Han Hito: The Story of Patient Zero
A few days had passed, and we’d had no success getting in contact with that policeman or in studying the virus. We had watched most of the tapes by then, though. Together, they painted a morbid tale- a group of so-called rebels who traveled through various lands to escape some unknown captors. All but Aru disappeared in the last few tapes, and it seemed like she was defeated and lonely. I hated watching her suffer through filming them, so I never got to finishing the last few.
I had turned sixteen by then, which meant I was old enough to drive. I still wasn’t driving, though, only because I had no reason to. It was a week until school started, and I wanted to avoid physical excursions as much as possible, for both virus-related and personal reasons. As the days passed, I began to feel more of the symptoms. The biggest kick was that of the heightened senses. I could hear more, see more, smell more, feel more, and taste more than I ever could before. I also found myself able to stand on one leg much more easily than before.
The flipside to it, though, was that every stomachache, headache, and bout of nausea I felt was magnified. I constantly felt like I was going to pass out or throw up, and on a few occasions, I did. Once, I threw up in the toilet and found blood- I knew I wasn’t internally bleeding, so I wondered why the hell there was blood in my stomach acid. It was part of the virus, I learned, and it would stick around for a while. The files said my vomiting would get more frequent as the virus progressed, which I didn’t look forward to.
It had been six days since we found the virus- five since I turned sixteen- when my cousins were planning to leave. I realized if Maya returned to her home in New York, the virus would spread wildly through the population. She was packing up her bags in the guest room when I found her. “What do you want, Sumisu?”
“What’s gonna happen? If you leave, the whole world’s screwed,” I told her as she tried to cram her dirty clothes into her dented bag. I hadn’t seen the dent when I packed it in the airport, so I assumed it was from the crash.
Maya groaned. “I am aware. Do you not think I have been trying to determine a course of action? I am not brain-dead,” she replied, standing up. “This virus, Han Hito, is quite real. I would be a fool to go about spreading it.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. So what’re you gonna do about it?”
She contemplated for a moment before sighing. “I… do not know, Sumisu. I could think of something had the virus been back in Manhattan. But it was not. And now I sit here, unable to do anything.” That was when an idea struck me. It wasn’t a brilliant idea- I wouldn’t even have considered it decent- but it was an idea nonetheless.
“What if we ran?” It was a spontaneous thought, so it wasn’t well-ideated. “I’ve done it before. Running from home isn’t hard. It’s staying away from home that’s hard.”
“Where would we run to?” Maya asked me. I must’ve been taking a while to answer, because she said, “That’s what I thought,” and went back to packing.
“The forest,” I said after a prolonged period of silence. “Where the Labs were. We could use the science stuff out there to study the virus. And we wouldn’t come in contact with anyone unless they approached us.”
Maya snorted at my idea. “And how do you suppose we go about that? Just get up and leave?”
“I knew you were not the brightest specimen, but really, Sumisu? They would send search parties. You would barely make it a mile,” she scoffed at me. “If we must, we should at least plan it first. And, since you have only thought of it just now, we have no time to do so.”
“How do you think I ran away last time?” She perked up at this. She knew I had a history of running from home. The reason, though, she didn’t know so much about, but my troubled past was none of her concern. “I told mom and dad I was going to the museum to hang out with friends. After a couple miles of walking, I was free to go wherever. So I did.”
Maya lowered a brow at me. “Would they not have learned from it?” she questioned.
“Bahaha. They don’t give a shit about me,” I laughed. Maya stared at me like I was a maniac. “What? You know it’s true.”
“No, that is not what I am questioning. ‘Bahaha’? What sort of laugh is that? Where did you pick that up, Sumisu?”
I flustered and looked down. “It’s something Aubrey used to say before she left for boarding school,” I huffed. “I won’t say it again. It’s stupid.”
“Yes, it is, and I am quite glad you realize that,” Maya scolded. “It sure has been some time since I last saw Aubrey. What was it, three years ago? Does she still write to you?”
“Uh-huh,” was all I said.
Maya put her hands on her hips and looked me in the eyes. “Well, at least send a letter to her about it before you leave. The virus, I mean. She deserves to know why you will stop replying.”
