FORGOTTEN - Ch.1
To call it a "virus" is a bit of a misnomer. It crosses closed borders, defies quarantines, survives incineration. But how else do you explain everyone around the world suddenly losing their memories?
Silva Kashanian is one of the few researchers still left capable of fighting the unknown pathogen. But an ominous chain of inexplicable accidents leaves her wondering if perhaps this pandemic isn't as natural, or as random, as the world believes.
FORGOTTEN - CHAPTER ONE
They say the first symptom of the Oblivirus—before the aggression, before the insanity—is severe, crushing depression.
That’s what they say, but I don’t know. That would make it really hard to tell who’s actually sick and who’s just another normal person stuck in this purgatory of a time in history. If depression is a true litmus test for the Oblivirus, then the whole world must be infected. It seems everyone has lost hope, consigned to live out their remaining days in perfectly engineered misery, waiting for some inevitable apocalypse to come.
Not me, though! I’m doing alright. But I also have a pupper to help me out, Franklin (named after Rosalind, not Benjamin). From an outside perspective, it would almost look like I’m immune to the virus, a nonchalant bubble in a pool of anxiety. But in reality, fate just hasn’t caught up with me yet. No one, so far, seems to be immune, which is an unnatural oddity that has the epidemiologists scratching their heads. There’s no rhyme or reason to who gets affected or when people get affected. The virus crosses closed borders, defies quarantines, survives incineration.
So, I guess virus is a bit of a misnomer. We just call it that due to our limited understanding of ailments. We haven’t actually discovered the microorganism itself, the little bugger causing all this chaos. All we’ve been able to do is study its behavior and its symptoms. It may not even be a virus for all we know. It could be some other kind of pathogen, or some strange phenomenon in the air.
Or maybe our mothers got it right, and we all should have been eating our vegetables before dessert.
I fumble with the packaging of a toaster pastry as I walk, using my teeth to tear into it. Another thing my mother would have disapproved of. I close my eyes, wincing, as if that will somehow grant my teeth additional strength.
A man bumps into me as I pass by, interrupting my attempt to commence breakfast, and he turns to face me with venom in his eyes. “Hey! Watch where you’re going!” he shouts, perhaps a bit too vehemently for this hour of the morning. I just smile and shake my head. “Don’t look at me like that! WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? YOU JUDGEMENTAL PIECE OF SH—”
“Have a nice day, sir!” I respond, my small voice hardly audible over the man’s froth-mouthed insults and slandering.
There’s no point getting upset. Chances are this guy was a sweetheart before everything went down. Or maybe not. Maybe he really is just a garden variety jackass, but I like to pretend people are truly good on the inside, deep down beneath the layers of sucky attitude caused by HOV. Oh, and that’s what the smart people are calling it, by the way. Human ObliVirus. Because, why not?
I guess the alternative was just HO.
Anyways, I don’t work with the WHO or the CDC, so I don’t get to make the important decisions like naming the disease. I just do the trivial grunt work, like actually finding the cause.
After looking both ways, I hurry across the street and enter the seven-story research facility on the other side. It’s the most horrid shade of salmon pink and smells like the seventies, but it’s more like my second home than my office, considering I spend more time here than at my actual home.
I slap Franklin on the side encouragingly and prod her forward. “Get the button, buddy!”
She bounds forward, tongue flying wildly behind her, then jumps up to place a paw on the elevator call button. She then proceeds to sit obediently, waiting and staring at me with her cute little pupper grin until I catch up.
Franklin was a lab mutt. They did all sorts of…interesting things on her in one of the adjacent laboratories. I don’t know exactly what they did or how they did it. All I know is that something went wrong and they were planning on euthanizing her. Of course, I couldn’t let that happen. So, I snuck her out before they could do the deed. There was never any inquiry, no search to retrieve her, no police report, because, well, I can neither confirm nor deny the legality of the research they were performing…
But yeah, whatever they did only enhanced her cognitive abilities. Made her smarter than your everyday doggo. She’s pretty much a genius. Even when it comes to human standards.
“Hey! Stop it! Stop! Why do you always have to lick yourself?” I chide. She lifts her head, giving me a penitent look with her chocolatey brown eyes.
I stand by my previous statement.
The elevator doors open and we step inside. Normally, pets aren’t allowed in the building, but the rule of law has been slowly deteriorating over the past few months. It seems everyone is more concerned about looters, arms dealers, gang warfare, burglars, et cetera, than about people who disregard public hygiene. Besides, the world needs a little more cheer, and who better to be the Santa Paws of cheer than Ms. Franklin.
