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Leigh’s story is “Enter the Corruption”
Apocalyptic Disaster – Nano tech Invasion
Location – Bullet Train
Helpful Item – Hand Sanitizer
Disability – Extreme Itchiness
Enter the Corruption
by Leigh M. Lane
Oh, dear God, help me! When—if—I get out of this unscathed, I swear I’ll do whatever it takes to stop them. I’ll dedicate my life to the cause. I swear. . . .
A mere half hour ago, I’d been sitting I’d been sitting in economy class, watching the scenery blur by through the nearest window. I’d tried to sleep, hoping to stave off my boredom, but I was too excited about seeing the family members waiting for me on the other end of the line.
Dear God, help me. . . .
I noticed the woman across the aisle was one of the nanotech implantees. I could only guess why someone wealthy enough for nanotech implants would travel economy, but she seemed comfortable enough. She stared straight ahead, her eyes scanning an Internet page only she could see. She showed a hint of amusement at whatever it was she read before she turned to the little boy sitting beside her in the window seat.
“Go to your father’s URL,” she said, leaning into the boy.
He cocked his head, stared ahead for a moment, and then turned to her. “What’s so funny about that?”
The sound of his voice made me flinch. It was as though I watched a boy-sized android responding to his rich, stuffy owner. His face was devoid of emotion, and he sat upright and perfectly still. I’d never seen a second-generation tech-head, but I had heard they were about as human as their parents were relative to us. They were the end product of a scientific “breakthrough” gone terribly wrong, a defilement of both mind and soul that had left the small elite few who had paid the five million dollars to undergo the procedure altered in ways no one could have foreseen. While they retained some semblance of human emotion, their children were something altogether different.
He seemed to feel my eyes on him and turned mechanically to meet my surprised gaze. Staring me down, he asked, “Mother, why is that drone watching us?”
I turned away as she shifted to glance over at me.
“Don’t bother yourself with the drones. Finish your homework.”
“I do not want to finish my homework, Mother. I want to know why it was staring at me, and why it looked away when it knew you were about to assess its behavior. What does it want?”
“They stare at things sometimes, son. Finish your homework.”
“Unacceptable response,” said the boy.
I felt the chill of a cold sweat soaking through my light cotton shirt as I fought the urge to explain myself. How does one describe horror and pity to a child devoid of all emotion? What possible words could convey to a person whose brain is nothing more than circuits and nanochips that his mere presence induced such discomfort?
To my surprise, the man sitting directly in front of the boy whipped around to face him and said in a stern, annoyed tone, “She was staring at you because you’re a freak. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to read my book in peace.” The man returned to his seat with an exasperated huff.
I watched the boy through the corner of my eye while he emitted a strange noise that was every bit as unnerving as his mechanical demeanor. Clearly, despite his inability to understand emotion, he was capable of taking offense. In a sudden but precise move, he dived forward and bit the man in his ear.
Everyone within view stood, and immediately the car filled with the chaotic din of surprise and revulsion. The man held his bleeding ear while he stumbled past the passenger beside him and into the aisle. He fell to his knees, crying out.
Frozen in shock by the unexpected sight, no one moved to help him. Everyone rushed to gain their distance. I felt my heart skip a beat at the sight of the boy expressing something vaguely recognizable to a smile, blood smudged over his lips and chin. His mother looked annoyed but did not reprimand him.
The man went strangely silent for a moment then went painfully stiff and dropped onto his back in a fit of convulsions. He stared at the ceiling, his face frozen in a look of terror. Again, he went still. He sucked in a deep breath, his expression going flat. Everyone gasped and watched in disbelief when the blood trickling from his ear went from red to silver.
The boy seemed pleased by the effect and lunged at the next nearest person, then another and another after that. Those who tried to strike down the boy suffered his mother’s protective fury. The aisle became a traffic jam of hysterical bystanders.
