Chapter 19:

Empty

Han Hito: The Story of Patient Zero


After the ordeal with Chloe, the police officer had many questions. He started by asking me the obvious. “What the hell was that?”

I knew I couldn’t give the answer in full. The journey had been far too long, and the result was the only thing he’d seen. “She was my cousin, affected by the virus. She went a little crazy. She looked like a frickin’ monstrosity ‘cause she was close to her deadline,” I replied.

“What’s a deadline?” he asked.

“Oh, uh… You guys don’t know much about Han Hito, do you?”

“Ain’t no way. Not even the scientists know that much. Don’t got any test subjects,” he explained. I considered drawing a line in the dirt like I had for Murry all those months ago.

I decided against that- I could just explain it. “It works in ninety-day cycles. It pushes to your central nervous system, but if it fails to get through to it, it recedes in hopes of making the next attempt easier for it. The day it tries to get into your nervous system is called a deadline. Works the other way around, too. Lifeline is when it’s receding and there’s a chance it leaves your system. That’s what happened to Maya. That’s why she’s back at home.”

“So like the tide? Ebbin’ and flowin’ and all that shit?”

“That’s a way to put it, yeah.”

“Damn, that’s… crazy. This whole thing’s all kinds a’ crazy. Kid, I dunno how you dealt with all this,” he breathed. “I couldna dunnit.”

I shrugged. “Me neither, without a couple of friends pushing me forward,” I said. I turned around to walk away and slipped the empty syringe on the ground into my pocket. “And this little thing.”

He lifted an eyebrow. “How’d you even get it?”

“Found it next to the labs awhile back. They threw it out like that box. Never thought I’d use it. Actually, I grabbed it so I could sell it,” I described. “Empty vials don’t sell for much. What’s inside is always worth more.” Maybe it was a metaphor, but I couldn’t have been bothered to think much about it.

“Kid, before you go. The password to that door outside the labs is zero-eight-zero-eight. I wantchu to take a look around. I never knew for sure, but I always wondered if they were doin’ some messed up shit down there. Go find out for me, ‘kay?” I remembered the door- it was just next to where I had smashed open my fate.

I nodded at him before running off. Another patrol officer would be there any minute, and I wasn’t about to get caught. I ran along the perimeter of the Laboratory, looking for the door while the passcode was still fresh in my mind. Sure enough, it was exactly where I’d left it. I flipped open the number pad’s glass case and typed in 0-8-0-8.

The door’s latch clanked open, and I turned the handle. It was near pitch-black inside. I stepped in, keeping the door pushed open. The first thing I felt was some sort of wire at my feet. I decided I would need light if I wanted to explore any further.

After running a little ways back to camp, I grabbed Murry and Sammy and dragged them back along with me. “W-where are we going?” Murry asked over and over again. I didn’t answer him until we’d made it back to the door.

“The Labs? What’s so interesting about the Labs? Are they not the same as before?” Sammy groaned. She turned around to leave. “I’m heading back. You’ve already shown us this a million times-” she stopped when she heard the clack of the door. “What?”

“I got the password.”

Murry ran forward. “What’s inside?”

“That’s why I brought you two. It’s pitch-black. I can’t see shit,” I explained. “Sammy, you brought the lantern, right?”

“No, you moron! It’s the middle of the day! Why would I have… fine. I’ll just… I can see well in the dark, so I can go in and find a switch or something,” she sighed. She was about to go in when Murry interrupted her.

He waved the lantern in the air. “I grabbed it!” That was strange. I hadn’t remembered him snatching it up, but in all honesty, I hadn’t been paying much attention. “S-Sammy, do you have batteries?”

“Wha- uh, yes…” she replied. He tossed it to her and she caught it. It took her a few seconds, but the lantern began glowing, and she held it up to the inside of the labs. I found what I had thought was a wire was actually a vine growing across the floor. Plant life infested the hallway- leaves grew over cubicles, and vines crawled through cracks in the walls. It all seemed dead, because the Labs got no light. I wondered how long it took the government to cut their power.

Murry and I followed Sammy through the overgrown laboratory. It was all more of the same- abandoned computers, broken vials, nothing useful. When we walked down the stairs into the basement, things began to get interesting. Some of the power there still worked. Computers showed blue screens, and test tubes still glowed with liquid inside. I found a set of tubes that had no liquid inside. It had all been spilled onto the floor, since the tubes were cracked. Sammy held her lantern up to the tops of the broken tubes. I saw the name ‘Everly’ printed on one of them in metal. Whoever Everly was had been in there for some time.

“This is strange, Niko. Do you know about any of this?” Sammy asked me, moving her lantern along. The names I could read showed ‘Frank’, ‘Lillia’, ‘Sprite’, and ‘Beta’. I almost wanted to believe they were codenames or something, but Sammy stopped on Beta and motioned at Murry to get closer.

He ran up and inspected it. “Oh my- it’s- that’s where Arufa was!” he exclaimed. It echoed through the dark corridors. “That’s her last name! Beta! Which means whoever the rest of these subjects were had to have escaped with her! She might be alive!”

