You can purchase this story here in the pages of Mad Scientist Journal.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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
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.
23 thoughts on “Zero”
One little typo I noticed:Tokyo chapter, 3rd paragraph”The simply are no longer among us to act as a warning.”Pretty sure you meant “THEY simply are no longer…”Also, is the puzzle’s solution the name of the individual, or the cure he is offering, or something of that sort. Just wanting to know if we are looking for a proper noun or not is all.But great story nonetheless.
You have an amazing talent at writing. I certainly hope you are, in some way, able to provide for yourself. I would be heartbroken to learn that someone who can write things that not only fascinate me but also make it hard for me to sleep, is living in a substandard way. I first found your work when you posted about cordyceps. I’m always researching symbiotic and parasite relationships because I find them fascinating. Enough so where I made my own little tribute to cordyceps. And I happened upon your blog and started reading through your stories, entranced. I dont read often sadly. There was a time when I was a bookworm but no longer. You sir are slowly breaking that habit of mine. Your passages make my mind dance and shiver in ways it rarely does. Like some strange combination of William S. Burroughs and Lovecraft, and yet unlike them at all, your stories seem to exist in their own little worlds. And yet these worlds are so tangible.And its not like these are even long stories. They are short as hell. And yet you manage to cram such a thick and often horrifying yarn into such a small passage.anyway i’ve kissed your butt enough.just know you have a couple of fans who really appreciate you putting these wonderfully scary nuggets of literature online. ~N
Clever puzzle 🙂 I won’t ruin it.
Thanks all, as always, for the feedback and editing advice. It’s always appreciated to know that people are enjoying reading as much as I enjoy writing. This makes it very easy to continue my little hobby.As for the puzzle, I’ll give a small spoiler: You’re looking for a short sentence, encoded in the story.I’ll spoil it in total next weekend, if it’s still elusive.
No spoilers! Let the people puzzle!
No! I’m not clever!
that was delightfully disturbing.if it happens, i sure damn hope it’s not a horrid virus that takes us ._.i am amazed by your versatility to come up with different subjects, themes…. and still give them your grand personal touch.
I really liked this story, but feel stupid because I can’t figure the puzzle out. You’re extremely talented, and I’m looking forward to reading more.
Alright, I can’t find it. Everything I thought would work out turned out to be a dead end. Care to share, mate? Great story. Horrifying actually.Just watch your its and your it’s. Very impressed. I could never write something so well.
Spoilers are up at the bottom of the original post; first a hint if you want to work it out, and then the solution as well. Enjoy.
I knew it was the numbers! But I can’t believe I didn’t see that.
Thank you for the spoiler. I’m lazy.Also, Epiphany is supposed to be capitalized. I’m not a grammar Nazi, I just grow a bit annoyed after seeing the same mistake made over and over.Anywho, ’twas amazing, as always. Keep up the good work.
Epiphany doesn’t have to be capitalized unless you’re referring to the Christian holiday.
Wow, this is some pretty good stuff!! Long, but worth it (and let's keep in mind that long isn't necessarily a bad thing in writing). I really hope you keep putting stuff out there, because I'll definitely keep reading it!
Something I notice: The sentence is supposed to be "I lied. There is no cure." With your timestamps, it would have been "I lied. There is bo cire." Dunno if you meant for it to be like that or not, but I wrote the numbers/letters down, and got that. Lol, maybe it's just me? Anyways, I love your stories, and have been reading them ever since I stumbled across them on creepypasta.
Ah, yes, but if you convert to military times, you'll find it reads the way one would expect.Thank you for the kind words, and I'm always glad to have another reader.
Just read this on MSJ. It’s great, so I decided to do a little post on it. I look forward to reading more of your work.
I admit, I laughed a little at the secret message. I can’t help but think of Blueberry Man.
Why isn’t it available to read in full anymore? Moreover, the site you link to to read it doesn’t even have it. I have to go to amazon and buy some sort of hard copy of a magazine I don’t give a shit about? Jesus… This site would do much better to promote yourself with these stories and not as a relay to some magainze – I mean really, how much are those relays getting you? 1$ per year?
The reason for that is that when I sell a piece, there’s a period of time where I can’t also display it on my site. That period is over, so I’ve added the story back in. You’re under no obligation to purchase anything, and I’m promoting myself in exactly the fashion I like at the moment. And no, it’s certainly not for the money, but the hybrid approach of outside publications where people probably have never heard of me as well as having this site is what I want to do. If that’s not to your liking, then you’ll have to figure out what that means to you.
Tell me if I got this right, the code includes the times?
You got it.