Chapter 4:

A Flash of Terror

Han Hito: The Story of Patient Zero

“Sumisu, I still cannot believe you. Why would you not bring the box back with you? Were it to contain some sort of prized gaseous substance, we would have never known! Perhaps that is why it seemed empty,” Maya growled from the backseat. We were being driven back home by a police officer who had come after the car crash.

The officer seemed confused. “What’re you talking about?” he asked. He had a rather polite voice, contrary to his intimidating appearance. He carried what I assumed was a taser on his belt- I wondered if I could steal it.

“Well, Sumisu here found a metal box discarded from the building nearby. Instead of keeping it with him, he decided it best to bash it against the wall and bust it open,” Maya explained. I wasn’t too keen on her sharing secrets with everyone she came across, but I kept my mouth shut.

“Hey, kid, if she harasses you ‘bout it, don’t worry. I woulda done the same thing,” the officer sympathized, patting me on the back. “Oh, wait, which buildin’? The one next to the national park? Big, white-tiled?”

“That’s the one, yeah,” I responded.

He seemed to recall something. “Oh, haha. I used to work there. After the pandemic hit, they sent me home. I was so close to gettin’ a promotion, too,” he laughed. Slowly, his face turned more serious. “Lucky me, though. Was still subscribed to the company newsletter, and I saw that a lotta people got hurt pretty bad in an experiment. One of my old friends got killed. Attended his funeral and all.”

“Aw, I’m sorry that happened, man,” was all I could say in response.

“No, no, it’s fine. It was two months ago.” He brushed it off. “It’s not like it was out of nowhere. They’d been doing some real dangerous stuff there, anyway. Mason knew the risks.”

Maya seemed intrigued. “Where is ‘there’, anyway? What ‘stuff’ were they doing?”

“Nock Labs. I’m sure you’ve heard of ‘em in the papers, right? Big wages, tax cuts, advancing technology and medicine for the good of mankind,” he described. “Mason worked in the psychology department. They brought in subjects for a test and something drove ‘em berserk. Needless to say, Nock isn’t going to use whatever they used again.”

“That’s a relief,” I sighed. I thought back to the equipment beside the lab- had that all been thrown out because of that accident? Perhaps it contained traces of the substance, and they didn’t want to risk being exposed to it. If that was the case, I hoped I hadn’t contacted it. “Hey, how close are we to home?”

The policeman checked his GPS. “It’ll be a few minutes. Get comfy.”

A few minutes passed, and just as he said, we arrived at the house. As we hopped out of the car, Maya offered him thanks before he drove off. “Keep up your work, officer,” she called.

I walked her into the house and looked around. My mother was on the phone in the kitchen, talking back and forth with someone, presumably from emergency services. “You will? That’s great… How much will it cost? We hadn’t paid it off yet…” She caught sight of me and waved impatiently. She mouthed ‘quiet’ before resuming her call.

Chad and Chloe hadn’t gotten home just yet, so I let go of Maya’s hand and walked up the stairs. Before she asked what I was doing, I whispered to her, “I’m just gonna get on my computer for a little bit. If you wanna come watch, then c’mon.”

“Like I want to observe your mindless internet humor,” Maya quietly scorned.

“Shut up. No, not that. I meant the flash drive.”

“What flash drive?”

I waggled the red drive I had stolen from the box from the stairs. “It was in the box. Maybe busting it open wasn’t totally useless.” I neglected to mention that the drive hadn’t actually come out via me busting open the box, but I hadn’t thought it relevant.

“In that case,” Maya corrected herself, following me up the steps. I pushed open the first door on my left to get into my room, which was a complete wreck. A hurricane of clothes spun on the floor, both dirty and clean. I hadn’t done my laundry in so long it was impossible to tell what was really going on. I tiptoed through the mess to my computer desk.

Maya hopped through the devastation, confused. “What happened here?”

“Do you want to know?” I replied, waiting for my laptop to load. It was old and buggy- I couldn’t keep it off the charger for more than thirty minutes. Finally, after installing several viruses and updating three consecutive times, my desktop loaded the start screen, where I typed in my password and waited another thirty seconds.

When the menu screen loaded, I plugged the USB drive into the computer’s port and waited for the files to show up. “Y’know, they could have corporate secrets on this thing. Or failed test results. We’re really special to have this,” I told Maya. I checked back on the computer screen and found the drive.

“It could also be a hoax or random garbage, Sumisu. Not everything in the real world is as intriguing as you think,” Maya replied, crossing her short arms. In lower-light settings like this, it was easy to tell her soft olive complexion from my pale white. I double-clicked on the drive’s folder and scrolled through the files inside. Many of them were labeled strangely- ‘HHRECO1.mp4’ was at the top of the list.

“Yeah, I don’t think that’s random garbage,” I laughed, scanning the files through. ‘NRBLDTA.docx’, ‘HH_WARN.mp4’, and ‘BIOSCAN.pdf’ all struck me as off. There was one file, though, that really put me off- ‘warning.mp3’. It was the only audiotape on the drive, whereas the others were videos and documents. It was also the only file with a lowercase title. My mind began to wonder. Did this have something to do with the incident that killed the policeman’s friend?

Maya took the mouse from me. “Well, we will not know if it is random garbage until we view the files themselves,” she reasoned, clicking on ‘warning.mp3’. The tape rolled, but we didn’t hear anything. “Must be broken.”

“Nope, just my headphones,” I said, hitting the spacebar to pause the recording. I scrolled the tape back to the start and unplugged them. When I hit play again, we could hear something:

“Hello? Is it working?” a girl’s voice asked. It was low and a little raspy.

“Yes, you idiot! We got, like, no storage on here! Go! Chop chop!” a louder girl’s voice hissed.

The first girl cleared her throat. “This is a warning to whoever might get this box. Actually, all of these files are. But this one especially. Please don’t try and open it. There’s something terribly dangerous inside, and letting it out could spell destruction. Along with the drive, there are a bunch of files that describe the details of what you need to know.”

“Hey! Move it! They’re after us!” a softer masculine voice cried, following frantic footsteps. Suddenly, the recording was cut short by something- perhaps the recorder was turned off, or maybe it was destroyed.

Maya and I stared at the black screen for a moment. “Uh, so what the hell?” I asked her. She didn’t have much of a response to compensate. “Should we, uh, watch another one?”

“Yes, Sumisu. Start with the one labeled ‘one’ and work your way down,” Maya commanded, though I could feel the dread in her voice. I clicked on ‘HHRECO1.mp4’ as she ordered.

On the screen was a black-haired girl with a yellow jacket. Someone else was holding the camera, but it wasn’t very stable. “This is Tape 1 out of... however many we make,” she whispered. I recognized her voice as the main speaker from the warning tape. The lights around her were dim, and I could see faint shadows moving nearby. “What you’ve got in that box isn’t visible to the naked eye, and it doesn’t have much weight. Basically, it seems like there’s nothing in it. Don’t open it. There’s something in it. And it’s deadly as hell.”

I looked at Maya, and Maya looked back at me. Shit. “Yeah! It’s a friggin’ bioweapon! Shouldn’t you have said that first?” an offscreen voice snarled. It was the louder girl from the other tape.

“Yeah. A bioweapon. Genetically engineered to cause chaos and bring about a new era for humanity,” the first girl stated.

“Uh, what’s a bioweapon, Aru?” a third girl asked. The video was grainy, but I could see a red-haired girl in a white dress sneak next to ‘Aru’, the first girl.

Aru seemed worried and confused. “Uh, I’ll, uh, explain it later. What’s important is that you don’t open the box, for one. If you already did, there are a few things you can do to try and stop it. Like, for example…”

“Shut up! You know there ain’t shit you can do about it once you’ve got it! That’s how it was made!” the loud girl snapped. “You’re just tryin’ to give whatever idiot out there who opens it up hope!”

“You shut up, Indigo! I was going to say that you needed to check for the infection first! If the thing got released into the wild without anyone contacting it, there’s nothing they can do about it, but it’ll take a long time to infect anyone,” Aru shot back. She looked back to the camera with a strained smile. “I’m, uh, sorry you had to bear witness to that. Indigo’s a little… eh, sometimes.”

“Are you kidding me, you bitch?!” Indigo roared. Suddenly, a boy ran out from behind a shadowy corner and tapped Aru on the shoulder.

“Patrol nearby! Turn the thing off, and let’s move!” he whispered. It was the same boy from the end of the warning video. Whoever was recording promptly clicked off the camera, and the video ended.

I was stunned. In my fit of curiosity and anger, I had smashed the box open against a wall. And, supposedly, the box had a bioweapon in it. That would make me patient zero if I had the infection. I tried my best not to have a breakdown- now was not the time for that. I held on to the hope that it was a hoax, just a little prank someone had pulled to make me panic.

Maya was clearly mortified, too. “Sumisu, what have you done?” she said, her voice rising. She was not often affected by much, so I was surprised. “What have you done?! A bioweapon! You released a bioweapon!”

“I-it’s just a hoax, Maya! Look at the footage! There’s no way that makes sense! You saw that red-haired girl, right? She’s got horns!” I reasoned. It was true- unless the video had terrible interpolation, the girl had pale red horns sticking from her hair.

Maya put her hands on the table. “Sumisu, you must understand, this was right next to a laboratory! Who knows what demented projects they come up with!” At that point, I started to believe her imagination was running away with her. This was the real world, after all. No one experimented on humans to give them horns or powers.

“Maya, can you hear yourself? Are you delusional?” I scorned her. “We’re not about to die. This is some hoax made by a group of kids. That ‘Aru’ doesn’t even look eighteen. We can just report this to the police, and-”

Maya put a cupped hand over my mouth and used my mouse to scroll down to a file labeled ‘SYMPTOM.docx’. She opened it up to my protest and looked through the contents inside.

“Read this, Niko. It’s the early symptom list,” she hissed at me.

At the top in large Times New Roman letters, the document was labeled ‘Han Hito Symptom Table’. “What the hell’s a ‘Han Hito’? Is that some guy?” I questioned. Maya shut me up again and jutted a finger at the actual symptoms.

I read some of the listed symptoms that were considered ‘early’. Nausea, lightheadedness, hormonal changes, and wet cough didn’t apply to me. Neither did bouts of hunger, shortness of breath, heightened senses, or sleepiness. As I got to the end of the list, I found two particularly odd symptoms- shivering and a slight tingle at the site of infection.

Maya clutched her shoulder and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Niko. What have you done?” As I reached my arm out to pat her on the shoulder, I felt a strange sensation, like my arm had been asleep. I still tapped her, but she pushed my hand away.

I crossed my arms and glared at her. “What're you so scared of? I haven’t done jackshit. You know for sure this thing isn’t real,” I told her.

“What proof do you have? Can you-”

“My proof is that I don’t have a single one a’ these symptoms! What else do you need, a full test of every cell in my body?” I sneered. She didn’t seem convinced.

“Wait a day, Sumisu! Did you ever start sneezing the minute you got a cold? No! Of course not!” Maya pointed out.

I was growing tired. “Fine. I’ll wait a day, jeez! But don’t you think a corporation wouldn’t leave a bioweapon sittin’ in the trash?”

“Reasonable, though perhaps it was thrown there for a reason we just have yet to see,” she responded. “There are a dozen other recordings on that drive.”

“Whatever. I’m hungry. Stay here,” I said, scooting away from the desk and standing up. I was about to walk out the door when she called out to me.

“Can you get me something?” is all she asked. I responded with a half-nod before walking away. I wasn’t sure what she wanted, or what I wanted, even. I was just hungry and acting on instinct.

Before I reached the stairs, I felt a shiver crawl down my spine. I hadn’t remembered that hallway being so cold.