Zero

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Istanbul, Turkey
August
09:12:09 AM

I am at a small outdoor cafe just a few hundred yards from the teeming throng of a morning market, just in sight of the Bosporus. I love this city, and all its thick and violent contradictions. The rising heat of the day is already causing the linen of my suit to cling to my legs.

I awoke last night with a change of heart; you are owed an explanation, and even a warning. If I do as I have planned, I and my actions will be vilified, and misunderstood. Please believe me, I am doing this for all the right reasons. You may not see it now, but in ten or twenty years, you will see a new world born. That is worth any sacrifice.

I have done my work here in Istanbul, the first of many great cities to see, and I board a plane tomorrow. Don’t bother looking for me here.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan
September
05:04:20 AM

I am in one of the oldest settlements of mankind, and her majesty overwhelms me, just as her descent saddens me. Once the jewel of Alexander’s conquest, and the capital of Tamarlane’s empire, she has fallen into disrepair and goes fallow with neglect. I must confess knowing this already, but forgive my sense of romanticism; I did want to see this place, once.

I have no work to do here; once the junction of trade lanes between East and West, Samarkand has become isolated and useless to me. But the ghosts of her history and past bring me strength and resolve. The case that I carry with me is heavy in my hand, it is my burden, but with each stop, that burden lessens.

I have allowed myself this one folly, leaving the web for a moment, but I will not linger long.

Munich, Germany
September
08:05:18 AM

The city still sleeps late into the morning on Saturday, and in many places the streets are still empty. There is a grand majesty of Munich’s remaining prewar buildings, and I remarked on its beauty to my local driver. “It was a lot nicer before the British bombed us,” he said without a hint of irony. He was at least two generations removed from the war, and did not seem, or want, to understand when I told him that London had the same problem.

Most of humanity is horrified by the specter of the war, of what happened here. They wonder how man could be so inhumane. These people know nothing of the world, or of nature, red in tooth and claw. These are the people that artificially elevate humanity above the animal kingdom, people that maintain an ephemeral barrier between our particular primate sub-grouping, and the rest of life on Earth. I never understood these people.

I deposited one more device downtown, in a massive state-of-the-art theater complex. I hid it carefully, and set the little slaved atomic clock to my own. My flight departs in a few hours, and if you are following me, you will have no luck in Germany.

London, England
October
05:09:19 AM

London shows her war wounds with flat gray office towers, and plain, blocky apartments, yet her age and history bleed through the scars as I stroll down the Thames, scarcely aware of the brackish odor of the oily waters. The trash and detritus in the river don’t sadden me, the way I imagine it would for you.

You draw some artificial line between a hamburger wrapper and the fallen leaves of a tree that I will never understand. You distinguish between nature and humanity in a way that puzzles me. We are nature, our cities, our roads, and our orbital satellites are no different than a termite colony, or a birds nest, except perhaps in scale. There is nothing unique about humanity. I know that I am all but alone in this conceit, but history and nature herself will prove me right.

The devices I planted here are in the Underground; silently waiting for the day to come when I will activate them, and they will open their ceramic filters and gently release their payload into the air. I burned the last decade of my life like a candle to forge the perfect weapon, hardened against the air, hearty and undeniably alive, burning with the will to survive.

I have chosen the stations because the first letters of each station spell my name. Consider it an artist’s signature. I wouldn’t tell you this if I wasn’t sure this would be useless information, and I doubt you have even uncovered who I am.

As always, I will be gone before you arrive.

Chicago, Illinois
November
02:15:03 PM

Chicago is the hub of a great wheel of airline traffic; along its thousand intersecting lines, millions of passengers will pass through, robbing the stale airport air of oxygen and expunging carbon dioxide. Even these sterile, atmosphere-regulated glass and steel tunnels, I still see nature, green and red with life.

I need to make a distinction. I know that what I am doing seems to be wrong, evil. However, I also understand that morality is an artificial device we used to guide tribal behavior, a useful conceit in creating harmony and growth in small populations. But there is no real weight to good and evil. Nature is beyond that. There is nothing evil about the wasp that implants her young into a living caterpillar. Our concepts of ethics are as fragile as our bodies, and just as impermanent.

A few devices in the ventilation systems will infect millions. You can search for them if you want, but there is a great deal of redundancy in my plan. You can grind yourself to the bone attempting to undo my work, but in the end, you will fail. If you are wise, you will cease pursuit and begin to prepare for the inevitable struggle ahead.

Tokyo, Japan
November
09:18:05 PM

Tokyo must be a hell to those who see nature as only forests or mountains or clean ocean waters. To me, it is a wonder of that natural world. The lights and madness of Roppongi are just as wondrous and alive as the synchronized flashing of fireflies. This is nature, and if you will allow me a moment of species-self congratulation, this is nature at its finest and most wonderful. But nature has no apex. It will only grow and learn and become more beautiful. It brings tears to my eyes.

