Phew. I’ve really been wanting to get back to writing for some time, but just haven’t been inspired. (Plus, I’ve been pretty busy.)
But I got this idea and just rolled with it. By the way, I think P.K.’s name is Pheromone Kindred. (Just to let you know, I wrote this all in like an hour, so ignore any terrible wordings or whatever. Also, don’t ask me how he receives letters. Since this is semi-futuristic, I’m guessing that they just sort of materialize there or something.)
My name is Alexander Dentsky. I am a guardian, of sorts. At some time in the past, samples of every type of virus that has caused widespread destruction in the world were taken and sealed away in a vault that has higher security than Fort Knox. The facility had been created, however many years ago, by the WHO.
The number of people at any given time who know where it is and how to get in, let alone where it is, is always kept at three, no more, no less. I am one of those three, and I do not know who the others are; that is another stipulation of this job. I met one of the previous ones, once, on his deathbed. He had chosen me in an unknown fashion to be his successor. He taught me everything I know about the vault.
It is an incredibly dull job, but, at the same time, one that is utterly vital for the very existence of life as we know.
It was incredibly dull, I should say. I had held the post for ten years and absolutely nothing happened, until I got a typewritten letter in the mail.
“Just wondering… lose any Yersinia pestis recently?” (Signed P.K.)
Merely seeing the name Yersinia pestis caused me to convulse. Bubonic plague.
I knew, knew that there was no way it could disappear, that anyone would be able to take it – if they even wanted to – but I decided to enter the vault and check, just to ease my mind. I had entered the vault ten times before – once per year – and checking it in a non-periodical fashion struck some chord of horror and foreboding in my heart. Why would I even check? It was impossible, after all. Completely impossible.
I opened the third vault-door, the innermost one, and stepped through. Every virus was in a triple-layered glass vial that was in turn sealed within a padded two-layer metal cylinder, and were arranged alphabetically in a temperature-specific glass case. I went down the line until I found Yersinia pestis, unlocked the case, and removed it.
I knew how to do this, the previous guardian having told me, but had never done it before. My hands shook as I unlocked and unscrewed the outer metal case. I slid off the top of the inner metal case, took a deep breath, and lifted out the vial.
Inside the vial was a clear, slightly pink, viscous liquid, filing it about three-quarters to the top. I let out a sigh and returned everything to its previous state.
I had no idea how someone knew about this vault, and knew that I was one of the three guardians (not even one of the other guardians could know that), but that didn’t matter much. No matter how he knew, it would be impossible for him to actually do anything with that knowledge.
I left the vault and returned to my place outside. I smiled as I crumpled up the letter and put it in a small hole on my desk that led to the incinerator. There was nothing to fear, nothing was to fear.
I noticed my hands were shaking and clenched them into fists to keep them still.
When the time came, I went to my small room within the facility. I was to be there at all times, and had only been outside three times ever since I began work there. One reason for having three guardians was to allow for very occasional vacations for the main guardian. It didn’t bother me much, though, the facility was large and contained a library, kitchen (the food for which was dropped off through a small service door that was separate yet connected to the facility), an exercise room, and a greenhouse-garden room. The facility had been built in a way that allowed for the guardians to never leave.
Three guardians seemed somewhat unnecessary, aside from the vacation reason. I knew, though, that the third was in case of some sort of emergency or sudden death. If a guardian died before being able to choose a successor, another would choose instead.
In my room, I relaxed by playing a few games of solitaire, then took a couple sleeping pills and laid down in my bed. I waited for the pills to kick in.
One image that remained in my mind was of the vial, held in my shaking hands. Three-quarters full. Had it always been that way? Was some of it missing? I couldn’t know, I had never seen it before. No, that’s how it was. There was no way to remove only part of it. And why would anyone want to, anyway? There was no reason. No reason for me to think and fret about it, either.
I couldn’t wait for the sleeping pills to play their magic upon me. It felt as though I had been waiting to sleep for an hour. I checked the clock, and five minutes had elapsed.
I got out of my bed and stood next to it in the dark. I felt as though that was how I felt at the moment. I couldn’t see myself in the room, but I knew I was here, though I had no proof aside from that very thought. Cogito ergo sum. I knew the plague was still all here, it was impossible for it to be otherwise. But… Did I really know? Being utterly isolated, and with no way to know how high the vial had been at the start.
