Reasons for Subordination

According to the neighbours, he had been unable to keep up his payments. That’s why the bank had evicted him and his family from their house on the outskirts of Jacksonville, Florida. None of his neighbours had any information on how to reach him. The two inquisitive scientists did get an address for his recently estranged wife, however.

She lived with their two young children at her parents’ house in South Carolina. During the interview she did not want to talk about her husband at all. She was constantly diverting attention away from the questions posed and on several occasions she broke down in tears, invariably followed by spells of torpor and apathy. Based on indications gathered during the interview, the scientists ascertained that over a period of a few weeks the husband had undergone a rapid physical and psychological transformation that led to him losing his job, incessantly lounging around watching television and abusing pain medication. The situation escalated following the eviction and she decided to leave her husband and take her kids to live with her mum and dad.

Her answers to questions regarding his current whereabouts were very vague. She was probably embarrassed about knowing so little about him. In less than a year she had lost touch with the person with whom she had experienced a number of intimate and unforgettable moments over the previous ten. Towards the end of the interview, she gave the visitors a phone number for her husband’s close friend. He might know more.

On the way to their hotel, the scientists decided to call the number they had acquired. It did not take long for the person to pick up. They found out that he was still in touch with the man they were looking for and even knew his current place of residence.

Before he would disclose anything, however, he wanted them to explain their unexpected interest. They informed him that several months previously his friend had donated gastric tissue to a research company. An unusual type of virus had been discovered in the sample.

In return, he informed them with unconcealed glee that he was the one who took the man to the laboratory. He wanted to help him and could not come up with anything better than specimen donation. Neither of the men had health insurance and could thus not afford to see a general practitioner, let alone a specialist.

He also provided his own account of what had happened to his friend. He focused mainly on the physical aspect of his transformation. His primary affliction was rapid weight loss. Also, his skin had turned unnaturally pale, almost ash grey. His previously thick hair had thinned in many places. But in his view, the man’s motor functions had undergone the most striking change. Previously highly active, he was now hardly able to stand. When walking he was constantly leaning to one side, as if about to stumble and keel over at any moment.

At the end he gave them the man’s address. He was staying in a dilapidated motel near Orlando, Florida. Its name was Shining Star.

The couple thanked him and said goodbye, promising with the casual and indifferent manner of uninvolved people that they would be sure to call him once they knew more about his friend’s state of health.

The scientists then checked out of their hotel as quickly as possible and headed back to the southernmost state in the US.

#SelfieNation no.30, 2022, photo: author’s archive

They had little trouble finding the motel. It was a run-down place abandoned by its legal owners many years before. It was full of impoverished families and individuals. The slowly disintegrating building afforded protection from society’s rock bottom – homelessness.

The formerly gaudy signs by the entrance to the parking lot were in ruins. It was empty except for two scorched wrecks. They got out of their hired luxury SUV and began inquisitively checking out the motel building and its surroundings. After a moment, figures appeared on the ground floor and the first-floor balcony. They started walking towards them slowly and tentatively. There was something inhuman about their silhouettes, their movements. That was enough to rattle the newcomers and make them fear for their safety, sending waves of anxiety coursing through their bodies. They glanced at each other but were unable to own up to the unseemly tingles of fear compelling them to get back in the car immediately and drive away. They managed with some difficulties to whip up the determination to walk towards the approaching group.

The locals were not very talkative. This was partly due to difficulties with articulation, partly because of an innate fear of well-dressed people with a flawless command of human language and its pitfalls; the kind whose lips could not only verbalize single words, but could come out with entire sentences all at once, doing so with the right accent, the right intonation.

After a short explanation, both scientists began asking those present about the man they were searching for. In return they received a few curt answers but despite their best efforts they could not make any sense of their content; after a few minutes they gave up all attempts to obtain the required information. After that, both groups merely stared at each quizzically for a long time, gingerly waiting for what would happen next.

They were rescued from this unpleasant situation by the young woman scientist. She went over to the parked car for a moment, bringing back two bags of salt and vinegar flavoured potato chips. Passing one to her colleague, she tore the other open with an experienced movement of her hands. She then handed it to the older woman opposite her who took the bag of chips from her without hesitation. Her colleague did the same, giving his bag to a middle-aged man with a most oddly curved spine.

