Decontamination

I remember well when the virus was first detected in human blood. At first, there were tons of speculation as to how the virus came into existence: most of our world’s leading scientists said it was the result of the HIV virus evolving, as a defensive mechanism against our cure for it; the Roman Catholic Pope, at that time, said it was God’s wrath sent upon us for our many sins—especially the sins of pride, homosexuality and other forms of “sexual immorality.” At the time, I didn’t buy any of it: this virus is something new, something no one has ever seen before. It’s not the next stage in the HIV chain of evolution or God’s punishment against a planet full of sinful people. All of this speculative crap is a red herring to the real problem: finding a cure. Of course I became much more involved in the lobbying politicians to allot more funds for research for a cure after I contracted the virus simply referred to—quite unscientifically—as Unknown X.

This Unknown X is a pretty contemptible virus: it morphs its receptor’s shape like the HIV virus, making it very difficult to create a cure for, because the white blood cells or medicine can’t latch onto them to defeat it. It is transmitted through the air, water, food, human excretions, and bodily fluids. Yeah, I know you’re like, “What the hell? How come the world isn’t destroyed?!” Well, I’m going to tell you why not: not everyone contracts the same strand of this virus; it’s very selective. That’s a scientific fact, too; not like the “assumptions” back in the 1980s, when HIV was first discovered, when everyone thought only homosexual men could get the virus. So who is susceptible to contract this virus, I bet you’re wondering. I have the answer—but you’ll have to read further for it.

Ok, so now I’ve explained how prevention and curing are impossible for this virus and disease, let me tell you a little about X —that’s the name of the disease one acquires from the Unknown X virus. X kills, but very slowly. It’s as annoying as Chinese water torture, but is much more prolonged. X destroys you from the inside out. The virus likes to feed and eat on human tissue—but it’s smart, too! It’s not some mindless glutton, feasting on anything and everything without planning or care. In fact, the virus has a blue print plan in its DNA. The blue print calls for it to eat up the tissue of the non-vital organs first. The tonsils are usually the first to go; that is if you haven’t had them removed already. A finger, toe, and your hair are usually devoured soon afterwards; and so-on-and-so-on until the brain and spinal cord are chewed up and you die. Well, sometimes patients die before X gets to the brain and spinal cord, but X will still eat up a contracted body that’s dead, until there’s nothing left. And then X moves on to a next victim. Even though it destroys the host, Unknown X is programmed to keep the host alive as long as it can; which can be anywhere from one month to forty years, depending on the strand.

Let me explain a little bit about what I mean by the virus eating.  It doesn’t eat in our way of thinking; but as it multiplies in the cell, utilizing the cell’s ability to reproduce (which most viruses lack), the virus takes over the host cell. Yet, the offspring viruses have an outside coating that is corrosive to the delicate membranes of the cell. Eventually, the cell’s membranes are eaten through and devoured.  True, this is certainly strange, and something that most viruses don’t perform, but Unknown X fits the other criteria of a virus, so it’s categorized by our scientists as a virus.

Treatment for this disease went as followed: during the first five years since the disease appeared those infected were studied and tested upon by scientists and doctors like a guinea pig—most of them contracted the disease themselves, regardless of their protective gear. Experimental medicines came next, but they just killed the patients a lot quicker; X seemed to eat faster when being attacked by antibodies and such. The Age of Medicine lasted about another fifteen years, but since nothing was being improved and more people were being infected every day, the World Forum on Incurable Illnesses—which was formed in response to the worldwide X epidemic—came to the grand and benevolent conclusion to quarantine all those known to be infected with the disease in small decontamination camps worldwide; for us to rot away and die at a distance from our loved ones. That’s a pretty cruddy way to treat those already suffering from a deadly and untreatable disease, if you ask me. I’d rather have been taken before a firing squad and shot in the head; that would’ve been more humane.

Yeah, there are about 2.5 billion out of 10 billion worldwide people infected with X, all crammed in about half million decontamination camps worldwide. How many people are to a camp, I don’t have a clue; you do the math. All I care about is that my wife and I are in this damn camp; our two little children, Bob and Jessie, were here too, but they died last year.

It was on the day my only children died from X complications that I decided to get some answers. I wanted to know why I had to outlive my children—my only heirs to the rest of the world. I needed to hear a reason or an excuse why my wife cries herself to sleep every night, why she refuses to eat, and why she’s most likely going to be the next person to die. Damnit, I needed to know!

That was when I walked into the director’s office and asked the conference computer module what the heck was being done to prevent more deaths. I spoke loudly into the microphone that was connected to a monitor showing the director’s sweat-covered, beaming face.

“Mr. Hunt,” I said, “what measures are being taken to prevent more deaths in this camp?”