A silence fell over the room as I thought about it all. Aubrey, my twin sister, was the only person who ever really saw eye-to-eye with me. She had left for boarding school three years ago and would return that next summer. My parents always supported her and encouraged her- I wasn’t sure what they saw in her, but they were determined to draw it out. She had potential, alright- she was talented enough to get into an advanced school far away. I was happy for her. I just wished her progress hadn’t meant my setback.
A sharp voice penetrated my train of thought. “Maya! Nikkun! You done packing yet? We have thirty minutes till we gotta go, so hurry up!” Chloe yelled up the stairs.
“We have thirty minutes to think of something. Sumisu, if I must, I will run for the woods, but I strongly advise you to think of something else quickly…” Maya said. She was shivering, and I couldn’t tell whether it was the virus that was causing it or fear.
“Why don’t we spend those thirty minutes running?” I suggested, tugging at the sides of my vest. “Grab Chloe and Chad. And Ben, if he’ll come along. It’d be stupid if it were just the two of us.”
Maya thought for a second, then groaned. “Fine. I will alert Chad and Benji. You get Chloe and Tori.”
“You have contacted her, have you not? It would be remiss to not quarantine her as well,” she proposed. I had to agree- Tori, our eldest cousin, while she wasn’t very present, had come in close contact with me more than a few times.
I opened the door. “Alright. We gotta go quick. Try and explain what’s happening to them, and we should be running off in, like, twenty.” I didn’t close the door because I knew Maya was about to leave. A few light steps took me to the door of Aubrey’s old room, where Tori and her fiancé were staying. I hated that my parents used it as a guest room- she would be coming back in just a year, I told them- but I could do nothing about it.
I knocked on the door hesitantly, and it creaked open. She had forgotten to close it fully. As a precautionary measure, I also tried the handle- it wouldn’t budge. She must have locked the door but failed to close it. “Tori?”
A startled yelp echoed through the room, and muffled shuffling sounded. I stood there for a moment before Tori opened the door, her chocolate-brown hair in a messy ponytail. She was flush and sweaty; my younger self would have asked if she was working out. She wore just a sleeveless shirt and short shorts. “What is it, Niko?”
“Well, I’ll try to explain it, but I need you to get some real clothes first. And maybe bring John with you,” I told her.
“Can you give me five minutes? I’m about to finish something, and then I’ll be with you,” she pleaded.
I crossed my arms. “Fine. But you two better stop getting it on in my sister’s room, got it?” She nodded and closed the door fully. It clicked into place, and I was locked out again. While she and John, her fiancé, had their fun, I figured I would grab Chloe. I stutter-stepped down the stairs and found Chloe sitting on the couch, looking at her phone.
“Oh, Nikkun!” she gasped. “Look at this TikTok I found! The guy just-” I reached over and powered off her phone. “Nikkun, why did you do that?”
“Cause I have something important to say. Is your stuff packed?” I growled, pacing around the couch. She looked at me like I was a madman, which I may well have been.
“Yeah, I packed. Why?”
“We’re gonna leave a little sooner than everyone else. Just grab your bag and get ready to go,” I told her. “I’ll explain later.”
She was almost astonished. “Why can’t you explain now?” she questioned. My real answer would have been ‘because I don’t feel like it’, but that wouldn’t suffice.
I came up with something that made at least partial sense. “I’m also gonna explain it to Tori and John, so I’m waiting for them so I can explain it all at once,” I lied. Though, come to think of it, that would be a decent plan regardless. I decided to use it.
“What are you waiting for? Why aren’t they here now?” Chloe pressed.
I groaned. “Take a wild guess.”
“Are they seriously- I swear, they never learn! I just- jeez, I don’t think Tori was that much of a…” She cut herself off. “Well, Nikkun, when they finish, get them quick, okay? I’m bored.”
“I will,” I promised. “I have a question, by the way.”
“Have you thrown up at all in the last few days?” The question caught her by surprise.
She tallied something on her fingers, then held up four of them. “Yeah. Like, four times, I think. I don’t feel super sick, I was just throwing up randomly. It was weird. How did you know? Did I forget to flush the toilet?”
“No. I don’t use the same bathroom as you, anyway. I just… I don’t know how to explain it without explaining the other thing. So just come upstairs and help me get Tori and John out. Then I’ll tell you everything you need to know.” I ran up the stairs, realizing time was of the essence, and knocked on Tori’s door again.
