How the zombia apocalypse started – 3

Bangkok, Thailand

Paul Jones had awoken feeling worse for wear. This was not unusual considering the length of his flight, and even being in business class had obviously not alleviated the jet lag symptoms he would now need to endure. He had managed to get some sleep to make up the deficiency caused by his flight from the United States, but it would take several days before he felt right with the world.

How wrong he was.

His hotel room was adequate. For him, it was just a place to sleep and rest. Most of his time would be spent at the conference, as well as at the after-conference meals that he was obliged to attend. As one of the guest speakers, his room was in the same hotel as the event which was a blessing for him. He had no intention of leaving the hotel grounds until the time came to catch his flight back to the only country he had ever considered home.

If he was honest with himself, he just wanted to get this over and done with. Paul did not crave the limelight as some in his field did, and he was not overly enamoured with the prospect of public speaking. He was competent at it, and it didn’t hold much nervousness for him, but Paul was just much more comfortable with the intricacies of the microscopic world. As one of the top Virologists working for the American Centers for Disease Control, his passion was research not personable interaction.

He tolerated having to deal with other’s in his field because he understood how important it was to share information for the betterment of mankind. It didn’t mean he had to like it. He would have much preferred to have skyped his talk in, or even better recorded his wisdom so that he could simply then forget about it and go back to concentrating on the minuscule packets of protein that caused so much havoc in the world.

Unfortunately, information would not be the only thing he would be sharing today.

The viral load in his body was rapidly building. Much of his present ills were indeed due to jet lag, but as the days progressed, his symptoms would become progressively more severe. It would still be several days before the reality of his fate would dawn on him, and by then he would be back in Atlanta.

His future was already sealed, all that had to be determined now was how many others he would take with him.

Sitting up in his hotel bed, Paul felt the clamminess of his hands, and even with the air conditioning running at full pelt, there was a sheen of sweat across his body. That was the problem with air travel. As someone so intimately acquainted with human diseases, Paul was fully aware just how hazardous aircraft could actually be. Nothing that a quick shower (along with a high dose of vitamin D) hopefully couldn’t deal with.

When he stood up to go to the bathroom, a brief wave of dizziness hit him, but he shook the sensation off. Stepping through it, he made sure the water that he washed himself with was good and hot.

Having finished with his shower, Paul left the towel on the bathroom floor, safe in the knowledge that when he returned to this room, a clean a pristine replacement would be waiting for him. The hotel maid who would be servicing his room exactly ninety-seven minutes from now would contract the virus from Paul’s discarded linen. She would then go on to spread the disease to every single room on this floor of this hotel, as well as bringing it home to her husband and two children.

The two children, both of primary school age, would then share the virus around their classroom.

The challenge with this particular virus, the thing that made it so particularly deadly, was the late presentation of the severe symptoms. For several days, the host body would suffer mild ailments ranging from a slight temperature to a headache that was annoying, but tolerable. All through this early stage, the people infected by the virus were able to pass the contagion onto anyone and everyone they came into contact with.

This was exactly how it had been designed, for the initial surge in its spread would determine its overall impact.

The virus had few limitations. At the moment, it could travel via body to body contact, on the droplets of the breath and through direct exposure to bodily fluids. The natural oils and sweat that coated the skin became a natural medium for the virus to present, to aid in its transmission.

In a city like Bangkok, that was so overwhelmed by its population, such a disease dispersed with frightening speed.

Paul Jones was going to be shaking a lot of hands today. He would be touching a lot of door handles, pressing a lot of elevator buttons. And then, of course, there was the buffet meal he was actually looking forward to at lunchtime. This hotel did really good food, which was not something Paul would usually admit when it came to foreign countries.

How easy it was to deliver the end of all things to the human host.

Unlike some pathogens which were surprisingly fragile, this particular virus was a tough little son of a bitch. It could easily survive on manmade surfaces for several hours and was particularly unbothered by UV light. As a non-enveloped virus, alcohol disinfectant didn’t faze it, nor did most readily available hand sanitisers. Man had created something that, in several days, would leave the worlds scientific and medical communities in abject terror. It was debatable that, even if it had been discovered at this early stage, the upcoming apocalypse could have been prevented.

