Esuria

Biohazard sign

“Your theory is as full of holes as an esuria’s skin, Rich. Your so called “cure” won’t work. Even if it would, what of the ingredients? Where would you get them? Drop it. You’re grasping at straws here, my friend”.

Richard run his eyes over the last week’s letter again. As always, he heard his inner voice speaking to him with the exact tone, temper, and reproach of his old friend Andr. They both were old men with grey hair, yet it was always Richard who felt like a green boy every time they spoke, so heavy and commanding Andr’s presence had been. Even his letters somehow communicated that.

The sun was so bright it hurt his eyes. In the upper world this cruel light was everywhere, making Richard and other vault born wince in a pang of sharp pain at every glint of the sun reflected from water or metal and wear sunglasses whenever they went outside. Richard drew the curtains letting a familiar and cozy semi-darkness fill the little lab.

One of the alarm clocks beeped. A moment later a little feeder turned on with a soft buzz and put its tiny robotic arms into the cages where red eyed white lab rats were scurrying to an fro, hungry. It was time to feed the control group that lived at the left side of the table, as far as possible from the group infected by esuriovirus.

The infected rats ate three times more than the control group, their feeding intervals were three times shorter and yet they looked starved, all bones and ragged fur, their eyes flickering with the reflection of flame that was not there. No amount of food could satisfy them and it drove them mad.

In a language that was dead even before the old world had passed away in flames “esuriens” meant “hungry”. No other word would fit this virus better.

Richard’s thoughts returned to the weeks old discussion again. Andr was right. He’ll need to approach the problem from a different angle, search for less costly ingredients maybe…

“Hi, grandpa!” May’s voice, young and cheerful, took him by surprise.
“Hello, dear…”

He failed to hear her steps again as she crept up behind him. A good hunter always steps light.

May stood at the door. Several days spent on a hunting trip left their mark: the girl’s tanned skin had fresh sunburns, there were dark shadows under her eyes, and her figure looked even thinner than before. She sounded happy, though. It looked like the hunt had been really good this time.

As always, she missed her dear grandpa deeply and rushed to his lab right away. She even still had her rifle with her, its long camouflaged barrel sticking out from behind her shoulder.

Richard leaned back in his armchair and spoke the magic phrase meant to open a fountain of stories: “Well, kiddo, how was the hunt?”

May belonged to the first generation of people born in the upper world. World lit by the cruel sun and overgrown with thick jungle not going to surrender the cities it captured back to humans willingly. Reckless generation, savages, many old timers said, disgusted. Richard wasn’t one of them. He was genuinely proud of his only granddaughter.

May’s generation had thick tan and pearly white smiles, they grew up wild, adventurous, and totally indifferent to science. Really, why would someone young and healthy be interested in book dust when they have a huge, wonderful world to explore, when uncharted lands begin right behind their doorstep, dangerous adventures await everywhere, and ancient cities keep their secrets?

“...And we caught an esuria, grandpa!”
“What?!”

This phrase casually dropped by May in the middle of her new story killed Richard’s smile in an instant. He sat up straight, startled, his heart racing.

Esuria… So they came here as well, no longer legends of the past and some very distant wild lands danger. They’re real, and they’re here. “My god… I didn’t think it’d happen so fast…” Richard clutched the armrests so hard his fingers went white.

Esuria…

May said it was a leopard. A wild, dangerous beast with hungry flames flickering in its eyes. It was bony thin and had a ragged hide, darkened by the disease, streaked with scars, old and new, from the endless fights. The creature attacked May’s group in the night and killed one of the hunters.

Young, stupid, reckless savages! They even captured this thing and brought it here! Despite the fact that it had already cost one of them everything.

“May…” Richard choked on the word. His throat was as dry as an ancient wasteland. “Tell me, did this creature hurt you?”
“Don’t worry, grandpa!” May laughed. “It’s just a scratch. Kris, our medic, patched me up. I won’t even get a scar.”

Indifferent to science… and to the very history of humanity.

For the first time in his life Richard regretted letting May have the life she wanted. He should’ve taken her first hunting rifle away, should’ve made her stay at home and read all these books…

Every virus has just one purpose: survival through reproduction and adaptation. Whatever happens to an infected organism serves this purpose alone and nothing else.

Just as flu virus, a droplet infection, makes its host sneeze and cough, esuriovirus, which is carried through saliva and blood, makes its host attack others. Endless hunger and easily triggered aggression are just the tools it uses. There is no cure, no way to break the cycle.

How long this hunting trip of May’s was? A week? Then the incubation period must be already coming to an end.

“May…” Every heartbeat is echoed with pain.

Shadows under her eyes. Her figure, even thinner than before. Her skin, damaged by something he thought were sunburns. Those tiny flames flickering in her gaze every time she smiles. Her attitude, unnaturally happy and playful… for how can she be so happy when one of her friends had died horribly just several days ago?

“May…”

The old man was choking down tears, dying inside more and more with each moment. Yet at the same time a cold resolve in his heart grew, driving pain and grief away, temporally, like a painkiller drug, so it wouldn’t hurt right now but would hurt a hundred times more later.

“You must be tired,” he finally managed to say, his voice calm and steady. “Go have some rest, eat something… I’ll clean up your rifle while you’re at it.”
“You know how?” May sounded surprised and a bit proud.
“Of course, kiddo.”
“Okay,” she handed him the rifle and strode to the kitchen. “Damn, I’m so hungry!”

Of course. The virus is taking control…

Richard lifted the rifle up. It was heavy. Too heavy for someone who spent all his life among the books.

He took aim. One doesn’t need to be a sniper to hit such a big target just a few steps away.

“My dear May,” he thought. “I won’t let you turn into a monster, an esuria. Never. I don’t ask for forgiveness, I don’t deserve it. I should’ve made the cure in time… however impossible Andr said it was.”

The tiny town fell silent when a single gunshot rang out in the lab. Right after the cries “What happened?” filled the air another one followed.

(December, 26, 2007)

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English is not my native language.
If you see an error or a typo, please, tell me. I will fix it.