Patient Zero. Short Story.

“You are very brave to be doing this you know.”
She shrugged, “my country needs it, the world needs it. It’s nothing brave.” She shook her head, “Someone had to do it.”
“Yes, but it didn’t have to be you, you volunteered for this. No one would have made anyone do anything.”
“I know. But if not me then it would be someone else.”
The doctor finished drawing blood samples. He had expected something else, someone else. He had an image of her in his mind, one that wasn’t being upheld. He thought she would be taller, thinner. Someone perfect, beautiful, someone full of national pride, who would do anything for her country, for the world, he did not expect this woman at all. She was short, slightly overweight and always seemed to have a dour expression on her face. Her nose was a little bit too long, her mouth a little too wide and her eyes were tired, with dark puffy circles underneath. A part of him wondered if she might be more than a little depressed, the psychologists cleared her and it wasn’t his job, but still he did wonder. She bathed and slept normally, she would engage in conversation, but seemingly only for politeness. He had yet to see or hear of her doing something for the sheer pleasure of it. Even eating was done mechanically. He had even gone so far as to theorise that she had some kind of suicidal ideation, that this would make her someone. A kind of, if I’m unhappy then everyone else should be too type of thing. That however wasn’t his concern, so he never raised it. His concern was making sure she was reasonably healthy, that she kept up her vitamin levels, that everything was as ship shape as it could be for her. They wanted someone reasonably healthy, someone who represented a large portion of the populations of the world. Slightly overweight, averse to any excessive exercise. Of course she wasn’t as social as he would have liked, but that couldn’t be helped. She would interact with more than enough people on a day to day basis. Besides, the seclusion was probably a benefit, she wouldn’t worry about friends or family if she had none.

According to her own testimony and the records they had on file her parents died shortly after her nineteenth birthday, a house fire. She had no siblings. Afterwards she drifted from friends she had until eventually she had no one beyond work acquaintances and people she would make idle chit chat with at the store. She didn’t drive, taking public transportation everywhere. She had no real hobbies to speak of, reading and watching television took up most of her spare time. The doctor didn’t know how someone could live like that. He would go crazy if he sat around all the time, he enjoyed a good book, but his reading was reserved for the half an hour before bed. Television too was seldom watched. Even if she was playing video games she would be doing something more than passively sitting there. He quickly wrote down a few things onto her chart.

“You’re done with me for the day.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, we’ll be starting the first round then.”
She nodded.

“Are you nervous?”
“A little I guess, but who wouldn’t be?”
“That is very true. Don’t worry, it will all go smoothly.”
“I know.”
“And you’ve been briefed on procedure and everything?”
“I have. Multiple times. I know what I have to do.”

“Sorry. Have to ask.”
“That’s ok. I know.”

He packed up his supplies and left the room. She really was a non-entity. Even after several weeks he knew very little about her, there was no spark of personal connection, sure she was nice enough, but that was really it. It was probably part of why she was chosen. She wasn’t memorable, she was a nobody. She would sail through every security check point and no one would ever be able to pick her out of a line up.

He submitted the bloods then headed back to his office, greeting the people he passed. At this point the tests were more of a formality, proof for afterwards that she was healthy, that she was right to have been given a clean bill of health. In three weeks time she was leaving the country, going to travel for a month then return. If things were done correctly symptoms wouldn’t start showing for another four months. She would be contagious twenty four hours after being infected. Someone would probably discover it before the four months were up, but at that time it would be far too late. They wouldn’t officially develop a proper test for it for another eight months, it had a two percent mortality rate, mostly the very young, very old and those with weakened immune systems. The human body would eventually be able to fight it off and proper treatment would be officially developed within a few years. It wasn’t the deaths they wanted however, it was the side effects.


In ninety percent of cases, both male and female, the patient was rendered permanently sterile. The disease would spread quickly and with frightening ease. It was an elegant solution for the overpopulation crisis. Patient Zero would die within a year from exposure to the disease, but before that time she would have spread it on to thousands and they would go on to spread it to millions more. Even the treatment itself would leave the patient sterile. Preventatives would be on stream in a decade. At that point the population would reduce within a few decades. It would take a long time for the population to get out of hand once more. Simple, easy, effective. There was enough stored sperm and eggs to provide genetic diversity if it was needed at some point in the future. No one would know what they had done to save the world, no one needed to know. It would get blamed on a quirk of nature, a virulent strain jumping from on species to another. It had happened before with plenty of things. One more disease wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. An elegant solution to an ethical problem. No longer would there need to be incentives for people to avoid having children, no lobbying for laws for mandatory sterilisation should certain criteria be met, or fail to be met. Everyone had an equal chance of catching it and at the end of the day he would sleep well, knowing that he and his team had done more than any one else ever could have.

About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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