It struck in January. By June, they estimated half the human population had died. It was September now.
The car could have gone further, but Wade Davis couldn’t bring himself to pull the poor bastard from behind the blood-spattered wheel. His name was Enrique. He was the first person Davis had seen for two weeks. He looked down from the empty bend of state route onto the deserted city below and decided to keep moving onward, outward — away. To the dam, maybe. That was Enrique’s plan.
Enrique thought they were both immune, but Davis knew he wasn’t the moment he laid eyes on him. Grey rings around the iris. A dead giveaway.
They never found out how or why it went dormant in some people. Hell, they never really knew what it was. Best guess was a weapon. In light of that, the purpose of its uneven gestation was clear: to cause as much chaos as possible.
When it did hide, it hid in the liver and bone marrow, disrupting the metabolism of copper and causing dark colorations in the eye called Kayser-Fleischer rings. Davis didn’t tell him because he knew it wouldn’t do any good. He needed Enrique and couldn’t stand to be alone anymore.
It was a Marburg virion of some type, they were fairly sure. Illusive to model and extremely infectious. What they did know about the Marburgs and the other hemorrhagic fevers suggested that mutations of the Niemann-Pick C1 and C2 genes were good indicators for resistance. Davis won the jackpot, it seemed. And was alone because of it.
He kept trying to get his things out of the back but just ended up retching over the guardrail. He couldn’t look at Enrique. On the third try, he managed to get the backpack, faded garbage bag of clothes, and ID badge. Depending on who he met, showing them an NIH identification might do more harm than good. They had to blame somebody.
Davis filled his crumpled water-bottle in a roadside ditch when the sun was going down. He dropped in one of the purification tablets that he was debating hiding from Enrique and watched it bubble away, imparting a chlorine taste to the filthy water. He supposed not having to share them now was another sort of ‘jackpot.’ He curled up in a culvert for the night, the taste of muddy pool water and loneliness commingling, and set out again before first light.
Another day, another bottle of muddy pool water. Another night, another culvert and the dreams. The ones he had when he was alone. In his dream, Davis’s old colleagues, with blood in their eyes and mouths, calmly explained to him that the mutation that saved him doesn’t necessarily get inherited.
He listened, not like their research director, but like a third-grader listening to a guest speaker. They drew Punnet squares in their own blood, and the dream ended when he ran home to save his family. He could never save Catherine, but Meghan had a fifty-fifty shot at the ‘jackpot.’
His doctoral advisor once said that heritability was the devil playing Russian roulette with a double-barreled shotgun.
He slept in a fire lookout tower that third night and reached the dam the next day. There were people there, just like Enrique said. They had barricades, a watchtower, even working vehicles. Men patrolled the chainlink and made no hurry to greet him, just watched him trudge up, all the way up to the gate.
“Who are you?” the sharpshooter in the tower called down. Men kept their distance, merely handled their weapons and didn’t point them. They weren’t nervous. That was good.
“My name’s Wade Davis, I’m not sick, I’m — ”
“Doc?” came a voice from behind the fence. “Doctor Davis?” He blinked at a face he didn’t recognize. A young man in a Mariners cap and a scraggly beard laced his fingers through the chainlink, eyeing him. It must have been the hunger-pinched face or the beard, but once Davis got a good look it clicked.
“Daniel?” he said. He didn’t remember his last name. Before he knew it, the gates were open to him. They apologized for the suspicion, fed him, and he was seeing patients immediately. Daniel said that their camp doctor died a week prior. He had left to treat a caravan of new arrivals they didn’t think were infected. He and a few nurses were all they had here.
“So you graduated after all?” Davis asked, bandaging up a workman.
“Not exactly,” he chuckled. Part of that was Davis’s fault, he knew. He wasn’t a forgiving professor. Thankfully, that was three years ago, before getting involved with filovirus research for the National Institutes of Health. So far nobody knew where he’d come from, only what he could do. Daniel had been visiting family between leathernecking jobs when the fever hit. He heard good people were doing good things here, and he and his family came, like Davis only less of a coward.
The engineers kept the dam operational for the research facilities and the army, and their families kept the place self-sufficient. They had fresh gardens, chicken coops, laughing children running underfoot. It was good. It felt like it could be home. But it couldn’t, could it?
Over the next few days, Daniel helped train new nurses. But the dreams returned. It wasn’t long before Davis started seeing rings in the younger man’s eyes. The day the first workmen started coughing, he knew they’d be dead that afternoon. There were whispers and glances.
He packed that night, stole some supplies, cut the fence along an unpatrolled section.
Some of the girls talked about a similar setup outside Spokane with thousands of people, almost a proper city. He’d make for there.
He knew he ought to do what was right for them — for everyone. To kill himself, to stop spreading it. He was a carrier, he knew, but he didn’t want to be alone anymore.
Joshua Alexander is an activist and amateur author of SFF from West PA. His work has appeared in Swords & Sorcery Magazine.