We searched for more clues, but that was the best we got. That is, until we found a hatch on the floor. I twisted it open and found dim green lights clearing the ladder down. It was long, but I wanted badly to know what exactly was down there. I began climbing down.

“Be careful. Might lock you in, heh,” Sammy joked, pretending to close the hatch. I jumped up and pushed it open.

“Don’t you dare,” I snarled. “You know you want to see what’s down here, too.”

“Doesn’t mean I’ll risk the fall,” she replied. I was left to my own devices for a little while, so I climbed down to check what was really at the bottom. After a solid minute of clinging to rungs, I hopped off and looked at the room around me.

It was lit with the same green emergency lights from the descending passage. There was no vegetation down here, so I could see the room for exactly what it was. A single computer screen was lit up, and I noticed it had files pulled up. That made it the only computer in the facility that hadn’t crashed. I noticed a couple USB cords beside it and a camera.

I picked up the camera and powered it on. Somehow, it still had battery left. I turned it around to where the lens was facing me. Without thinking, I hit the record button. Then, the words left my mouth before I could even think of them.

“This is Tape 14,” I said with shaky breath. “My name is Niko. I’m patient zero of the Han Hito outbreak. This is a message of… gratitude, really. Arufa, whoever you are, thank you. You’re the only reason I’m alive right now.” I noticed that I was sniffling a little. “I developed a prototype vaccine with the information you put on the flash drive. You helped me save thousands of lives. The camera’s flashing with ‘low battery’ now, but before I end the recording, I want to say that wherever you are, Murry and Sammy miss you. So, please pay them a visit someday, alright?”

I tapped the record button again to end the tape. It only took me a few seconds to plug the camera into the computer, which made a menu pop up asking if I wanted to open files from the device. I clicked ‘yes’, and suddenly, there it was. The recording was titled a string of random digits, so I double-clicked on it and renamed it to HHRECO14.mp4. I reached into my pocket, around the empty vial of anesthesia, and pulled out my flash drive. I plugged it into the computer and dragged the new file into the drive. I waited for the files to transfer, then unplugged my flash drive and pocketed it again.

“N-Niko?” Murry called from the hatch above. “Who are you talking to?”

“No one,” I replied quickly. “Just talking to myself.” I turned the camera off, closed the files on the computer, and turned back to the ladder. On my way out, I noticed a row of boxes just like the one I smashed. They were all open.

When I made it back up the ladder, Sammy was quick to shut the hatch. “Got you!” she exclaimed before opening it again. “Bet you thought I was- ow, hey, lighten up, it was a joke!”

I slapped her in the face before climbing back out. In doing so, I knocked her hood off and saw her full head for the first time. Her aqua-dyed hair was cut at shoulder length and held on the sides of her head with hair clips. I quickly realized that her long locks were actually her ears, like Murry’s. “You really are another species,” I said aloud on accident. She promptly covered her face again and turned away.

“Well if you’re going to act like that, maybe I will close it for real this time,” she snarled, yanking me by the scarf out of the pit. “What’d you find down there? You just stayed down there for a while. I was waiting to pull that on you for a good minute.”

“Just some files. Nothing interesting,” I lied. I dusted myself off.

“Then what was taking you so long?”

“Ugh, fine. I found a camera down there and recorded a video with it. Are you happy now?” I grunted, heaving myself to my feet.

Sammy nodded. “Why’d you lie about it?”

“Instinct,” I offered. “It just happens. Man, I need to work on that.”

“That you do,” she replied.

Murry came running down the dark lab with a syringe. “L-look at this! It’s full of something! Maybe it can help find the cure or something!”

I tilted my head. “Murry, that’s anesthesia. And we already found the cure. I went and gave it to that police officer out there and told him to contact Maya about it. Gimme the anesthesia, though. Came in handy once, might come in handy again,” I told him. A look of sorrow spread across his face. “Huh? What’s wrong?”

“S-Sammy said…” he trailed off. “I-it’s nothing. Hey, wait, when did the anesthe-thesia come in handy?” I didn’t ignore what he’d said first, but I didn’t want to linger on it. Plus, hearing him stutter so clearly on ‘anesthesia’ made me giggle.

“A certain someone decided to pay me a visit. Luckily, she’ll hit her deadline later today, if I’m right. So we won’t have to worry about her anymore.”

“Chloe?!” Sammy interjected. “She’s alive? And you used anesthesia on her?!”

“Correct,” I stated.

Sammy grasped her forehead under her hood. “Augh! I wanted to see how her brain was affected by the virus! What drove her to- erm, doing what she did!” she groaned. “And now you’ve gone and-”

“Nothing affected her brain. She’s always been like that. Just had less control over it because of the pain and stuff. I decided that I should let her sleep instead of killing her outright. I don’t like killing things,” I said quickly. Her mood quickly turned from disappointment to anxiety.

“So, C-Chloe’s dead, the virus-” Murry started.

“Not dead. Knocked out,” I corrected.

“So Chloe’s knocked out, the virus has a cure, and it seems like we’re all… we’re all going to make it out alive.” He pouted again. “So it’s… it’s really all over?”

