"The Running Bug"
by Tony Noland @TonyNoland
This science fiction adventure ran as a serial on Twitter, March 24-26, 2010. Each episode was posted hourly, around the clock, tracked by the hashtag #run. This was an experiment in 24/7 engagement, author to reader. Did you see it on Twitter? Did it work? Feel free to leave a comment, brief or extensive, to let me know what you thought of the content, form or logistics. Suggestions for future serials are welcome.
Update: A special tip of the hat to @Doublelattemama and to @FutureNostalgic for their enthusiastic support of this story with RTs and the #runpancakes hashtag on Sunday, March 28, 2010. PJ and Sam, thank you!
#run The sole of my right shoe flaps with every stride. I hadn't wanted to run barefoot so soon, but so be it. At least I'll be quieter.
#run I push the shoes into a snowdrift. The spies won't be able to get anything from them. The bugs are strictly intramuscular.
#run Rock salt digs into my heels, even through the calluses. Road crews must have been out prepping for the ice storm.
#run I've been running since midnight, but now I've got a strong, icy tailwind. Only another 35 miles to go. The wind chill feels great.
#run I know I won't really need to eat for another couple of days, but the habits of a lifetime are hard to break, even now. I miss coffee.
#run The gallon of molasses and rum I drank is keeping the bugs happy, thank God. So much easier and faster than eating four jars of jam.
#run I should get off this road before the sleet gets much worse. I don't want to be seen by someone pretending to be a simple jogger.
#run Gasping, grunting as they run, pushing through the pain of the wall, getting that sweet rush of a second wind. I remember it all.
#run The poisonous buildup of lactic acid in muscles pushed past the brink of failure - burning, tearing pain. I remember that, too.
#run Now, when it's too late, when I can't feel either pleasure or pain when I run, I wish yet again that I'd never taken that contract.
#run It was natural that they came to me. How many molecular biophysicists are also mammalian physiologists who run marathons?
#run Such a ridiculous idea. Nineteen separate grant proposals rejected! And then came the Army, with gobs of money and infinite patience.
#run "Sure, I can make your soldiers tireless and unstoppable. What's holding them back is how their muscles work." God, what a fool I was.
#run If the money had come from a company, they would have wanted results sooner, and I never would have been able to do it.
#run The nanoengineered retroviruses worked as my simulations predicted. Only on the forty-first round of testing on mice, but regardless.
#run The necropsies showed the virally-enhanced streptococci had invaded all of the muscles, and were happily degrading the lactic acid.
#run Without any buildup of metabolic toxins, the muscles could go at 140% forever, or until the cells started to tear themselves apart.
#run As long as their blood supplied their muscles with glucose and oxygen, the mice could happily run four mouse-marathons in a row.
#run Invasion of the cardiac muscle was a surprise, but their improved hearts turned out to be a complementary, even synergistic mutation.
#run Synergistic coordination of degradation. It amazes me that I used to talk like that. I had no idea what that would really mean.
#run The mice were willing, even eager to run for hours and hours. I was blind. I paid no attention to that eagerness, that compulsion.
#run Army doctors didn't understand what I'd done and were skeptical about the results. If only I hadn't been so arrogant, gotten so angry!
#run It was so childish, injecting myself with the culture, just so I could show them it worked on humans. I had no idea what I was doing.
#run None of the mice had shown any notable discomfort, let alone the kind of incredible agony that makes you wish for death.
#run Every muscle in my body, even the little ones in my feet, pulsing and throbbing like I'd been dipped in flaming kerosene.
#run When it stopped, it was like turning off a switch. I expected to be sore for days from those horrible muscle cramps. Instead… nothing.
#run That first run afterwards, the one I took to clear my head - that was like a dream. Ten miles in fifty-five minutes, and I felt great!
#run I was itching to show those smug Army guys how well it had worked, hungry to prove myself. Itching and hungry - that's how it started.
#run I was ravenous, but I vomited everything up. Steak, salad, even the toast and coffee. It was the last coffee I ever had…
#run The only thing that tasted good was maple syrup with vodka. I had five. My gut churned, but I felt no pain. Just the itch to run.
#run They doubted me, said they'd cut the funding. I blew off steam with fifteen miles in the morning, another eighteen that afternoon.
#run I know I sounded crazy in the final conference call. I was on my cell, talking as I ran. The itch was so bad, how could I *not* run?
#run My heart ached, my legs burned unbearably. Initially, a steady pace of 160 beats per minute scratched the itch. Then it took 170.
#run The sun rises, blocked by a thick mass of sleet-heavy clouds over my shoulder. My training watch says 205 bpm. Another 24 miles to go.
#run Every runner I see - they're all Army spies. They think I don't know that they're watching me, waiting for me to stop. But I know.
#run There's one, heavily swathed against the sleet. She stares at my bare feet, T-shirt and shorts as I sprint past. She is one of theirs.
#run No Army simpleton is going to pretend not to believe me, then take credit for my work! I burned down the lab at the University. Ha!
#run My order from the wholesaler arrived yesterday. Fourteen pallets of Briar Rose Black Molasses, thirty cases of generic 151 rum.
#run I have everything I need. Glucose, alcohol and space to run, to work, to sweat, to give the bugs the lactic acid they need.
#run The sleet is so thick now, I can barely see. The road is so slippery, I feel like I'm swimming. Faster… I have to go faster!
#run I'm right here, jerkface - get on your own side of the road. Hey, look out, you fool, look out! LOOK OUT!
#run Ahhh… what happened?… Blood? A car?... I have to get out of this ditch, must get up, must run, must… where is my left leg?
#run Somebody, please help me… no, not the blood, I have to get up… the pain is unbearable… the itching… please - help me run… please…
This concludes "The Running Bug". For more fiction, visit http://www.TonyNoland.com #run
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