Mr. Hunt looked at me quizzically and said, “Well, to be frankly honest with you, none.”

“What the hell do you mean by that? You mean to tell me that we’re all sent here just to die?”

The streaming video image of Mr. Hunt shrugged. “You said it, not me.”

I was flabbergasted and couldn’t speak for a moment. I stood there, jaw-dropped and shaking, trying to comprehend such a heinous act it was to send sick people to camps to simply die without medical treatment.

“Don’t look at me like that,” pled Mr. Hunt. “What do you want me to do? Send you guys all free so you can infect the rest of humanity? Give me a break; I don’t want that, and, deep down, you don’t want that, either. Just think about it: once all of you guys die, then the world would be rid of Unknown X; you guys are heroes.”

“Heroes?” I nearly laughed at the ridiculous thought.

“Yes, heroes. You’re sacrificing your freedom and your lives so that others may live. If that isn’t a hero, I don’t know what one is.”

Mr. Hunt had a point, but I was so grief-stricken I didn’t want to accept it. There isn’t anything heroic about wasting away in a bleak, lifeless building, with no sun, and where at least one person perishes every day. My idea of heroism is getting a gold medal in the Olympics, being a firefighter and saving someone from a burning building, going to war and perform acts that’ll get you a Purple Heart or some other type of medal. But simply lying down to die makes you a hero? That’s a ludicrous thought.

“Well,” I said, “can you at least riddle me this: where did Unknown X come from?”

Mr. Hunt’s face went pale and he swallowed hard. “I don’t have the authority to disclose that information.”

“Who the hell has that authority?”

“No one. But ask Daniel Graves; he should know.”

“Ok…who the hell is Daniel Graves?”

“I’m not supposed to be doing this, but I understand your grief from the loss of your two kids today. Ten years ago my eldest boy died from X, so I know your pain.” That was a shock to my system, I had no clue his boy had died from X.

“Daniel Graves is in an African decontamination camp located seventy miles north of the Cape of Good Hope,” continued Mr. Hunt. “You have my permission to visit him.”

That was that; Mr. Hunt’s face vanished from the monitor and a robot orderly escorted me back to my cell. My wife was on the bed crying her heart out, and I wrapped my arm around her, to give her the best comfort I could.

“Why?” she said to me with sad, imploring hazel eyes. “Why couldn’t they have been spared and one of us had died?”

“That’s how it is in this crazy world,” I answered. I stroked her long auburn hair gently—X had yet to devour that gorgeous head of hair, but she had already lost her ovaries and five random digits on her hands and feet.

That night we cried ourselves to sleep. We held together in a tight embrace that only a robot orderly bursting into our room the next morning could interrupt.

That trashcan-on-wheels contraption didn’t even knock on the door before entering, but barged in at around six o’clock in the morning. Without a word, it snatched me up in its cold, metal clamps, dragging me away from my wife, who followed after me, but was then restrained by another robot. The damn machine towed me through the resident’s rooms area, down to the lounge, where a congregation of the patients on this floor were—what else—lounging around. You can only imagine my embarrassment watching people with three to no limbs gawking and pointing at me, laughing away. I gave them the only middle finger I had left as I passed them, and with my free hand I grabbed my crouch. That showed them.

Without a word, the robot orderly hauled me to the garage containing extra-luminous-speed vehicles. The robot threw me in one, pushed a few buttons on the dashboard, closed the door and stepped away. Off I went…where to, I didn’t know at the time.

In about a few hours, I was in the landing station of a decontamination camp that looked foreign to my own. A bunch of robot orderlies opened the cockpit and yanked me out forcefully. They began talking to me in some sort of foreign accent, but they spoke English very well. They set me on my feet, and I was ordered to follow one of them. Still in somewhat of amazement, I just went with the flow and didn’t say a word.

The robot I was following informed me that this was the African decontamination camp that Mr. Hunt had talked to me about the day before. The robot had been given strict orders to take me to one named Daniel Graves, and then to escort me back to return to my own decontamination camp an hour afterwards.

Daniel Graves’ resident room was in a separate wing from the other patients. He was quarantined from the other patients—a double-sentence, seeing how he was also distanced from the rest of humanity. Daniel’s room was not dissimilar from my own; just a metal box-in-a-wall with a bed, desk, and a closet, all composed of metal.

A black-as-midnight man sat in a wheelchair at the other end of the entrance. He nodded his head, and the robot orderly that had escorted me left the chamber, the door sliding closed after it. The man pressed a button on a console on the right armrest, utilizing a long stick held in his mouth, since he was without arms or legs. Regardless of him being limbless, his torso was thick and muscular—how he stays built like that beats me.

“Who the hell are you?” he said after a minute of silence, his words muffled by the stick in his mouth.

“I’m an X patient like you.”

