Chapter 14:

Morality

Han Hito: The Story of Patient Zero


After a relatively nightmare-free sleep, I blinked open to solid darkness. I couldn’t see a single star- was it cloudy? Not even the moon was out. I then realized I’d forgotten to take off the tarp, and when I did, I found the sky was still a pale blue. The sun was close to the horizon, so I assumed it was close to dinner.

I shuffled out of my bag and stood up drowsily. Suddenly, a wave of smell hit my nostrils- someone was already cooking. I rubbed my eyes and saw Sammy roasting the carcass of a deer over the fire. “Deer again? What are you trying to do, make me nostalgic?” I asked her.

“It was the largest thing I could find. Matter of fact, I reckon it’s the largest animal in these woods. Heh. At least, it was,” she replied, turning the carcass over to heat both sides. “I also stole some seasoning!” She pulled a canister of a salt-pepper mix from her pocket and shook it like a maraca.

“Where from?”

“Eh?”

“Where’d you steal it from?” I repeated myself.

She shrugged. “Old convenience store down the street. It was one of the only things they had left after all that stealing early on,” she answered, setting the canister on the ground beside her. “I also saw Chloe hunting. She caught something big like I did, but she’s cooking it out in the woods to give me space. Reckon that’s ‘cause mine’s bigger!”

“Did you see Chad and Ben?” I asked.

“Saw them early on. Never after that, though. They must’ve gone far past the territory. They’d better come back. The last thing I want tonight is a negotiation for their lives,” she huffed.

I played with my scarf. “Yeah, that would suck. Good luck with the deer, by the way.” I turned around and looked for Maya. When I found her, she was in a conversation with Murry.

“I do not believe you. What you are saying fails to abide by the laws of reality,” Maya scolded. “Do you seriously believe I would fall for that?”

“Hey, hey, what’s going on?” I interceded. They both looked at me, though Murry seemed somewhat discouraged.

Murry shoved his hands in his pockets. “I was trying to tell her that- I- um… I had fur before the virus. And she doesn’t believe me.” I must have subconsciously made some face, because he followed with, “You don’t believe me either, do you?”

“I mean… I don’t really wanna believe you, cause that’s kinda weird. But scientifically, it lines up,” I sighed.

Maya scowled at me. “How can you say that, Niko? Humans do not have fur. The virus travels through humans alone based on their immune systems. Murry here obviously has the virus, so he must be human.”

“Remember when we first met him? He already had fur by then. And his deadline hasn’t come yet. That means he must have first contracted the virus only a day or two before we met him, and since the virus rarely has obvious physical effects until fifteen days in, he must have had his fur beforehand,” I shot back. “But it still doesn’t make much sense.”

Murry held out his hands. “There are a lot of things that don’t make sense without perspective. And everyone’s always missing some perspective, so…” He shook his head. “W-what I’m saying is, there’s a lot about me you guys’ll never know. And there’s a lot I’ll never know about you. But that’s just how it is.”

“Well, there is no way you are not human,” Maya said. “That is not possible.”

“Y-you’re not human anymore, either,” he replied. “At least, not fully…”

“Who the hell cares?” I spat, startling them both.

“H-h-huh?” Murry stammered.

I cleared my throat. “Who cares if you aren’t human? Who cares if you are? Just because someone’s human or not doesn’t mean they’re not a person. If I find out you’re some kinda alien, that doesn’t mean I’m gonna treat you like an animal. It all depends on what you call a person.”

Maya tilted her head. “Well, what if I define it as being human?” she inquired.

“Then you’re a hypocrite.” I took a nearby stick and scratched a line in the dirt. “We live in a world now where being a person is totally disassociated with being human. Someone who’s ninety-percent animal is still a person. Some terrible humans might not deserve consideration as people. That doesn’t mean they aren’t people, it just means they’re trash.” I drew a circle that the line cut in half. “Calling someone a person is subjective, but I think this line right here is conscience. If someone has the will to breathe, the motivation and desire to live, and the brains to think, they’re a person. And that includes Murry.”

Maya crossed her arms. “What baffles me is how this became a talk on morality,” she stated simply.

“Well, uh, I think y-you made a good point, Niko!” Murry backed me up. “Hey, Sammy! How close is it?”

Sammy poked her head around the tent. “It’s only twenty minutes out. You’ll have to let it cool after, but it smells pretty good already!” she replied.

It was only a few minutes later when I saw something moving in the forest and felt goosebumps crawl over my skin. “Hey, Chloe’s back,” John pointed out. He had come out just before then and was snacking on a dried beef stick he had saved.

Chloe was holding two large plastic containers that she had snatched from the medical tent. Each of them was nearly packed to the brim with shreds of brown-red meat ranging from tiny to the size of my forearm. I could also tell she had taken the time to season them. “I’m back, fuhu~! Is Sammy done yet, or am I first?”

Murry was shocked to hear Chloe speaking properly. “Hey, since when could she…” he whispered in my ear.

“Always. I don’t know why, but she was pretending she couldn’t,” I explained to him.

Maya looked at her head-on. “Sammy still has some ten minutes remaining before she can serve. If you are ready, you are welcome to serve yours as an appetizer.”

“I would love to! Alright, everyone, grab a plate!” Chloe announced, setting her containers down. She ran to the tent and back to get the last of our paper plates. She started handing them out, and once we all had one, she opened the containers.

Immediately, I scrunched my nose. The smell wasn’t awful, but something about it repelled me. I wondered if she had cooked some rotting meat on the ground; I decided I wouldn’t eat it. Murry was also repulsed, but he and I were alone in that- Maya was visibly drooling.

She started divvying up the meat. As soon as Tori got hers, it was gone. John, too, feasted quickly. I fully expected Maya to dig in as well, but she managed to subdue her appetite to ask Chloe a question. “What meat is this?” she asked.

“It’s a sort of pork, Maya. I think it’s delicious! I had some myself, earlier. Don’t tell~!” Chloe replied, moving along. She dished some out to Murry and I, smiling.

When she finished, she started eating the pork straight from the containers. Murry was hesitant to touch his, and I didn’t bother to lay a finger on mine. “It looks like pork,” he said to me quietly, “b-but where would she get pork? Is it expired meat from the store? Y-you smell it too, right?”

“Yeah. I don’t know why she’s lying about it, because-”

“Wait.” Murry shushed me and studied his portion more carefully. “Do you… d-do you know what ‘long pork’ is?”

I racked my brain. “No, I don’t think so. What, is it, like, genetically modified pork or something?”

“N-no. It’s a euphemism. It means…” He hesitated.

“Spit it out already. What’s it mean?”

“It means human flesh.”

I punched him in the arm. “Murry, this isn’t human meat. We’d know by now if anyone from another territory watched Chloe kill part of their group. It’d be war.”

“Yeah, y-you’re right,” Murry sighed, almost relieved that his own idea had been a misconception. I watched as Chloe went around talking to the various family members. Maya still hadn’t eaten her food either- she was just messing around with it, twirling it around the fork she’d cleaned after every meal since Han Hito began.

Then, Chloe came around to us. “Heya, Nikkun~” she squealed. “How are your brothers?”

“They’re still out hunting. You know that. Don’t be stupid,” I replied starkly. I tried not to let her creep me out.

“That’s not what I meant, fuhuhu~!” she giggled before moving on to Murry. “Murry, Murry! Your sister’s a wonderful chef!”

Murry looked away from her nervously. “My sister’s not here. And, uh, if she were, you’d know she’s awful at cooking, heh,” he joked. “If you meant Sammy, she’s my girlfriend, not my sister…”

“Girlfriend, sister, it’s all the same, anyway. Long as one loves the other!” Chloe laughed. “Well, is the food good?”

Murry did not like being pressed. “Y-yeah! It’s fine! Where’d you get it?” he asked her quickly, despite not actually having tasted the pork.

“I got it from a family member!” she explained. I had actually wondered whether she had been in contact with the family outside of the woods- this confirmed it. She then teetered away around the tent, presumably to visit Sammy. Murry shuddered.

“S-she’s really creepy. Should I tell her she’s invading my personal space? I don’t like it when people get that close to me…” he uttered. “Niko, she answered one of your questions really weirdly, remember?” I did- when I told her Benji and Chad were out hunting, she responded with ‘that’s not what I meant’. What had she meant, then?

I thought about it some more. ‘How are your brothers?’ she had asked. How else could she have meant that? ‘How are they’, ‘how are they’, there was something wrong here. She’d gotten it from family, she didn’t mean what I thought she’d said, ‘how were they’… I connected the pieces and felt my gag reflex kick in.

‘How are your brothers’ had been referring to the food, hadn’t it?

“Niko, are you- Niko!” Murry wailed as I vomited forward. Stomach acid sizzled in the grass as the group watched me with confusion and fear. “H-hey! It’s okay!”

I almost gagged again. “It’s not okay, Murry! It’s not- it’s not, it’s not okay!” I couldn’t tell the difference between my vomit and my tears through my blurred vision. “She killed them! She killed Chad and Benji!”

Tori set down her plate and rushed over. “Let’s not get irrational, Niko. She couldn’t have-”

“Why are you sad, Nikkun? You were the one that told them not to come back! I just granted your wish~!” she giggled.

“Wait, so you actually…” Maya gasped, dropping her plate.

Chloe shot a smile at her. “Well, what was I supposed to do, leave them lost in the forest? This way, they found their way back home~! Think of them as even closer to you now that they’re in your stomachs!” I felt so many emotions rush through me. Bewilderment, sadness, and rage were among the most prominent. I wanted so badly to stab Chloe right where she had tried to stab herself. If there was any one human that wasn’t a person, it was her.

I was in a state of disbelief. Chad and Benji couldn’t have been dead. That wasn’t even possible. They’d made it through their first Cycle, and I was confident they’d keep on fighting until there was a cure. But out the tears came, mourning the loss I refused to believe ever happened. I didn’t know how much I cared until they were gone. Murry tried to comfort me, but I pushed him away and crawled away to my bed. I went to sleep then- I didn’t want food anymore. I just wanted my brothers back.

I was sure there was some sort of ripple in our community, because when I woke up at around four in the morning, I found Chloe’s zipper had a padlock on it. Why had we let her hunt when we knew how twisted she was? I knew how twisted she was. I knew from the start. Why didn’t I tell anyone? Was I afraid I would be wrong? Was I afraid I would be right? I wish I’d known. I wish I’d known how much worse it could get.

I found Sammy’s lantern still had no batteries, but this time, I didn’t care about waking her and Murry up. I stomped through the curtains of the tent and waited for Sammy to awaken.

“Who… wha… Niko? Why are you awake, I thought you… what is it?” she asked, still half-asleep. I held the dark lantern up to her face, and she squinted. “The lantern? What do you want with it?”

I didn’t want to speak, so I just motioned towards the empty battery slot. “You need batteries…? There are some in the plastic drawer next to Murry. Lest you wake him, I’ll…”

I sloppily stepped over Murry to open the drawer and take out a couple of double-a’s. He fidgeted a little, but he didn’t appear to gain consciousness. I stuffed the small cylinders into the lantern and walked outside before turning it on. It didn’t shine like a spotlight, but it was sufficient. I walked around Chloe’s tent and found where Sammy had been cooking the deer. There were a few pieces left with a sticky note hanging on the side of the plate.

In neat handwriting, it said, ‘To Niko: Sorry that happened. We knew Chloe was off, but we never thought she would do what she did. I just want you to know we’re with you all the way, whatever you decide to do. From Murry.’ I read it while snacking on the cold leftovers set out for me. As I did, I felt the sting of a wound on my right cheek and pulled my hands up. It was where I had been scratched by Chad before he left for the last time. It was my last reminder of his existence.

I peeled the bandages off and unsheathed my claws. Then, over and over again, I followed the lines of the claw marks across my cheeks, reopening the wounds. I felt the blood on my cheek mix with tears as it dripped onto my hand. I hadn’t realized I was crying again. I was crying so much, I felt ashamed. Why couldn’t I just get over things like everyone else, like Chad used to when something went wrong, like Murry, wearing a smile through adversity?

As I stared at the barren ground, I noticed something. There was a white feather strewn on the earth, so I picked it up. My blood stained its white sheen red, but it wasn’t so important to retain the color. I knew that somehow, someway, Sammy was immune to Han Hito. Through my struggle, I knew I still had to pay my debt for everyone else. Her feather- her genes, something in her genome- had the secret to the cure. And in light of my loss, I knew just one thing.

I wasn’t going to surrender to Han Hito until I had paid my debt back to the world.

Supersession
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