The 2020 pandemic caused by the spread of the COVID-19 virus has resulted in considerable losses in both financial aspects and human resources. Nobody wants to return to the quarantined period since things are mostly back to normal now. But pandemics have been a part of the history of the development of human civilization. Pandemics can be dated back to the first-ever outbreak of the smallpox virus when the Egyptian Pharaohs flourished. That’s almost 10,000 years ago.
When we consider the history of epidemics and pandemics, we realize that the coronavirus might not be just the end. There would be pandemics in the future too. What kind of pandemic? What new species of virus or microbes would evolve to cause such menace? How would the human race evolve to be prone to diseases in the future?
What would it feel like if a person from the past traveled to the future to discover the reason behind an inevitable pandemic? Let’s understand a scenario of the potential pandemic-causing element from the future in the following short story – Pandemic of The 22nd Century.
The Pandemic of The 22nd Century
“Oh no! What happened to mom?” exclaimed Ken with tears almost blinding both of his eyes. “She is the only one left in my family!” Ken sobbed as he ran towards the nearby hospital. After World War I ended, the city of Kansas was already devastated by war victims, and now, hospitals have been flooded with incoming patients for over a month. The city was almost in ruins, but the unknown flu-like disease spread like wildfire.
Reaching the overcrowded hospital, Ken looked for his mother amongst the groaning and shivering patients confined to their respective beds. It was a horrifying scene – a hall turned into an open ward to accommodate extra patients, almost giving the looks of a morgue area. It had become an indoor refugee camp for all the patients where people lay on mattresses due to a shortage of beds.
The hospital smelled so foul that it made him feel nauseated. He covered his nose with his hand while looking for his mother in the overcrowded hall. He finally spotted her at a corner of the hall, coughing and trembling. Ken held her hand and said, “Don’t worry! You’re going to be alright! Nurse! What happened to her?”
“I think she has acquired the Spanish flu,” said the nurse while scribbling on a notepad. “Where is the doctor?” asked Ken, slightly enraged. Without answering, the nurse left the place to attend to other nearby patients. Sherry pushed her trembling hand toward Ken like she was trying to say something.
Ken lowered his head towards her face to listen to her whispering into his ear, “I know that I am going to die. Do not try to save me. Just go away from here.”
Almost sobbing, Ken nodded his head in disagreement. “Listen to me, mom! You have to recover, okay?”
Ken spoke up after a few deep breaths, “I will save you. There’s an elite medical camp outside the city for the soldiers’ treatment. I will take you there!”
He left the hospital in the hope of finding a wagon. He went to the nearest telephone booth but found it overcrowded with citizens. Everybody stood there trying to listen to the radio announcing the Spanish Flu had spread into the heart of the U.S. Ken listened to the real news to get hints about any curable treatment being practiced somewhere. All he could hear was terrible news. The flu had become a pandemic, and there was no cure for this strange disease anywhere.
Shattered by the news break, Ken walked away from the booth towards his home in utter disappointment. The following days showed him what hell felt like. He wasn’t allowed to visit his mother anymore, yet he had to bear the news of her dying an agonizing death. Along with her, most of his neighbors fell to the same fate as days passed. People believed that the flu was spreading through contact and breathing near a patient, but surprisingly Ken seemed to have somehow shielded himself from catching any symptoms.
After losing all of his family members in the war, Ken and his mother were the only people left in that house. He remembered making coffins for his father, uncle, and twin brother from the leftover pieces of wood they had collected from a scrapyard. After the war, they were left bankrupt and couldn’t afford to buy coffins. But this time, he wasn’t even allowed to see Sherry at her deathbed. They disposed of her body with hundreds of other dead patients in a dumping yard.
As days passed, the city’s population kept decimating, and Ken was the only person alive in his entire neighborhood. The word “quarantine” became quite popular as Ken started feeling locked up in his own house. Soon, he started running out of food, and the only thing left for him to do was raid a store. Luckily, he spotted one near his house, which was not shut properly. Ken squeezed himself inside the gate and grabbed everything that hadn’t expired yet.
