Patient Zero

When Doctor Washburne awoke, there was still no food tray.

He pushed his weakened frame up off the cot and shuffled to the intercom box which protruded from the wall of his isolation room. Pressing the button, he said, “Come on, guys, this is ridiculous, it's been since Sunday night. I need food.”

He waited a bit, and when there was no answer, he pressed the button again. “I'm supposed to get three full meals a day in here.” Still there was no answer. “Is anyone even on duty out there?”

He pounded on the observation glass and yelled until he ran out of energy, which was not long. He had fought off the infection, but he was still weak, and not having eaten for two days wasn't helping.

He wasn't even sure what time it was.

He pressed the button. “This is Doctor Washburne. I'm in iso-room three. Can anyone hear me?” Again he waited, before adding, “I just need to know what's going on. And I need food. No one has brought me a food tray in two days.”

He shuffled back over to the cot and laid down.

He had been in isolation almost a week. The spill had happened here in the lab at CDC, but it hadn't been that big, and nobody even thought he had been exposed until two days later when he had started showing symptoms. By then he had exposed Marcia and the kids. Their symptoms seemed to be a little worse than his, but it was nothing to worry about. He'd pulled through all right, and whatever it was would only be weaker in them. They were somewhere here, in other isolation rooms. The other staff had been good about carrying messages, though.

Of course, that was when the staff could be trusted to show up.

The kids would be hating being out of school this long. He could only imagine the hell they would be giving Ling and the others at their checkups. Marcia would be annoyed, frustrated, but would forbear: it was her nature. She was a good little soldier, that one.

He closed his eyes. Someone would come eventually.

When he awoke, there was still no food tray. Oddly, the outer door of the observation room was slightly ajar; he could see a sliver of hall.

He got up out of the cot, even weaker than before — and a bit dizzy — and shuffled again to the intercom button.

“I know you're out there, I don't know who it is, but I know you can hear me. This is Doctor Washburne in iso three. Will someone please bring me some goddamn food, I'm starving to death in here. You're going to have a dead man locked in a room. I know what the protocols are, I helped write them. Isolation patients are supposed to get three full meals a day. Let's get it together out there.”

He let go of the button, and leaned against the glass partition, head down, eyes closed, waiting for someone to answer. Still: nothing. What disturbed him even more than the lack of a response was the possibility that there was no one on duty.

Something had to have gone seriously wrong. If there had been another spill, something more serious, they might have had to evacuate the building. But then who had opened the observation room door? And why the hell wouldn't they have woken him up?

He had to conserve his energy. He could hold out until they came back, until the cleanup teams showed. It might take a few days for that, but he was already a couple days into it. He could hold out.

He went back and laid down on the cot. He stared through observation room glass and through the sliver of open door to the hallway beyond, watching for movement in the shadows on the wall.

He wasn't sure how long he had slept, but it was the gnawing hunger in his gut that woke him. He had turned over in the night, so he twisted his neck around to look up and over his own shoulder at the door.

There was a new shadow on the wall outside, in the hall, and it was moving. Only slightly — a slow, swaying motion — but it was moving. He swung out of the bed fast, fast enough in fact that he became dizzy and fell, slapping his hands on the cold tile floor. He pushed himself up onto his knees and crawled over to push himself up against the wall where he could reach the intercom box.

“Hey! Hey! Out there, it's Washburne in isolation room three! Hey! Come get me out! Come on! I'm starving. Hey!”

The shadow moved out of sight, as if moving down the hall towards the nurse's station. “Hey!” he yelled.

He let go of the button and began pounding on the thick partition glass, as hard as he still could in his weakened state. “Hey! Heeeeey! Come on let... me... out!” he punctuated the three words with blows of his fist.

The shadow reappeared, and then a shoulder pushed the door further open.

It was Doctor Ling. His skin was a sickly gray mottled by splotches of blue and purple bruising, and his eyes were clouded and seemingly fixed. He lumbered into the room.

“Oh, God.” Washburne backed up, or tried to, tripping over his own feet and falling down again. He watched Ling make his way to the partition and crash bodily against it. Smears of rot were left behind where his exposed flesh touched the glass.

Washburne slid himself back against the cot, grasping the metal frame for dear life. Ling didn't seem to understand why he couldn't move any further, why he couldn't reach Washburne. He pushed against the glass, pushing himself away, only to step back against it again with a resonant thud.

He was safe for now. If Marcia and the kids were still in their isolation rooms, they were safe, too. Or maybe they'd evacuated them before it got out of hand. If whatever the infection was had originated here, then...

What if his spill was the infection vector? He had gotten pretty sick, after all. But it would surely have been weaker after being transmitted to other—

He yelled at the corpse of Doctor Ling, still battering itself against the now-heavily-smeared glass, “Where are they? Where's my wife? Where are my kids!? Where are they, goddammit!?

Washburne, mind racing, watched Ling's futile attempt to get through the partition for a while. Eventually he pulled himself slowly up onto the cot. The muffled sounds of Ling's struggle were loud enough to keep him from going to sleep, so Washburne put the pillow between his arm and his head to muffle the sound.

He wouldn't have to put up with it much longer.