I paced around my room, still in the dark. This was ridiculous. This would drive me mad. I couldn’t escape the thought of the possibility as long as I lived.
I switched on the light and felt my insecurity and anxiety fade away; all but a tiny bit, still worming its way through my mind.
I began to feel drowsy, and smiled at the thought of the oblivion of sleep that would reprieve me of my thoughts. I turned off the light again and laid down in bed. A few minutes later, I fell asleep.
My dreams were tumultuous. Dreams of dropping the vial from my trembling hands and somehow breaking all three layers of glass. Dreams of someone sliding through the doors while I slept and meddling with the viruses.
When I awoke the next day, I felt worse than I had the night before. I slapped myself, doused myself in cold water, and drank a cup of strong coffee accompanied by a few cigarettes. Those all helped, to some small degree, but I couldn’t get the thought and fear out of my mind.
I had never realized how long days were. In the past, they tended to fade away into one another in a stream, but every minute felt like an hour now.
Around noon, I received another letter. I felt a sudden sickness upon seeing it, but opened it and read.
“Ah, you are missing some, aren’t you? I suppose you should’ve made some note of how full each vial was right from the start, eh?” Again, it was signed by P.K.
I vomited into – or, at least, in the general direction of – a small wastebasket that was near my desk.
Wiping my mouth, I thought. No, no, this doesn’t mean anything, any more than the last letter. Just some freak who had somehow discovered me and my job and was taking it to his own advantage. Obviously there would always be some space left in the vial, so… Impossible and meaningless.
I pounded my fist into the letter, then crumpled it up and tossed it into the incinerator.
I had to get my mind off of this somehow. Take a shower, read a book, play a video game, exercise, anything.
I exercised, then took a shower. Afterward, I read The Odyssey. It had always been one of my favorite books, and held a sweet nostalgia that soothed my nerves.
This helped my state of mind to some degree, but not enough. It was driving me mad. Even a microgram of this in anyone’s hands would be incredibly dangerous, and whoever it was had much more than that.
No. No, they didn’t have anything, of course. They could, but… No, no! They couldn’t! It was impossible, utterly inconceivable. This psycho just wanted to mess with me, and they were doing it. I wouldn’t allow it, any more than I would allow them to actually come in and take some of the virus.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I would meditate. I had never been one for that, but I needed it now.
I walked over to a corner of the room and sat down in front of it, resting my head against the corner of the wall. I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing; in through the nose, out through the mouth. Again, and again. Focus on the breathing. In and out, feel the cool, crisp, clean air. Focus on my lungs absorbing oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide, the process of which would be reversed by the greenhouse plants. Continually cycling clean air.
A lot better than air contaminated with the bubonic plague. That would be horrid. The stench of the dead and the yet-dying mingling into one abhorrent stench that pervaded every scrap of air, nowhere to breathe, nowhere to live. Only to die. Only to die in one of the most horrifying ways, and knowing all the while that it was my own incompetence that caused this across the world.
God, no! No. Meditation on the wrong thing would be worse than no meditation at all.
I opened my eyes. I was drenched in a cold sweat and had pissed myself.
I ran to my room and opened a bottle of opiate painkillers, spilling a few pills onto the floor as I did so. I didn’t care, I didn’t care. I just needed peace from it all. I took two pills, thought a moment, then took two more. Everything would be okay.
As the opiates did their work, I smoked several more cigarettes. I knew that this peace was manufactured, but I didn’t care at this point. Manufactured peace was infinitely better than natural horror and stress. I slid down against the wall until I was partially propped up against it, partially sprawled on the floor. The ratio of sprawling to propping increased ever moment until I was nothing but a pool of peace on the floor.
Funny how painkillers work on both physical and mental pain, I thought moments before I nodded off.
I woke sometime towards the evening, popped a couple more pills, and took a sleeping pill. How dearly I prayed I wouldn’t dream.
I did. Dreams of me being the killer of millions and enjoying it. Me being the one who stole the virus initially. Me being the true plague on humanity.
When I woke mid-morning, I could barely function. I had lost nearly all trace of sanity, and all that remained was repulsion at myself and the maniac who was doing this to me.
I took another opiate then lumbered towards my desk.
If I had sensed repulsion after waking up, it was nothing compared to seeing a new letter from P.K. I grabbed a pen and jabbed it into the center of my hand. The pain, while numbed by the opiates, shocked me into reality enough to open the letter and read the contents.