I was asleep for so many decades, laboring in a lab for a pharmaceutical giant. (Which one is not important. It will not help you find me, especially not this late.) I wish I could tell you that there was some epiphany, some concrete lesson I could share with you to make you understand why I have chose this path for us all. The truth is sadly mundane: the influx of money from a chain of discoveries gave me the time to think, and become aware of the world and its systems, slowly and gradually. The money also gave me the resources to act once I was determined.

The world regulates itself. People ascribe some sort of special malevolence to the acts of man, unaware that we are not the first species to war, to commit genocide. Foolish. This is not unique to man. Many other species before us outstripped their habitats, and sowed the seeds of their own destruction. They simply are no longer among us to act as a warning. Evolutionary strategies either work, forever sustainable, or they do not, and the species die. This is the only rule in nature. Live for the future, or be buried in the past.

It should be clear now, to all of us, that despite our species’ meteoric growth, we have not opted for the former strategy, and it is only a matter of time before we collapse.

I will not stand for that. I am as much a part of nature as anything else, and so are my weapons. I will be the regulator. We will adapt, or die. But be brave: no matter the outcome, the world will be bettered. And I sincerely hope you will be there to see it, so that you can know that I was right.

The devices here are spread randomly, one is buried in a planter box that struck my eye as I walked the streets, another beneath the table of bustling cafe. You must know now that finding them will be impossible. Please, for your own sake, the time for pursuit and prevention is long passed. It’s time to prepare.

San Francisco, California
December
00:00:00 AM

I never imagined that I would remain uninfected, despite my precautions after so much exposure; I had elongated the viruses dormancy for just this reason, to buy myself a little more time. I have not finished my web yet, as I had originally envisioned it, but my infection models show I have done more than enough. I will rest a little now, and I will try not to regret my part in this. Not my actions of course, but my inability to see the fruits of my labor.

Humanity would have died without me. We’ve grown soft, slow, no longer a viable organism. We would have slowly, subtly altered the environment until the world itself was toxic to us, and then we would have vanished with a whimper. Those who think that Man has the ability to destroy the world labor under the same strange anthropocentrism as those who think we are somehow divorced from the rest of the kingdom of life. We could no more end the world than we could create it. We only can kill ourselves, and take a few million unstable species down with us. Is this how you want to end? Slowly poisoned or drowned by our inability to see the long term?

This is not the way, and I will not allow it.

Humanity, I am giving you a great gift, though I know you will never see it as such. I am giving you competition. You will work together, you will merge your resources and be reforged and tempered in the fires of struggle and crisis, together. Or you will die. You will blossom into something new, or you will fertilize the fields of the next competitor for space and resources. But you will change. It’s inevitable now, and it brings me pride and joy even as the lining of my lungs slough free and I drown in infected blood.

I have left you something. One last breadcrumb, woven into these letters. It may be the key to your salvation. If you find it, it will set you onto the path to the cure. You understand that I can not just hand it to you, that would defeat my whole purpose. Believe me when I say that I want you to live, but I must be strong not to undermine the grand struggle that will shape you for centuries to come.

It’s over now. If you still wish to seek me, you are only wasting your precious little time, anything that could help you, I have already sent. The rest, I have burned and erased. The triggers on the devices will release soon. Very soon.

But, if for some foolish reason, you want to see the meat and bones and fluids I will leave behind, you will know where to find me. I will be Patient Zero.

Collision

There are moments in your life, in every life, where you can look back at the small nodes of causality, those split second forks in which your course and path are fundamentally altered, sent careening in unanticipated or unforeseen directions. I prided myself, once, in being able to see these moments before they arrived, but the truth is, we hardly recognize we are at a crossroad until it has receded into the distance. You can spin the gears of your mind until they grind smooth, wondering what would happen, if only… If only you had refused the last drink, or took a cab instead… If only you had held your temper and your tongue… If only you had believed her… If only.

When I allow myself to drift down these avenues of doubt, I dream of being able to sleep through the night without waking in screams, without the sweat soaked sheets clinging to my shuddering body. I dream about looking on the deserts of my former home, and smelling the dry, warm earth without gagging and trembling like a lamb. If only.

When I arrived at my nexus, a literal crossroad on Indian Route 8064 in the high desert of Arizona, I had not an inkling that I was on the precipice. The sun was low in the horizon, fat and bloated red through the dusty air, and the heat of the day was only beginning to recede. Ahead of me was the long drive to Flagstaff through the great empty patches of the state. Long, long ago, I had taken to avoiding the highways and began taking the old roads, the crumbling delta of blacktop that go almost unused as they silently crisscross the desert. Each time, I would take a new fork, and allow the desert’s quiet purity envelop me as I traversed an unfamiliar path. It was like meditation, a way to wipe clean the slate of my worries: the rising debt, the disintegrating marriage, my mother’s rapidly metastasizing cancer. It was a place of simplicity and calm, earth and sky and quiet and emptiness. It was my paradise, the great panacea to my doubts and worries.

