Fiction: Basis Science
Basis tracks your heart rate, your movement, skin temperature and the ambient temperature, and your galvanic skin response (GSR, or how much you’re sweating). The sweat tells you how strenuous your activity is and how stressed out you are. All of the data gets uploaded to the cloud and Basis analyzes it. You wear the device 24 hours a day. The device knows whether you are asleep or awake.
I placed my belt in a Zappos-sponsored plastic bin. Onto yet another city. My life had recently turned into an exhausting mix of precisely measured 2.5oz bottles, TSA anal sniffing, and a series of seat backs in the upright and locked position.
I eyed the guy in front of me and popped another airborne, hoping the stuff worked. He had a tissue box cradled under his armpit, and was using and discarding one after the other in an almost overflowing grocery bag. I kneeled to untie my shoe. Something started to drip onto the ground in front of him. Blood. I jumped up and back. He turned and said something about a doctor. It was all over his hands, his shirt. I looked up. His nose, which I expected to be a mess, was fine. It was his eyes that were bursting.
He ran. His shoeless, socked feet stumbled past the ID checkpoint. One of the obese former fast food workers in blue TSA uniforms shouted at him. The poor bastard just fell when he made it to the sliding doors. Flashes of biohazard yellow emerged from anonymous airport walls. They wrestled him onto a golf cart, then rushed away while someone worked his chest.
Gloved hands grabbed his things. Another pair began mopping. Not sure what to do, I skirted the area they were cleaning up to continue the screening. But nothing was moving. Announcement: To ensure the safety of air travel, we would be momentarily detained. There was, of course, no reason to worry.
The crowd tittered. My mind raced. He hadn’t touched me had he? Did he breath on me? I checked my body for his blood and found none. Hopefully it wasn’t something that could spread. Was I going to miss my flight? I’d have to let the office know. What kind of sickness was that? Was there a cure? Announcement: While this incident was the result of a personal health issue, we would be required wear a health monitor to fly today.
Biohazard suits held up what looked to be little wristwatches. Then portly TSA ladies, doing their best to emulate flight attendants, came through. They assured us that just our vitals were being monitored. That no private information was being transmitted. That everyone would have these sooner or later. I duly signed an agreement not to remove the device under penalty of a fine and jail-time. Some in the line refused or made a fuss, and were promptly escorted out. The TSA matrons placed the device on my wrist, adjusted for comfort, then locked it. The word “Basis” was clearly embossed on the front. My heart silently beat in pale orange on the little black screen. Then we were on our way.
I watched some of the media coverage from my hotel. Apparently the bleeder had fallen prey to a rare parasite in rural Africa. The footage was the best kind of marketing for the health monitoring company though. Airlines were offering the Basis to customers as an optional upgrade. After all – who wanted bird flu or cow colds or whatever? Some said the government was working on a deal to equip all citizens with one. Pundits argued about big brother. Personally, I had assumed this kind of thing was inevitable, and actually found my Basis to be a pretty good way to kind of try to get in shape. I spent the evenings of my week-long engagement earning points and badges for time on the treadmill in the hotel gym. It was a welcome improvement over the last few weeks of generic suits, meetings, meals out. Too much time on the road will kill you, and it was certainly taking a toll on me.
My face was filled with cement. Breathing was impossible through my sinuses. Pressing my forehead helped a little. I took one of every antihistamine I could find. Vitamin C. Zinc. Afrin. Nothing helped much. I contemplated bypassing the whole damn system by jamming straws through my nostrils, straight into my brain. Instead, I gulped air like a fucking goldfish. My thoughts briefly returned to the parasite, but there was just no way. A sinus infection is all it was. Bleh. Time for home.
Something was happening on the radio in the cab, but I was too out of it to care. Drearily made it through security. Sat in a chair facing one of the TVs. Cell phone footage on the news. I perked up. Biohazard yellow everywhere- in trains, in airports, in bus depots, on the street with rifles. Oh shit. They played a clip again, slowly. Oh shit. They froze the frame. Half a contorted face flickered. Shit. A ruptured iris.
