The vaccine was a resounding success. Yes, there had been a final death rate of 10% among the vaccinated, but this was mostly among the elderly or the already ill, so it was probably not the vaccine’s fault, and if it was, no one could prove it one way or another, and even if they could, well, the vaccine manufacturers were not liable to lawsuits due to the agreements they had made with the various governments.
In any case, the pandemic had ended, that was for sure.
Of course the masks and the lockdown mandates continued to be enforced; the reason was that while the pandemic had most certainly been defeated, the virus still existed in its natural form somewhere out there, and so it was vital to continue with the safety procedures to avoid any possible resurgence of the disease.
So what? People got used to it, as they had gotten used to so many other things before that. And was wearing a mask in the end much worse than wearing a helmet or a safety belt? Was being forced to stay at home for a few months every year much different than being forced to be at the office working for five days out of the seven in the week? Rules are rules, and those were not as bad as others that had been instituted in the past.
But there was something that worried the authorities. While most people had predictably complied with the mandatory vaccination campaign, there were a few groups that had refused them, alleging religious or health reasons, and found refuge in rural communities living off the grid. They had abandoned the use of mobile and network technology and so could not be traced so easily, and, since non-digital cash had been abolished, they appeared to have returned to a form of commerce based in the exchange of physical goods.
At first, the authorities ignored them; most people saw them as a minority of loser hicks, “anti-vaxxers” as they had been called in earlier pre-scientific times, and since it was unlikely that too many among the masses would opt for such a harsh lifestyle away from the comforts of modern urban life, they were not seen as a menace.
But what happened, in the end, was that rumours started to appear, even in the cities, about small communities where no one needed to wear masks, and people were dancing and smiling, and food was delicious and natural and people were even – gasp! – falling in love and procreating in natural ways.
Of course this was an obvious and mendacious falsity, but the authorities could not permit such fairy tales to gain acceptance among the people at large. So they started to persecute “the great unvaxxed”, as they called them, or the “free renegades” as they preferred to call themselves.
Their communities were dispersed. Their leaders were arrested. Planting organic, unmodified seeds became illegal.
It was dangerous, the authorities alleged. Non-genetically modified crops were unsafe and could lead to sickness or birth defects. Many of the people who lived in the previously free rural communities were arrested and forcibly vaccinated, or were killed in shootings with the police.
But in the end it was not possible to arrest or forcibly vaccinate them all. Now, hidden among the normal population, using fake certificates, there lived an undisclosed number of unvaccinated people, whom the authorities had been unable to locate or identify.
A young woman named Miranda, who was born in a barn in the literal sense, and never vaccinated, was one of them. When organic farming was prohibited and most of the land was taken over by large companies using mechanized agriculture, she was forced to move to a small village where she subsisted doing odd jobs and occasionally teaching art classes. She had learned drawing and painting sill as a child, and was quite talented; she could sing very well too.
She had a fake vaccine certificate that looked for all purposes almost identical to the real ones, and while a bio-test could determine that she had not really taken the shot, or the “jab” as it was popularly called, she was careful never to be in any position that could require any kind of test.
For a few years she and hundreds of others like her had subsisted in this manner, but it was not ideal and never easy. Because before at least the renegades could live freely in their own communities, under their own rules, but now they had to hide and wear masks and follow dictates like everyone else, so what was the point? If they could not be free in any case, why not do like all the others and just take the jab and be done with it?
Miranda thought about it sometimes. But she had promised her parents – who had died in a shootout with the police – that she would always remain faithful to their ideals. And so she refused to compromise. She knew, or hoped, that the current tyranny could not be maintained forever. She wanted to believe that it would be possible, one day, to be free again.
Finally, they got her. It was her own stupid mistake; she was outside, a routine patrol was approaching and she had left her fake certificate at home. This would not normally happen, but she had recently bought a new jacket and had forgotten the certificate in the pocket of the old one.
Walking around without a certificate was illegal, so they had to scan her arm, finding no signs of vaccination, and later a second test found no trace of antibodies in her system. Unable to explain the reason, or to produce a valid vaccine certificate – she knew now that the fake one she had at home would now be microscopically analyzed and would not be useful any longer – she was taken to the local jail, and later to a federal prison.
“There is an easy way out of this”, said Captain Antoine Huxley-Ehrlich, chief of the Vaccine Resistance Unit. “Just take the jab, and you’ll be free.”