The collapsable gate opened to reveal three tall and well-built white men dressed in the military camo standing in front of the store. Ken covered his eyes, suddenly blinded by the light when the gate opened. “Where have you come from? Where is your family?” One of the white men asked in a severe tone.
Before Ken could answer anything, he saw the military men whispering something among themselves. He tore into a stale cookie packet and stuffed his face in fear that they might snatch the food away from him.
One of the men advanced toward Ken, saying, “Don’t worry, we won’t hurt you. We will give you shelter and food. Come with us.” After losing everything, all Ken could ever think of was food – the basic survival instinct of any human being. Without any hesitation, he started limping after them and boarded their vehicle.
Leaving aside all of his belongings, Ken went on a brand new journey he was not aware of. Without much ado, the military men told him that he was one of the very few survivors of the deadly flu. They have found only 12 people who did not acquire the virus.
“What is this virus? It killed my mother!” growled Ken under his breath.
One of the men answered, “This virus has spread across the world, and it is believed to have killed millions of people by now. Scientists say this flu-like virus has been acquired from pigs. Those who ate uncooked pork fell ill and spread the disease.”
“Bloody swine!” hissed Ken under his breath. His agitation led to a weird silence for the rest of their journey till they arrived in front of a barbed-wire gate with a caution sign on it.
The gate opened after inspection and led the vehicle into forest-like uncultivated greenery. It stopped in front of a large door that looked like a storage bunker. After getting off the car, one of the men opened the bunker with a key pulled out from under a tree. Everybody else followed him into a dark basement, but it was no longer dark after a few long steps. Instead, it was a laboratory giant and lighted enough to scare anybody visiting it. “What is this place?” asked Ken in a weary, trembling voice.
One of the men wearing white coats spoke up with a warm smile, “Hey! Don’t be afraid. It’s an underground military lab facility, and we are the scientists who work here.”
“Why did you bring me here? They said they had food!” growled Ken as angrily as he could with his frail body that he hadn’t fed for a couple of days. One of the scientists approached him with a lunch box filled with a fresh green salad and a juice bottle.
“See? They weren’t lying! You will have plenty of food and a place to rest too. New friends, if you like company! We are just trying to find a vaccine for the flu virus, and for that, we asked the military to find all of the survivors and bring them down here. Don’t worry; you’re safe here! We’ll do a couple of experiments with your blood and fluid samples.”
Ken didn’t seem to mind much because his focus was stuck on the freshness of the salad in front of him. After almost a month, it was the first time he had witnessed fresh vegetables. Before he could take a bite, two guards took him by the hand and led him to a small yet cozy-looking cell that looked like a luxurious lock-up room. Ken sat inside the room and kept gobbling on his food.
“Hey! Are you a survivor too?” the voice floated to him from an adjacent cell towards which Ken looked, his face twisted and his mouth crammed with food. “They gave him food too! They will use him too!” some other voices roared. Ken finished his food and lay on his bed without paying much attention. His eyes felt heavy as he slowly drifted away to sleep.
Ken found himself amidst a green forest, awakened by a little blue butterfly sitting on his nose. As he opened his palm, the butterfly slowly sat on his hand. To his surprise, the butterfly looked very much like a fairy. “Tinkerbell!” exclaimed Ken in joy but scared away the butterfly. It fluttered away from him as he tried to follow it into the darker and denser part of the forest. Soon, he lost his way and the sight of the butterfly. He started to panic upon finding himself at the end of the forest in front of a water body. He witnessed a scary skeleton rising from the water level to his horror.
Ken jolted out of his deep sleep to find himself on an operating bed inside the lab room, surrounded by masked doctors in blue. He realized that he was tied to the bed when he failed to sit up. “What are you doing to me? Let me GO!” shouted Ken with all his might. Huffing and panting, he struggled to untie himself while the masked people watched him with smiley eyes.
“You cannot leave. We promise you will get all the necessary food and rest to survive here. Just cooperate a little.” said a doctor as he approached Ken with a syringe. The very moment the syringe touched his skin, the lights went off. Ken’s limbs went free from the machine’s straps as he ran for his life.
