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A Sea of Faces

by Paul Johnson

September 3, 2107: a very special day in history; the day that the new World Government came to power, democratically elected by the ten billion eligible electorate. It was a landslide victory, but mankind was the ultimate loser on this day, this very special day.

Key dates in history stand out like markers — beacons — with which the timeline of destiny is plotted. This date stands out above all those dates. It stands erect and tall above all events in any history book. What was hailed as a huge step forward, turned out to be mankind’s leap of faith into the darkest chasm of the deepest pit of Hell.

From this date onwards there were no more countries, no more borders, and certainly no more sense of national individuality. Just one government elected to oversee the welfare and running of the planet; one government to decide the destiny of the planet; and one government to seal the destiny of mankind.

How the world came to be governed by one government, and the struggles to achieve this, are not important. What is important is that any legislation passed by the World Government became law for the whole planet, with no exceptions. All previous laws were replaced by the new World Laws.

The idea was to introduce a level of equality and consistency to the laws of the land. Which, had it not been for one disastrous act being passed, would probably have worked out well... eventually... maybe?

‘Equality For All Humanity’ was the slogan, and humanity certainly got equality, all right; they all shared in the equality of the hell and Armageddon that followed.

September 24, 2107: the date the new World Government passed the act of legislation that would change the world forever. It was known as The Healthy Living Act; the document that the government hoped would establish it as the political force that it had promised to be.

The new act was introduced to counter the rising number of overweight people in the world. In fact, the percentage of people overweight had been rising all through the twenty-first century, but, as is human nature, nothing ever seems to get done until it’s too late; or until there’s no choice, and with eighty percent of the population seriously overweight by the year 2107, there really was no choice but to take drastic action.

The twenty-first century culture of fast food — kebabs, pizzas, burgers, etcetera — had to come to an end. Because all good things have to come to an end, don’t they? It’s always been the way of the world, though, hasn’t it? Buy now, pay later.

Mankind was long overdue on this debt, the debt of indulgence, greed, and when the Debt Collector came hammering at the door, mankind chose to ignore him — until the time came when he got sick of knocking and put his size eleven boot straight through the door of humanity and Hell gate-crashed straight through the door behind him.

The government wanted a big change mainly because of the state of the world economy. Too many overweight people, as you can imagine, were causing a lot of problems: the hospitals were at full stretch and didn’t have the staff to cope with the influx of people. Transport and other public amenities were vastly disrupted because of the sheer amount of people taking time off work on account of illness. Food wasn’t being delivered to supermarkets. The skies, once full of cargo-carrying planes, were empty...

The world economy was on its knees, and so the government introduced The Healthy Living Act. The premise of this act was simple: all foods, where possible, would have the special agent SL1 (Slimline1) added to the ingredients. It was simply an additive that would be listed with the e-numbers, but it was a very special additive — very special, indeed.

SL1 was the first clinically proven substance to cause weight loss, and allow the takers to slim back down to their natural weight. And it didn’t matter what they ate, either. They could gorge themselves from dusk till dawn and they would still lose weight... as long as the food contained the miracle that was SL1.

Other slimming agents — pills — had been marketed as the ‘miracle’ cure for obesity, of course, but none of them really worked. They were just expensive to buy, high on promises, but did bugger all.

There was one niggling problem with SL1, though: it had been extensively tested only on primates and mice; it hadn’t been tested on humans for any prolonged period. The primates and mice (who had been fattened up previous to taking SL1) showed dramatic weight loss. After six months they had shown no signs of any side effects. They were just healthy and slim.

The government, wanting a big change quickly, approved the use of SL1 after it had been given the green light by many ‘noted’ doctors, but there were equally as many doctors who disapproved. It was too soon, they’d said; it was too dangerous, they’d said. And, as it turned out, they were right — very right.

SL1 was initially to be introduced in pill form, but the government decided against this. They wanted to make sure that everyone — or most people, anyway — would take the substance, and with the negative press that SL1 had received, introducing it in pill form became unviable. The newspapers and news channels reiterated what a lot of medical experts had said: SL1 was unsafe; it hadn’t been properly tested on humans.

October 14, 2107: from this date onwards SL1 was added to the ingredients of every food possible. Which basically meant all manufactured foods — the ones that had caused all the problems in the first place. The only exceptions were naturally grown foods: salad, fruit, etcetera, but then it was hardly needed in those foods, was it? If people had stuck to eating foods like that, healthy foods, then things wouldn’t have...

Within a month of the introduction of SL1, the dramatic effects were beginning to show. Reports in the press told stories of dramatic weight loss. Veteran dieters of many years were quoted telling happy tales of the pounds just dropping off.

