Han Hito: The Story of Patient Zero
“So what was on that drive, Nikkun? Anything cool?” Chloe asked, running her fingers through her black hair. I didn’t have the nerve to tell her it was just a silly hoax, so I made something up on the spot.
“It was packaging instructions for a… uh, a new type of medicine. Nothing cool,” I said, pressing my hands together to stop them from shivering. I hadn’t bothered to check the AC, though I wished I had- it was freezing, even in my long-sleeve shirt.
Chloe pouted. “Aww. Well, I guess that explains the box then. All’s well that ends well. Now I’m gonna go get Chad to tell me his stories. You stay with Maya while I- wait, where is Maya?” I told her quickly that she was upstairs on my computer and that I was getting snacks for her. “Oh, got it.”
“By the way, what happened to all the suitcases and stuff we packed up? Ruined or just shook around? And where are they? Maya’s probably wanting her neck pillow now,” I queried.
Chloe put her hand on her chin and leaned on her back foot. “Good question. Think the police got it. It should all be in the driveway later,” she answered. “Aight, now go grab your snacks and stuff. Chad’s texting me to go to his room.” She walked over to Chad’s room and closed the door behind her when she stepped inside.
“Chloe! No closing doors!” my mom yelled before resuming her phone call. I had no reason to believe Chloe would actually listen, but suddenly, from the door appeared a small crack.
I shivered again, and, remembering the thermostat, I checked it out on the wall. It read 68℉. I turned it up to 71 before making my way back up to my room. When I arrived, Maya was staring at me expectantly.
“Where are the snacks?”
“Oh. Forgot ‘em.”
“Agh. Well, regardless. Get over here. I watched another of the files while you were gone.” She beckoned me with a gesture of her fingers. With a nimble clack of the spacebar, another video was up and running.
The video quality was still low, but I could tell the audio was a little better. After a little refocusing, Aru appeared on screen again. This time, there were green flood lights around the floor, so I could see her face a little better. I also noticed she was wearing metal shoulder pads. “This’ll be Tape 2, right?” she asked someone behind the camera.
“Yeah. Can you count?” Indigo replied with a growl. It occurred to me I hadn’t seen what Indigo looked like on camera, since she was the one recording. “We’ve done one of these before. That makes this number two.”
“I know. I was making sure, idiot,” Aru shot back. “Anyways! So that bioweapon virus thing is called ‘Han Hito’. I’m gonna try to explain it as simply as I can. So you know how the usual apocalypse viruses in the media destroy everything and make a bunch of corpses?”
The white-dressed girl, now wearing a feathered pin in her hair, wandered on-screen. “Aru, you’ve got to know that not everyone has that context! I don’t know what you even mean by apocalypse virus!” she snapped. It seemed she was acting more dramatic than before.
“Marsia, this is for people from here. We’re not sending this to wherever it is you come from,” Indigo told her. She crossed her arms but didn’t speak up against her.
“What I was trying to say was that regular apocalypses kind of leave the whole world in environmental shambles, right? So the people who made this thing decided they wanted to keep the harmony of species on earth while they destroyed humanity. It makes sense- no one wants to live in a world filled with corpses. Except for Indigo, probably,” Aru added.
Indigo coughed. “Absolutely. Corpses are metal as hell.” A short pause followed, where Aru and Marsia watched Indigo confusedly. “No! I don’t wanna sit with a bunch of rotting corpses! I’m no necrophile!”
“Ew,” Marsia commented flatly.
Aru tried to continue. “Well, basically they made it so the virus… Well, look up gene therapy. Basically, injecting human DNA into humans to correct for incorrect genes. Now, imagine if that genetic info were an animal’s instead of a humans. The repercussions would be huge- it might not be perfect, but it would basically turn the person into an animal depending on the types of genes. They could stick almost any type of DNA in the virus and-”
I paused the video before she could go on. Maya glanced at me. “I think it may be just a hoax. She is just repeating lengthy terms to frighten us, Sumisu.”
I knew better. “No.” I got up from my seat and rested my arms on the wall, hanging my head. “That all works. Gene therapy’s a thing. I’ve actually thought about it before, trying to put other DNA into a gene therapy virus and seein’ what it would do. I dunno exactly how the virus would devolve each part into the animal, but it’s probably possible. This is a bioweapon. They probably added some fancy shit to make it work like that.” I banged my fist against the wall quietly. “Maya, we’re screwed. We’re so friggin’ screwed.”
She was quick to change her mind. “Ah, well, there must be at least something to be done about it, right? Plus, they could always just do their research to make their hoax seem more convincing.”
“Fine. Let’s just keep watching.” I tapped the spacebar and Aru resumed her speech.
“-get a powerful weapon out of it.” It turned out she didn’t have much left to say.
“Okay, so what the hell is saying all this gonna do for them?” Indigo questioned. “You’re basically telling them, ‘yeah, so here’s how you’re gonna die’. Now follow up with ‘now here’s how you can stop it’.”
