“Those pricks left without me!”
Nobody could hear him of course, or at least he hoped nobody could hear him. Dr. Gary Singleton was the chief scientist of the project. It was his project, always had been. Many had tried to take credit for his discoveries, but none could rise to his genius. He was still dressed in his customary lab coat, the creased seams and ultraclean white now muddy and torn. Disgusting effluent from the world of the downtrodden covered his antistatic and antiseptic shoes. He had been left behind by his employers. They stole his helicopter and pilot and left him running for the pad. They watched as he begged for them to return. Just watched with a blank stare. The helicopter was always on standby in case he required a fast exit, and they took it. If he ever caught up with them, he’d make them pay, alright. He had multiple ways to make a human suffer a long and painful death, ways that would be easy enough to hide their source but he would know. After all, he was a genius.
He barely made it out of the lab before the mob of farmers with machetes stormed his office and started throwing firebombs. All his invaluable research and samples had gone up in flames. Farmers with machetes. Who would have thought they would be the ones to ruin it all? He had taken refuge from the mob at the end of the prison’s open sewer, in a third-world septic tank. The brilliant Dr. Singleton hiding in a stinking hole. What irony! He thought for an instant of that horrible image of Muammar Gaddafi, the deposed leader of Libya, being dragged out of some filthy culvert and brutally murdered by his former devotees. It was not unlike his situation. The day before, Gary had been king of the place, the leader in charge. He could order people killed on the spot and had done so numerous times. Order them to their death or administer the vaccine that would make them immune to his divine pathogen. His choice. Now, he was hiding in a stinking hole like that poor bastard Gaddafi. He hoped his luck would be a bit better.
The program had been on schedule before the generals decided they needed to use up his precious supply of vaccine on themselves and their families. If they had only waited two weeks, he would have had the equipment to produce enough for the entire country. It did afford a remarkable chance to create control subjects that would show the full effect of the pathogen. He marveled at the results. The subjects that exceeded the muscle mass threshold were transformed into amazing creatures. Coarse black hair grew fast from every pore except around the nose and eyes. Their nails grew out thick and black as well and would be dangerous and deadly. 100% of this group survived with minimum intervention. He fantasized about fitting them out with shock collars, radio controlled to keep them from harming their handlers but deadly to anything else they came across. The rage these creatures exhibited was pure and rich. They would make ideal terror weapons. Drop them behind enemy lines and set them loose on an unsuspecting population. They would cause unbelievable panic. The Chinese would pay extra for that. They’d be ideal to develop the control collars too.
If only his current employers had followed his advice: vaccinate the guards at the prison. A simple request. So simple any idiot could follow it. Instead, they skipped that step and it caused the entire system to fail. All they had to do was screen those that appeared naturally immune with a simple word test. Unfortunately, the screeners themselves were incapable of passing the test. They used morons to screen for morons. Gary had warned them repeatedly about that, but no, they wouldn’t listen. He was a foreigner, and they had their own command structure filled with sycophants and nepotistic dolts. One asymptomatic carrier released back into the general population did it. Just one. That’s what caused the downfall of his project. Gary wasn’t the least at fault. He was divine in his genius and calculations. Infallible, in fact. He had never made a single mistake in his entire life. All his failures could be attributed to underlings and subordinates. Perhaps his only failing was his good nature. If he had just been stricter and voiced his objections forcefully, he could have prevented those failures. Being too nice can be a weakness. Yes, that was it. He was too nice.
When the prisoners started showing symptoms, it was too late. The pathogen had jumped from the controlled environment of the lab into the general population of the prison. The guards, not being vaccinated, transmitted the infection to the population of the town. They also were fond of the world renowned brothels out by the airport. The town itself, small and squalid, had the misfortune of being near a city that was a cargo hub for the entire continent. The airport rivaled major gateways like Kennedy and De Gaulle for operations, and pilots from every freight carrier would bid for it so they could frequent those brothels. The pathogen could spread quickly to every corner of the globe by contact with the infected. People of the world didn’t know it yet, but they were about to become part of Gary’s experiment. They were the control specimens that wouldn’t receive the vaccine. The weak ones, the ones who didn’t exceed the muscle mass threshold, had a better than 99% fatality rate. Under ideal circumstances, the infected could survive at a much higher rate, but since virtually everyone giving care was also likely to be infected, few would survive. Some were naturally immune. They were the lucky ones. Gary didn’t have enough data to arrive at an accurate estimate but he guessed less than 1% had that natural immunity. He was the only one who knew how to build the vaccine, only he could save the world. He would end up a hero and be the savior of millions. All he needed to do was get the hell out of this worthless country. The rest would be easy.