One quote from The World Herald: ‘I’ve shed fourteen pounds in a month,’ Julie Lang, a long-time yoyo dieter, said, ‘Fourteen pounds. Can you believe that? And I’m eating more now than I ever have. It’s the best thing that anyone’s ever done: adding SL1 into food ingredients. Gosh, I just can’t wait to get home and eat, eat, eat!’

Another quote: ‘It’s seems my vote for a new World Government wasn’t a wasted one, after all. They knew that something — something drastic — had to be done about the amount of overweight people... like me! I’ve lost ten pounds in a month, and all I do is eat kebabs and pizzas. It’s amazing!’

Everything seemed to be going so well. The government were overjoyed with the results that were being reported. Soon the World Economy would be back on its feet, they thought; soon the hospitals would be able to cope again, they thought; and soon people would be happy again.

Ninety percent of the population were ingesting SL1; the other ten percent, however, were avoiding it. Most of them were vegetarians, so it really wasn’t a problem. These were the really unlucky ones, though, because they had to endure the hell that followed with a sane mind, unlike the rest.

Another quote from The Herald: ‘I’m gonna bide my time,’ Ryan Wallis, life-long vegetarian, said, ‘see if it’s safe to eat first. If after, say, six months there aren’t any problems, no side effects, then I might consider eating foods with SL1 in. On the other hand I might not; I might just stick with natural foods.’

And, as it turned out, Mr Cautious was right — very damned right. The first side effects were reported on the MMN news channel on January 17, 2108. The events reported were a mere prelude to the disaster that would follow. The seeds had been planted, hibernated in the belly of humanity, and now they were ready to blossom into the eternal flower of chaotic despair.

The first symptoms were sickness and diarrhoea. Nobody was turning up for work, the world’s labour-force were prisoners in their own homes. The infrastructure of society soon ground to a halt without the masses of labour to drive it, and the speed with which the sickness took hold of its victims was alarming, especially to the government. The healthy ten percent of society, helpless bystanders, could only watch their relatives and friends suffer.

The government called emergency meetings. They tried to reassure people it would pass — just teething problems, that’s all, nothing to worry about.

February 12, 2108: people were beginning to get past the sickness. Unfortunately, though, the sickness was being replaced by another symptom — a far, far worse symptom: madness.

First they just acted erratically, like dazed zombies, dazed slim zombies wandering the streets on their way to unknown destinations. They were mindless shells of the people they had once been, their bodies on autopilot.

Then they become violent, as SL1 showed the world its next phase of evolution. Rioting broke out in the streets, worldwide rioting, people fighting people for no apparent reason. Witness reports from the petrified ‘normal’ minority told stories of people devouring people in the street, eating their flesh; a crazed, wild look in their eyes, carnage seemingly their only aim. The violence was random, the carnage everywhere.

Civilisation had been brought to its knees in just over five months. All the hopes and dreams of the human race crushed in the time it took to introduce one act of legislation. The last act ever to be passed; the last act of ignorance by humanity — that ultimately cost it its sanity.

* * *

So how do I know all this? How have I lived to tell the tale? The answer is simple, really: I was the one that approved the use of SL1. I was the one responsible for the downfall of mankind, and I am the one who now lives in the hell of the aftermath.

I was the leader of the World Government, the most powerful man on Earth. It was my job to try and do something about the state of the World Economy. You do understand that, don’t you? What I did, I did for the good of the masses. How could I have known what would happen? How could I have known?

And, besides, I wasn’t the only one to blame; there were others who approved its use, too. The rest of my government, by vast majority, approved the use of SL1. The eternal burden of blame rests squarely on all our shoulders, and we shall stand side-by-side in front of God on the day of our judgement.

So why am I, and the rest of my government, not insane? Because I never ate foods with SL1 in it, that’s why. But justice works in funny ways. It has a way of coming back at you, kicking you in the teeth. I wait for my inevitable justice to be served.

I’m stood at a window looking down from the thirty-second floor of my government building. Below me, looking up with intense hatred — crazed, intense hatred — is a sea of faces. As far as the eye can see, thousands of people have massed with one purpose and one purpose alone: to kill me.

They are hollow, mindless shells of the people they used to be, but somehow they know I was responsible. Somehow they know and want their revenge... their justice.

Soon they will break down the front doors and start their ascent. I shall not let them devour me, though; I have a loaded pistol ready — ready and waiting.

I see a surge of people going forward, through the doors. They’ve broken in. I hear a melee of gunfire... silence... another burst of gunfire... then silence. My security staff will only be able to hold them for a few minutes.

I can hear them coming down the corridor, their screams of rage pervading the air. Their maniac gibberish is alien to my ears, but I understand too well what they want and desire: revenge.

I’m so sorry for what I did... so sorry.

God please forgive me.

The cold barrel of the pistol feels like ice against my sweaty temple as I pull the trigger and...

Copyright © 2008 by Paul Johnson

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