Chapter Ten – Passage Five
“Very well,” Coleman says, “all that is well and good. But out with it.” He looks straight at Alan.
“Why are we here? Why’d you ask for us back?”
Alan shifts around uncomfortably in his seat, it feels to me like he’s wrestling with how to express himself properly in convincing fashion. Our encounter so far hasn’t exactly been inspiring utmost confidence.
“I’ve been looking at the data,” Alan finally says. “And I think we have a chance to change things.”
“To change what, exactly?” Deepak asks, his voice skeptical. “And why?”
“Don’t you care?” asks Shu. “Don’t you want to see the people behind the greatest genocide in human history held accountable?”
“Accountable for what? They had a vaccine ready,” says Deepak. “They vaccinated who they wanted to save –people like us– and let the rest die in a Russian Roulette-style extermination. Besides, being vaccinated isn’t some slam dunk either– it’s just helps. There was randomness and an element of chance. Anyone of us could’ve still all died, you know. You’ve seen the movie. Balance in all things.“
“Oh my God, I can’t believe you,” Shu exclaims. “How about the rest of the world? Europe, Africa, the Americas? The virus has killed tens of millions!”
“You’re going to blame the rest of the world for not being ready?”
“China had a cure that it didn’t share!”
“Since when is it China’s responsibility to care about the world?”
“It needs to care when it causes the problem!”
Now it’s Deepak’s turn to look incredulous. He stands up. He’s had a few drinks at this point and I suddenly remember that for the nine months we were holed away in that monastery in the land of the Dali Lama and Tibetan enlightenment that he’d been pouring over research and studies that entire time.
“You know what’s a problem?” Deepak exclaims, swinging his drink around wildly and some rum spills out. “Overpopulation! Environmental degradation! Climate change! Polar ice caps melting!
“In the past nine months, after they shut down all vehicular traffic in Beijing, after just month again, the Chinese saw something they haven’t seen in over a century– a clear blue sky. This winter, for the first time ever, polar bears aren’t going to have their home incinerated–“
“People are dying by the tens of millions and you care about polar bears?“
“It’s not just about polar bears and penguins! If the polar ice caps completely flood, sea levels will rise! All coastal areas will flood! New York, San Francisco, and the entirety of Japan? Gone.“
I’m watching this exchange degenerate in real-time. Shu was tending to Alan but now she’s forgotten all about him and is fuming. In fact, she’s grown so angry that I’m afraid she’s going to punch Deepak instead.
“Alright, guys, hold on. Before someone get another blackeye.” I turn to Alan. “Finish what you were saying.” I glare at both Deepak and Shu. “We’ll leave aside the moment the question of blame. Just tell us.”
Shu and Deepak glare at each but manage to stay silent and Alan takes that as his cue.
“Right,” Alan sighs, “so here’s what I found out. Generally, epidemiology is tough. In the early days, you’ve got people coming in from all over reporting all kinds of symptoms. Much of it is just your run-of-the-mill common cold or flu. Headaches, nausea, etc. The truth is much of the time, we don’t even know we have a pandemic on our hands until it’s arrived.”
Alan taps several keys and a holo-projection pops up. It’s a time-lapse of the past nine months and how COVID-59 had spread. At first brush, it’s exactly what you would expect. There was a red bubble around Urumqi which had slowly metastasized.
“But, what’s interesting about COVID-59 is that it possesses one unique trait far more rarely observed– early infected patients– no matter what background; age, gender, race, or geographic background– always reported one consistent symptom– the sudden disappearance of one’s sense of smell– anosmia.“
“We already tried looking at this,” Kristen says, shaking her head. “Trying to identify the etiology of the disease by narrowing by symptoms. It didn’t yield any additional insight.”
“Ah, but did you run it with internal Chinese state hospitalization data?” Alan says. “Our other set of books?”
He taps another few keys and a new map pops up on the holo-projection over the coffee table. This one is different. Interestingly, it shows that the virus did not originate in Urumqi. But rather, there was another place before that which had red dots.
Kristen stares at the holo-map, dazed. “This… this is extraordinary.”
“Yes, but isolating the cases of anosmia in the country around the start of COVID-59, you see that there were already several growing hotspots in China, namely Guangzhou.”
Guangzhou is the gateway between Hong Kong and China– second to Xinjiang, it was previously the most contested and riotous autonomous region in China.
“This is crazy,” Deepak says, throwing up his hands in a huff. “I’m not gallivanting off to some other far-off corner of China to pursue something that I honestly don’t believe is a problem. Honestly, the whole lot of you are delusional! If anything, you should be thanking the CCP! They’ve averted global famine, or at least postponed the End of Days for several decades!”
With that Deepak storms out of Alan’s apartment, slamming the door behind him.
I’ve been around the block enough times to have seen this act before. Someone always needs to be talked off the ledge at some point.
Kristen starts to rise off the sofa to go after Deepak but I wave her off and get up instead.
“I’ve got this, I’ll go talk to him,” I say.
“You know he’s not entirely wrong,” she says quietly. “He’s just saying what we’re all thinking.”