“Where you from?”

“I’m sentenced to die in the decontamination camp in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. of A.”

That statement got a laugh out of Daniel; his bald head bobbed up and down as he chuckled.

“I like you,” he said. “The name’s Daniel Graves.”

I nodded and said, “I figured that much. I was sent here by Mr. Hunt to talk to you.”

Graves smiled gravely. “Mr. Hunt…. I remember that sneaky little cunt. What did he send you here to talk to me about?”

“My kids just died from X complications yesterday, and I want to know why my children died. I want to know where this accursed disease came from!”

He seemed moved by my words, and offered me to sit on his bed. I did so, and he said, “First of all, I need to know what you did before you became infected with Unknown X.”

“I was a chemistry professor.” (Surprise, surprise! I bet you guys thought I was just some uneducated loser, now didn’t you?)

Daniel nodded his approval and began explaining things to me. “I’d like to apologize about the death of your kids; especially since I’m somewhat responsible for their deaths, as well as the deaths of billions of others.

“About twenty-five years ago, after modern man found a cure for HIV and AIDS, the population flourished at unseen numbers. The world still didn’t want to believe that HIV was created by man as a form of population control device, but those with like minds as the politicians of the late 20th century couldn’t stand the thought of an overpopulated Earth. Therefore, a worldwide forum was held, hosted by your beloved United States, Canada, Australia, and Great Britain. South Africa, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, China, and Japan also attended that conference. It was decided upon for man to improve upon the HIV program and create Unknown X. I was one of the scientists commissioned to devise such a deadly virus.

“All the aforementioned countries wanted to get rid of certain groups: South Africa wanted to kill all the white Africans, Australia wished to eradicate the aboriginals, and the U.S. had tried for centuries to commit genocide against every other race besides the White one, and the other countries had their various ethnic groups to dispose of. So we scientists created multiple strands of Unknown X to kill off these peoples. But somehow the strands got mixed into one heterogeneous mixture, stolen, and then spread across the world. That’s why it appears that you never know who’s going to be infected, because you don’t know which strand you’ve come into contact with. But, eventually, the entire world will be eaten by this deadly creation.

“This virus, this Unknown X, is unbeatable. I guess I should be proud.” He chuckled a little; a sad, disheartening chuckle. “But I’m not. Unknown X changes shape, as you well know, given your background. Also, it does something even worse: treatment makes it eat faster because it becomes frightened—for lack of a better word—and calls upon the cell to multiply more of its genetic makeup at a quicker pace. The more one tries to prevent it, the quicker it kills, and it gains the ability to infect other people than it was originally designed for. Also, the different strands can cross-breed when infecting the same host, even if one strand isn’t designed to kill that particular person. This happens when the DNA codes of the separate strands mix and intermingle in the host cell, thus creating something totally different.”

“That’s some sick shit you and those other scientists did to the entire world,” I interjected, the anger in me boiling over.

“Look at me!” he shouted. “Don’t you think I realize that now? I got infected by my own damn virus! This is my punishment; karma sure is a bitch.”

“So what the hell are we supposed to do?”

“I’m going to rot and die, away from the same humanity I cursed. But you, you’re going to tell the world about the wickedness I committed against my fellow man.” He began to shift in his wheelchair, until his back was facing me.

“Quickly,” he commanded, “pull down my pants, reach up my rectum and retrieve the disk containing all the vile information that you need. I’ve stuck it up there years ago, and now it’s time for the world to know.”

I was understandably repulsed and disgusted by the idea of sticking my hand up someone else’s ass. “Umm, why don’t I call one of the robot orderlies to do all that…?”

“Their metal clamps are too big, man! You need to do it.”

I thought about the proposition once more, twice more, and then came to my decision. I immediately walked out the door and asked the robot orderly, which stood guard, to escort me back to my extra-luminous-speed vehicle so I could return to my wife.

 

As soon as I returned to my home decontamination camp, I went straight to my room and saw my wife there on the bed, head down, still grieving our dead children. Seeing that sad face and knowing that I had blown my chance to bring those responsible to justice because of my own pride just made me snapped. I wasn’t even thinking properly anymore—my mind was flooded with thoughts of guilt, anger, mourning, and hatred. I did the only thing a man could do: I went berserk on the closest being to me.

No, I didn’t go berserk on my wife; I’d never hit a woman. I just grabbed the metal chair at our desk, stormed out the room, and beat one of those bastard robot orderlies to a mass of broken machinery. Somehow this action excited the other patients, and they grabbed chairs and began busting up those damn robots. Before I knew it, a full-fledged riot broke out. I mean, there were tables and chairs flying, monitors on fire, piles of broken robots littered in the common rooms.