The man bleeding silver grabbed a passing leg and sank his teeth into the fleshy calf. I wasn’t sure what exactly was happening, but I knew it wasn’t good. I vaulted over several rows of seats and fought a handful of others to get through the door. Only a few people managed to escape behind me before a strong young man gave a forceful shove to the front of the crowd and shut the door. He, along with a few others, held it shut, while the rest of us continued to make our way toward the next car. Those seated around us stood and looked around, some asking for an explanation as to what threat fought to breach the closed door.
No one was able to provide an adequate response. Hell, we didn’t know what we were running from, only that we feared what might become of us should it get through. I didn’t bother to explain myself, my only concern being to continue forward. By the time I reached the first class cars, only a couple of people ran with me. When we attempted to continue to the next car, however, the train’s security guard stopped us.
We tried to push forward, but the security guard held us back, ordering us to return to our seats. He threatened us with all sorts of ridiculous charges when we persisted. Suddenly, the door behind us slid open with a forceful shove and a horde of men and women, all bleeding silver from bites on their arms or legs, rushed toward us. The security guard continued to try to keep order, and I alone managed to slip past him.
* * * *
And so, here I am. Whatever that child had started, it has spread at an alarming pace.
I dart into the next car, freezing when I realize I’ve reached my final retreat. I go dizzy at the blurred sight rushing through the front observation windows. There are only a handful of people seated here, and they look surprised by my presence.
I turn to the sound of the door opening behind me. The horde pours in. My heart racing, I make a dash for the open restroom. I scream when one of them seizes me by my wrist and tugs me from the doorway.
“What’s your hurry?” he asks while the last few unsuspecting passengers scream under the attack. “Trust me. It’s all for the best.”
I yank back my arm while he sinks his teeth into it. I stumble back, into the restroom, and quickly lock myself in. My throat goes tight at the sight of the wound, knowing something terrible awaits me, when I spot the bottle of hand sanitizer beside the basin. I slather the clear gel over my wound and rub it in, wincing with the sudden sting. The blood continues to run red, but I know that could change despite my efforts to kill whatever has infected the rest of the train. I ask myself, Do I feel any different?
Nothing . . . yet.
My arm begins to itch like crazy, and I wonder if this is the first sign of dissemination. I feel faint. Am I losing consciousness? Is this the end? What will become of me if the infection does take hold? I can’t ignore the impulse to rake my fingernails across my forearm, the itching so intense that scratching it does not offer me any relief.
My body jolts with a heavy bang against the door. “What are you doing in there?” someone asks. “Come on out,” says another. “Why haven’t you logged into the network?” asks yet another.
I continue to tear at my arm. The itching only intensifies, but my blood still runs red. God help me.
Someone attempts to kick in the door. A couple others join in on the endeavor.
I can feel the train slowing. Would the horde file out, leaving me only to infect everyone at the terminal? The door begins to cave. Will it stop in time? Do I want it to stop? I try to prepare myself to break past them, but I can’t concentrate. I’ve scratched my arm raw, but to no end. The itching is unbearable.
The train slows to a halt.
The door hangs closed by a thread.
I can’t stop the itching. I feel as though my body is under siege. I can barely breathe.
I hear the platform door open. I would feel a hint of relief if I could ease my discomfort even just a little. My arm has grown red and bloody. Still red. . . .
The door caves with one final kick and a few of the horde bleed in. There’s nowhere left to run. I can’t stop scratching. I can’t concentrate. I can’t breathe. A man bites my uninjured arm. I think to go for the hand sanitizer, but I can’t bring myself to stop tearing at the agonizing itch.
The horde files out, leaving me alone in my misery. The itch begins to abate, but I no longer feel any desire to reach for the hand sanitizer. I feel . . . what do I feel?
I feel nothing.
I see the Internet unfold within my mind’s eye, and I log in. I look down at my wound. Silver. Metallic. What was I doing in here?
I exit the train and look at all the people who have yet to connect. Look at them scream. I stride toward the nearest one. “Don’t be afraid,” I tell it. “Feelings are so overrated. Connecting . . . that’s what’s important.”
Still, it screams.
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