Chapter 18:

Arachne

Han Hito: The Story of Patient Zero


What is morality? Is it not the concept of treating someone as though they are not just a human, but a fellow person? And is a person not the culmination of the conscience to think, the will to continue, and the determination to see past the darkness of uncertainty?

I was a person, was I not? Did I not have that resilience, that conscience, that will, that determination? It must have still been in there. It had to have been. Because it’s when all hope is lost that true determination shines at its brightest.

So when I pushed on the ground with all my might, knowing full well I might never get up again, was that not true determination? So when I thrust the needle into my pounding, shivering body, was that not the drive to push forward?

Was it when I survived the impossible that I truly became a person?

Because it was that day when I decided that nothing would ever stop me again. I would never cower in fear again. I’d met death and spat in his face.

When Murry and Sammy came rushing into the tent, hearing me fall, everything hurt. But it wasn’t unbearable anymore. I’d made it past the deadline. I held up a peace sign with a massive grin on my face. Tears were rolling down my cheeks, but I kept smiling. There was nothing that could stop me anymore.

“How are you alive?!” Sammy cried, rushing over and picking me up off the ground. I was very light for my size- that was the virus’s fault. “How did you…?”

I wiped at the sides of my face. “I don’t know! Something- I just- I couldn’t die yet, Sammy, there was… there was something that wouldn’t let me die…” I knew I was speaking nonsense, but I was overjoyed that I’d survived at all. Who cared if I spoke in gibberish for a day?

“I know what you’re talking about!” Murry exclaimed. “When you’re about to die, but you know you have to do something, right? You cling onto the last thread of life and dangle above the chasm of death for a while, but you somehow make it out the other side and you're not even sure how it happened?” I nodded my head.

“How do you know that feeling?” Sammy questioned him.

He wiped his nose with his sleeve. “It was the- the you-know-what. I got hit and pinned down. That moment of determination was when I found… well, you know, Sammy,” he explained vaguely. I had no idea what he was talking about, but Sammy seemed to understand.

“Well, there’s a reason I lived, right? I’ve gotta keep working on the cure,” I stated, pulling myself away from Sammy. “I just have to figure out why-”

“Niko, stop. If you keep working yourself like this, you might die anyway! Just rest for a little while! What harm can it bring you?” Sammy groaned, snatching me by the scarf again. I hung my head. It almost seemed like they were trying to stop my cure efforts.

Murry sat down beside me in the tent. I still felt awful- my stomach was wailing like a baby in a movie theater- but my headache, the main symptom of the deadline, had subsided completely. “So, what you said about being patient zero,” he started.

“That’s right, yeah.”

He looked down with remorse. He didn’t speak for a moment, and I took the time to really take in his face. His eyelids were dropped half-down, and I noticed his eyes were glistening. “Was that what the flash drive was?”

I gulped. “...yeah.” I dug into my pocket with my deformed paw and revealed the dirt-smudged red flash drive. Murry gasped and grabbed it from my hands. “Your friend recorded these from the labs. She was explaining the virus and how to stop it to anyone who found it. I found it. And I smashed it open before I found out what it was.”

He flipped it around in his hands and clasped its scraped plastic. “Does that mean she’s dead?”

“What? No. She didn’t have it herself, Murry. I said I was patient zero,” I replied. He handed the drive back to me.

“Didn’t you say… you left this at home?”

“I lied, Murry.”

He stared at me. I could only imagine how betrayed he’d felt. “W-why?”

What was I supposed to say? “I didn’t want you to know it was all my fault,” I responded. I myself didn’t even know whether that was true. I had just lied to avoid the consequences of the truth.

“B-but Niko, I couldn’t’ve even-”

“Don’t make me feel worse about it, okay?” I spat. “It was a white lie. I only said it so you wouldn’t think I was an idiot.”

Murry sighed. “Okay, okay, I get it,” he said, but I sensed he was a little disheartened. I realized this was my fault, and I wanted to start cleaning up my guilt.

“Okay, how should I make it up to you?”

Murry gasped. “That’s… t-that’s not like you…”

“Then that’s an issue I gotta fix. How should I make it up to you, Murry?”

