioning mind of Martin and his company was compelling as always.
But Anthony had a busy work schedule and was soon making his leave.
“Before you leave,” said Martin, writing on a piece of paper, “here is a number which you must memorize and then destroy.” He looked almost menacingly at his friend. “Promise me that!” Anthony promised faithfully.
“And the password is ‘The Tipping Point.’”
“OK,” said Anthony, “OK, I can remember that.”
“Commander Leon, Sir, you sent for me.”
“Yes, Tony, and this is a very unpleasant business.” The (very) senior doctor looked grave:
“It has come to my attention that you have been treating Martin Slavic.” He held his hand up to forbid interruption. “And we suspect that you have broken our protocols and guidelines.” He shook his head and sighed in total disbelief. Anthony opened his mouth to speak, but was gestured into silence.
“There is concern that you may have been contaminated!” continued Commander Leon
“But I have already had the virus,” said Anthony innocently, “I am immune!”
“You misunderstand me,” continued Leon, observing in detail every movement on the face of Anthony through the magnifying “protective” shield.
“This man has been a dangerous subversive, who threatens the security of our state; if he had not saved the life of brother-commander Edward, we would have dealt with his problem comprehensively…” He paused. “Did he ever show you copies of his “Alternative” and, by the way, I know the answer to that.”
“Well, yes,” mumbled Anthony, “but that was long, long ago.” The “Alternative” was a very subversive pamphlet which Anthony had scarcely read, as it was full of dangerous heresies.
“We also have reason to believe that he may have contact with,” Leon paused and his voice dropped to a whisper, “…The Outreaches.” Anthony’s jaw dropped; no-one even mentioned that place of horrors where only sub-humans dwelt.
“We think you may be in danger,” continued the commander, “and we will be committing you to hospital on section 94 to get you sorted out!” He looked angry and, obviously, the conversation brooked no appeal.
“You have a psychiatric history and we are convinced that the Gravida Virus has impacted your mind; if you refuse to comply, then this would denote a more severe psychiatric case which would mandate expelling you from the party with all that entails.” Leon looked rather menacingly into the eyes of Anthony.
Anthony did not have a psychiatric history, but was he really sure..?. Had his mind been damaged by the Gravida virus…? There was no choice but to comply.
The hospital admission procedure was very straightforward, though it struck Anthony as rather odd that this erstwhile Medical Unit had been filled with psychiatry patients. The staff looked very young and inexperienced.
“Is it Commander Anthony?” asked the junior in charge. “No,” smiled Anthony, “I am not a commander, only a doctor.”
“Only!” exclaimed the junior and ex-student of his. “You taught me so much… it is a privilege to treat you, Sir, but I must give you your injection to help you settle in.”
“Of course,” acquiesced Anthony. “But you look rather nervous; would you like me to give myself the injection?”
“Please, please do that, Sir. I would hate to be reported for giving a clumsy injection to someone as senior as you!”
Anthony smiled. “OK, look away” he replied as he plunged the injection into the mattress. “I feel better already,” he said.
The next morning, the junior from the day before came with some students.
How are you feeling today?” he asked.
“So much better,” lied Anthony, “I just feel totally committed to helping all our citizens and the party. They began to talk informally, and Anthony soon lapsed into his teaching manner. The group was a mixed bunch with nursing and medical students on ward experience. Soon they began to talk about cardiology, about how to take a history and examine the heart. It was so nice to speak with these enthusiastic students. Eventually, Anthony confided that he, himself, had heart valve problems from the Gravida virus. He went on to explain about Echocardiography and how bouncing sound waves off the heart could give a clear picture of the heart and valves.
“We have an ECHO machine here on the ward,” said one of the students excitedly. “Do you know how to work it?” Anthony did, having spent a year on a cardiology unit. Soon he had a full picture of his own heart to show the students.
“So, as you can see, I have severe heart disease and have no more than a few months to live.” The students were in tears as they left the room; losing this great teacher would be a severe loss.
But Anthony had covered up the truth. The ECHO had clearly shown that his heart and valves were normal… why had the experts lied to him? His mind raced as he continued to act like a medicated patient.
The ward was totally silent; it was dead of night, and Anthony’s mind was in turmoil. Finally, he knew with total certainty what was to be done. He put on his outdoor clothes which were surprisingly easy to find. He had always been a good climber and now – reassured that his heart was strong – made his escape through a small window. He stepped outside, and breathed the fresh air of freedom.
“Better a few days of freedom than a life of mental imprisonment,” he mused, for he had always believed that there could be no life outside the party-state. The very idea of the “hell-on-earth” of The Outreaches had always made him shudder, but now he wondered what he truly knew about them. He reached into his pocket, and there he found his cell-pager. True to his word, he had memorised the number from Martin and after a long, long pause cautiously dialled it:
“The Tipping Point,” he said into the microphone, now prepared for whatever alternative future might be on offer.