“The subject’s running away! Get him!” someone shouted in the dark. Colliding often with wall-like pillars, Ken made his way into an open hallway. Before he could grope his way inside the open structure, the lights turned on to reveal a gigantic spherical machine in front of him. It looked like it threw shards of lightning on the ground as these shards levitated it above the ground. Had Ken touched it, he could have burnt to death.
The machine seemed to become unstable soon with the increased amount of lightning bolts thrashing out of the nodes. A portal slowly opened in front of Ken which tempted him to touch it. The first contact with the portal gave the impression that it set his hand on fire.
He was slowly being pulled inside the portal, and not being able to overpower the suction force, he let himself go with the force. The next moments were quite hazy in his mind, and he wasn’t sure about where he landed. The place looked like a desolated dumping yard close to a passable road that led to a city, visible.
Ken started walking towards the city along the road, noticing a few couples of people crawling like animals. They seemed like lifeless zombies at a closer look, yet they did not come after him when they spotted him. Scared and trembling at the sight, Ken ran as fast as possible into the city boundary. The scenario inside the city was quite horrific to describe.
Ken witnessed flying bird-like machines carrying humans in a flock. He saw flying cars led by war tanks towards different buildings. Most of the humans on the ground looked ill with eyes popping out of their faces and mouths open wide like they were trying to breathe through their mouths. Walking like zombies, these humans didn’t seem like they were in their right mind.
Ken was soon stopped by a person who sounded so mechanic, “Who are you? Where is your sense band?” With furrowed eyes, he questioned the human-like robot, “Where am I?” “This is Kansas City. Where is your sense band?” asked the robot again.
“What’s a sense band?”
“It is your identity band you have to show so that I don’t shoot you.” the statement was followed by a weapon looking like a machine gun, pointed at his forehead. Before the robot could shoot Ken, a man in a white coat moved the robot’s arm away from him and said, “Let me take over here, Drazzle. Come on.” The robot slid away from the area and disappeared into the crowd without a word.
“I think you’re the one I have been reading about in the history files!” said the white-coated man in excitement.
Confused as hell, Ken asked him all the questions he had in his mind in one breath, “Where am I? What was that? Who are you? Why are people crawling like that?”
With a light giggle, the man in white said, “Wait, I will tell you everything. You would be so fascinated when you know where you are and what happened here. It is the same Kansas City you grew up in. It’s the year 2121, and now, humans and robots are allowed to live lives side-by-side, legally. You have time-traveled 200 years in the future.”
Ken’s eyes popped open like most people crawling around him, but only out of shock. I time traveled? How’s that even possible? I thought there was no such thing as time travel. So, was that a time machine?”
“Probably, yes. Most probably, no. Whatever it was back in your time wasn’t a time machine. It might have been something else that produced a lot of electricity, somewhat like a tesla coil used to be. The electromagnetism just messed up with the time-space balance and resulted in opening a portal,” the man in white answered.
“What happened to all these people? Have they been the same always? Why do they look so sick?” asked Ken, to which the man answered, “Because they are sick! You visited us at a tragic moment. A disease has spread globally through every person’s sense band.”
“Another disease outbreak?” Ken cursed under his breath while looking at the people walking like zombies. “If you are curious about what happened to these people, it’s a form of hypnosis. However, it is permanent and self-destructive, caused by the outbreak of microbot malware releasing nanobot viruses in their bloodstreams, ultimately affecting the brain’s functionality. If they look like zombies, they are zombies – brain dead.”
“What is the sense band?” asked Ken in confusion. “The wristbands all of them have.” answered the man. Ken noticed that the man he talked to did not have a wristband and asked accordingly.
“When the majority of the bands started to malfunction, the government disconnected our bands to prevent us from getting infected. They need us to find a solution to this pandemic!” answered the man in white, who was a scientist from the 22nd century and had read about Ken’s first-ever case of actual time travel in his research papers.
According to him, Ken could not contract the disease as he has never worn a sensing band; the device was hacked at its databases and injected with brain-attacking microbots. A time-traveling man from the 1920s was saved from the pandemic of the 22nd century by virtue of his anachronism!
This story is how I picturise the pandemic to break into an evolved human civilization with such advanced technology in the 22nd Century. Do you agree with this thought? How about you?