“Okay, okay! We’re done, Niko! Let us put on some clothes!” Tori snapped. I heard more rustling from the other side of the door, and next thing I knew, Tori was standing in the doorway in a hoodie and regular shorts. She had apparently taken my advice to put on more decent clothing. “Okay. What is it?”
Chloe ran up behind me just as I began to speak. “Now, this is gonna sound dumb, but I need you to listen to me for the whole time I’m talking and make stupid comments after, okay?” I could see John’s stark-black hair behind Tori, so I knew he was in earshot, too. “I want you guys to run away with me.”
“What the actual fu-” I put a hand over Tori’s mouth to shut her up.
“I said not to make comments till I was done, got it?” She opened her mouth to argue, but no words came out, and she closed it. “Alright. So the other day, you might remember me, Chad, Chloe, and Maya got in a car crash. I know Chad’s still pissed about it. Chloe, you were there, so you might be able to back me up on this. We crashed near a big laboratory close to the airport, alright? It’s next to the forest. I was just wandering around, and I found a bunch of equipment thrown out like garbage. Chloe, you remember that, right?”
“Does this have something to do with that box you said was just packaging instructions, Nikkun…?” she inquired.
“Yeah, it does. We found a metal box with a flash drive in it, and I busted it open on the side of the building. There wasn’t anything in it, so we left,” I explained. “Well, Maya and I got to checking that flash drive, and turns out, there was something in there that I probably shouldn’ta let out. There were all sorts of files and recordings and warnings on the drive about some kind of deadly bioweapon that was ‘safely stored in that box’. So I take responsibility for all the damages, and you guys run away with me to try and quarantine the virus before it kills off the entire world.”
As I expected, the looks on their faces ranged from mildly amused to downright horrified. “Niko, I’m not running away with you just because you get lonely. And you can’t even admit it either? That’s kind of sad,” Tori chuckled. John wasn’t swayed either way, but Chloe was clutching my shoulder and covering her mouth with her other hand.
“Was… was that what the throwing up was?” Chloe asked nervously. I nodded quickly and she flinched. “Oh, no…”
“Throwing up? What do you mean?” John asked. He seldom spoke out, so hearing his voice for the first time the whole trip confused me for a moment.
I looked up over Tori’s shoulder at him. “It’s one of the early symptoms of the bioweapon. If the vomit has blood in it, it’s pretty much a hundred percent the virus,” I told him. He looked wildly uncomfortable that moment, and immediately I knew what was going on.
“Wait, Niko, you are kidding, right? Because there’s no way anyone would throw up blood unless their internals were bleeding,” Tori scoffed defensively. “You need to learn your anatomy.”
“No, I’m not kidding. The virus has to find some way to get excess mass out of the body. Its first choice is tissue and blood, which comes out through vomit. You aren’t bleeding. The virus is routing excess blood to your stomach and making you gag,” I described. Her expression of disbelief slowly melted down her face.
“Which is why…” she reasoned aloud. “Please tell me you’re joking and the vomiting is just from a stomach bug.”
I sighed. “I hate to break it to you, but I’m not kidding. The evidence is right here,” I said, pulling the flash drive out of my pocket and twirling it. “The earth’s screwed if you don’t come with me. It might already be screwed if any of our parents have it.”
“Alright. I’ll go. But if it turns out it’s not real, I will ruin your life, Niko,” Tori threatened, still in a bit of denial. “What do I need to grab?”
“A few days’ worth of clothes and any food you can nab. The clothes should already be in your bag if you packed them.” I ran to my room. For a moment I looked around, then I grabbed my school backpack and started stuffing in whatever clothes I could fit inside it. I also packed my computer so I could show the others the files before it inevitably died. The only thing I put in the front pocket was a stationery set, so I could still write to Aubrey.
I rounded the corner and dashed down the stairs to find Maya finishing up explaining to Chad and Benji. Judging by their facial expressions, they both seemed convinced enough, more so than Tori had been. Chloe then popped out from what seemed like nowhere and tapped me on the shoulder.
“Nikkun.” Her face was plastered with worry and anguish.
“Are we going to die…?”
I pondered it for a moment. Would we all die? Would we fail to survive its ‘Cycles’ and ‘deadlines’ and ‘lifelines’ and never make it out the other side to tell the tale? I looked back at her.
“Not if I have anything to say about it.”