It was bound to happen. It was just a matter of time. The government saw the warning signs, and as usual, did not head them… until it was too late. Now they were mopping up the mess, and what a mess it was.
The first case was reported in Manhattan, NY about two weeks ago. A 20-year-old college student was rushed to the emergency room with a range of seemingly unrelated symptoms. The doctors had never seen anything like it. It was a virus- that they could agree on, but it was something new, something unprecedented and something that if it spread, could result in an ‘outbreak’ scenario. Calling the CDC, the doctors quarantined the patient and pumped him full of antibiotics, all of which did little but keep him on the fringe of life.
Tearing apart his dorm room, going through his personal effects only produced a large cache of girly magazines and proof that the patient did not utilize the campus’ laundry facilities nearly enough. Interviewing his close friends, classmates and family members failed to reveal anything of import until they spoke with Dwight, the patient’s roommate. Dwight had been the one to call 911. Coming home from a party on campus, Dwight reported walking into their shared living space around 2300 the previous night and finding the patient doubled over on the floor with pinkish foam frothing out of his mouth. The EMTs had rushed him away minutes later.
“And where exactly, Mr. Fulham, did you find your roommate, Mr. Phillip Collins? Can you point the spot out in the room?” The CDC officials looked more like FBI to Dwight but he was no expert and shrugged off his skepticism as paranoia. “Sure. It was right there, right by his desk,” Dwight answered as he pointed to a spot on the soiled rug next to a desk that was littered with Skittles wrappers, half-empty energy drink cans and various papers and text books. In the middle of the desk sat a still-open laptop. “Phil was always on that thing,” Dwight added when he saw their attention was not on the froth-stained carpet but on the laptop. “Night and day, if he wasn’t in class then he was here, doing God knows what on that thing,” Dwight was beginning to relish having ‘inside information’ on something that was obviously important enough to get the CDCs attention. “I use a Mac myself, we always got into it, ya know- Mac vs. Windows. Since Phil started working at GeekSquad he was convinced-“
“Thank you, Mr. Fulham. That will be all,” one of the officials interrupted as he guided Dwight to the door. “But… this is my roo-” Dwight whimpered as his door was slammed in his face. “Typical suits,” He mumbled as he wandered down the hall.
“God, do you really think this is what everyone at the Bureau is saying it is?” One of the agents shot a look of uncharacteristic concern over at his partner. “Doesn’t matter at this point. Let’s bag and tag and get the hell out of here,” the other agent answered and they both set to work.
Several more cases presenting similar symptoms started popping up all over the country. By the end of the first week there were over 200 reported cases. No one seemed to have any answers. The symptoms had doctors baffled and grasping for answers. What they got instead was an order (from the CDC? no one was quite sure) to report any patients presenting any combination of the seemingly disjointed indicators- pink foam, flu-like symptoms, complaints of ears constantly popping, purple pustules, shortness of breath, bleeding from orifices, soreness and in severe cases stroke-inducing coma- to George Washington University Hospital in Washington D.C.
“Ed, can you crack it or not?” Scarlett looked at her colleague in frustration. “Honestly, never send a boy to do a woman’s job; outta the way Eddie baby, let the master do her thang,” Scarlett rolled her chair into Ed’s vacated space in front of the eight flat screen monitors. Scarlett had been a computer genius since the time she could climb into her mother’s lap. Now, working in the basement of a government agency that was so secretive even the FBI had doubts it existed, Scarlett was one of top programmers in the nation, maybe the world. Recruited by her government to hack the hackers, anticipate computer-based threats to national security and develop ways to combat them…she was very good at her job.
But this new assignment had her stumped, which was somewhat of a new phenomenon for her. She didn’t like it. Add to that, the fact that her peers seemed to be dropping like flies, almost as if someone was specifically targeting programmers and hackers, Scarlett was just a teeny tiny bit agitated. “This coding sequence is all hinky,” Scarlett said to no one as Ed nodded behind her.
Scarlett worked without a break for next 13 hours. Finally nearing complete exhaustion, she stood, stretched and then headed to the employee break room to try and get a few minutes of shut eye on one of the bunks in the back of the room. Opening her eyes two hours later, Scarlett felt slightly rejuvenated and ready to log in a few more hours.