The locals began scooping up handfuls of potato chips from the plastic packets, slowly inserting one chip after another into their mouths with regular rhythmic movements. They chewed on them energetically while constantly keeping their eyes – glinting with suspicion – on the pair of visitors. This scene lasted less than five minutes. Subsequently the locals turned around and slowly dispersed into different parts of the motel.

After a short assessment of the situation, the couple decided to search through the accommodation units one by one. Perhaps the wanted man was in one of them and had simply not been curious enough to come out. Maybe he was asleep. Or away. Or perhaps he no longer lived there.

They split up. The woman scientist went up to the first floor of the complex and her colleague started going around the ground floor rooms. Every room was occupied: some by entire families, others by mothers with children, but mostly by two to three adult men or women. Some of the residents were asleep, others were lying around on the beds and watching television, gaming on their Playstations or staring fixedly at the screens of their phones, tablets or laptops.

They did not react to the presence of the uninvited guests. They let them observe their private lives without putting up any resistance. At first the couple were taken aback by such disinterest, but after a while they were ambling through the rooms without much embarrassment. They peeked into bathrooms and toilets, checked out personal property.

They were surprised by the degree of tidiness in all the rooms. No discarded pieces of paper or plastic anywhere. All the dust had been carefully wiped from the surfaces and the carpets had been vacuum cleaned. The few private items had been meticulously put away on the shelves and into the cabinets located in each unit.

The inspection lasted just short of half an hour, then they met up again at the carpark in front of the motel. Neither of them had found the man, nor had they come across any physical signs that he had spent time there – no personal papers, contracts, letters. However, it was clear from the number of people present and sheets on the beds that more than half the local residents were probably at work or out shopping.

So they decided to repark the car in the street opposite the motel and wait there for the arrival of the missing residents until the late hours. Maybe the wanted subject would appear among them. If he did not show by midnight, they would continue the search the following day. If tomorrow also proved unsuccessful, they would have to decide on how best to continue with their inquiries.

While they were waiting, fewer than twenty people arrived at, or departed from, the motel. The absolute majority took turns coming and going to and from the nearby Orlando route bus stop. Some of the locals used old mountain bikes as transport but in all that time none had arrived in a car or on a motorbike.

#SelfieNation no.237, 2022, photo: author’s archive

They waited all day until late evening. Around 11pm a figure began approaching them from the bus stop. As it did so, it was intermittently illuminated by the light of a streetlamp. When it came close enough for both scientists, each from their respective position, to be able to clearly discern its characteristic traits, they immediately recognised him. They had finally found the man. They got out of the car and headed towards him. They came upon him in the entrance to the motel carpark, not far from a streetlamp that allowed them to get a good look at him.

His appearance matched the photographs and verbal description provided by his wife, and his friend. Very little remained of the handsomeness of his face and the athleticism of his figure. The cowering man before them exuded resignation, straining to avoid any contact with his surroundings. He kept his distance from them, hunching his back and scrunching his neck down between his shoulders rigidly. As if he were expecting them to give him a sneaky slap or a kick in the heel.

They talked to him, trying to explain why they had come to see him, what they wanted from him. After a while he straightened up, uttering a simple sentence arduously with a somewhat rasping voice: “Come, I want to go home.”

He walked slowly, but with persistence. The scientists accompanied him impatiently. They had to adjust their pace to his which made them nervous. They were not used to walking so slowly. The young woman made use of this opportunity to give him a thorough look over. He was dressed in jeans several sizes too large and shabby old sneakers were visible beneath his overlong trouser legs. He was also wearing a stretched-out t-shirt and a high visibility orange vest. He was carrying a simple black backpack slung over one shoulder; a large bottle of Coca-Cola was poking out through the partially open zipper of the backpack.

There were large brown blotches on the exposed parts of his skin. The woman scientist had already noticed this specific pigmentation on the skin of the group of locals they had encountered in the morning at the carpark. Most of them had clearly visible white-brown complexion.

They followed the man up to the first floor. He lived in a room with two others. They were not there, however. They had probably gone to Orlando at some point during the day. The absent cohabitants slept on the double bed and the man on a foldout by the window next to the door.

The scientists’ subject of interest sat down on the large bed, leant his back on the wall, stretched one leg out on the bed and let the other hang down along the edge of the mattress to the floor. He put the backpack next to him, took out his drink and reached for the TV remote in the middle of the bed. He turned on the TV, opened the bottle and drank.

