Episode 21: Warning: Graphic Content
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The righteous dude is finally awakening from a weird, deep sleep, but just barely, still in an unresponsive stupor. What a trip! There’s nothing like a good old mental breakdown to reset things, eh? Things appear a fuzzy, not real, but at least he’s not dead either. Then again, maybe he is. Man, felt like he was on something nasty!
He’s on a lumpy bed covered with a really old smelling colourful quilt in a strange room. A hazy figure standing by a door looks like Silent Dave. His favourite plaid shirt is unmistakable.
A couple of others are here too, wearing black. Looks like….priests? No way, really? Where is he? Doesn’t matter as he drifts away once again. Nothing matters anymore.
Hmmmmm, now what? Another hallucination for the dude? All right, he’ll roll with it. This one is different than those engrossing moments he thought Jesus was trying to have a casual chat with him. The son of god was usually dressed like your average couch potato while smoking or having a beer, one time blowing a big puff in the dude's face. Leo could never recall what was said, nor whether he was dreaming or awake. Nope, doesn't matter.
This time, he finds himself in a park with meticulously cut dark green grass with a spectacular blue sky overhead. The grass smells so clean and fresh too. This looks more like a painting, maybe one of those pictures they use on phone book covers perhaps. No sign of death or decay here....very cool!
He hears something so inviting and awesome, children laughing playing at a nearby playground. He checks it out and it turns out to be Kate and his boys - such super cute little dudes.
Nobody else is here, just them.
“Hi dad!” they shout as they swing from the monkey bars. He smiles and gives them a wave before sitting on a bench next to his hot ex.
People always wondered what she saw in him, saying she was way too good for the lazy bum.
Probably everyone who liked to put in their two cents worth is dead now anyway, so haha!
“I’m so glad to see you Leo, it’s been like forever, you know.”
He scratches the back of his neck and sighs, not sure how to answer.
“Ya, I know, I know that. Sorry babe,” Leo responds. “You know, stuff, stuff just happens and I’m not the best at dealing with it. Maybe should have been, I guess.”
They watch in amusement at the kids’ antics. Leo knows this should have been his life.
“Babe, umm, listen. I’m glad you’re here. I have to tell you, have to tell you this. I’ll do anything to make it up.”
It’s quite an admission from the normally guarded and sarcastic dude….probably way too late, though.
“Just look at them,” she says in a forgiving tone. “They have a lot of you in them, all the good stuff.”
“Listen, babe, you know for the longest time…..” he adds, but she interrupts him.
“Leo, don’t live in stupid regret. I think it’s the worst word ever. Look, honey, you have to wake up now….wake up for me honey….”
Now this strange, the dude hears someone dribbling a basketball in an adjacent court. All right, he turns around to take a quick look to see it's none other than Jesus (yup, no kidding) shooting some hoops. Carrying himself with the same intense swagger as Steve McGarrett in Hawaii Five-0, and wearing camouflage shorts and an Incredible Hulk t-shirt, the divine hipster in all his glory provides Leo a cajoling smile and winks. Feeling elucidated, Leo smiles back and with his left hand gives the V sign. Suddenly, the dude starts disintegrating.
No, he doesn’t want to go, not yet, but has no choice. This illuminating dream, vision, or whatever you want to call it, was wild trip. It was nothing, though, like the waking dream he had one night as a kid. That experience saw him strapped to a bed, staring at a bright, whiter-than-white moon, with Jesus also in the room saying nothing while bouncing a tennis ball. Nothing needed to be said in that encounter, really.
Leo opens his crusty eyes to the real world, but he knows it's all really just another fabrication, of course. A young man stands over him, telling him to wake up. It’s a priest. Sounds like there's more of them - a tough sounding bunch too. And right behind him is the real righteous dude, Silent Dave – cool! The inviting aroma of sizzling ham and onions is making its way from downstairs. Hmmm, are those peppers they're also frying up?
Meanwhile, while all that is going down, the remaining staff at the medical centre down south is still working hard, but are no closer to figuring this thing out.
Metagenomics and high-throughput sequencing are hitting dead-ends.
It's elusive, intelligent. It's creating bizarre mutation directly linked to the development of the disease and re-animation of the dead.
Whatever rocked the world, it’s still making people sick, and those who become sick are guaranteed to die.
The disease is also highly communicable, but for some reason some people can be very close to the infected and not get sick at all. Those are the ones that need to be examined because they provide the key. This thing that’s wiping out most of the world, its structure is so screwed up that modern techniques and technology are behind the eight ball.
Kate has a hunch the pathogen's chemistry is a silicone biochemical system. Further analysis is required.
Kate and Abhi are summoned by Hagstrom to put their skates on and head to an examination room on the other side of the building.
Seems like they have newcomers.
The two arrive to see an ever smug Hagstrom standing next to Ford and another soldier. Also there is an exhausted family: a father, mother and their teen daughter. It’s Vance!
“Well, what do we have here? Come from the outside have we? You know it’s very dangerous out there,” Hagstrom tells the newcomers as he wipes his glasses. “You’re lucky these excellent soldiers found you. You’re safe here now, no need to worry, hmmm?”
“Doctor, we were on patrol looking for survivors when we came across this lot. Their RV was wedged up on a median and the dead were all around them. My boys took out those bastards,” Ford explains. “The doc is right, you’re very lucky, you know.”
Vance and his wife look relieved, having thanked the soldiers a million times for rescuing them from that predicament.
They had been staying with their friend and a few others in the Stehekin Valley but were forced to get out when they found their friend one morning torn to little bloody pieces, almost nothing left.
