By Ingvar: “Trigger, darling?”, said Coraline. “I just saw a really interesting, and disturbing, letter-of-comment.”
“It’s from this Sean Massdriver, he’s on one of those terminator-chasing cities on Mercury.”
“You mean the ones on rails? Just on the night-side, keeping track with Mercurian dusk?”
“Yes, one of those. He’s writing about this new disease that’s starting to pop up in one of the other terminator cities, Yannis. It’s apparently already killed several people and seems to have just popped up from nowhere.”
“Oh, that doesn’t sound good. Do we know anything else?”
“Not at this time, we don’t, no. I’m heading over to the Emporium, to meet Barbara. I’ll be back in an hour or so.”
Trigger was still busy reading the latest legal updates as Coraline closed her reader and headed downstairs. He’d just reached an interesting update on profiteering as the door closed.
Barbara Dimatis was in the back office, looking through a combination of news feeds, literary magazines, and the order book for the Emporium. Presumably, there was a pattern to how she did this, but for an external observer, it would have looked random.
She was just finishing a most interesting letter-of-comment from a Sean Massdriver when she heard, faintly, her name being mentioned out by the counter. She stopped and listened. Yes, it was definitely Coraline, what a pleasant surprise.
“Are you sure Barbara is busy? It’s important I get to speak to her?”
“Well, Mrs. Snowflake, she said she’d be busy with some office work, and not to be disturbed.”
“Oh. In that case, can I have the House roast, drip, a quarter spoon of sugar, and maybe a Vienna on the side?”
Barbara stepped out from the office door. “Make that twice, Angelique, dear. I will join Mrs Snowflake for refreshments.”
“Barbara! Have you seen….”
“I think I have, Coraline. Would you join me in the office?”
The two friends sat down at the small table in the corner of the Coffee Emporium’s rather large office, nicely decked out with a white linen cloth and small, fragile-looking lace placemats.
“So, you’ve seen the Mssdriver LoC, Coraline?”
“I have indeed. And I am troubled. If what he writes is real, we have a new disease on our hands, and no one will be immune.”
“It is on Mercury, though.”
“True, but people travel from Mercury all the time, even if it is deep in the Sun’s gravity well. And we have no idea what incubation times look like.”
“No, I think the best we can hope for now is that no one is infectious before symptoms show, and stop being infectious before the symptoms go away.”
“We should be so lucky. Well, if it looks like it’s a new sysdemic, I will do what I can to keep Fort Corallium safe. I will talk to darling Trigger. And you, Barbara, should consider closing the Emporium down for over-the-counter business. This is very much a place where everyone meets, and if the new disease is sturdy on hard surfaces, this could become the one place that infects our whole delightful town.”
“I will take that under consideration. If nothing else, we could expand the delivery business.”
With that, the coffee was finished, and the two pastries eaten. Coraline brushed the few remaining crumbs off the table into her hand and deposited the detritus in Barbara’s waste basket.
“It was delightful, Barbara, to talk to you, even if the subject matter leaves something to wish for.”
“Likewise, Coraline. Don’t be a stranger. Take care of Sheriff Snowflake for us, will you?”
Trigger was walking down Main Street, nodding a quick “hello” to people as he passed. It was a beautiful day, the sun a small, bright star on the horizon, and the gas giant bright and bold, covering a substantial portion of the sky.
Such a day really demanded a good cuppa, and a grilled synthecheese. His feet quickened by the thought, Trigger sped up somewhat, as he headed for the Coffee Emporium.
“Sheriff Snowflake!” Barbara said as he entered. “Welcome. The usual?”
“Thank you, Ms Dimatis, if you would?”
“Say, Sheriff, would you feel horribly imposed on, if I were to give you a second synthecheese, on the house?”
“Is this an attempt to curry favour from a lawman?”
“No, Sheriff, I have been tracking the progress of SoVID-59, and I have taken the decision that the Emporium will close its doors to walk-in customers, when we close for the day. And, so, I am trying to empty the cupboard of perishables. As well as leaving our loyal customers with a happy feeling that we here at the Emporium are trying to do the right thing.”
“Sous Vide? Isn’t that a cooking technique? What does that have to do with…”
“Have you not heard, Sheriff? The new Mercurian flu. It’s caused by the Solaris virus.”
“Ah, Solaris-virus. I’ve heard of that. It’s that thing that started in a Mercurian terminator-town, by someone having illicit contact with Mercurian soil in the market, no?”
“No, Sheriff, we don’t actually know how it started. But we do know that the first cases were in Yannis.”
“Oh, this is the thing Coraline talked about a couple of weeks ago. I remember now. So, what does that have to do with sous vide?”
“Not sous vide. SoVID. ‘Solaris Virus Infectious Disease – 2359’. It’s spread at least as far as Mars now, and I think the most responsible thing I can do now is to shut down and prepare for what’s coming. You may want to alert our shop keepers that they should limit essentials to only a few items per customer. If I am extrapolating the numbers correctly, we will hear something official in the next few days.”
“I will do that, Ms Dimatis, I will do that.”
In silence and contemplation, Trigger finished his coffee and grilled synthecheese. With the bill paid, he left the Emporium, to pass the information he’d been given o the shopkeepers of Fort Corallium.
Trigger had just finished his breakfast, when his teleprinter beeped. It only did this for incoming priority communication from Law Inc. Headquarters. He headed down to his office, plucked the still-warm sheet from the output hopper and rapidly read the text.
“Coraline, dear! Looks like Fort Corallium has been put on Antisocial Distance, it’s come.”
“Told you! Good thing that Barbara closed down the Emporium two days ago, should put us in a better situation to weather this. I guess this means no patrolling Main Street?”
“On the contrary, I am to double the frequency, and ensure that no one is within spitting distance of anyone else.”
“Poor, beloved Trigger! I know how much the friendly conversations and gatherings in our town mean to you. But, in this time of infectious disease, we all have to do what we can to curb the spreading!”
“Right as always, beloved. Right as always.”
Trigger put on a pair of vinyl gloves, and set out for his morning stroll up and down Main Street. The street was emptier than normal, but up ahead, he saw a small group of people gathered outside the General Store.
“Citizens! I must ask you to stand further apart. You can still form an orderly queue, but please keep a distance of at least 1800 millimetres between you. This is to stop the spreading of the Solaris virus!”
The crowd slowly expanded, to comply with what the lawman had just said.
“Thank you, Sheriff Snowflake” said Joseph Lilyberg. “This new Antisocial Distance has us all confused. We’re all quite social, at heart you see.”
“I know, Lilyberg, I know. I would say go with it for now. You can be close to your family at home. But, please keep your distance in public. And do NOT try any panic-buying, because I would be unhappy having to arrest you. And then I would need to deep-clean the cell, which is really rather annoying. Take care, now.”
Several months later, the doors of the Coffee Emporium burst open and Barbara Dimatis stepped outside, bull-horn in hand.
“The medical authorities have declared the crisis over. I have spoken to Sheriff Snowflake, and the Antisocial Distance decree has been cancelled. Your first cuppa is ON THE HOUSE! And we have fresh pastries. Welcome all!”