Han Hito: The Story of Patient Zero
“What’s the trade for him?” I snarled at Murry’s captors. He was watching my every movement in fear- the way I responded now could mean life or death for him.
The man securing Murry narrowed his revoltingly red eyes at me. “We want whoeva’ caught that deer. You give ‘im to us, we set the li’l guy free,” he barked. He had small stripes across his neck, which I couldn’t exactly pinpoint to any of the strands of the virus I’d seen.
“H-hey, wait! That’s S-Sammy! You can’t-” the man pressed the knife harder to Murry’s throat, and he traded talking for shivering silently. I clenched my fist and backed away. Seeing Murry helpless like that bothered me.
“You shut up, furry boy. It don’t involve you,” the man hissed, tightening his grip around Murry’s torso and arms. “Cat kid. I wantchu ta holler for yer friend.”
I nodded and turned around, trying to remain calm. “Sammy. Get over here. Calmly,” I called. Sammy jogged over and stopped when she saw the two men. It seemed like she was about to fight them, then she stepped back. She must have seen Murry and decided against it.
“Hey, that’s that girl from earlier! Is she the one that caught the thing?” the other scrappy man gasped. His face was distorted a little, and his skull was protruding into a snout like Murry’s was, though his was far less cute. I could see the beginnings of scales forming under his flaky skin.
“Yes, I am. What does it concern you?” Sammy replied shakily. She had her bow secured to her back again, I noticed, and she was beginning to reach for it with her hand subconsciously. I slapped her hand lightly, and she put it back down.
The man holding Murry smiled eerily. “Great. Now you hand ‘er over to him-” he pointed at the other man- “and we go ‘bout our beeswax.” Sammy looked at me with uncertainty.
“I have a better trade offer,” I spat, lowering my stance. “Give him back and we’ll give you your lives. Hurt him at all, and it’s you two’s heads over the fire. Don’t you think that’s fair?” Sammy recognized this as an opportunity and whipped out her bow and arrow. She pulled an arrow from her quiver and readied it.
The scaly man dropped his rope and backed up, opening his hands in surrender. The other man did not. He sat there, still holding Murry captive. “Yer games aren’t funny. Hand ‘er over. We had a deal,” he said. He must have not realized the severity of the situation.
“I’m nice enough to give you a countdown. On one, we shoot both of you. And I’ll have you know Sammy’s a deadeye. She hasn’t missed a shot since I met her.” I omitted having only seen her shoot once. To be fair, though, she did hit her target that time, and it was only fair to assume she could do it again. “Five.”
“They’re just bluffing. Don’t be scared,” the man holding Murry said. “They won’t shoot long as I’m holdin’ this here fellow.”
“Four,” I counted, bringing down one of my fingers.
Sammy held her bow further at the ready. “I don’t have to worry about hitting Murry. I’m sharp enough I can pierce an arrow through you without a second thought.”
The scaly man was getting desperate. “Come on! They’re not jokin’! If you stay there, they’ll kill you!”
“Alright, alright! I’m lettin’ go!” the captor yelled. He released Murry from his grasp and backed away. “You’ll regret that move, kid.”
“I don’t think I will,” I shot back, slowly moving forward. I grabbed Murry’s hand and yanked him back- he stumbled over to Sammy and cowered behind her.
“Oh, yeah? And why’s that? I got a whole buncha allies. They’ll kick yer ass into yesterday,” he argued. He was very animated- his motions were lively and gestural. He widened his arms and feigned a swing at me, which I instinctively ducked under.
I backed away quickly and drew my knife. “This is why.” With a waggle of my wrist at each of them, they sunk back into the woods. “You better not come back,” I called after them.
“Those are the lads I was talking about, Niko. I told you they were hostile,” Sammy growled. She quickly spun her bow back onto its straps and secured it. “We almost lost Murry! That could easily have been prevented!”
“No, it couldn’t’ve. That’s how people work. They do things on their own will. They don’t give a shit about planning if they’re confident enough. Like those guys. They thought we weren’t armed. Big underestimation on their part,” I said. She put her hands to her head and then thrust them back out.
“No! That’s not the point! Why did we leave Murry without cover?! You were the one who said the woods were dangerous!”
“Yeah, it’s his fault for-”
“His fault for what, sitting down?”