Gary needed time. If he could just sit out three more days in hiding, the entire population of the town would succumb to the effects of the pathogen, and he could simply walk out. They would all be incapacitated and unable to do so much as lift a finger to stop him. In the meantime, he had to continue to lay low in this vile septic hole filled with vermin and human waste. They wouldn’t think of looking here for him. It was the last place on earth he would be, and anyone who even had an inkling into his personality would know it, which was precisely why he’d chosen to hide here. It was vile and disgusting, all right, but safe and hidden.
He wondered where the airport was in relation to his current location. He had rarely ventured from his lab and had done so exclusively with his valet, Pedro, a loyal and obedient servant who followed Gary’s every order and wish to the letter. He was one of the only competent locals he’d run across since the remaining locals were nothing but morons and ignorant near-savages. Pedro had taken Gary to the airport to receive guests and cargo many times. Gary tried to remember the layout of the town as he waited for dark. The airport was to the west of the prison and lab. His lab was on the east side of the prison. The sun spilled into his hiding place through holes in the lid of his stinking dungeon. He marked the shadow with a stick and checked it after several hours to see which way the sun moved. That would give him some indication as to which way was west. The last thing he wanted to do was start moving in the wrong direction. By the time everyone had taken ill, he would be in pretty rough shape himself. He had no food or water, and it would be nearly impossible to sleep in this place. The smell alone would keep him awake, and the lack of any comforts would deprive him of the luxury of rest. He laughed to himself when he thought back to his demands that his quarters be outfitted with a high-end, memory foam mattress and hypoallergenic pillows. Of course, they questioned the sanity of his demands. How could they understand the requirements of a modern western man when they slept with chickens and bathed once a month, if ever?
How did he ever end up in this terrible place? A hot country with not so much as running water or people who could read? He could easily place the blame on the double-dealing businessmen who ran the prison in Colorado. They got him into this mess. If they had only followed the plan, the contract they agreed to abide by, none of this would ever have happened. They got cold feet when an inmate died, called the authorities, and he had to run. This country was his escape plan. A bit more time, and he could have solidified the deal with the Chinese. They would have done everything he asked. They knew what he had. They had the equipment he needed all over the place. They would have been ideal partners. The Chinese were still interested. All he had to do was get to the airport. He could bribe his way past any security, and if needed, buy his way onto a plane. He had more money than God, and spreading it around was the way to get things done.
Gary wasn’t motivated by money. He had made his first million by age sixteen when he sold his patent for cleaning reactor components with an engineered bacteria he had created. He had used a common soil bacteria and equipment he bought on Ebay to develop what they called a miracle. His picture was on the cover of every technical magazine and blog in the world. By twenty-one he’d had his masters in bioengineering, and by twenty-four, his doctorate. He would have earned his doctorate much faster except those idiots at MIT blocked him at every turn. They were jealous of his genius and accomplishments. He was fabulously wealthy by the time he turned thirty and had four ex-wives who could attest to his endless riches. Women craved his essence, but he had no time for their foolish emotional needs. Money and women meant nothing to Gary. What he craved was the challenge. He wanted to know just how far his god-like talents could be pushed. So far, he had found no limit.
Gary finally drifted off to sleep. Dawn broke and the sound of footsteps near his hide woke him. How many hours did he get? Three, maybe four? He heard their guttural language and could understand enough to know they were still looking for him. They called him Diablo, or Devil. What fools! They had no idea who they had among them. They should have been referring to him as Divino, or “The Divine” instead. Eventually, the footsteps faded, and he was alone again. He had an incredible thirst and a craving for coffee. This would be the first morning in decades he didn’t have his cup of coffee. He preferred Hawaiian, one-hundred percent Kona beans, coarse-ground and cold-pressed. His valet had finally perfected brewing his cup just recently. Gary had designed a system to produce a perfect cup years ago, but it had to be abandoned in Colorado. He missed his creation. It was perfect. Pedro was a poor alternative. Gary knew that sooner, rather than later, he’d start to develop a characteristic headache from lack of caffeine and dehydration. It could be debilitating. Dehydration is a terrible way to suffer. He was sitting in water now, but it was fecid and would likely kill him if he took a single sip. If he had a clear plastic water bottle and some clean sand, he could have purified it with sunlight. None of those things were around. How did that old saying go? Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink? He cursed silently at the thought. A thousand ways to purify it and not one way to do so now.
Gary’s thoughts returned to his valet. He might be the key to getting out of this place. He was loyal and would do anything he asked. Pedro lived in this stinking slum of a city and had a house near the prison. Pedro had once pointed it out to him as they drove by. His house had electricity and a well. Pedro was proud of that. Big deal. He snickered at him several times, and Pedro took it well. He was Gary’s friend and confidant. Gary knew that Pedro would do anything for money. He’d kill his own child for a million dollars. Gary would need help getting to the airport. It was a good twenty miles by some of the poorest roads he had ever seen. They may be clogged with the sick and dying in a few days. Pedro was immune. Gary himself had seen to that. It was a gift from Gary to protect him from accidents. That would endear Pedro to him long enough to help him make his escape. He might even take him to China if he wanted to leave this place. Gary could use a reliable companion in that strange place. He wouldn’t have any idea who he could trust or what they’d be talking about. He didn’t speak or write a word of Chinese. Pedro would come in handy, and he could already make his coffee correctly. That would be reason enough to keep him around, at least until he could replicate his coffee machine.
By midday, Gary’s thirst was insatiable. He had a splitting headache, too. It was getting to the point where he would rather die rather than suffer the pain. He didn’t see anyone around. Maybe they had already succumbed to the effects of his pathogen. They were all weak and in bad physical shape to begin with. How could such a people live past age thirty? None of them had good teeth. None of them had good posture. None of them had the brains of a coyote. What a pathetic bunch! Yes, the disease would knock them down faster than the controlled populations in the prison. The prisoners were treated well, at least better than the locals. They got three good meals a day, clean running water, and slept in dry and comfortable beds. Most of them were educated, too. Political prisoners generally are, that’s why they’re in prison. They had time to cause trouble. They were ideal for the program. Much better than the meatheads in the Colorado prison. He would have to climb out of this septic sludge pit and find water soon.
Gary dozed off and on, or maybe he was passing out from the pain. He was suffering now, so much so that he decided to risk going out into the open to find water. He needed it badly. Two days without anything to eat or drink would be too much for him, or any person for that matter. People needed water. It was a basic requirement. Three days without water in a gentle climate was enough to kill the average person. In this climate, where the heat drove one insane, two days was too long. He wasn’t a strong person and never had been. In high school, the bullies always taunted him because of his weak body. They picked him last for games in gym class. All that stopped when he sold his first patent. After that moment, they looked at him as a superior being. He never returned to that school after graduation. He hated the town, the people, and the very thought of ever going back. He should have bought the entire place and burned it to the ground. Maybe he’d do that one day.
At sundown, Gary was despondent. He had to have water. He didn’t think he could make it through the night. He might even drink the water around him if he got crazy enough. That would be the end for sure. They’d find his dead body, riddled with maggots and covered in stinking puke, dead from water borne disease. What a horrible end that would be. He would slip out of this place and find water in one of the houses nearby. They didn’t have running water, but surely they had some stored.
Finally, it started to get dark. He slipped out and crept along the sides of the ditch toward the first house, if it could be called that. He imagined what it would be like to live alongside this stinking open sewer, children playing along the banks and jumping in to retrieve some precious toy. What kind of people can live this way? The houses were nothing more than mud huts with thatch roofs. Inside, he found nothing. Not a single drop of anything potable. Same with the next house. Nothing at all to drink. No electricity, no water, no food. Nothing useful. Every house had a damned Bible. Typical morons.
He wasn’t going back to that hole. No way. That was it. He was out and never going back. The night started to close in, and it was getting pitch black. Street lights didn’t exist here. Strangely, nobody was around. No sign of human activity, like they had all vanished. He decided to try and find Pedro’s house. He had carefully noted west when he came out of the hole, and the setting sun confirmed it. He was heading west, toward the prison, toward where Pedro’s house would be. Was he on the right side? He couldn’t remember which side of prison, north or south, Pedro lived. His brain was getting a bit mushy from dehydration. What a horrible way to suffer. All he could think about was finding something to drink.
Gary ventured onto the main street south of the prison. There was a fifty-fifty chance he was right. If he wasn’t, he’d have to risk coming around the west side of the prison and circling to the north to find Pedro’s house. The odds were good that someone would see him if he did that. He had no weapons to defend himself. That was a laugh. He didn’t know anything about fighting. He’d never had a physical altercation with anyone. Never. He should have taken those self-defense courses his insurance company had insisted on. Foolish nonsense at the time, but now, he could see their value. He could have been captured by a kitten in his current condition.
He crept ever so silently through the dark streets. They were quiet as death. It was very likely that each house held people disabled by his pathogen. That’s why the streets were so quiet. They would be dead in days unless they had intense care. Not his problem. He needed water, and after that, food. That was his mission now. Find Pedro, rehydrate, bribe him with a million or whatever it took, and then get the hell out of this stinking hot country.
Off in the distance, he saw a street light, and under it, a car. It was a green car, he could see that. Pedro had a green car, and he might have been the only one on the street with electricity. He wouldn’t know for sure until he got closer. Another hundred paces would tell. The closer he got, the more sure he was that it was Pedro’s house. Sure it was. How many cars were in this place? How many could be green? If only he could remember what kind of car Pedro had. A sedan for sure. Four doors. He always sat in the back so it had to have four doors. The car under the light had four doors and was green. Electricity, car, green, four doors. The evidence pointed to Pedro.
Gary made the bold decision to go through the gate to the house. Would he knock on the front door? Look through the windows first? No, that was too bold a plan. The best plan was to sneak around back and look through the windows. If he saw Pedro, he would be in the right spot. If not, what would he do? He had no backup plan. The evidence was overwhelming. It had to be Pedro’s house. He was as quiet as a man suffering the way he was could be. He managed to slip into the back yard undetected and peered through the window. He could see Pedro sitting at the table drinking a beer! A beer! How amazing. He could see the condensation on the bottle, cold and clear and wet. He would have paid a million for that beer alone.
He approached the back door and decided to just try the catch instead of knocking. It was unlocked. Gary burst into the room, eyes on nothing but that beer.
“Pedro, hey! It’s me, Gary.” His eyes were still on the beer.
“I was waiting for you.” He didn’t move from his seat. He should have jumped up and embraced his master. Ungrateful. That’s what he was.
“I missed the helicopter. Bastards left without me. Saved their own hides.”
“I saw they left without you. I thought you might come here asking for help.”
“You have another beer?” His eyes were fixed on the beer.
“No, that’s it.”
“I’ll take yours. Damn, I thought I was going to die of thirst. This is perfect. Thanks.” He drank the rest of the bottle in one long and satisfying chug. It burned his parched throat, but he ignored it.
“They killed everyone on your team. You’re the only one left.” Pedro crossed his arms.
“Can you get me out? I need to get to the airport and catch a flight away from this madhouse.” He lovingly placed the empty bottle back on the table.
“The military’s guarding the roads. People are getting sick. The entire area is being isolated. They’re shooting anyone who even gets close to the barricade.” Pedro rose from his seat slowly.
“I can pay. I can pay you a million to get me out. You can bribe the soldiers.” They were standing eye to eye now. Gary felt slightly uncomfortable. He preferred to be lording over everyone in the room.
“The brothels got infected. The guards did it. They got infected and went to the girls. Everyone is infected now.”
Gary cursed under his breath. He had no concern for these local scum.
“Stupid whores. I don’t care about them. I gotta get out.” He knocked the bottle from the table with the back of his hand. It smashed on the floor.
“My daughter was infected. She’s showing symptoms. What are you going to do about that?” Pedro leaned on the table and looked him in the eye in a fashion that made Gary very nervous.
“Pedro, it’s not my fault. I told them to vaccinate the guards. They didn’t listen.” Gary backed down. He wasn’t used to backing down.
“My daughter is going to die because of you.” Gary heard noises coming from behind him. Several people came out from the back room. They were armed with machetes. Farmers with machetes. Pedro had betrayed him.
“Who are those people? Pedro, what have you done!” They grabbed him by the shoulders and arms.
“They are going to help you now. Go with God, you Devil.” Pedro went to his refrigerator and grabbed another beer. He’d lied there too. He had more beer. What a rat.
Gary became an internet sensation for the last time when he confessed to creating the HDD pathogen and they beheaded him on livestream. Too bad. He was the only one who could replicate the vaccine.