Nobody had yet died from its effects, but the fate of humanity had already been written. Soon the mortuaries would be filled, and the hospitals meant to cure people would become vectors for the disease.

Some would claim that Mother Nature herself had created this plague to rid the Earth of the human scourge that was ravishing the planet, not understanding mankind’s part in the great tragedy.

In the end, nature seemed as good an explanation as any as to why the virus had appeared as if from nowhere.

There was a knock on Paul’s hotel room door. Having just finished putting his trousers and shoes on, Paul donned a shirt that the hotel had ironed for him at his request the day before. The shirt smelt of chemicals, but it was clean and would hopefully see him through the day. His hands still felt clammy, and he realised there was a strong chance he would need to return to this room and swap shirts mid-way through the day. Not to worry, he had plenty with him.

The knock came again, more insistent this time. For a brief moment, he considered not answering. What if he just packed his things, got in a taxi and took the next flight back to Atlanta? Would that be so bad? It would certainly be good for his sanity.

Instead, he fastened the buttons of his shirt and answered the call. The woman on the other side was immaculately dressed, the name badge hanging from her lanyard proclaiming her to be Dr Summers. Her hair was pulled and tied back almost painfully. In her hand, she held an iPad, and as the door opened for her, she thrust out her spare hand.

“Doctor Jones, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Paul shook her hand. “I’m Alice Summers, your liaison for the conference. I have your itinerary for the day if you want to check over it.”

“Can we do that over breakfast?”

“Of course,” Alice said. “Can I say it’s an honour to be working with you. I’ve looked over your speech, and it’s truly inspiring. Your work in recombinant DNA is truly ground-breaking.”

“If you say so.” Paul wasn’t one for the cult of celebrity.

“If you would like to follow me, I can show you to the breakfast room, and then after your opening speech we are scheduled to join an interdisciplinary meeting at eleven am.”

“Looks like you’ve got it all planned out for me,” Paul said dryly.

“It’s what I do.” Alice had heard about Paul’s reputation. He wasn’t a people person, and those who met him often found him to be cold and aloof. She could see why. Alice was a scientist, but also a student of human nature, possessing a degree in Medicine as well as a PhD in psychology. Getting a job with the World Health Organisation was everything she had ever wanted because it allowed her the chance to meet some of the giants in their respected fields. To her, the true celebrities were the Nobel Prize winners and the ground-breaking geniuses that were propelling humanity towards untold treasures.

It was just a shame that, by shaking Paul’s hand, she had bestowed upon herself a death sentence, and the remaining minutes of her life were now ticking away. First though, she escorted her guest down to the breakfast room.

Paul ate the food on offer, but she noted that he didn’t seem to enjoy a single mouthful of it.

 

Stepping out of the elevator on the ground floor, Alice led Paul through the hotels marble-floored lobby and through an expansive corridor that led to the main ballroom. There were people everywhere. The event had roughly five hundred delegates, and Paul found himself running a gauntlet of handshakes and greetings from people, most of whom he barely knew. He infected every one of them, even though he made a point of wiping the sweat off his hands before making skin to skin contact.

The air conditioning took his breath and spread it around the vast room in which he was about to speak.

If you were wanting to infect the world with a population killing pathogen, this would have been the place to start it. The wealth of experience and intelligence in this room was irreplaceable, all specialists and experts from across the world. Everyone here was involved in the fight against disease, and as they mingled, Paul’s microscopic companion spread amongst them.

There were representatives from seventeen governments. Scientists from forty-seven countries. Should a pandemic be unleashed upon the world, it would be these people who would lead the fight against it…and most of them had already been given a death sentence. Even worse, when the conference ended tomorrow, the majority of them would take the virus back with them. To spread it through the ranks of the teams and agencies they worked for. The very generals in the battle against the virus would be some of its first victims.

Now free of the masses, Paul stood at the front near the stage, waiting for his turn to speak. His throat felt scratchy as he watched the assorted geniuses slowly take their seats. Every skin-to-skin contact risked spreading the virus through the crowd. Every exhale caused a cascade as it multiplied in the air.

