"I was given to understand that the problem is being caused by a mutation," said the minister hesitantly. "People with the mutation look different and act differently. They refuse to engage and become enraged if you trespass into their territory." He added wryly, "They stop buying things, and that has a lot of manufacturers upset."
The chief scientist for the department sighed. "That is the simple version, Minister. It's the version for the thirty second sound bite. There is a mutation, but its a viral or prion mutation, not a human one. If someone catches it, then it changes the way their genetic makeup works without changing the genes and chromosomes themselves. It does that by changing the way your proteins fold, and that changes the way they work."
"Why do you say viral or prion, Dr Keay? Don't you know?" The minister could just imagine some of the questions he was going to get, and right now he seemed to be the only member of Cabinet that the government could get to go out in public. He was going to get all the questions.
"It transmits like a virus, minister, but once it's in the body it acts like a prion." Dr Keay sighed. "My medical colleagues tell me that the neither the antivirals we have, nor the existing prion disease treatments seem to be effective. We can't stop it once it's in the body. Every time we think we've worked out a safety protocol to avoid transmission, we're proved wrong.
"So, once someone’s infected, what happens?" The minister opened the folder in front of him and looked at the top document, the closed the folder again.
"Colouration changes to begin with," started Dr Keay. "Thick gold rings around the irises. Head and body hair variations dependent on the natural striping pattern of the person involved."
"Wait, Dr Keay, humans don't have stripes!" The minister looked indignant.
"We do, actually, minister," the chief scientist corrected him. "They're called the lines of Blashko, and they're completely normal - until something like this happens. After that, we start getting behavioural changes with sufferers: refusing to live close to other households; apparently irrational anger at intrusion into the individual's personal space or living territory; and refusal to engage in wider society."
The minister interrupted, "When you say 'refuse to engage in wider society, Doctor, what do you mean?"
Dr Keay gathered her thoughts. "They move out of urban areas to districts with sparser populations. They make an effort to live off the grid, often using solar panels and their own wind farms. They often work to become as self-sufficient for their food supply as possible and develop local links to supplement their own production. They do buy from local stores, but limit their time in them, and are generally uninterested in working with others outside their residential group. That means that they generally have little disposable income, which in turn reduces their consumption of manufactured goods, financial services, and specialist services in general.
"Which is why sections of the commentariat are claiming that society is breaking down," concluded the minister.
"Yes," the scientist agreed. "Certainly, there is currently disruption, but I don't know that we can predict the dissolution of human society based on the current situation. We are an adaptable species, and although we may be facing a major change in the way we work, I don't believe this is going to wipe us out."
The minister smile wryly again and opened his folder. As he turned it around to show her the top document, he asked, "Dr Keay, in your opinion, what are our chances of getting these members of the Cabinet, Parliament, and senior bureaucracy to work remotely?"
She looked at the document, and then looked up again. "Minister, why do you ask?"
"This is this morning's current list of infections. If I'm going to be the acting Prime Minister, I'd like someone to actually say so. Can you help me talk to the Governor General about this? In half an hour?"
"Half an hour?"
"It's what we've got," replied the minister. "That's when he wants to see me, and I've been warned out that there'll be a press conference afterwards."
"I didn't dress for that," Dr Keay looked down at her lab-casual outfit.
"You look like you've come from the scientific coalface," he replied. "Credibility is good, it's certainly helping me right now."This entry was originally posted at https://rix-scaedu.dreamwidth.org/102802.html. There have been comments there.