“I offer you a chance at redemption. I will return the virus to you, in a trade. I merely want the vial of Rubella virus. As you should well know, that’s not much compared to the bubonic plague. Not near as deadly. Sound good? I will meet you outside the facility at 3:00 this afternoon and we will make the trade there. Don’t try anything, as you know what hangs in the balance.”
A chance at redemption, but for a high price. To save the world, yes, but I would at the same time be putting the world in incredible danger. But I must do it, of course, I must. Rubella was considerably less dangerous than Yersinia pestis, but still… I would actually be the cause of that outbreak. But if I didn’t make the trade, I would in essence be aiding and abetting whoever took the virus. Yes, I must make the trade.
I made my way into the vault – third time this year, now, which felt foreboding to me – and found the Rubella virus. I unlocked and removed the outer metal sheath, then took the inside back out of the vault and set it on my desk.
It was looking at me, condemning me for sharing it with the outside world. I ignored it, looked away, but still felt it looking at me.
Every minute felt like a day, waiting until I would have Yersinia pestis back in my possession. At five minutes to three o’clock, I began the lengthy process for leaving the facility. Unlocking certain things and double-locking others, arming alarms, and the like.
I stepped out of the facility and looked at the desolate desert surrounding it. Even though I had been here for ten years, this place still felt alien to me.
Even more alien to me was the man standing in front of me. He or she wore all black, draped in a slightly baggy black cloak that concealed any recognizable features. The head, neck, and any other areas where skin would normally show, were wrapped in a black linen. I could see that the linen around the eyes was of a looser weave, allowing the person to see out.
I took a step forward, carrying the Rubella.
“I want to see the vial,” I said.
“Indeed,” the person answered, clearly female from the voice. From a pocket in the cloak she removed a small vial, triple-sealed in glass. I lifted the cylinder.
“The Rubella is here,” I said.
“Let me see,” she answered.
I opened the metal case and lifted out the triple-sealed Rubella. She nodded and I replaced it in the case. She walked towards me, the vial in the palm of her left hand.
“Trade on three,” she said. I nodded.
“One, two, three.”
I took the vial and she took the cylinder.
“I don’t suppose it will change anything, but I can’t beg you enough to keep that safe and never release it.”
“Doubt it,” she said. “Actually, the funny thing is, Rubella is more dangerous now than it once was. The last outbreak was so long ago that nearly no one knows what it is anymore. There are no vaccines, because it was ‘eradicated’. People’s immunes are at an all-time low.”
“But… why? Why would you do this? You know that you’ll contract it as well, I’m sure.”
“I do,” she said. “But I do not care for myself. Our world needs a purging, and I aim to be the one who begins it.”
She did a small nod, then began walking away. The further away she got, the more significance her words had to me. It was ludicrous, wasn’t it? A purging? The world had been happy and safe for quite some time, now, and I knew nothing about any serious overpopulation.
She was going to kill most people on earth, and I was the one who had let her do it. But I couldn’t change that now. I realized I hadn’t asked her two quite important questions; why not use the bubonic plague, and how had she gotten into the facility? But she was long gone, now, merely a black speck in the distance.
I re-entered the facility, and nearly fell over with the weight of it all. I’ve killed the world. Not that not doing the trade would’ve been any better, but… It was my fault. I’ve put the self-destruct trigger in the hands of someone who stole Yersinia pestis from arguably the most secure facility on earth. Someone who wishes to purge the world.
I purged my stomach onto the floor. I couldn’t go on like this. If I were in the outside world, it might be slightly easier, but in absolute isolation and with only my own mind to keep me company, I’d be stark raving mad within days.
I needed to end this. I would just die, in a most suitable way for one who had done such as I did. I opened the vial that P.K. had given me and swallowed the contents.
My death was assured. Yersinia pestis would kill me within hours or days. It was…
It was sweet. Very sweet. Tasted sort of like… simple syrup, and a hint of some chemical… Food coloring.
I passed out. When I came to, I was hopeless. I had killed the majority of the world, and saved no one, saved nothing except for P.K.’s plan.
I ran into the furnace room and threw myself against it. The burning was that of my sins. The holy, pure flame, the heat of the anger of God, was burning it away. I began to lose consciousness, but held on. I would be purified, purified! A moment longer and I would be pure…