The most excellent Damon Lindelof has kindly offered to share a serialized story with NextDraft readers to help us, and him, through the quarantine. The first 10 chapters are here.

Chapter Eleven: Now That I’m Wearing a Mask, I Would Like My Superhero Name to Be “Anxiety Man.”

At long last, the pandas were fucking.

It was impossible to tell where Ying Ying ended and Le Le began, the two were a tumble of white and black fur, of husky growls and sharp-toothed bites. They had shared the enclosure in The Hong Kong Zoo for thirteen years and nothing had happened… but all along, the tension was building. They were the Jim and Pam of Pandas and the time for flirtation was over. The wistful looks over stalks of bamboo and inside jokes were but a decade of foreplay inevitably leading to this, its literal climax as Ying Ying issued a plaintive sigh, Le Le dismounting and collapsing beside her, finally, after all this time, laid laid.

Why now? Why after thirteen years had the two pandas chosen this precise moment in time to consummate their passions?

The answer, unfortunately, was the virus. The zoo had been shuttered for almost a month. No tourists. No children. No cameras. No screaming and crying and laughing and pointing. It was the pointing most of all that had destroyed Ying Ying and Le Le’s respective libidos and now that there was no one to point, their panda loins were hot and hard and wet. The zookeepers took photos and videos and put them on the internet and in no time there were memes of Le Le thrusting himself into Ying Ying emblazoned with block text that read “WHAT’S BLACK AND WHITE AND BRED ALL OVER?” or “PANDA-EMIC!”

A month later, Ying Ying was pregnant and five months after that, she gave birth to Chuang Chuang, a beautiful male that would grow up to be so virile that he would singlehandedly impregnate every viable female giant panda currently in captivity many times over. By 2030, the giant panda population would quadruple and like Genghis Khan and Frazier The Lion before him, Chuang Chuang would become legend, but not just legend, a savior. Decades would pass, then centuries… and all because of Chuang Chuang, this single super-spreader of panda seed, his kind was no longer endangered.

But there would be no Chuang Chuang without Ying Ying and Le Le fucking.

And there would be no Ying Ying and Le Le fucking without the virus.

This is what Elizabeth Rosenberg was considering as she sat in bed, furiously scribbling in her spiral notebook. Cause and effect. Intent and consequence. Pandas saved and pandas extinct.

“Holy shit, you’ve gotta see this!”

Elizabeth looked up to see George excitedly turning his laptop towards her. He was watching a(nother) Zoom video on YouTube, sixteen Brady Bunch boxes of identically clad men and women, all wearing… Jesus Christ, it couldn’t be…?
“… Pandas?”

“What? No…” said George, as if she’d said something ridiculous, “They’re penguins! And they’re all British celebrities!”

George was an anglophile. His parents had named him after King George the Sixth (“The Stuttering One!”) because they were also anglophiles. When George first brought her home for Thanksgiving, his folks had just about shit themselves with sheer joy when they learned she did not go by Liz or Lizzie or Beth but only Elizabeth and this particular affection would all be just positively delightful if not for the fact that years later, George’s mother’s heart literally exploded the moment she heard that The Crown was going to be on Netflix. Elizabeth had considered going back and preventing the show’s creation, but George’s mom was kind of a dip and The Crown was fucking amazing, so, y’know, probably best to just let that one be.

In spite of his mother’s untimely death, George still loved all things Britannia and was rattling off the famous people as he pointed them out on his laptop screen, sheltered in their own homes and inexplicably clad in Penguin onesies… “Oooh, there’s John Cleese and Gordon Ramsay and Adele and wow, Emmas Thompson and Watson and.. whoa, holy shit … Cumberbatch!”

Now George was explaining how all the Celebrities had been goaded by Graham Norton to dress as penguins and when Elizabeth asked him why penguins, George told her that the paradox of a people whose very nature was to maintain a stiff upper lip being so inexplicably silly was what made it so very British.

“Don’t talk to me about paradoxes.” sighed Elizabeth.

And why did she sigh?

Because she knew after forty-seven trips back there were still problems that needed solving.

Hillary was president and the pandas were fucking, but British celebrities were raising money for the NHS because Idris Elba was gone, and a world without Idris Elba was not a world that Elizabeth wanted to live in. So she scribbled in her notebook and prepared for trip number forty-eight, completely oblivious to the fact that her son Alden was hiding under the bed, waiting for his parents to go to sleep.

Waiting to get his hands on that notebook.

Waiting to put this shit right.

To be continued…