A collective gasp interrupted my staring. I turned to the commotion in time to watch the entire flight screen flash. Dozens of rows simultaneously read CANCELED. The TV exploded with news. It was all crashing. A national health emergency. Murmuring and arguments broke out at the gate as to what to do. Veteran road warriors were already running for the entrance. I realized what they were doing and joined in but arrived too late. Lines to rent a car had given way to an impromptu auction, where rentals were being sold to the highest bidder, and prices were in the tens of thousands. Vulture cabbies were picking at those left, and were rewarded with huge wads of cash. I just had my cards.
Sirens approached. I headed for outside but halted when I saw that traffic had stopped moving, and that many were making their way back in, luggage glumly in tow. Announcement: For the safety of air travel, the airport had been temporarily quarantined. We were requested to report any sicknesses to the nearest security officer. Flights would resume soon.
I raced to the security line, which wasn’t moving. Soon, it snaked to the check-in counters. After the first hour, we sat. Some watched the TV’s repetition while on the phone with loved ones. I nursed the pressure building in my forehead, and clicked through my Basis, tracking the events of the past few hours on the graph. I laughed silently. I had earned points for the brief jog towards the car rental, and had earned a Sweatastic badge while trying to bid. Hunger set in, but TSA trooped us to and from the restaurants and bathrooms. When asked why there were no doctors or masks or anything, they pointed to our wrists. Hours went by.
At first, the crowd had been suspicious. Who was sick? Who to avoid? But the lack of medical personnel was strangely calming and close proximity or shared hardship won out. So the line began to communicate, share information. I told the story of my bleeder. Someone told us, according to the latest blogs, there had been isolated cases throughout the world in recent months. The known count was 10, with more suspected. The government was urging calm, they didn’t suspect a bioweapon. It wasn’t a parasite. CDC was working on it. It was airborne. It was as we had suspected, we had all been exposed.
Anger led to rumors. The government had created it. Why else did they have biohazard specialists and health monitors already in place, everywhere? Even in my condition, this was too V for Vendetta for me. Last year’s hurricane season had, again, been a clusterfuck. It’s not like they suddenly got smarter. No, they weren’t smart, or organized, or stupid enough to create patient zero. But they had mobilized too quickly not to know.
They just didn’t tell us. Maybe the first case was someone they needed to protect and that’s why they couldn’t. An undersecretary or someone. Maybe one of the young grunts returning from Iran. The ultimate Ayatollah fuck you. It doesn’t matter. I think they knew and prepared and just didn’t tell us. Hopefully they had a head start on a cure. But right now, they weren’t even sure of early symptoms, only the advanced stages.
More hours passed with no new information. My face began to leak. Lacking tissues, I blew into one of my shirts. The pressure was dissipating, a welcome respite. But dribbling faces were seen throughout the line, and the tension was palpable. Was this a symptom? I tried not to think about it.
The TV snapped away from looting and triages and chaos. An anchor behind surgical mask told us the CDC had an update. Facts: Within 72 hours of exposure, nasal inflammation. Within 100 hours, drainage. Within 120 hours, rupture. Silence followed by shock as every did the math. I trembled while calculating my hours. 115. The anchor removed the mask and put down his paper while reading the last sentence. There was no progress on a cure.
Our fledging line community fell into its component pieces. Mothers held their children close. Families huddled. Lovers nestled and cried softly. I wrote some farewell emails. They fell short, but I sent them anyway. Soon, death was breaking down even what bits of society remained. Fathers video chatted their children through their final moments. Bodies lay in pools of their own making. Empty graphs solidified our demise.
Yellow, gas masked flight crews started being let through. They were offered bribes, threats, and pleas to no avail. I checked the time. I could still make it, the flight was only two hours. But, despite the steady stream of pilots and copilots, they didn’t let us through and no flights took off. Hope, but no salvation.
I started to cry when I passed the two hour threshold. I would die on the plane. Another hour. I would die in this airport. Half an hour. I would die in this line. The back of my hand kept wiping my tears away. Then it was smeared with blood. My graph finally began to ebb, warnings began to blink, and then the world burned red.
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