“Good girl,” I say, rubbing my hand through the loose folds of the space behind her ears. Her fur is warm against my perpetually cold hands, a gorgeous, wavy mane of buttermilk curls. She’s a Golden Doodle, a unique breed that absorbs the loyalty and empathy of a Golden Retriever, and also the intelligence of a Poodle. It’s probably why she was chosen for the research program in the first place.
The elevator gives off a polite ding, then the doors open up, revealing the row of fourth-floor offices. We exit the car, then proceed to the left, all the way to the end of the hallway until we reach a door with peeling paint and a small tab to the side that reads Silva Kashanian, MD.
I remember seeing that tab for the first time, getting all bubbly about those last two letters. I was so giddy, I didn’t even care that they stuck me in the worst, most leaky room in the entire building. That was about two years ago, right after graduating from UCLA. Of course, I could have my pick of rooms now. Most of them are empty, their occupants either having already escaped town for their remote summer homes, or having contracted HOV themselves. But still, this is my room, you know? I’ve made it my own. It would be a drag to haul all my Lord of the Rings paraphernalia elsewhere.
I fumble with the keys for a moment and have to pull out my phone to shed some light on the lock—there are no windows in the hallway, and only the emergency lights have been left on. Finally, I manage to pop the door open, and I stumble inside to my own little pocket of ordered anarchy.
Piles of paper and equipment cover every last inch of horizontal surface, and there’s a surgically maintained path between the door and my desk. To any outside observer it would seem like a random pile of garbage. But, if necessary, I can pinpoint anything that I need to find within an inch of accuracy. My room looked nothing like this before the pandemic, but the workload grew seemingly exponentially as the staff at UCLA dwindled one by one.
We’re down to bare bones now. Just a couple of others besides myself and Ms. Franklin here. And the world must surely be desperate indeed if the fate of humanity is down to apprentice yokels like me.
Sometimes, I like to pretend that I’m Will Smith, tirelessly in search of a cure with the help of my faithful, furry sidekick. Except things aren’t that crazy yet. I mean, we still have Hulu. And, on the plus side, HOV doesn’t affect animals, so we’re good there.
I do a pirouette over a stack of medical journals and settle into my seat, while Franklin marches obediently over to a pile of lab coats and lies down alongside her stuffed toy platypus. Then, I retrieve my computer from my super-duper professor's side satchel and plug it into the docking port. It takes a moment for the system to boot up and connect to the network, but then I pull up my email and begin sifting through the messages.
Twelve messages reminding me about various mandatory mask and quarantine policies. Delete. Message from the dean. Save for later, I guess. In just six days, enlarge my—oh dear. Delete. There we go. This is the one I was looking for.
NGUYEN, AUSTIN L
Thu 12/7/2029 02:17 AM
To: Kashanian, Silva A MD UCLA PATH/PSY
Subject: Re: L17-471 to L17-538, sample (take 2!)
I sigh, close my eyes, and lean my head back against my headrest. It’s barely seven-thirty in the morning, and I already feel like curling up underneath my sheets and going back to sleep. Franklin gets up from her makeshift bed and gives me a quick lick on the fingers. I allow myself a small grin and scratch her head.
A few years ago, I might have consoled myself by saying oh don’t worry, it’s Friday tomorrow. But I don’t get Fridays anymore. I spend my weekends right here, doing the same thing I do every day. And I’ve been doing it for a while now.
But no use getting down about it all! It just means I’ve got to keep trying while I’ve got the time. And while Austin has the time.
I met Austin at a conference not long after I was hired here at UCLA. We kept in touch, and good thing we did, because there are hardly any capable scientists left that I can collaborate with. Especially of the variety that I need. As a psychiatric pathologist (or a psychopath, as my peers so lovingly called those of us in the program), I have the skillset to track down abnormal diseases and conditions related to the brain. But I need someone who can make sense of my findings and translate them into actual solutions. Austin happens to be the lead of the psychiatric branch within an Australian biotech solutions company, and together we’ve been salvaging whatever resources we can from the fallout, using them to maybe find a cure for this thing.
It hasn’t been going well so far. But that’s science! It just means we need to dig in another part of the mine to find the gold.
With a big breath in and out, I grab my keys, close my laptop, and head out the door, Franklin following close behind.
“Oh shoot, my bag!”
Franklin’s ears perk up, then she prances back to my bag, picks it up by the straps with her teeth, and delivers it faithfully to my outstretched hand. “Good girl. Come on, let’s get to work!”