The two scientists waited for the man to make himself comfortable in his home environment before returning to the questions they had posed earlier and the incomplete explanation for their interest in his person. Thus they tried to make their verbal communication as precise and convincing as possible, but for some inexplicable reason the man ignored them the entire time. Now and then he glanced at them, but only to check if they were still standing in the doorway.

After a while the woman went to the bathroom and returned with a freshly washed glass, probably a bathroom tumbler. She took the Coke bottle out of the man’s hands and poured some of the soft drink into the glass. She turned it around in her hand a few times, waited until it settled and handed it to him. The man looked at it for a while, smiled inconspicuously and reached for the glass. A little while later he took a drink from it. The scientist returned to the door, leant on the frame and smiled back.

All of them silently and attentively watched James Corden’s late-night talk show. After twenty minutes the man’s body all of a sudden slid down lifelessly onto the bed. The woman scientist motioned to her colleague who stepped out onto the balcony carefully and closed the door behind him. While he was gone, she closed the window blinds and straightened the man out into a horizontal position.

A while later her colleague returned with two large aluminium suitcases. Together they opened them and began taking out scientific instruments and devices for taking a broad spectrum of human tissue and fluid samples. The woman switched off the TV on the dresser, pulled the plug out of the socket and with the aid of her colleague carried it to the empty corner of the room. She began constructing a provisional laboratory setup on the now empty counter with the scientific equipment brought by her colleague that would enable her to immediately analyse the samples they obtained.

At the same time her colleague stripped the man naked and began a visual, non-invasive examination. Wearing surgical gloves, he touched the man’s body carefully, turning his head, torso and limbs towards the nearest light source in the room. He dictated simple yet exact data about the man’s physical state into a mobile phone on the bed.

Sinking slightly into the mattress and covered with a worn-out old sheet, the body was all twisted and contorted. Even though the man was in a physically unconscious state induced by the ketamine tablets that the woman had slipped into his cola, his torso and limbs still manifested muscle tension. The male scientist tried to relax part of his leg by massaging it, but it only responded by becoming even more twisted and tense.

The man was very thin to the point of emaciation. Only his belly showed signs of excess weight. A roll of fat was wrapped almost around his entire abdomen. The male scientist poked this layer of fat several times in disbelief, as if expecting it to unstick and fall off at any moment.

The brown pigmentation that the woman scientist had noticed out on the street covered most of his lower limbs and more than fifty percent of his upper limbs, as well as his abdomen, chest and back. His face was ash-white with caved-in cheeks and sunken eye sockets. Peering at them fixedly from the depths of consciousness, his eyes were vibrant with a kaleidoscope of colours. Geysers of black seemed to be erupting from his pupils, suffusing into various shades of brown and spreading out onto a steel grey foundation. Lifting his lips revealed a set of very worn teeth. Some were missing. There were irregularly spaced tufts of long hair on the top of his head. Some of it was white, some blonde, some brown.

Having completed his examination, the male scientist switched off the dictaphone application and turned on the camera. He began taking pictures of the limp body. He used a metric ruler, placing it next to the blotches and the hair on the man’s head. At the very end, he measured the man meticulously and tried to estimate his weight by lifting him.

Next, the scientists started taking their samples. They began by taking a blood sample, inserting a needle into the vein in his elbow pit with well-trained movements. Then they introduced a probe into his stomach through his mouth and oesophagus to take a sample of his gastric juices. Once they had conducted all the necessary tasks, they immediately began analysing the acquired specimens.

The young male scientist first separated the components of each sample in a centrifuge and then pipetted them onto glass slides that he placed into a small but powerful electronic microscope connected to his colleague’s laptop.

Her hands quivered more and more with each new specimen of scientific material she examined. At one point she could no longer contain her elation and blurted out an incoherent stream of words. It was clear from the tone of her voice and her intonation, however, that she was overjoyed about something, something new and unexpected.

She began explaining her preliminary conclusions to her colleague while showing him a series of several dozen electronic microscope photographs on the screen of the portable computer. Enlarged photographs of a virus whose existence they had been trying to confirm for several weeks were illuminated on the desktop of the operating system. It had been clear from the very first samples that they had had the possibility of studying under laboratory conditions that this parasitic protein was characterised by a very specific shape, as if it had been designed and manufactured by humans. It was remarkable in terms of its grey-brown coloration, which was at certain angles penetrated by a rainbow flash. At first glance it was not possible to determine its source. It appeared all of a sudden at a certain position – a specific alignment of virus and observer – and then disappeared again. On the pictures this optical phenomenon appeared to be an error of the recording device. Its structure was also unusual. It had a coiled tubular form terminating in a perfect lace pattern reminiscent of a skilfully folded decorative fringe cut out of many layers of paper. There was nothing here of the fascinating imperfection of repeating forms in nature; everything was identical, flawless.