“Oh Eddie, think you would try another go, did ya? Well, if I haven’t been able to figure it out then you definitely don’t have a chance in… Ed?” Scarlett touched Ed’s shoulder and jumped back in shock as he slumped over onto the desk, he was dead. “Oh my God! Someone help me!” Scarlett screamed.
Hours later, when Ed had been taken away, Scarlett returned to their shared computer station; something in her gut was urging her to take another look at the assignment she and Ed had devoted the last 68 hours to. Booting the system back up from sleep mode, Scarlett immediately saw what Ed must have been working on prior to his demise. He had figured it out. He had cracked the code. Then she realized… but it was too late. She was infected. “Ah hell,” she swore, “Well two can play at that game, you ass-clowns.”
The Director turned around to see his top programmer shuffling towards him in obvious distress. “What is it Scarlett, good Lord what has happened to you?” He caught her in his arms as the last of her strength left her. “There’s no time. Here. Take this. It’s the answer, you have to get it out…millions, millions of people will die if…” Scarlett slumped against him, a tinge of pinkish foam coming from her mouth. The Director hit the panic button in his office, immediately bringing two Marine MPs to his side. “Take her to the closest hospital,” he barked at them as they lifted Scarlett’s dead weight off of him. “Scarlett, you hang on…I’m going to need you,” the director called after them. Looking at the disc Scarlett had managed to hand him before her collapse, the Director wasted no time and picked up the phone.
“So what are you going to do now?” the nurse said with concern. She had grown attached to the spunky patient in room 206 over the last two months. “Don’t worry Ethel, I’ll be fine,” Scarlett said as she hugged her nurse goodbye. “I’ve got everything I need, a place to live, a job, and most importantly NO computer within a hundred mile range, it’ll be heaven on earth,” Scarlett only half believed what she was saying but didn’t want to worry Ethel more than she already was. “I’ll have my smartphone with me, so any time you get worried just give me a call, ok?” Just then the hospital’s PA screeched a code blue through the loud speakers. Ethel squeezed Scarlett’s hand one more time before sprinting out of the room.
“Well, here goes nothing,” Scarlett thought to herself as she gathered her belongings and started the process of checking out of the hospital. Walking out of the automatic doors of the ER, Scarlett had to make way for a man on a stretcher being rushed inside by three EMTs, one of them was peeling a cell phone out of the man’s hand. “… presents with flu-like symptoms, purple-hued bile, hypertension and aphasia. Collapsed on 10th Street, witnesses report he was talking on his smartphone and suddenly began to seize and then hit the ground…”
The Not So Fantastic Reality:
The above story was inspired by the following tidbits I encountered today:
ONE: I’m not feeling so hot today. I’m achy all over, my head is pounding and I’m coughing up some really delightful phlegm (TMI?). Coincidentally, my laptop is sick too. Apparently, while browsing for an image for one of my stories a few days back, I also managed to find a virus. Ironically enough, the image that infected my precious laptop was a picture of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (click here to be taken to the post in question). So, today my laptop and I took a day off for a little TLC; I on the couch, it on the table scanning and removing viruses. Well, the laptop was better in about three hours, while yours truly is still curled up on the couch in a fetal position. I thought it was pretty interesting that both my laptop and I seemed to have caught some kind of virus simultaneously. Then I thought, what if my laptop gave me the virus??? Apparently, I’m not the first to make this computer-to-human virus connection, as a Google search produced the image above almost immediately. Oh well, I’m not as inventive as I thought… I’ll get over it.
TWO: A lot of the terminology I used, as well as the word “hinky” are thanks to the NCIS marathon that was on today. When you’re sick, is there anything better than zoning out to a marathon of your favorite show as you nurse a ginger ale cuddled under your great-grandma’s handmade quilt? Short answer: no, there’s isn’t. Abby Sciuto, played by Pauley Perrette, was the inspiration for Scarlett… but I don’t think I did her nearly enough justice.
Love & Squirrels.