“Guys!” Murry interceded, pushing Sammy back. “I-it’s not either of your faults! I messed up, okay? I should’ve fought that guy off. I-I could have-”
“No! Shut up, Murry!” Sammy yelled. “You couldn’t have done a thing! It’s this son-of-a-bitch’s fault you were even touched! If I ever see him again after we leave, I swear I’ll…”
Murry put his working hand on Sammy’s shoulder. “Please stop for a second. J-just listen.” She flinched back and was ready to continue her fountainous babbling, but she decided to lie low for a little while.
“Look, I get you’re mad. I can tell, jeez,” I hissed at Sammy. “But we can’t blame that on anyone. It was just random. I can’t blame Murry, cause I didn’t tell him to stay away from places near the edge of the clearing. And you can’t blame me for that, cause I didn’t think it was an issue.”
“Why didn’t you think it was an issue?!”
I bit my lip and put my hand to my mouth. “Those two never gave us trouble before.”
Murry gasped. “Wait, you’ve seen them before?”
“Yeah. I gave them a piece of our original territory so they’d have somewhere to stay. In return, they were supposed to stay away from us. We’re gonna have to kick them out soon enough because of that stunt they just pulled,” I explained. “They came pretty late in the game, so I kinda thought they were helpless like you two were. Be warned, if you two ever end up like them, I swear…”
Sammy clenched her fist and put it to my chin. “Niko, you bastard! Why the hell did you not warn us?!” I backed up, but she was still pissed. “Those two might just well have killed us had I not showed up! You’re a lucky man!”
“Lucky man or not, I’m alive, you’re alive, we’re all fine. Murry, did he cut you at all?” I asked.
Murry pressed a hand to his throat. “No.”
“Alright, then. Let’s just forget about this. If you guys are gonna leave, now would not be the time. Those two are probably prowling around camp, and if they catch you off-guard, you’re done,” I described. I had no doubt in Murry and Sammy’s combined strengths, but a sneak attack from someone with a rope could kill regardless of skill.
“Well, I think I can fend for myself. May it be a lesson for them on who to pick their fights with,” Sammy spat, turning around. “Murry, grab what you can of the deer. We’re leaving.”
“Wha- Sammy! Where are you going…?!” Murry stammered. Sammy continued to walk away without remorse. “Come back! It’s dangerous out there!”
I crossed my arms. “Let her go. She’ll be back within the hour if she doesn’t die.” I watched her arms swing as she stepped through the bushes, away from the clearing. “She seems smart enough to realize how stupid she’s acting. But I could be wrong.”
“Y-you just called my girlfriend stupid, Niko,” Murry pouted, gazing off into the overgrown horizon.
“She’s not stupid. She just acts like it sometimes. Like right now,” I replied. It wasn’t quite the response he was looking for, but it was better than telling him she was stupid, which would also be a lie. I didn’t really know what else to tell him. Maybe I was stupid.
Murry sighed. “I-I don’t know why she gets so riled up sometimes. Or why she seems so intent on leaving right now. She holds grudges sometimes and never really gets rid of them. I was hoping she wouldn’t, but…” He took a breath. “I, uh, I think she’s holding one against you.”
“I can tell,” I said. “Dunno what for. Next time you see her, talk with her in private about it. I seriously don’t know what she’s so pissed about, but if she keeps acting like that, I’m gonna get pissed, too.”
Suddenly, someone slapped me on the shoulder. I clenched it with my other hand and recoiled, but when I turned around and found Chad, he seemed incredibly worried. “So much is going wrong! Quick, you gotta come help!” he shouted so loud Murry had to cover his ears.
“What?” I responded quickly.
“I’ll explain on the way! Hurry up, dumbasses!” He took off running back to where he came from- the other side of camp- and Murry and I chased after him.
“W-what’s going on?” Murry asked, stuttering his words.
Chad turned his head. “Attack from the northern side of camp! Tori’s holding them back for now, but it’s not good! Oh, and on top a’ that? Chloe got out! If we don’t find her, we’re…”
“Shit! I think Maya must’ve left her tent unzipped!” I replied, cutting him off. “Where’s Maya? Where’s Benji?” Murry must have been watching us with the most confused look on his face.
“Benji’s in the tent with John! I grabbed you so you could watch him, ‘cause we need John out fendin’ ‘em off!” I groaned at this. I never got to partake in the action- I was too young to fight, but I was too old to do nothing, so I always got boring jobs.
Murry perked up. “W-what can I do to help?”
“Look for Chloe! You seen ‘er, right? Big weird spider-y thing! Round ‘er up and bring ‘er back to the tent with a zipper on it!” Chad commanded. “And don’t let ‘er bite you! She’ll be somewhere near the clearin’. Go!”