The viral particles were only partially developed in the gastric specimens without any indications of parasitic activity. The virus was fully active in the blood samples, however. It had structured the infected cells into straight lines. These were constantly flexing in an effort to connect with other infected cells. Several photographs recorded a more complicated shape. This consisted of a triplet of cell lines connected together at one central point.

The view of the young woman scientist was clear: we have discovered a virus that can probably not only act as a parasite with respect to individual cells but can also interconnect cells in an unusual way. This could lead to the total domination and absolute control of the body of the host. As yet this is a hypothesis since we have no idea under what circumstances this takes place and what the virus gains through such complex and complicated activity. When the virus particles are extracted from their home environment, they start hibernating within tens of minutes. The moment they come into contact with the right host (probably exclusively human), they reactivate and begin once again attacking cells and creating complex connections between them.

Her colleague took in the information with a neutral expression on his face. The absent-minded drumming of his fingertips on the wooden desk of the dresser was a clear indication that he was agitated, however. He sat down on the floor and leant back on the wall. He looked at his colleague and said: “We will have to come back here.” The woman replied with an equally terse statement: “More than once.”

They sat opposite each other for a while longer. They needed time to calm their flustered nervous systems and consolidate what strength they had left to tidy up. Dawn was approaching and they wanted to leave the motel before its idiosyncratic residents woke up. The woman scientist once again took on the task of taking care of the equipment and put it all away. Concurrently, the male scientist dressed the lifeless man. He then helped his colleague put the possessions of the inhabitants back in their original places.

#SelfieNation no.286, 2022, photo: author’s archive

They exited the room just after 4am. They walked out onto the interconnecting balcony between the first-floor units and carefully closed the door behind them, turned around and froze in surprise. About fifteen locals were standing in the parking lot, staring fixedly in their direction with their heads tilted back. Both scientists were alarmed by this unexpected spatial arrangement of bodies. They were standing in front of these people for the second time and yet again a mixture of unwanted panic and unmanageable repulsion spread through their minds.

After a moment of reluctance, they walked towards the staircase. They descended it and headed towards their SUV. Beads of sweat rolled down their faces and necks, dripping down their shirt collars. Inevitably, they approached the largest gap in the row of bodies. They hoped it would provide safe passage. To their surprise, they walked through it without encountering any difficulties, no one tried to stop them.

It was slowly dawning on them that they had managed to negotiate the unpleasant situation and were going to get away without incurring any physical or psychological harm.

They opened the boot and put their equipment inside. Then they walked around the vehicle and as they were about to get in a man walked out from a poorly lit area and quickly headed towards them. Under a second later he was standing by the driver’s door. He prevented the surprised scientist from opening it.

Even before they had had time to look him over, he spoke to them: “Sorry to have startled you like that. This is very unpleasant for me. But I have to ask you not to come back to this place. You have no business being here. Your inappropriate actions are disturbing the peaceful cohabitation of this community. So, let me repeat once gain – leave and do not come back, it might not end well for you.” The woman looked into his eyes and with a very clear and distinct voice answered: “This might be a peaceful community, but at least one of its members requires medical attention and he will not get it in this environment and social situation.” The unknown man fixed his eyes on her and after a pause lasting several seconds he said in a seductive voice: “I won’t repeat myself. Nice meeting you.” Turning to leave he stopped for a moment and added: “Those people in there, they don’t belong to you. They belong to us.” The woman replied briskly: “You can’t own anyone. That’s not possible.” The unknown man looked at her sharply and with a firm and authoritative tone he said: “Maybe you can’t, but we can. We have the right.” The scientists looked at each other in shock and when they turned around again, the man was gone. In some inexplicable way he had managed to disappear, vanish in the dark.

They quickly got in the car, started it and headed for their hotel. On the way they tried to recall the appearance of the mysterious intruder. They had a vague impression of his elegant appearance, his exquisitely cropped hair, impeccably shaved face and excellently fitting suit, but they could not remember the shape of his figure or his facial features. The memory of the bewitching voice that he had used in an effort to subjugate them, to force his will upon them, resonated within them strongly, however.