Asher was in school the day he was exposed to the Horarium Virus. Kindness betrayed him to the deadly disease. The irony of that was not lost on him. The harmless act of picking up a dropped book for a fellow student set in motion the end of life as he knew it.
"Thanks, man!" said the boy as he took the book extended in Asher's hand.
"No problem, bro," Asher replied with a grin. It was just a moment in passing.
The world was a different place from the time Asher’s parents were kids. Asher’s act made him feel old-fashioned and chivalrous. Since the Horarium Virus had been unleashed upon the world, no one ever made physical contact with anyone else or even others' possessions for fear of contamination. Asher later thought that he should have followed the norm rather than giving into a chivalrous impulse. People kept a four-foot space between themselves and others and never touched anything belonging to others unless it had the “CDC Approved - Disinfected. Remove seal upon contact” sticker.
He hadn’t had time for self-reflection. He acted on impulse and he felt pretty good as he sauntered into class. The large room with the far-spaced desks was abuzz with friendly conversation. Each student sat in or loitered near their assigned desk, having removed the “Approved Disinfected” sticker that morning. Some students wore their designer anti-microbial face-masks, though these were mostly for show now. It had been established that physical contact with a contaminated person or surface caused contamination. Somehow, that didn’t prevent it from spreading. It also didn’t prompt fashion-conscious teens to give up their expensive, trendy face masks.
Class started when the teacher’s image appeared on the viz-screen at the front of class. He might not be in the classroom, but he could still see them on the cams. It made more sense, since rooms had to be so much larger, to split the classes into fewer students and remote-teach from just one room. The teacher wouldn’t be in Asher’s room until Thursday.
In the middle of discussing the Battle of Hastings, the CDC opened the classroom door. Everyone froze in panic. They all knew what those orange Biohazard suits meant. Someone in the classroom was infected.
“Stay seated and remain calm,” instructed one of the four alien-looking figures making their way into the room. Their voices were civil, but their guns told the lethal results of disobedience. A girl stifled a scream. Well, it sounded like a girl.
Asher remembered the book and the ill-advised contact he had perpetrated. A cold sweat broke out all over him and he could feel his adrenaline surge. The CDC men swept the room with ID scanners, waving the devices at the students. One orange-clad figure’s scanner swath rested on Asher and beeped with a menacing whine.
“Asher Reeves?” asked the muffled voice. The face behind the clear plastic shield looked sympathetic.
Asher nodded with his mouth dry and his voice locked.
“You’ll have to come with us, son,” the CDC worker declared.
Asher stood in obedience and gathered his things from the desktop. Dropping them into his backpack and slinging the pack over his shoulder, he followed. He could hear the others in the room exclaim their relief at their near-miss with death as he left. Asher didn’t get a near-miss. Surrounded by the CDC men, Asher proceeded to the Mobile Response Unit that had been erected in the school parking lot.
Urgency and concern drove the hive of orange-clad medical personnel, buzzing with purpose. Asher saw the owner of that fateful book sitting on a gurney across the white plastic tent. Their eyes met, Asher’s regretful and the boy’s remorseful.
Lightning-fast, the team drew Asher’s blood, checked all his vital signs, and checked all his information on their Digi-slates. He felt like a subject and not a person. This was just work to them, but this was his life!
Even the news, the worst thing he would ever hear, came in a businesslike manner.
“I’m sorry son, but I’m afraid you’ve tested positive,” said the man in the suit, his glasses shining behind the plastic hood in a manner that made him look even less human.
Asher felt numb. He heard no wailing and crying, no sirens, no baleful music to signal his doom. No one even slowed down the pace of rushing to diagnose.
It didn’t help that the four enormous men in red plastic suits lurking close by grabbed him, shoved him contorted facedown onto the gurney, and handcuffed him.