“N-no! It’s okay! You’re recovering! I don’t want to trouble you!” he stammered, standing up promptly. “I don’t need you to make it up for me! You already told me the truth, that’s all I needed to hear!”

“Well, let me tell you another truth,” I called before he left. “I’m sorry.” I saw him grin before he closed the flaps on me, and I was satisfied. Satisfied with him, at least. There was something else I still had to do.

My stomach ached and my nausea roared on as I fiddled with the equipment. I was able to extract a virus from my body and get it into a petri dish. It was impossibly tiny, but I managed to cram all the genetic information necessary inside it. It would recode my cells to produce the killer protein, and once I was in a more human form, I would use it on myself. I added cells to help the virus reproduce, and soon enough, I’d created a small culture of viruses. They wouldn’t destroy the cells- they’d simply use them as factories to produce more of themselves as they infected the rest of the body. That was how Han Hito worked and why it was so effective. I was using its own tricks against it.

That week, as I began to wane back into my original form, I decided I would give some of it to the government to use in their research. I wasn’t sure how I would go about it until, by coincidence, I found a familiar face patrolling the interstate outside the woods. It was the man who’d driven me home that fateful day nine months ago.

“Sir!” I called out. He whipped out his pistol and I backed up. He hadn’t been that assertive last I’d met him. “Sir, I’m not trying to harm you. I want to talk.”

“They say halfies never mean good,” he said to himself before pushing the pistol back into his belt. “What do you want?”

As I inched closer, I noticed something. It was a trace of a smell so faint, I would never have noticed it without having just passed my deadline. I knew it, though. I knew this man was infected, too. “I want you to hold still for a second. And don’t draw your weapons, I’m still not trying to hurt you.”

He raised a bushy eyebrow at me. “Wait, weren’t you the one who said you- who said it was all your fault? Patient zero?” I nodded. “What are you going to do to me?”

“I’m going to give you a dose of something I made. It’s a prototype vaccine,” I replied, drawing out my syringe. “It doesn’t really cure it. It just stops it in its tracks. Least, that’s how most people have reacted to it. If you don’t have the virus, it immunizes you.” I took a breath. “You told me I owed the word. So I paid it back.”

He was quick to call this to question. “Why the hell would a forest cat like you be giving me the vaccine? And how’d you make it out there? How can I be certain it’s not some illegal drug?”

“Because you’re sick too, and you know it. This thing is the difference between keeping or losing your job and family.” I waggled it between my fingers. “Trust me, I almost died making this thing. I’m pretty sure it works.”

“But why me?”

“Because I’ve seen you before, and you‘ll probably accept it. Thing is, I need you to do me a favor and give this to Maya Johnson. She should be on the police records- she’s living with her grandmother right now. She’ll know what to do with it from there.”

He trembled as I got close enough to inject it into his arm, “Okay, do it and I’ll give it to her. If this kills me, I have you tagged and ready for destruction, got it?”

“You’re lucky it won’t kill you, then,” I replied. I wrapped my left arm around his right and used the base of his shoulder to inject the liquid stasis into the outermost vein of his arm. “It’ll take a day or two to work. Don’t forget to give it to Maya.”

“I’ll make sure it gets where it needs to- holy shit, what is that?” he cursed, backing away. I saw his eyes flicker towards just over my shoulder, and I turned around too.

A giant, black-haired, mutated, misconfigured spider crawled towards us at a slow stagger. I saw eight bloodshot eyes littering its face like beads and what looked like broken fingers at the ends of its legs.

It screeched bloody murder at us, and the officer pulled his gun out. He fired and missed, which only enraged the creature more. I shot my hand out and signaled him to ceasefire. It limped on its broken, disgusting legs, trying to reach out for us with its front pair. I held up my knife, and it backed away. I had a sneaking suspicion already, but its reaction all but confirmed it. This monstrosity, which the other half-humans had spread rumors of, was exactly who I thought it was.

“Ni-n-nii-k-kku-unnn…” She could barely speak anymore. From her mouth protruded mandibles, and I saw sharp, bloody teeth behind them. “P-plaaay with m-meee.”

