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The First of Them
“Don’t you do this, Joseph. Don’t die on me now, I’ll kill you if you do, I swear.”
He blinked, twice, white light flooding his vision. He could feel the smoke seep through his lungs, a shot of pain rushing out from the thigh, the heated marble floor below him—but he was fine. It all ached horribly, but his consciousness stayed, his life force caged into his body. He wasn’t dead.
He looked up from his cracked spectacles, staring into eyes of the summer winds, the oceans as they slipped past his toes—the eyes he adored from a distance for so many years. “Anna.” His voice was contorted, hoarse, but powerful. Memories flashed in his head, blurred images of what was and wasn’t, the dreams of the past and the nightmares of the future. He touched the surface of her cheeks, a finger caressing a strand of blonde hair. “Ann—Anna.”
“We need to go,” The woman yelled, furrowing her angled brows. It was only then he noticed the fire around him, the cracked glass of the surgical room. A man screamed from outside, the sound slowly transforming into guzzled chewing. She shook his shoulders, shouting. “We need to go, Joseph.”
Chaos. So much chaos. He felt it welling into his throat, the urge horrid, so horribly sweet—eat, eat, eat. He sat up, glancing down at his chest. A syringe was lodged uncomfortably to his left chest, dangling a bit. He pulled it out, looking around him. “The experiment,” He finally recalled. He chuckled a bit. “It worked. Hasn’t it?”
Anna glared at him, standing up. “What? Joseph, no,” She shook her head, pulling at his fingers. “It’s gone wrong—the cordyceps, they’ve mutated, started taking control--”
He slapped her hand aside, standing up. The pain disappeared from his leg where he found a piece of glass stuck knee deep into his thigh, bleeding out an enormous amount of blood. It should’ve killed him. He knew it should’ve killed him. But it didn’t. His leg was disabled slightly and his chest hurt a great deal from the serum he injected, just before the explosion, but he wasn’t dead. I’m not dead.
He laughed. “I’m not dead.” He held his head on his hand, trying hard to contain his joy. “Everything suggests that I should be, but I’m not. Do you realize what this means, Anna? Do you realize what we’ve just done?”
“Kill a horde of innocent men and turned them into virus-controlled maniacs?”
Joseph turned to the woman, gazing at her form. The torn blue scrubs, a black sweater hidden underneath, the expression of pain drawn over the creases of her forehead; the fragility of mortality. He’s ascended far beyond that, he realized—all with the help of the corporation. With the help of Anna. It wouldn’t have been fair if only he could enjoy the results.
Eat, eat, eat. “Kill?” He shook his head, chuckling. He nudged his head forward, bumping his forehead against hers. He licked his lips. “No, no. We saved these people, Ann. We finally found the perfect solution. No one’s going to die now. No one’s going to suffer.”
Anna narrowed her eyebrows, the fire burning behind those green eyes reflecting the ones around them. Then they tuned into a different note, a feeling of remorse, pity. “You don’t understand, do you, Joseph?” She asked, shaking her head. Her hand touched the surface of his jaw, making him bite his lips. His throat felt inexplicably dry. “It was a failure. We couldn’t control the cordyceps. The ants, they’ve bitten all the higher-ups—Rochester, Lovelace, Moran, even their assistants are infected. They’re returning to their natural instincts, reaching out to the outside world. The whole state might turn at this point, we have to hide now--”
The woman glared at him, confounded. “Why? What do you mean why?” She yelled, gesturing to the chaos outside the window. “We’re about to be f------ eaten and assimilated into a f------ fungi ant kingdom, and you’re standing here asking why?”
Joseph laughed, holding her face up to his. He could feel the hunger growing in his stomach, the need scratching through his human exterior, eat, eat, eat, infect. “We could be immortal, you and I,” he said, mindlessly brushing her lower jaw, “We could live on to see infinity, until the day the Sun shatters before our eyes, devouring mankind and our insignificant galaxy in its entirety. These creatures are gifts, offerings to a better tomorrow, to a paradise we’ve been promised since the beginning of time—all we have to do is stand here, wait for our destiny--”
The slap landed sharp against his left cheek, followed by the insistent urge to eat, eat, attack, infect. “Were you made an idiot or did your mom rock you off a cradle?” She screamed. “They’re destroying the city.”
“Because everything is flawed,” He shot back, the power jutting back from his voice. “Everything reeks of death. They’re solving what we never could since the beginning of our cumbersome existence—they’ve found the cure to everything, even death.”
“Death is the cure to everything, d------,” Anna shouted back, “What we’ve made is a disease that’ll decimate the whole of mankind!”
He blinked, gaping at the woman. She’d always been beautiful while angry. She just had that potential. Joseph reached out into her comfort zone, drawing the curve of her cheekbones with a thumb. He leaned in, touching his lips to hers. How easy it would’ve been, at that moment, to just reach in, to poke his teeth a little further...
“Stop,” Anna pulled away from him. He bit down deeper. “Joseph, stop.”
A hot sensation went on his knee, making him yelp. Anna had stabbed him with a shard of melting glass. He wasn’t as impervious to pain as he realized.
The doctor hissed, lurching forward after her. Then, he stopped. When was the last time he’s acted that way towards her? When was the last time he was so eager to hurt her? He looked up at his partner, focusing on her eyes. Those willful, proud eyes. But they weren’t willful, nor proud now. They were afraid. How could that be?
He examined himself, one last time. He pulled the melting shard off his knee, looking into it. Fungi grew on the left side of his head, a colony of swells and cell mutation. “No,” He dropped the glass, falling to his knees. “No.”
“We can fix this, Joseph,” Anna reached for him once more, a hand landing on his shoulder. “It’s not that bad. We can treat it. But now, we need to--”
Joseph shook his head. He looked up at the woman. The side effects, he thought to himself, remembering what Lovelace once said. The side effects will conquer long before the cure. “You said it yourself, Anne.” He smiled, wryly. The fire burned in the distance, painting his misshapen head a dismal orange. “This isn’t the cure to everything. Death is.”
Anna narrowed her eyes, then let them pop out in understanding. “I didn’t--”
“Go,” He said, shooing her away with one hand. “The fungi, it’ll control me soon enough. You need to go.”
“Not without you--”
“I’m already gone, Annie,” He looked up to her, begging. “Get out. Leave me.”
Tears rolled down the woman’s cheeks, her lips curling into her mouth as she tried to contain herself. “You can’t do this.”
He looked out at the fire. He can hear the fungi talking to him, at that instance, pleading for him to feed, feed. There was only one way out. He turned back towards Anna, smiling. “You remember our chat about children, the other day? Before all of this occurred?” He asked, jokingly. “About what name we’d give one day, if we ever got a little girl?”
“Ellie.” Joseph took her hand, softly. “I’d name it Ellie.”
Anna smiled. That was when he knew. He turned towards the fire once again, feeling the blaze burn against his cheeks. In his final moments, he threw himself out into it, letting the flames engulf him fully. Even on the brink of death he could still hear her screaming.