My impulse is to charge out the door and abandon the car like other people clearly did, but Marks sits in his seat calmly for a few seconds. I decide he must be a Buddhist or something because I’ve never once seen him agitated despite the shit we’ve gotten ourselves into.
I almost think he’s accepted that we’re both going to die, but instead he reaches into the backseat for the shotgun. He steps out of the car and waits for the plague-man to get a little closer. With the aim of a huntsman, Marks fires a single bullet. It catches the man squarely in the head and knocks him over. I hear gasps from the people in the cars behind, but then cheering. It’s strange how a deadly disease can make murder a heroic act.
But I can’t bring myself to call it murder either. because, quite frankly, Marks potentially saved dozens of lives. He gets back into the car and begins to move forward. There’s a bit of silence as I try to digest what just happened.
“Does the touch plague really make people crazy like that?” I finally ask.
“No,” Marks replies immediately. “That man wasn’t sane, from what I can tell. I don’t know how many people like that we’re going to encounter along the way, but my guess is not too many.”
We drive along for an hour or two and I notice it’s getting dark. We pull over at a small hotel. It’s not top-of-the-line by any means, but it certainly beats staying at a flea-ridden in located in scenic nowhere.
We walk into a fairly empty lobby. The only people present are us, an attendant and two other people who appear to be checking in.
“Vincenzo?” Marks says. Huh? He knows one of them?
The guy I assume to be Vincenzo turns around. “Abraham! Didn’t know you’d be here too!” The two men shake hands. The guy standing beside Vincenzo looks just as confused as I am.
“So you’re transferring a patient as well, I presume?” Vincenzo says.
“Yes. Oh right, where are my manners? Vincenzo, this is Eleanor Stiles. Ms. Stiles, this is Vincenzo Floritelle. He works out of the Cornelius Laboratory quarantine centre in Thunder Bay.” I shake Floritelle’s hand.
“Right, and let me introduce Mohammed over here. This is Mohammed Rau, another immune person. Mohammed, I’d like you to meet Abraham Marks, out of Toronto.” Rau shakes Marks’ hand. I notice that Rau and Floritelle seem to have a slightly less rigid relationship than Marks and I have.
Once each of us has a room (the doctors apparently got enough government funding to allow the four of us to each have our own room), we go to the hotel’s common room and sip some hot chocolate available from a dispenser.
“How was the drive over?” Floritelle asks.
“Oh a few bumps in the road here and there. Unfortunately the plague shield on my vehicle has been destroyed. We encountered a plague victim who was… slightly insane, to say the least,” Marks says.
“That’s terrible! Well, you can always ride with us,” Floritelle says. “I figure it must be fate that the only available vehicle at the time was a van!”
“Wonderful! Since we’re both heading to the same place it makes sense. I’ll send out a call to the nearest lab to have them pick up and repair the broken vehicle.” Marks does just that as he takes out his cellphone. He motions that he’s going to his room for privacy. Floritelle excuses himself to go and unpack his bag in his room, leaving me and Rau in silence.
“So were you kidnapped like I was?” I ask.
Rau looks at me suspiciously, as though assessing whether or not I’m a spy. Apparently he thinks I’m not, because he answers me. “Yeah.”
“How the hell did these people know we’re genetically immune anyway?” I wonder out loud.
“I was thinking about that,” Rau says. Apparently he can speak more than a word at a time. “Not too long ago I gave blood as part of a blood drive at Lakehead. Maybe that’s how they got info.”
I think back to any time I might have given blood. Sure enough, I recall donating blood a week or two ago at the urging of one of my friends. She actually ran U of T’s blood drive and was desperate for volunteers, so I relented.
“That makes sense,” I say. “So, uh, that doctor you’re with seems to be a little friendlier than my doctor is with me. Has he told you what exactly is going to happen once we get to Ottawa?”
“No,” Rau says. “I tried to wheedle more information out of him but there was a certain information line that he wouldn’t cross, period.”
“That’s too bad,” I say. “Well anyway, I should probably go and relax a bit before the lovely road trip continues. We’re almost there, right?”
“Yeah.” Rau has returned to his one-word answers. I walk over to my room, slide the key to open the door and flop down on my bed. I’m not exhausted, despite all that happened today. Probably has something to do with how long I was asleep, which I assume to be days.
I flick on the TV and change it to CP24. Cornelius Laboratories may have tried to stop me from keeping up with the headlines but they don’t have free reign here. Sure enough, the touch plague is all over the news, A CTV reporter is on air with a supposedly expert scientist.
“How many people has this plague killed so far?” the reporter asks.
“Oh, we don’t have exact numbers. But my guess is into the thousands by now. The virus is so easy to transmit, what with the frequency of travel around the world,” the scientist replies.
“What can people do to avoid the plague?”
“I would advise everyone to wear something on their hands at all times to avoid skin contact. And touching your face is a habit, but it’s something you should try to avoid at all costs considering the implications.”
“And how is the search for a cure coming along?”
“Of course, we’re working as hard as we can. In fact, we’re in an extensive collection mode right now, gathering as much information as we can.” I notice he doesn’t mention Cornelius Laboratories at all. What in the world is going on here?
“And what’s the present plague situation here in Canada?”
“There are currently about 100 reported cases, with probably numerous unreported ones as well.”
“Well, you heard it here. Stay indoors if you can, avoid skin-to-skin contact, wash clothing and hands frequently. Prevention is entirely up to you.” The reporter signs off, leading back to the news anchor who continues talking about the plague in other parts of the world.
I reflect on the irony that prevention is probably entirely up to people like Rau and me.