The sun dominated the sky that day. Clouds cowered under its gleaming oppression. Even the birds seemed to fly low. Derek squinted, knowing immediately that he should have stayed home. And he should have. That was the day Derek’s life fell to shit.
He fought the heavy doors of the testing facility open. Their weight surprised him as much as his own weakness did. He told himself it was just early and he was tired, but honestly, lying to himself was getting old. There was nothing salubrious about it.
Inside, Derek was greeted by an older woman dressed in disdain. It was obvious that she hated being there, which struck Derek as odd considering most such facilities ran on volunteers. He’d never been in one, but many anecdotes attested that volunteers were generally people who had lost someone to the merciless disease. People whose grief drove them. Derek supposed it was likely that one day, the grievers might wake up to realize their services hadn’t done a thing to change circumstances. In fact, the numbers grew each week. That could make a person grow bitter – like the woman leading him down the hall.
“You’re running on borrowed time, Mr. Alvarez,” she announced with a tone that denoted lack of surprise.
Positive. He thought the word, but could not get his tongue to pronounce it.
“Positive,” she said for him, avoiding eye contact as she skimmed the test results. “And the gene,” she added without emphasis. Derek could have sworn he saw her shoulders drop an inch or two, though.
Derek watched her silently, choking back anger or hysteric sadness, whichever was threatening to push to the forefront. The bitter lady was now visibly smothering her tired loathing and reaching deep down for something that might mimic patience.
“The gene, as you must know, is a birth defect.” Spiel time. Standard, he imagined. “About 40% of people are born with it these days, and it lies dormant until it comes in contact with the virus. Now that that’s happened, you are V-Positive, and the gene will begin to mutate.”
She handed him two bottles of pills, placing the first in his left hand and the second in his right. Pointing, she continued.
“These ones will suppress the symptoms, and these will slow the change.”
Slow. Not stop. Derek winced. The med-cocktail would only slow the inevitable. Sooner or later, he was going to turn into a monster.
“The virus can be transmitted through any bodily fluid. We ask that you respect the right of others to not be infected by malicious intent.”
She looked away again – seemed to drift off to a place only she could see. When she returned mere seconds later, her eyes had softened.
“Even with the medication, certain circumstances can cause a flare up of symptoms. Among them is increased heart rate and body temperature. The sun and sexual activity are the two leading causes of outbreak. You’d do best to avoid these.”
She reached into her pocket and drew a small syringe, thick enough to insert the microchip.
Without warning she stuck the tip in Derek’s arm and injected.
“This chip will measure body temperature and other symptom levels. It also has GPS tracking. We will receive urgent notification the moment you become at risk.”
“And then what?” It was the only question Derek asked that day, but he already knew the answer.
She sighed and then looked him square in the eyes. Without quiver or hesitation, she said, “And then we put you down.”
Derek held her stare, and as he did so, his heart rate increased.