“Didn’t you tell me not to do that last time?” Aru argued.
“Agh! Shut up! Why couldn’t we have picked me for this?” Indigo snapped. “Hey, Skyler’s here. Any news?”
The boy from the other video, Skyler, rushed onto screen. “Yeah. They’ve got Stan positioned ‘round the corner. Get ready to hold him back. And Indigo, shut off the camera,” he ordered. “Why do I always have to stay on recon?”
“Because you’re the sneakiest,” Indigo replied. She put the lens cap on the camera, but she hadn’t turned it off.
“No, I’m not. Arufa is,” Skyler replied wearily. I realized that ‘Arufa’ was probably Aru.
“Yeah, but Aru’s the one who knows the stuff about the virus, so she has to do the recordings,” Marsia noted, confirming my suspicions.
“Hey, Indigo, your camera’s still on,” Aru pointed out.
“Oh, shut up!” Indigo yelled. There was a click, and the recording ended.
Maya put her hand up to her chin and held it. “I wonder what these four are running from. It all seems surreal, but their emotions do not feel acted. The ‘Indigo’ figure stands out as especially realistic,” she commented.
“I know, Maya. That’s not important. It’s probably not a hoax. They said the thing turns people into animals. Do we have any idea how long it takes?” The situation had become serious- I wasn’t going to waste time.
Maya raised an eyebrow. “No. They did not say. I will check the symptoms file.” She clicked back to the open symptoms file from earlier. A little bit of scrolling showed time counters beside each level of symptoms- for ‘early’, it said ‘days 0-10’, for ‘second phase’, it said ‘days 11-30’, etcetera. She scrolled to the bottom and found the ‘end phase’ range to be days 75-90. “Ninety days, give or take.”
“Got it. Where do the symptoms start listing cognitive deficiency?”
“Wow, I had no clue you were so verbose. It is one of the last symptoms of the end phase,” Maya responded. “There is an asterisk which mentions it depends on the strand.”
I pondered for a moment. “Would strands refer to the different types of the virus? Like, say, a dog strand of DNA, or a cat strand.”
“I would guess so.”
I pounded my fist against my empty palm. “We gotta do something about it. Maya, you still got that electron microscope from that event you won three years ago?”
“Why in the name of God do you remember that, Sumisu?”
“Answer the question.”
Maya sighed. “Yes. I still have it. I did not bring it here.”
“Shit.” I sat down to think. What could we do if we didn’t have any equipment to test the virus with? While I thought, I remembered where we had found the box in the first place- near Nock Labs. That only made me wonder if Nock had been the one to create the virus.
I suddenly had an idea. “Hey, Maya. Pull up the Serpho Police Department website. I’m gonna see if I can contact that officer who lost his friend.”
“What in- why would you do that? He will know less than you do,” Maya commented.
“What if the Labs said something about the virus in their newsletter? If he still has it, we might be able to figure something out,” I explained. I knew it was a one-in-a-million shot, but I was seriously worried. It could still just be a hoax, but if not, immediate action was the key to success.
She dragged the mouse to the search engine and typed in the letters quickly. She knew how to type well; I didn’t. A couple of clicks later and she had the page pulled up. “What was his name?”
“Dunno. Look for his face,” I replied.
She shrugged and looked through the officers that were listed. “Sumisu, there is a problem.”
“There are no pictures shown.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose, anxious. I tried to weasel my way out with reason: turning into animals? Hah! That’s the dumbest joke ever played! It didn’t work, and I only felt stressed out a little more.
“This is Tape 3. Wait, the camera’s- okay, we’re rolling. So, if you already released it by accident, you might be feeling a little stressed. That’s alright! Try your best to come in contact with as few people as possible and make sure to alert someone about it later so they know what’s happening! It might all seem like the world is crashing down on you, but you’re the one with the most control over your situation right now!” I turned around and found Maya watching another one of the tapes. Aru was on screen again- this time, she and the others were in near pitch black, and she was whispering.
The camera clattered on the ground, and someone, presumably Indigo, picked it back up. “Watch where you’re moving! And no, they don’t have the most control. Whoever else has it does. They’ve probably already spread it to, like, thirty people by the time they’re watching!” she hissed. That didn’t help me feel much better about myself.
“Well, whoever’s watching, try and remember all the people you’ve contacted before this video! Try and tell them to quarantine themselves, kinda like they did during the coronavirus thing!” Aru recommended. I thought back- I’d contacted Chloe, Chad, and that police officer. Maya too, but if the virus were real, that would be a given.
Skyler decided to butt in. Apparently, he wasn’t on recon duty anymore. “What’s coronavirus? Why’d they have to quarantine?” he asked. That was strange- just about everyone knew what coronavirus was. It was the disease that took the world by storm about half a year earlier. People were still in quarantine, and the economy was crashing and burning.