If it had happened just two weeks before, I would have been cowering in fear. Now, I knew I could defeat this, my final nightmare. I stood firm and held my knife at the ready. “One step closer, Chloe, and I’ll cut you to bits!”

“You know this freak?” the officer yelped.

“I used to. She was my cousin.”

“S-ssoon, Ni-ikkunn, we-we’ll be mooore than j-ju-just tha-at. Y-you want… you want Chad, right…? You w-want Ben and Cha-ad back-kk, don’t… you?” she coughed, her raspy voice cutting my ears. I shivered and considered running away. Then I remembered, I refused to run away again. I pressed my feet harder into the ground, imprinting them in the dirt.

“Leave! Never come back! Go into that forest and die, for all I care!” I screamed, stepping forward. Chloe refused to back down, but so did I. “You said you were like my genie once, didn’t you? Grant me a wish right now and die!”

The officer watched in fear as Chloe loomed over me. “R-remem-mmber lassst time you… told someone never to… come b-backk?”

“The difference is, this time I mean it, you cannibalistic, murderous bitch! I never wanna see your awful face ever again!” I snarled.

“Cannibalistic?!” the officer shouted, his face contorting in fear. “What happened to you?”

Chloe stumbled forward, and my first instinct was to step back. I refused to. “I’m… not a c-cannibal. We’re not h-humans anymo-ore, Nikk-kunnn.”

“What kinda excuse is that?!”

“The same excuse you make when you kill game for their meat, Nikkun,” she murmured. She swung one of her legs at me, and I ducked. “What’s… the difference?”

I lost my balance and placed a hand on the ground to recenter myself. This only lowered my posture and readied me to strike. “The difference is,” I smirked, “the animals I hunt aren’t people.”

“W-wha… what? Do you… hear yourssself, Nikkun?”

“Being a person isn’t confined to being a human. You remember Murry and Sammy, don’t you? They were never human to begin with. Tori, John, Ben, Chad, Maya… we all lost our humanity. But we never lost our sense of person,” I told her. “That was something you never had, wasn’t it? That’s why you had the nerve to kill them.”

She noticed the knife in my hand, ready to slice through her abdomen the moment I had the chance. “A-are you goi-nnng to kill me…?”

My trick card. “I don’t see why I would.”

“What?”

“I said, I don’t see why I would.”

“But…”

“If I had to guess, you’re about to hit your deadline, aren’t you?” I pointed out, standing up and backing away. “You’re gonna die. You don’t have the determination like I did. Why should I put an end to you now and pile on my own guilt?”

The police officer was backed against the broken rail, shaking. He’d never seen anything like this. “Your guilt…?”

“All my fault, remember?”

“I’ll kill you if you let me live.”

“If the world survives, I don’t care if I die, Chloe. If you kill me, I’ll go out the way Chad and Ben did. Kinda fitting.” I shrugged. “Long as Maya can live to see a better tomorrow, I’m happy. Long as Murry and Sammy make it out alive, I’m happy. I’ll have done all I can.”

She scuttled forward again. “I’ll kill you right now, Nikkun.”

“Kill me while I still have a purpose? Hah! I’d like to see you try,” I shot back. She hurtled towards me and ran me down onto the ground. I could still see the skid marks of the car beside me in the dirt.

“Doesn’t this… remind you of something, Nikkun?” Chloe inhaled. Her breath was shaky and heavy, and as she pressed on top of me, I remembered. Many years ago, just like this, I didn’t know how to escape. Back then, I was scared. I went along with what she ordered me because I was scared. I wasn’t anymore. She prepared to bite into my neck, then slowed down a little, then a little more. “What’s… happening? Why… slow… tired…?”

I grimaced. My right arm was around her back, my hand angled into her shoulder. I lifted it up and dropped the empty syringe. It was the same one I’d found nine months ago, when we first discovered the virus. “Anesthesia. Nighty night, Chloe.”

She hunkered down, fighting the anesthesia, and flung herself down to bite. I had no doubt it would be deadly. She opened her mouth…

And then she dropped to the ground.

“I win.”

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