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THE INTERNET PLAGUE OF 1777

Equus Press is proud to announce the publication of Damien Ober’s novel, Doctor Benjamin Franklin’s Dream America.

Fifty-six men signed the Declaration of Independence, this is the story of their deaths.

“Doctor Benjamin Franklin’s Dream America is as original as they come – an audacious, exuberantly imaginative novel about freedom and technology and the sacrifices each take from the other. Damien Ober is a writer to be reckoned with.” Scott O’Connor, author of Half World and Untouchable

For review copies, please contact us directly.

 

George Taylor :: February 23rd 1781

When they hit the edge of Easton, PA, Francis Hopkinson takes out that modified smartphone of his, peels off and starts a gallop around the perimeter of town. Thomas M’Kean keeps his horse pointed straight, down to a trot through the outer edges and onto Main Street. They’ve come because of the rumor that hit Philadelphia the morning before. Being said there that George Taylor has started feeling those stomach pangs that are always the first sign of The Death. The rumor must be real, a real rumor at least. No businesses open, the windows and doors all closed and latched, not a soul on the street. For M’Kean, it’s a flashback to how towns all across Pennsylvania looked during the outbreak. More than a year without a reported case and they’d begun to think that maybe the pestilence was passed.

When Congress first reconvened, M’Kean was put atop a sub-committee charged with investigating how an Internet-bound plague wiped out sixty-five percent of the population. In these efforts, Hopkinson has become his right hand man; the inventor/poet turned patriot shifted the focus of his vast left hemisphere onto unraveling exactly how The Death was spread. He and Doc Bartlett have speculated that some corruption in the feed may have caused a screen refresh rate capable of changing the physiology of the brain. But speculation is as specific as they’ve been able to get. As frightening as the news is, Hopkinson’s actually a little excited. For the first time, they might be able to get some new data on The Death. As Hopkinson circles town, taking readings, M’Kean is reaching George Taylor’s home.

The woman who answers the door gives M’Kean a hateful look, then steps aside. Over at the kitchen table, George Taylor sits with a glass and bottle, both half-empty. “Thomas M’Kean,” he says, “Chief Justice of Pennsylvania. In my house.”

“Don’t be a dick,” his wife tells him.

Taylor uses the wine glass to wave her suggestion away, gestures for M’Kean to have the chair opposite, wine sloshing as close to the rim as possible without spilling. The table around his elbow is dotted with stains of ages impossible to tell. “Word is you’ll be up for president of Congress. And me here with The Death. Worse off than the day before I started.”

M’Kean eyes him, a glance at that gut, The Death inside. “How sure are you?”

You must be. Must have left Philadelphia the second you heard.” George Taylor nods toward the front door and the town beyond. “Only in the last weeks had they begun to venture out. At first, seemed like only one in ten, but they’ve been eking out more and more. First town-wide count has the death rate just under fifty percent. Now this.”

“Fifty percent is a lot better than some places are reporting.”

From her spot at the sink, Mrs. Taylor clears her throat. “Got our daughter, Mr. Chief Justice.”

“Now every door in town is bolted. People running from me in the street.” George Taylor leans, wags a finger at M’Kean. “But you, you’re not scared of catching it?”

M’Kean sips calmly. “We may not know what The Death is. Not yet anyway. But we do know you can’t get it by sharing a wine bottle. Question becomes then, how did you get it? You haven’t been on the Internet, George? Not even a little?”

George Taylor looks at his stomach. Concentrates a moment. It was an hour earlier than this time three days ago that he felt the first twinge. He’d collapsed in his wife’s arms and cried and cried and cried, but when he looked up at her, her face was dry and her eyes distant and he hated her then.

There’s a knock at the door, and before any of them can move to answer it, Hopkinson comes in, holding that smartphone up for all to see. On screen is an app he programmed, and if you look into the touchscreen while the app is running, you see the world through the phone’s camera but with the Internet visible. He shows them the ghosted, flickering, mechanical structure that pokes and vanishes its way through the room around them. “Getting wild readings all over town.” Hopkinson takes off his hat, shakes his head so that long ponytail flops onto his shoulder; it sits there like another of those wild ideas half-escaped from his brain.

“I haven’t been on the Internet,” George Taylor finally says. “Not since they first told us that’s how The Death was spread.”

“Taylor is correct,” Hopkinson says. “No one seems to be accessing, but there sure is activity. Something is on the Internet. And it looks like more than just some old ad drones.”

Taylor nods at the smartphone, there in Hopkinson’s hand. “That thing of yours connected, Frank?”

A smile. “I wish. Still not safe.” He shows the Taylors a wire that comes out the bottom of the device and goes up his sleeve, hooks a thumb to indicate his backpack. “Wired right into some plug-and-play harddrives. A little portable Internet, in miniature, of course, but not connected to anything outside itself.”

“Frank here has some weird idea,” M’Kean says. “Thinks if we can figure out how The Death spreads, maybe we can use it.”

“Use The Death?”

M’Kean pops his eyes. “I know. He’s nuts.”

Hopkinson’s shaking his head. “Not use The Death, but perhaps some element of it. If we can pin down exactly how it spreads, harness that technology to spread something worth spreading, something beneficial for the country.”

“Something like what?”

But Hopkinson doesn’t answer. Says instead, “With your permission, George, I’d like to record some readings when it happens.”

“When what happens?”

Mrs. Taylor spits a laugh, “Can you believe these guys from Congress?”

George Taylor looks around, trying to get the energy, or the inclination to be offended. “Well, now I feel weird. Like you two are here just waiting for me to die.”

M’Kean fills all their glasses, even Hopkinson’s despite his protests. Ms. Taylor too, finally comes over from the sink. They break into a few hours of almost normal behavior, the three Signers swapping stories about their initial trip to Philadelphia, back when the Second Congress was first assembling. Seems like a world ago now.

They’re telling stories about John Witherspoon, The Father of the Founding Fathers, when George Taylor stops mid sentence. A pained look tightens into a scowl. A moment later, it loosens and his whole body slumps forward. M’Kean rushes around to help Taylor to the floor. His eyes have gone wild, scanning the air as if seeing through the faces leaned over him, off into that semi-visible Internet from Hopkinson’s phone.

And there it is, that smartphone and its dedicated Internet, hovering George Taylor’s face. It’s the last thing he sees: Hopkinson cracking a grin, staring into fresh data on The Death.

 

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About Equus Press

EQUUS was established in 2011 with the objective of publishing innovative & translocal writing.

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"Modernity today is not in the hands of the poets, but in the hands of the cops" // Louis Aragon
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