Next to him on a raised table Paul lifted a glass of water and drank heavily. With the receptacle drained, he placed it back down, only for a hotel employee to swoop down and pick it up for recycling. That was the one thing about Thailand that Paul didn’t mind, the work ethic. Their understanding of customer service was exemplary because those that had jobs did their damndest to keep them.

Unfortunately, by doing his job with such zeal, the hotel waiter infected himself. Even though he was wearing pristine white gloves, it was enough for the water on the rim of the glass to soak through to touch his skin. Later on that day, the waiter would infect seventeen people at the dinner service.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s an honour to have you all here today,” Alice said from the front stage. There were still people lingering at the back of the room, but most of the delegates were now actively seating themselves. “If everyone could take their seats, please. We have an exciting line-up of speakers for you today.”

The general chatter in the room died off to almost nothing, and the stragglers began to drift towards their chairs. At that moment in time, seven per cent of the people in the room were infected with the virus. By the time the day was over, that number would be eighty-seven per cent.

“I would like to invite our first speaker of the day. Dr Paul Jones is the Acting Associate Director of Science at the American Centre for Disease Control. He is here today to discuss how to combat the spread of International pandemics”.

How ironic.

Alice stepped aside as the crowd gave measured applause, Paul reluctantly stepping up to the microphone.

Right, let’s get it done he said to himself, wiping his palms on his trousers for like the twentieth time that morning.

“On 26th September 1983, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov saved the world. Petrov was the duty officer at the command centre for part of the Russian nuclear launch early-warning system. That system, on that day, reported the launch of 6 nuclear missiles from the continental united states. His job was to report the launch to his superiors, and it is generally considered that if he had, they would have authorised a retaliatory strike. But Petrov used his own judgement and considered the notifications he was getting to be a false alarm. So, he waited and it later turned out the false alarm was due to a problem with the satellites the Russians were using. One man averted a nuclear holocaust, and most of you have probably never heard of him.”

The audience watched in silence, wondering where exactly he was going with this.

“This is an incidence where pause and reflection possibly saved billions of lives. When it comes to viral pathogens, however, such hesitation could have disastrous consequences. As you are aware, there was an outbreak of a new strain of H5N1 in Guyuan, China last year. Firstly, I would like to congratulate my Chinese counterparts on containing the spread of that virus.” There was muted agreement from the audience, the five Chinese delegates present giving the impression that they were suitably humbled by the comment. “There are some who were critical of China’s use of the military in the incident. I am not one of those critics. I feel the measures taken were wholly proportionate, and we should be thankful that the actions were taken. Analyses of the virus showed it was a completely new strain, so all existing vaccine stocks would have been next to useless. Had it spread out of the region, it is my considered opinion that we would have seen a global pandemic worse than the 1918 outbreak. Millions would have died.”

Paul paused to drink a freshly supplied glass of water.

“But consider this. Much of the success in stopping the Guyuan strain was down to luck. This is not to disrespect the Chinese efforts, but to highlight how unprepared the planet is for the next pandemic. Make no mistake, a pandemic will happen within the next ten years, and we are not ready to counter it.”

There were murmurings now. Paul knew that the consensus was that the planet was more than ready. This was why Paul’s boss had sent him to this conference because Paul was not afraid of what needed to be said. And he had a boss who held the same view, but who was perhaps more politically attuned to say it in the way it needed to be said. Dr Jones didn’t care.

“The spike in the purchase of Ibuprofen from Guyuan pharmacies triggered the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response system and the Chinese responded according to plan. If they hadn’t, if it had happened in another area of China or even another country the end results would have been catastrophic. The Guyuan virus had a twenty per cent mortality in those who contracted it. A pathogen of that lethality would bring the world economy to its knees and set the human race back decades. So today I want to talk about what we at the CDC are doing in addition to the recommendations of the World Health Organisation, and how effective we feel these measures will be when the next pandemic hits.”

On the front row of the conference, all already infected, were the Ministers for Health from the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. Each would catch a flight home the day after next to return to their respective countries. Each would bring the virus back to the heart of their governments.

Fifty-seven thousand Chinese were killed by the Guyuan flu strain. It was just pure fluke that the figure hadn’t been millions worldwide. When compared to what was coming though, it was like a child’s toy.

Billions were about to suffer from Death’s impending stampede.

And by the time people realised, it would already be too late.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *