FORGOTTEN - Ch.4
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 FOUR
My email is only a couple of short paragraphs in length, but it takes me nearly a half hour to write it because I keep looking up from my phone to peek out the battened down curtains. No one has made any attempts to break in, but there’s a small group of about eight or nine just outside my house, scattered around the lawn, staring straight forward. Lifeless. Apathetic.
It’s the best I can do. As detailed as my shaking hands will allow. I obviously wasn’t able to include any charts or data, but Austin will just have to do with the descriptions that I’ve given him, murky as they are.
Once the message shows that it’s gone through, I move over to the hallway closet and reach up to the top shelf to grab a small, locked box. After fiddling with the combination for a moment, I pop the top open and pull out a slender M1911 pistol, a family heirloom that my father insisted I have in my possession when I moved to Los Angeles. It is most definitely not legally registered in the state of California, but he was worried about all the dangerous criminals lurking around every corner in the big city.
If he had seen Mar Vista, I’m sure he’d be more concerned about the density of kale per capita than violent offenders.
But I guess anywhere seems dangerous if you’re from Nowhere, Wyoming.
In any case, I’m certainly grateful for his overbearing caution now. Growing up, my parents would always take us up into the mountains to go shooting around the holidays. The 1911 was always my favorite, but we’d bring the whole second amendment along with us—rifles, shotguns, crossbows. I got to be a pretty good shot on most of them, but I’ve only ever fired at paper targets, cans, the occasional spent fire extinguisher.
I’ve never even had to think about taking aim at an actual human before.
I look down at the cold, black steel of the pistol. I’ve been wielding this weapon since elementary school. It’s more familiar to me than my collection of stuffed wolves (I have a very large collection that I started when I was six). But it looks foreign in my hands now, like I’m just a child who’s only been playing with squirt guns up to this point.
But we are not in the high plains of Wyoming, and those people out there are most definitely not harmless tin cans.
I pop the magazine out of the magazine well and start loading it with cartridges. When I replace it, the weapon seems to weigh almost ten times heavier than before.
It was about seven months ago that I got the call from my mom. That was back before humanity really knew something was up. She told me dad was acting funny. Just, not himself. He would have these bouts of despondency, where he would lock himself up in his room and barely eat. She took him to the doctor and the psychologist, but they had no idea what to make of it. They thought I’d have some insight, but I was just as baffled as they were. Even the medicine I suggested seemed to have no effect whatsoever.
Then, a month after that, it was a call from my sister. By that point, there were more than ten million cases worldwide, my mother being the most recent of them. And then came the call from my brother. Then my other brother. Then a family friend from the neighborhood. The calls stopped coming about two months ago. I’ve been meaning to go and visit, but I’m just not sure how I’d handle it. Seeing them, that is. By now, they’re probably all in stage four or five, if they’re even alive.
HOV is very predictable like that. The stages are very clear cut, and you can almost set your watch to them.
Stage one, like I’ve previously said, is a severe depression, the likes of which mental healthcare workers have never seen before. It’s sudden. It’s unprovoked. It fluctuates wildly and follows highly unnatural and unpredictable patterns. It’s the brutal cutting edge of a disease that refuses to play by the rules.
If victims make it past stage one, stage two manifests itself in the form of disorientation, lethargy, and a general confusion. People in stage two are known to wander whole cities away from their home and not know how they arrived. Consequences range from things as benign as lost car keys, to things like gas ranges being left on all night. The majority of people across the globe who have HOV are in this stage.
Stage three is relatively quick compared to the others. Victims experience nostalgia, general irritation, and bipolar fluctuations in attitude.
Stage four is where things get tricky. In stage four, victims start acting aggressive. Very aggressive. Many report having schizophrenic episodes, and almost all of them recall distinct events and memories that never happened. No one has ever come back from stage four HOV, and by this point, the victim’s original personality has almost entirely disappeared, which is why most people consider victims in stage four to be de facto deceased.
Because when stage five comes, it’s better for them if they were dead.
In stage five, victims appear to lack any amount of awareness or control over their bodies. It’s almost as if the connections between their mind and body have been severed, overruled by some other force. Some die in this stage, suffering a seizure or stroke that kills them or puts them in an unrecoverable vegetative state. Others become so violent that it’s necessary to take lethal action against them. Others still are kept in custody in the hope that we might find some sort of cure in the future.
The people that attacked me today appeared to be stage five. But I’ve never seen so many in the same place at the same time. And never once have I seen such late-stage aggression that was as coordinated as that.
I put the 1911 in my back waistband, making sure I haven’t chambered a round yet (don’t want you blowing your BLEEP off every time you sit down, kid), then head over to the window and pull the curtains back a hair.
There are more of them. Probably about twenty or so. Even now, I notice another one stumbling up the street from the south, bumping into garbage bins and mailboxes as she makes a slow but steady beeline for my house.