“It’s just- I’ll explain later, Sky. Viewer, what’s important is that you try and stop it before it gets any worse. You might not be able to stop yourself from getting it, but you can stop others! Plus, if you raise awareness, you can get people to study a cure without decimating the nation first. Just-”
“Arufa, shut the hell up, they’re here!” Indigo whispered. The camera shut off and the recording ended.
Maya turned to me. “Sumisu, you heard her. You must show this to others. God knows we cannot save ourselves,” she said. My hands were shaky, and I didn’t quite know what to do. “Sumisu. I am talking to you.”
“Yeah, I know!” I blurted. “I’m just tryin’ to figure things out, got it? I just… I dunno, man. I don’t know what to do. Everyone’d think I’m stupid if I went and told people about a virus we don’t even know is real.”
“We are fairly certain it is real. Otherwise, I would have spotted a flaw by now.”
“Well, you spotted a ‘flaw’ earlier, and you were wrong,” I reminded her. “So that doesn’t mean shit. Our only evidence is a flash drive and a box. That’s not even enough to prove a theft.”
Maya let out a sigh. “It is what was inside the box and the drive that is important. And besides, is it not best to try? If it turns out to be a hoax, so be it, Sumisu. If not, you will regret not taking action,” she told me.
She was about to continue before my mom called from the first floor. “We’re leaving in fifteen minutes!”
“Wh-wha?! Fifteen- why would she even…?” I questioned sporadically.
“I have no clue. She does this often, you know. Most likely it has to do with the car situation,” Maya replied. “Regardless! Do something about this. Do you reckon we have time for one more of these videos before we leave?”
“No. Fifteen minutes to her is, like, three sec-”
“Come on! Chop chop!” she yelled. I heard the garage door open.
“Dear God,” Maya remarked. “Does she know how time works?” She scooched out of her chair and waddled out of my whirlwind of a room. I followed her, looming over her like a bodyguard. I wasn’t very tall, but she was young and short, so I could pretend to be.
I checked the clock on the main floor’s oven. “Three o’clock? What the hell! She called us at, like, 2:59!” I turned to my mom through the open door. She was unlocking the car, her curly blonde hair waving in the slight wind. “Mom! You said ‘fifteen minutes’ half a minute ago! Why are we leaving now?”
“Honey, your cousins are over at the national park. You want to play in the forest, don’t you?” she replied unenthusiastically. She was preoccupied, since her keys were getting jammed. “Go get Chloe and Chad for me, okay?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I groaned, turning away to find them. Last I saw, they were in Chad’s room. I wondered what they had been doing there. When I approached the door, I once again snickered at the comical position it was cracked open in. I busted in like a firefighter and found Chloe chuckling while Chad sat in a state of horror.
“Oh, hey, Nikkun! Want to play with us?” Chloe asked me like I was a kindergartner. “We’re playing two truths and a lie.”
“I came to get you two. The other cousins are at the park, mom said. We’re leaving,” I told her. “And Chad, the hell you sittin’ there all useless for?”
Chad shivered and stood up. “It’s nothing, Niko. We gotta go, right? You’re gettin’ in the way.” He pushed through me to leave the room. I could only wonder what truths and lies Chloe told him to mess him up so bad.
Chloe got up and began walking, so I turned around to follow Chad. Suddenly, though, she grasped onto my shoulder, and I tended up. Maya was watching all this, and I saw worry all over her. “Where’re you going, Nikkun? We’re playing two truths and a lie,” she whispered. What the hell? She’d never done this before. I was mortified.
“Uh, I’m going to the car. We have to go, remember?” I reminded her as calmly as I could. I tried to jerk away, and she held on tighter.
“But why can’t we stay here for a while?” she asked. I wasn’t sure whether she was being innocent or seductive, which was all the more terrifying. I brought my arm up to push her off of me and backed up away from the door.
“Chloe, the hell are you doin’?! Back off!” I snarled.
She reconciled for a little while before speaking again. “Oh, sorry. I’m not sure why I did that. Haha. Let’s go, Nikkun.” She trotted off to the garage quickly, leaving me in shock.
Maya looked up at me, concerned. “I-I have no idea what that was, Sumisu. I have not seen that side of her before. I can only admit, I am a little worried.” Yeah, no shit. She should have been. “I would recommend keeping away from her.”
“Yeah, I’d recommend that too, Maya. Jesus,” I huffed, turning to head to the car. What had gotten into her, I didn’t know, but I didn’t think it would happen again. That got me thinking, though- things that get into people… like the virus. I had somehow forgotten about it. Well, not really. It was just in the back of my mind. I wouldn’t be able to convince my mom to let me stay home, so it seemed like that Aru girl would have to give up whatever hope she had.
Not that she would’ve had any hope in the first place if she’s known the one who’d let it out was a moron like me.