A couple of days earlier, the others in their group had gone out hunting and never returned.
And the night they fled, they heard bizarre-sounding creatures near their camp. Wasn’t a bear, or wolves…..who the hell knows but the family had no intention of finding out the hard way.
Hagstrom didn’t seem interested, instead focusing on the health of the newcomers. He holds onto the daughter’s head and examines her eyes, teeth and throat. “You’re a healthy young girl, aren’t you my dear. Very fit.”
Vance feels justifiably awkward. That’s no way for some creep to talk to his kid! He thinks this is all a bit too strange, but he’s not going to be ungracious.
Still, he has lots of questions including how many people are working here, where’s the other civilians, and is the government back up and running.
It must be if this place is still operating, no? Hagstrom doesn’t answer but he does respond to the wife’s query on what caused the deadly outbreak. And how in the hell are corpses running around?
“Oh my dear, that’s the million dollar question, and we’ll win the big prize once we figure that out, but we’re close.”
Kate and Abhi stand sullen and give each other a knowing glance. They don’t say a word, certain things aren’t going to be pleasant soon.
Vance takes notice of how they’re acting. Ya, something isn’t quite right.
“Could have been bacteria shooting up from all those volcanic eruptions lately, could have been unusual molecules from that meteor shower we had over Russia, could have been an unfortunate mutation…a backfire when they tried to rid themselves from those nasty mosquitos in South America…lots of other candidates,” Hagstrom explains.
“Well, look man, if you don’t have a clue what caused it, what are you doing about it? What do you mean you’re close, close to what?” asks Vance, annoyed.
“Is this thing still going on? What does the CDC say, man?”
Vance also wants to know what others are doing world-wide but Hagstrom only gives a condescending smile. “You nice people don’t concern yourself with that now. You’re here, you’re safe and none of those awful creatures will harm you. I really mean that.”
Hungry, Vance nods. “Ya, OK man, thanks for getting us. I guess this is pretty good setup you have.”
“Of course it is, you’re very lucky,” Hagstrom coldly replies. “We have other people here as well, our soldiers rescued. We go out and look for people. Help them. We have food, water, recreational amenities, everything you need. These soldiers will protect you too. We’ll all protect you. You’re a very lucky family, you know.”
The pushy Hagstrom tells the family, “You see these nice doctors, well, they’re going to examine you. Make sure you’re not sick or anything. You’ve been out there a long time, we have to make sure everything is OK. All right?”
They agree. He seems like a condescending jerk but this place seems all right. Maybe they were extremely lucky. There’s nowhere else out there that’s safe anyway.
A couple of more grim-faced soldiers arrive.
“Now, you’ll all go with these nice doctors and men to examination rooms. Then we’ll take you to your living quarters, get to meet the others, all right?”
Ford and Hagstrom take Vance down the hall while his wife and daughter are taken in a different direction. Down a set of dimly lit stairs and into another dingy floor with only a couple of flickering neon lights, Vance is escorted to an almost empty hospital room with no windows.
Suddenly, Ford gives him a push from behind when Vance hesitates and the door is slammed behind him.
Hagstrom stays outside while Ford walks away….and Vance is starting to feeling freaked.
“Hey, doc, what are you doing? I’m not sick, man, why are you doing this?”
The always supercilious Hagstrom puts his face to the little window to fill the confused Vance in on the rest.
“Young man, you’re staying here until we need you. I think in the spirit of fairness you should know that you and your family are so important for us. You’ll be serving a role so much greater than you can possibly understand.”
Experiments on people? Vance finds this unbelievable and pounds on the door, knowing his family is in some kind of terrible crap.
“Let me out man! Let us go now! What the hell you talking about? You can’t keep us here! This is illegal! Let me out!”
“Young man, don’t waste your energy. We have a few others like yourself, your lovely family, here at our facility. We need you. We need to conduct tests. We’ll try to make things as painless as possible for you and your family. We need to test things, a potential cure. Your contribution is immeasurable.”
Vance is now furious and continues to pound on the heavy white door, spewing all sorts of profanities.
“Young man, your body, your brain, your organs, we need it all. I don’t want you to upset you anymore,” Hagstrom says, smiling and seemingly enjoying breaking the bad news. He's twisted for feeling such an exciting rush for inflicting mental anguish.
Vance then notices a pale, gaunt and emotionless face looking at him through the door window at the room across…also a prisoner.
This is insane! Vance continues to scream as the cruel jerk walks away whistling. The doctor has some important business to tend to with the young, fit daughter.
A couple of hours later, Ford and Hagstrom watch through an observation window into an adjoining operating room where the sedated daughter lays on her stomach. The beeping of the heart monitor is surpassed by Moon River by Andy Williams playing on the speaker system.
Hagstrom grins as Kate and Abhi begin drilling into the girl’s back for a much needed sample of spinal fluid. Vance will have to wait his turn because the doctors must first begin testing something on the wife.
“You better know what you’re doing and get results, Hagstrom. I don’t like risking my men to find these guys only for you to keep wasting them,” says Ford, arms crossed and ready for an argument.
“You just don’t worry yourself with our side of things. We seem to be making progress. Just get more test subjects and it will all be fine, all right?” the pompous ass snickers.
Ford looks back in disdain, seeing how the cocky scientist is enjoying this bleakest version of the world. The chippy exchange isn't the first time he antagonized Ford, and Hagstrom doesn’t realize how close he came to getting a royal beatdown. He exits the room, whistling of course.
Story by Sandor Gyarmati
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