Chapter Ten – Passage One
NINE MONTHS LATER
“Record number of hospitalizations continue for a second week as the novel coronavirus sweeps around the world.”
“With no end in sight, the global death count continues to mount day over day from this horrifying new virus.”
“World leaders are powerless…”
“Turn it off,” Kristen says from the bed. “I don’t need to hear any more. I really don’t.”
I click the remote but nothing happens. I click it again but still no avail.
“Sorry, I think the remote’s dead.” I’m lying on the sofa opposite the small television in the room. It’s where I’ve been the past two days.
“Get up and turn it off.”
“I would if I could. But I can’t.”
“Oh my God, you are the laziest sad sack of human being ever.” Kristen gropes around the bedside and find her left heel which she hurls at the display. She misses by a solid meter to the right.
The front door knob starts turning and my body involuntarily tenses. A moment later, Deepak and Coleman just push in from the outside though and I relax again. Deepak shoves aside the empty beer cans on the round table in the room to clear space and Coleman’s carrying a carboard box what smells, miraculously, like pizza.
“Breakfast is here!” Coleman says, rubbing his hands together. “Oh my God, it’s cold out there.”
By “out there,” Coleman of course is referring to the Tibetan Himalayas. That’s right, we’re still in China. At this rate, we might never leave. But instead of the Four Seasons in downtown Shanghai, the powers that be have saw fit to hole us away in a secluded monastery nestled in a small hamlet a few meters from China’s border with Bhutan. There’s a stone tower with a gong in it that sounds every hour and the walls of the monastery are built with query stone that I suspect likely predate all of China.
“How on earth did you guys find pizza?” Kristen asks, as she leans over to grab a slice, still underneath the warm covers.
“State secret,” Coleman says and he takes another bite.
“Uh huh, right.”
Still, no one’s complaining. It’s been a long nine months. To me, it seems like just last week we were in Governor Wu’s office in Urumqi explaining our plan. Little did we know how literally it would be taken. For weeks after the meeting, we’d been housed under Chinese state security in Urumqi. It hadn’t been so bad. We’d continued to work on our models and crunch the numbers. When escorted by Alan or Shu and a few plainclothes guardsmen, we’d even been allowed to wander around Urumqi for a bit. We’d visited and worshipped at the mosque which required that we all dressed in shapeless clothing that covered all skin. Kristen had also needed to wear a hijab that covered her face, neck, and all hair. All in all, for those first few weeks at least, it had felt somewhat like an extended vacation.
And then just six short weeks later, we started hearing reports of a viral illness which had supposedly originated at the local Tuesday morning fish market. And from there, everything, in rapid order, spiraled as all hell broke loose.
I don’t often think about the past because I don’t consider it a useful exercise. Generally, I don’t feel like we make mistakes. Because if we’re doing the best we can with what we have at any given point in time, can you really call it a mistake? Is not having enough information a crime?
But looking back at the path we’ve traveled so far, I think it’s fair game to say that we probably could have done things differently. It is conceivable, or at least within the realm of possibility, that we possible hadn’t acted with the utmost wisdom in the matter.
What the Xi government ended up doing really makes perfect sense if you think about it. The most daunting roadblock to usurping any region of people is religion. For Islam, praying five times a day in a mosque towards the qibla (formerly the direction of Jerusalem; now the direction of Mecca, after 624 CE), is a paramount, core part of their faith. In this way, COVID-59 was genuinely a bonafide, devout Muslim-killing virus. It selectively targeted, by the very way it was explicitly designed and engineered in Chinese labs, the people who were most faithful and dogmatic about their religion. To be clear, many Muslims adjusted and followed the advice and direction of the CCP after the virus started spreading: To not gather in large public places (like mosques) and continued to pray at home, safely and isolated.
But many more gathered en masse at Salar, Shanxi, Tata Er, and Han Teng Gi Li– the four major and largest mosques in Urumqi. Obviously, one can only venture as to guess as to their reasons and motivations for ignoring the quarantine orders, even in the face of such deadly pandemic, but they congregated and prayed five times a day, every single day. Did they believe that their faith would save them? Did they disbelieve the Chinese authorities? Only they could tell you.
But they’re all dead now. So we’ll never know. The most devout were the first to die– horrifically and en masse.
COVID-59 was frightening in its contagiousness. Most viruses carry an infection rate of 1.5-2x. Meaning for every person who caught it, it was likely any close contact between infected carriers with healthy people would likely spread every 1.5-2 people you met. But COVID-59 possessed an unfathomable 7x infection rate, putting it even more lethal that the Bubonic Plague which in the 14th century killed off over fifty million Europeans, roughly 25% to 60% of the continent at the time.
The other characteristic of COVID-59 was that it possessed a ridiculously lengthy 14-day incubation period. Unlike the Ebola virus which often killed its host in 2-3 days, COVID-59 would actually lie in wait and fester for two weeks before any symptoms began to show in its carrier host. This meant people who thought they were perfectly healthy unknowingly, if they violated state quarantine orders, were super-spreaders. Those who visited mosques not only to pray, but also to birthday parties, family dinners, and holiday events. They’re the ones who carried the virus wide and far to all they contacted and touched.