And that was when the huge, laser rifle toting patient control bots came about. Those things were just huge metal blocks with legs and arms, stomping like they own the place, blasting anyone holding or sitting upon a chair.

I guess my rage blinded me for a moment, because I had no fear for the patient control bots. I ran up behind one, chair overhead, and bashed its central processing unit in. Then I grabbed its rifle and began shooting down the other bots.

The rioting patients that survived grabbed up the fallen bots’ rifles and joined me in the hunt. About fifteen of us rebelling humans beat back like thirty of the bots. We then sealed off our ward and planned our escape or whatever the hell we were trying to do. I was named the leader, and I didn’t know what the heck I was leading us into.

I got up on one of the tables, gazed over my followers and delivered this amazing speech:

“Brethren and friends, listen to me! We’ve all been poisoned by our beloved governments! This Unknown X virus was created by our governments as population control! But they made this virus too strong, and those infected must now be placed in decontamination camps to protect the general public. They would like to call us heroes, but I don’t see shit heroic about dying like animals!

“What we need to do is bust down these walls and re-enter society! Men aren’t supposed to live like this: cooped up inside these metal walls until we die. Men are supposed to live free in the great outdoors. We’re not criminals! What did we do to deserve this? Our only crime is being born at a time when our world leaders have the audacity to choose who should live and who should die! I say fuck them! You heard me, fuck them! This is our life, this is our world, let’s fight for it!”

That was a great speech, if I do say so myself. The crowd erupted in cheers of defiance and insurrection, we pumped our rifles over our heads, we yelled our rage against the political machine, we huffed and puffed until we became purple in the face, and then my wife grabbed me by the arm and pulled me off the table. She looked deep into my eyes and shook her head.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she chastised me. “Why are you loading these poor, desolate people’s heads with all this revolution nonsense? True, it’s fucked up if you’re right about the government creating this virus and all, but what good does it do us to break out of this camp and run free around uninfected society? All we’re going to do is infect everyone else in the world. We just lost our children; do you want to take away another parent’s child?”

My rage began to quell, but I still had enough of it left to offer a retort. “If we all die like dogs in here and the Unknown X virus becomes extinct, the only thing the cruddy world leaders have to do is decide that the world’s population is too great again and just invent another virus as population control! It’s a circle that must be stopped—”

“And infecting everyone else in the world is the way to stop it, right?” she interjected. “Because that’s the only conclusion this little rebellion is going to bring about. If the world leaders feel like making another Unknown X virus, let them. Let the blood of billions be on their hands, on their souls. But don’t you go out there and taint your conscious with the blood of innocents just because you don’t like being cooped up here.

“Hell, I don’t think any of us likes it here—the food sucks, the rooms suck, the clothes suck, there’s no music and our cable sucks, we can’t go outside to see the sun; it just sucks—but we know it must be done for the better good. There’s about two and a half billion of us in these camps, and roughly ten billion people in the world: which is the greater number? How many people will be saved if we just die?

“But we’re not dying like dogs; we’re dying as men and women, because we’re giving up our own lives, our own hopes, our own dreams, our own goals so that a new generation can achieve theirs. We have a chance to do something good and benevolent and wonderful with our lives with our deaths; let’s die peacefully, bury all grudges and hatreds and spend the rest of our lives in love, fellowship and harmony. Let’s show the world that love still exists, and that there are people who can love just to love, not for some sort of reward.”

I have to admit that my wife’s speech blew my earlier one out the water. My little posse of rebels grew content and tranquil after hearing those words; the sound of rifles clanking against the floor filled the air. We unlocked our ward and allowed robots to pick up the dead and the destroyed to be thrown in the incinerator.

My band of rebels didn’t face any repercussions from our short-lived revolution; Mr. Hunt thought it best to stay punishment, seeing that our illness was tough enough on us. We went on with our mundane and drab existence in peace from then on; trying to live a virtuous life while we still had life in our bones. I even made peace with the other patients I made vulgar gestures at when I was being dragged to Africa.

I guess the moral of this story is—and yes, there is a moral—that life’s too short and too precious to be self-centered, proud, vicious, and just plain old mean. The world is bigger than your puny little body, your raggedy-ass house and car, your stupid dead-end job, and your ungrateful circle of family and friends. There are a lot of people out there! And the world isn’t going to stop turning if you don’t get your way—you are not that important! We’re all just a drop of piss in the toilet bowl of life…if that makes any sense. Sometimes we have to sacrifice our wants and greed and desires and selfishness so that others can have a better life—or life at all.

And on that note, I say, fare thee well, reader, fare thee well! Thank you for taking the time to read my memoirs. Remember, Love, Peace, and Sacrifice, baby…Love, Peace, and Sacrifice.


*This short story appears in free eBook Stranger Than Speculative Fiction, Vol. 1.