Continue reading “Collision”

Before (an excerpt)

The sun is high above me by the time I see the farm on the horizon, with its tattered yellow flag whipping in the hot breeze. The barn’s central roof beam is bowed, sagging gently in a way that feels warm and inviting, like the childhood ideal of a barn. There have been a half dozen farms along the last stretch of road, but none prominently displayed the signal flag, or showing any signs of habitation. It seems providence that I should come to this place, and I step of the highway onto a nearly overgrown gravel path.

I’ve been following Highway 37 all morning, a blacktop scar dividing the glass-still wetlands to the South and the fields and hills of wild golden grass to the North. I savor the quiet emptiness of Creation. Alone except for the elegant cranes above the water and the herds of deer grazing in the dry brush, I find long silent hours to reflect and meditate on the days passed, and the glorious days ahead. Beneath my feet the pavement is already growing warm, and the air begins to shimmer in the distance. There is a wet, earthy riot of smells, wet and earthy like fresh tilled soil and stagnant water. The whine and drone of insects is a warbling monotone symphony, unbroken save for the short cries of waterfowl.

The Vallejo Crater is far behind me now, hidden by a ridge of meek hills and the opalescent summer haze. Ahead, a little farmhouse comes into view from behind the barn, a leaning two room structure with pale yellow paint peeling in the sun. Again, I feel a comforting warmth and my grin widens at the charming innocence of the little home, and I try to imagine it without the thick wooden boards over the windows and doors.

Continue reading “Before (an excerpt)”

How This Ends

There were parties that night, but I elected to spend it alone, drinking and snorting the last of my priceless heroin on a wooded bluff overlooking the sea, capturing what quiet I could on my own terms and determined to meet the last day sober.

I woke, caked in vomit and pain as the sun arose, and trickled down to the beach, relishing the cool salt breeze on my chapped face. As I plunged my face into the water, I heard a tinny wail of joy, and turned in mute disbelief. A child raced down the beach, trailed by her mother. As public opinion had slid into open hatred of those who knowingly reproduced, births had become unheard of.

I swam in a wash of emotions: raw fury at manifest selfishness, an aching nameless joy, a thousand other twinges of head and heart. In the last decade, when it was clear that nothing could divert the comet’s path, the final gasps of propaganda’s engine had repeated this final message: Don’t Make It Worse.

I rose, fists balled, but my shout of indignant protest died on my lips. The earth trembled, a passing shock wave under foot. The impact was hours ago, in the steppes of Asia; the wall of fire and pressure had made it’s solemn journey around the world to us.

The girl was swept into her mother’s arms. They looked serenely at me, twin eyes of sea green. For a moment, I bordered epiphany. Guilt washed in behind the tide of anger. Then it was gone, and I was empty at last.

“I love you,” whispered the mother, holding the child close.

I sighed, and the air grew dim and thick with the onrush of steam. My vision clouded, and I turned to the sea, one final time.



This is not the weekly story, but instead something I wrote a year ago for a “No Longer Than 300 Words Science Fiction” competition, and it’s interesting to me for several reasons. As you may have noticed, I have a tendency to use 9 words when one will do; my first draft of this piece was well over 600 words, and I spent many cycles of revisions and iterations to reduce the size so drastically. As a result, there is an economy to the language in this piece that I like very much, it’s something that I have not been effectively able to repeat. Hell, look at the size of this introduction… at any rate, enjoy!

Thaw

Something is wrong.

Consciousness drifts back to me lazily, like an incoming tide as my mind and body awake in stages. At first, it is dark, and I have no form, just a terrified animal spark suspended in a featureless abyss. My primal hindbrain sends useless impulses to my unanswering body, demanding that I run and hide, but I am still. How long I drift here, I do not know, and the darkness devours time.

Gradually I become aware of muted sensory impressions, the faint hiss of venting gas, the dry taste of recycled air. It is utterly black however, darker than I would have believed possible, and I slowly realize that my eyelids refuse to open. I am aware of them now, thin sheets of flesh that tug across my face, but remain closed despite my efforts. Even without them, I can still sense the glass and metal frame around me.

With a dawning wave, I realize how cold I am. So cold, that for a hideous and protracted moment, I believe I may be on fire. I begin to panic, still trapped inside my nearly lifeless body, wanting to slither and crawl away from the pain. My lips part with a tear of flesh and I can feel blood trickling into my mouth, growing instantly cool as it runs between my clenched teeth. My jaw remains locked in place, the muscles straining weakly beneath my cheeks.

Continue reading “Thaw”