Sammy looked up. “Yes, Muriel, it’s over. You mustn’t fuss. This was awful,” she snapped.

“Well, yeah, but…” he sighed. “That means… that we have to go, doesn’t it?” I was shocked to hear him say that. Obviously they would leave- the forest was still a hellhole- but I just didn’t think it would be so soon. There were still things I wanted to say to them, still things I wanted to do.

“Not now, moron. Soon, though, yes. Let’s leave the Labs and discuss it a bit,” Sammy suggested. She began climbing up the stairs to leave. “Are you two coming or not?” I rushed after her, but Murry trailed behind. We all made it out of the door, but when we did, the sunlight burned our eyes. I noticed it was near dark, and apparently Sammy did too, because she ordered us to return to the camp before night fell.

Our fire was still smoldering, and the tents were exactly as we’d left them. The air was still warm and a little humid. I jumped when I felt Murry’s arm brush up against mine. “I don’t know when we’re leaving,” he sighed.

“Ask Sammy, I guess. Or maybe there’s no planned date yet,” I responded.

“But I don’t… I don’t wanna leave you all alone out here. Plus you’re a really good friend, and it’s nice to be around you, and…” he murmured. “If I ask Sammy, she’ll think I want to go. B-but I don’t. Not yet.”

I patted him on the back. “I get it. But I won’t be lonely, don’t worry. Y’know, I planned to just go out here myself day one. Wasn’t ‘til I realized the rest of my family had the virus too that I decided to stick with ‘em.”

“But that’s what you d-don’t get. I’m never gonna see you again after this. And the thought of that… I don’t know, but it makes me… m-mad…?”

“Don’t get mad just ‘cause I’m gonna be by myself. I’ll probably go back to what’s left of my family sometime soon. Trust me, I-”

“This sounds s-selfish, but that’s not what I meant! I meant I wanna bring you with me! You’re… you’re the closest friend I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t have told anyone else about the species thing. I don’t know why, but I just feel like… losing you means losing a piece of myself, and I don’t want to lose any of that,” Murry wailed.

I lowered my gaze. “I… don’t really know what to do about that, Murry. I know I can’t go wherever you’re going. And I know you shouldn’t stay here. I mean, I guess we can negotiate with Sammy about it, alright? She’ll understand.”

“I don’t know if she- …y-yeah, you’re right. I’m being irrational again…” he whimpered.

“Hey, Murry?” I said.

“Y-yeah?”

“Your eyes are pretty.”

That night, I looked up at the stars in reverence. My whole life had been flipped upside down, but the stars stood still. They all revolved around Polaris, the North Star, but they remained constant. Nothing in my life could remain constant anymore. Not my brothers, not my cousins, not even Murry and Sammy. I was like Polaris in an empty sky.

I crawled out of my torn bag to find Sammy holding up her lantern. “What are you doing?” she asked me. “Shouldn’t you be asleep?”

“I’m not a kid,” I growled. She was looking up at the stars like I had been. “You sleep in the tent, right? Not often you get to see the stars out here.”

“They’re beautiful,” she commented. We stood in silence for a moment, gazing up. I could see the Milky Way in the sky, the giant collection of stars in our galaxy. “You know, Murry said something a long time ago. We were… in the middle of doing something we shouldn’t have been.”

“Murry looks virgin to me,” I noted.

“Not that! No, it was what got us banished from where we were before. Why we came here in the first place. You could say it was a crime, but we didn’t have much of a choice,” she explained. “We were all scared and devoid of hope. We didn’t even know what to do. Then Murry stood up and said, ‘Stand together, always and forever’ or some dumb shit like that. And I still believe in that. Standing together is the only way we’ve lived, isn’t it?”

I looked back at her. “I guess you’re right. But… what does that mean for when you leave?”

She gulped. “I don’t know.”

We spent a little longer standing there. “Hey, I have a request when you leave,” I asked.

“Mm-hmm?”

“Take the tin box with the letters to Aubrey and get them to Maya somehow. She’ll find a way to give them to her, if she’s still alive,” I said. She nodded. “Thanks,” I added.

Eventually, we ran out of things to say, so she began walking back to her tent. That was when I noticed something. I didn’t say anything about it, but as she swung the glowing lantern, I caught a glimpse of the open battery socket.

It was empty.

I woke up early that morning. It was five, and the sun was just rising. I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was similar to the first day I’d met the two of them. I walked out to the fire and decided not to wake Murry and Sammy up. They needed some sleep.

I waited about ten minutes before I got impatient. I walked over to the medical tent and opened the curtains. “Alright, rise and shine-”

It was empty.

I felt my breath quicken as I dashed around to the research tent and opened the curtains to run inside. I looked around frantically, as if Murry or Sammy would be hidden in one of the corners. I couldn’t find them.

What I did find was the tin canister Sammy had given me to store my letters. I kneeled down and pulled the lid back.

It was empty.

Except, it wasn’t. There was a blank paper at the bottom. Just one paper. Though my hands were shaky, I pulled the slip out of the canister and flipped it over.

It was a photograph of me, Sammy, Murry, and Maya. It was signed in Murry’s handwriting.

‘Stand together.’

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