Nothing I can do now but watch and wait for Austin to respond.
The sprinklers turn on about a half hour before sunset. I watch as the growing crowd in front of my home gets assaulted by high pressured streams of water that splash across their bodies and in their faces. Yet, they remain fixed to their spots, unmoving, indifferent to their surroundings. The sight makes me swallow reflexively, and I turn away from the window before my churning stomach upsets me any further.
It’s been more than six hours since I sent the email, but still no word from Austin. I even try calling him several times, but there’s no response.
I’m starting to get worried. Did something happen to him too? I don’t know what I would do if I suddenly lost his support. There’s no one else who knows my research like he does. And there are hardly enough competent scientists to go around as it is.
This is all assuming that I can get out of my own home at some point. These people show no signs of leaving anytime soon, and my stomach is starting to growl. Because most of my time is spent at work, my kitchen is only minimally stocked with the basics, like popcorn and peanut butter puffs. I don’t think I even have milk in my fridge (what currently resides in that gallon jug in there can no longer be classified as “milk”). I have some bread, I think. Maybe some sugar? That’s something I can work with.
I check the time on my phone and realize a message has come in while I was daydreaming of cinnamon toast. “Gah! Franklin! It’s him! He wrote back!” I call out in excitement. Franklin perks up from her pile of throw pillows on the couch and begins panting eagerly.
I unlock my phone and open up the message.
Austin Nguyen 04:32 PM (7 minutes ago)
Subject: Re: BREKTHRU PLEASE READ NOW!!!
SILVA! This is amazing!
Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. I got your email around 6 or 7 my time, and I’ve been in the “bunker” running some preliminary tests all morning ever since (no cell service). So that’s why I didn’t answer your calls.
I’ll need your data at some point so I can start working on a specific counteragent, but I think you’re right, at least from what I can see on my end. It explains everything else we’re seeing. I actually had a theory about that at one point.
You know the principles of conservation of matter/energy? In essence, nothing just pops out of nowhere, and nothing ever really gets destroyed, it just changes state of being, or gets converted into something else (wood burns but creates heat, food turns to chemical energy when eaten, etc.). Well, memories are nothing more than just matter and energy, so, what if you just synthesize the two theories, and you get something like conservation of thought?
I know it sounds weird, but bear with me. Thoughts don’t just come out of nowhere, right? They’re always sparked by something, based on stimuli in our environment. Shaped by experience. So, what if thoughts and memories are never truly destroyed either? What if on some level—chemical, biological, heck metaphysical even—those memories still exist, even after they’re forgotten?
It would explain your findings, wouldn’t it? Somehow memories persist in some fashion even when forgotten by their hosts, and now, for some reason, they’re precipitating back into our minds?
Anyways, there are a million unknowns, but I think this is an incredible first step. I’ll keep working this on my end, but you just focus on staying safe and getting me those charts when you can.
PS, love your personal email.
On Dec 7, 2029, at 10:37 AM, Silva Kashanian (email@example.com) wrote:
… (click to read more)
I read the email several times over, dissecting it into pieces and trying to understand just what Austin is getting at. I think I get it, but at the same time, it almost seems too far-fetched to actually be worth considering. Though, it’s not like I’ve come up with a better explanation.
Still. Like he said, there are still about a million unknowns. For example, why there’s a coordinated assault being conducted on me by a horde of soulless HOV victims.
I’ve got to get my research to Austin. I’ve got to get that card back.
I scratch my back, and in the process my hand runs lightly across the butt of my pistol. I can’t go out the front. Even with a weapon, I’d be overrun in a matter of seconds. The only other option would be to go out the back. The only thing between me and my rear neighbor is a poorly maintained fence that’s probably thirty years old. I’m sure I could scale it without any issue.
Escaping is one thing, though. Actually getting back to UCLA is an entirely separate question of its own. Currently, my car is sitting on my lawn surrounded by the ever-growing mindless murder mob, about as much use to me as my herb garden (may their withered souls rest in peace).
It’s beginning to dawn on me, more and more, that I’m going to have to risk my life for these findings, and that’s a real decision I need to make. Right here, right now. Is this really worth it? My research? If my discoveries were really the answer to life, the universe, and everything, of course I wouldn’t hesitate. But what if I’m wrong? What if I was careless in my lab hygiene and I’m just getting false positives? What if I send this to Austin and he just laughs at it?
The possibility terrifies me, almost more than what I face directly outside my home.
But what if? What if this is the key to the cure, and I’m the only one who has it? Someone else is bound to discover it eventually, especially now that I’ve pointed Austin in the right direction. But what if something happens to him? What if HOV takes a catastrophic turn for the worse?
My path is clear. I know what I need to do. Honestly, I’m just using my insecurities as a stalling tactic, but it’s time to get over that now. Time to get to work.