“Never”, replied Miranda. “You’ll have to do it by force.”
That was an option, of course, and legally possible with the recent change in the constitution. But it was not what Antoine wanted. No, she had to freely choose the vaccine. Not only because otherwise she could have become a martyr and inspire other rebels, or because people could start to think that there really was something bad or sinister about the vaccine; but because he firmly believed that winning by persuasion was better than winning by force, and he was convinced of his own righteousness.
He could not understand her stubborn refusal – hadn’t he, like all others, voluntarily taken the vaccine? As a member of the upper classes, he reminded her, he was not required to do it at the time; and yet he had volunteered. Why? Because he believed in law and order, but, most of all, because he believed in the vaccine.
He was sure that sooner or later he would be able to convince her that her uneasiness with the medication had only been caused by the trauma of her childhood experiences, living in a harsh rural area and watching her parents die as criminals fighting the law.
But Miranda was indeed very stubborn. She refused all the options she was given. She preferred jail to vaccination and denial to compromise. She even refused to see a psychiatrist. So she lingered in prison for months and months.
One day, the warden brought to her cell a new book that she had requested from the prison library – Civil Disobedience, by Thoreau. As she began to read, she found a handwritten note stuck between the first pages. “When you get your dinner tonight, ask for salt”, it said. “A friend”, it was signed.
Who could that be? She was puzzled, as it was years since she last had any contact with anyone else from her former community. But later that evening, as the warden brought her dinner, she meekly asked if she could have an extra amount of salt. The warden didn’t betray any sign of recognition or suspicion; she just brought her a small white salt-shaker. There was nothing unusual about it, but when Miranda opened it, from the bottom, she found a small magnetic key and another note inside.
The note explained that the key would open her cell door, and that all the security guards had either been bribed or put out to sleep. She could safely escape. Further instructions indicated how to reach a cabin in the woods nearby where she would be able to join her colleagues from the resistance movement.
She waited until midnight; when all was silent, she tried the key. It worked. She slowly walked out of her cell, then out of the prison, undisturbed.
She followed the instructions to cover her face with a mask and her hair with a veil to avoid recognition. She was afraid a patrol would stop her as she left the city, as police presence was constant and sometimes there were curfews, but all the time she saw only a small group of policemen that she had no trouble evading.
She walked for several hours; the note had been clear that she should avoid any form of public transportation. It was already morning when she reached the destination informed, a few miles outside town.
She knocked. No one answered. But she turned the handle and realized that the door was unlocked. She entered, very quietly, as if afraid to disturb the eerie silence. Finally, she saw a man sitting in an armchair, his back turned to her. He was wearing a dark jacket and a black fedora hat.
“So you’re finally here”, he said. She seemed to recognize the voice, although she couldn’t quite locate it. Was it perhaps someone from her old community?
Then he turned towards her. It was Antoine Huxley-Ehrlich.
It had been a trap, of course. The idea was to raise her hopes only to crush them, as an additional form of torture, an elaborate cat-and-mouse game. Also, now that she had tried to escape and join a rebel movement, she could be accused of sedition and other charges. She could easily be tried by a military court and condemned to death.
And that was exactly what happened.
She was offered a full pardon in exchange for vaccination, but still she refused. If she had to die, then she might as well die on her own terms. Like Saint Joan or the early Christian martyrs, she’d rather burn at the stake or be thrown to the lions than renege.
They could not convince her to get the “jab”, but they also did not want to turn her into some sort of hero for a cause, even if a crazy and hopeless one. So they decided that the execution would be done in secret, and the official story would be that, since she had refused several times the vaccination, she was never immune to the virus and had finally contracted the disease.
Today Miranda will be shot. She refused all offers for public announcements of regret and even a last meal. She also refused the blindfold; she did not want anything to cover a single part of her face.
As the executioners raise their rifles, Miranda is not afraid. Her golden hair flutters in the wind, and she looks up at the soldiers with a confident smile. She knows that they can kill her body, but they cannot touch her soul.
And as she waits for the bullets to slowly arrive, Miranda sings a song that she remembers from her childhood, a song that her mother taught her and perhaps she also sang before she died:
And when you come and all the flowers are dying
If I am dead, as dead I well may be
You’ll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an Ave there for me.
TE Creus is a writer, translator and filmmaker. He is the author of “Our Pets and Us: The Evolution of a Relationship” and the collection of short stories “The Sphere”. He’s the editor of Contrarium.
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