ARIA: Alien Retrograde Infectious Amnesia
Today, Jack caught a bug at work. He catches a bus home. By the time he disembarks in the desert town of Rosamond, all the other passengers and the driver have fuzzy heads. Jack had caught an amnesia bug, and it’s infectious.
Imagine the ramifications:
The passengers arrive home, infecting family; some shop en route infecting everyone they meet. The bus driver receives more passengers giving them change for last week’s prices and today’s amnesia. Some passengers work at the power plant, the water treatment works, the hospital, fire station. All shut down in weeks.
One man, Ryder Nape, realizes what’s going on, but can he persuade friends to barricade themselves in a secluded valley, hiding from the amnesia bug?
“Geoff Nelder inhabits Science Fiction the way other people inhabit their clothes.”
— Jon Courtenay Grimwood
“Geoff Nelder's ARIA has the right stuff. He makes us ask the most important question in science fiction--the one about the true limits of personal responsibility.”
Robert J. Sawyer calls ARIA a “fascinating project.”
“ARIA has an intriguing premise, and is written in a very accessible style.”
Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from Chapter 38
Valence, France. An uninfected group collect an alien case and argue with Ryder in the South Pacific on what to do with it.
The dawn gained entry through the ancient, narrow windows of the Music Academy. Françoise had earned a violin scholarship at the gawky age of thirteen and spent five years in melodious bliss. School friends tripled and the tremulant matured. Tears splashed onto the desk at which she’d theorised all those years ago, in this very classroom. Her blurred vision made out the old-fashioned blackboard with its white-painted staves. A chalked fragment of a Brahms violin scherzo played silently at her, increasing the tear cascade. She shuddered at the thought that there would be no more composers, no orchestras or throngs of applauding enthusiasts.
On her right, Elodie used to sit and doodle in her theory books–the dippy but talented Elodie who died on the bridge at La Voulte with a bullet in her back. The classroom remained empty but for the echoes. An open window flapped somewhere, inviting in the wind, whispering down corridors. In each chair sat ghosts of her former school friends, and they smiled at her. Hallucination cruelly impinged, but the message she received crescendoed loud and clear. She had to justify her survival. Her tears dried as she stood and called out their names and that of their professor, Madame Barros. No more sweet Françoise.
Three days later, Françoise and Bono stood behind the open rear door of their Volkswagen dormobile. They’d had an arduous day travelling, but now, they were back at the university campus outside the only building left intact after the aliens blasted away their friends a few weeks ago. That was payback for their cunning act of poisoning the aliens, but the cycle of retaliation hadn’t finished and wouldn’t until there was no more in her to give.
They both wore head torches. Hers illuminated their shiny prize in the vehicle, his on her.
Like a maniac with round, bloodshot eyes, Françoise stared at the alien case. She wanted to plant it on a Zadokian ship on its empty return journey. It would have to be supplemented with an explosive, but Bono knew how to build booby-trap devices. She recalled last night’s radio conversation and admired how cool she’d been.
“No, Françoise,” Ryder had said, “it needs a human contact for the case to open. It could be that it’d arrive on Zadok, you set off an almighty explosion, and obliterate the ship but leave the case shiny and untouched.”
“It’s a risk I’m prepared to take. I can’t experiment with it to see if tying up a Zadokian so that he falls on the case will open it, can I?”
“We know that their skin and blood are different to humans. Anyway, he’d be dead by the time he reached Zadok.”
“I’ve been thinking about that. Has Antonio quizzed his Zadokian on how they survived their journey?”
“That might be possible, because they wouldn’t need to expend a lot of energy sitting around for over eight years. Antonio has had little luck figuring out more. Probably because his prisoner is largely clueless as to what happened between getting strapped in the craft and landing on Earth. We suspect they must be put in some kind of suspended animation.
“Françoise, how are you going to detonate the explosives once the craft reaches Zadok? We have no idea how long it takes, at least nine years, so you can’t use a timing device.”
Françoise seethed with another delaying tactic but ignored him. “You told me this case is the ultimate human killer, to mop up survivors?”
“We believe so. The aliens must prefer the absence of humans to an unpredictable danger. We assume there is something about the domes that would give them protection.”
“What makes you say that?”
“I’m not sure I should tell you too much, Françoise. I’d rather you wait, get through your grieving for Elodie and the other students.”
“Damn you, Ryder.” She’d kept her anger under control in the hope of sweet talking him, but the wily man had seen through her. Her steam was up and the safety valve to stop her had flipped. “It’s all right for you, lying on a deckchair, soaking up tropical sunshine in complete isolation. We’re vulnerable here, surrounded by festering bodies, feral animals, aliens, and their controlled geriatric lunatic humans. It’s Dante’s Inferno. We’ll be lucky to survive another week, so we’re going to send their poison back to them.”
“But, it might not be–” She cut off the connection and threw the NoteCom on the ground in case a future conversation with Ryder changed her mind.