Murry veered off right as we approached the scene of the action. I saw Tori waving a long, pointed stick- our spear- at a woman I’d never seen before. “Chad!” she called, using her free hand to motion him over.
“The tent’s right there, Niko! Tell John to get out!” Chad yelled at me before running over to Tori. I didn’t see much of the battle after that- I ran into the tent and found John and Benji holding small pieces of rope. I guessed John was teaching him how to tie a knot.
“John, they need you. I’ve got Ben,” I hissed.
John immediately stood up and stepped around me to the flaps of the tent. “I’ll finish teaching you later, Ben,” he promised Benji before leaving. That left me and Benji alone.
“Hey, Niko,” he said unenthusiastically. “What’s going on?”
“They’re fighting someone. Don’t worry about it, we’re gonna be fine,” I told him.
He lit up at the word ‘fighting’. “Let me use my powers on them!” I must have subconsciously made some face at him- he pouted at me. “Come on. I can obliterate them!”
“Han Hito isn’t a joke, Ben. You don’t get superpowers from it. If you’re lucky enough, the best thing you can get is your life.” He clucked his head to the side in confusion. “What I mean is, it’s deadly, and if you get lucky, you’ll survive it.”
“Well then how come you have cat ears?” he questioned.
“You do know how the thing works by now, right?” I asked in return. He shook his head. “It turns people into animals, to put it simply. It’s turning me into a cat, so it changed the cells in my ears to cat cells. So I have cat ears now.” I pushed my dirty-blonde sideburns back to show I had no ears on the sides of my head. The only ears I had were the cat-like ones higher above.
Benji huffed. “How’s that bad?”
“How is it bad that you’re turning into a cat? You said it was deadly!”
I pondered how best to respond to his question. “Animals aren’t as complicated as we are, at least in the brain. If you turn into an animal, you lose your conscience. Like, the ability to think, basically. It’s like dying, but only mentally. It’s still dying, just in a different kinda way, y’know?”
He nodded. “Oh. Okay. Then how come Maya shocked me once?”
“What do you mean, shocked?” I asked him.
“Like, with lightning,” he answered. That statement was when I narrowed down what strand of the virus Maya had. For Benji’s sake, I would pretend that I knew all along.
“Well, do you know what an electric eel is? You saw how weird her hands looked, and how her skin is all slimy and grey-ish? That’s what’s happening to her. It’s kind of sad, though, because she’s gonna have to stay underwater closer to the end of her Cycle when her lungs devolve,” I explained.
Benji looked down. “What’s gonna happen to me?”
“I dunno. You’ve barely got anything going on, so I can’t tell what strand you have.”
I looked around the tent. “Hey, you can handle yourself for a little while, okay? I’m gonna go find Maya,” I told Benji, getting up and peeking out the tent. No one was looking my way, so I dashed away.
I wasn’t looking where I ran, so my body bashed straight into someone else’s. I fell down and shook my head to see Murry, who was looking down at me in shock. “A-are you alright?”
“Yeah,” I responded, crawling to my feet. “Everything going good?”
He nodded, which was a surprise to me. “I got Chloe back.” He pointed to the zipped tent beside us, and I sighed with relief.
“Nice. Do you know where Maya is? I haven’t seen her anywhere,” I asked, scratching the back of my head. Murry moved his finger behind me- I turned around and, sure enough, found Maya holding on tight to another whittled spear. “Well, I guess my running into you was kinda pointless, then, huh?”
Murry shook his head. “N-no! I don’t think anything’s pointless. I got to tell someone Chloe was safe, so I guess it was a good thing,” he replied. “Well, should I, um, follow you? Or should we try to find Sammy?”
“Oh, right, Sammy,” I remarked. “Yeah. Let’s find her before anyone else does.”
“Got it.” Murry turned around and looked around before walking into the forest. Before he was out of sight, I slipped over to Chloe’s tent and unzipped it.
“Hey, Chloe. How’d Murry get you back here so fast? We gotta learn that,” I whispered. Her shadowy figure peered at me from the corner of the tent. “Hey, hurry up and tell me. I don’t have all day.”
Murry turned around and called to me. “H-hey! Come on!” I was in the process of rezipping the tent when Chloe spoke up.
“N-Nikkunnn… he… strange, fire, moved… fell, and I was… h-here, I was there, and then I was here…” she blurted. “L-like… p-poor… all, all of it.” It was the most broken string of thoughts she’d ever had, and I was almost terrified. I zipped up the tent and ran after Murry, but for months I’d try to decipher what she said that day.