This story may be completely understandable as a standalone tale, but as it takes place a couple months after the events of the stories “Dividing by Zero“ and “Ill Wind,” so I highly suggest you read those tales first. There will be at least one or two more stories featuring Patient Zero, following from these three chronologically. I will say that this story involves some fairly notable acts of sexual assault (though I don’t get overly graphic about it), so if you’ve got serious trigger issues around that topic, be warned.
Spreading the Love
Breathless. Shaking. A pounding in his head and chest at the sight before him.
A crow straight out of hell and shaped like a man. Stepping into the room without warning.
“Jesus, boss!” Larry Blanchard gasped, still uncomfortable with being a henchman to someone so infamous as this. “You scared the hell outta me.”
My heart’s still going like wild; maybe I’ll be lucky enough to die of a heart attack.
Except he had already learned he was too cowardly to die quickly or cleanly; he’d fight for his last breath no matter how pathetic his existence became. He’d struggle against the tumors growing inside him, even as a part of him prayed they’d release him from Patient Zero’s service. And he was too fearful to run away from the vile man he’d sworn to serve, either. So instead, he steeled himself and tried to get used to what he was seeing.
Patient Zero was decked out in a heavy black fabric overcoat and hood that made his body both shapeless and menacing like some grim reaper, topped with a leather mask that covered his entire face—a pale brown monstrosity with a pair of tinted round glass lenses and a large conical nose extending around 12 inches from the face, shaped vaguely like the beak of a crow. Above that was a wide-brimmed hat of much darker leather that might have given a comical note to the ensemble for some onlookers. But it merely made the look all the more unreal and creepy to Larry.
He’d never seen it, neither in pictures nor in person.
Oh, Larry had heard about the costume before—most recently from Patient Zero himself shortly after Larry helped him escape, but first from other guards while he was working at the Janszen Correctional Institution. Apparently Patient Zero wore it only for special occasions, and Larry had been told by people at the prison who knew more history than he did that the ensemble had something to do with guys called plague doctors a few hundred years earlier who wandered around dealing with people affected by the Black Plague or other epidemics.
Except my boss—the transhuman man for whom I’m doomed to hench—doesn’t peddle cures, bogus or otherwise. He doesn’t deal with burning contagious corpses. He doesn’t offer comfort or relief to the sick. He spreads the diseases. Creates them inside himself and passes them along. The world’s most famous—maybe its only—serial mass murderer.
“I’m so sorry,” Patient Zero said in his usual smooth, slightly smoky tones. A very slight accent belied his U.S. birth by emphasizing his many years within Colombian and Mexican communities. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I have a meeting to arrange for a new job with new clients. I need to look the right part for this one. Oh, and Larry? No need to call me boss. You can call me Patient Zero. Really, you can even call me Zero if you like. Or Gustavo, for that matter. We’re going to be working closely for a good time to come. No need to set up such a formal division between us.”
The attempt at camaraderie—whether genuine or calculated—just made Larry shiver and made his heart rate pick up again.
Trapped with this man. Trapped. Trapped in a snare I helped to make.
“Nah, that’s OK. I like ‘boss.’ Not so much formal as it just rolls off my tongue better. If I start calling you ‘Mr. Dobbins’ you’ll know I’ve gone formal on you.”
“As you wish, Larry—as you wish, Malady,” Patient Zero said as he made a dramatic half turn and strode out of the room. Larry had no doubt the use of his henchman name, which the villain had used rarely since minting it last month and introducing Larry’s work uniform, was entirely calculated. A reminder of who he was now. How far he had fallen.
A reminder that he was a tool for a madman who could create the most lethal viruses if he so desired.
And more than a mere tool—once already, Larry had been the willing weapon to deliver one of those pathogens.
But I did it for my children, not to help Gustavo Dobbins. Not out of honest loyalty to Patient Zero.
Still, though, he couldn’t deny that he had been the man to deliver a virus to slay nearly everyone at Janszen—guard and convict alike—and the Texas town nearest to it, all to release Patient Zero back into the world at large.
* * *
The day before: Panic at the first sight of his boss in uniform.
Today: Teetering on the brink of heat exhaustion from his own.
Larry already wasn’t sure how Patient Zero had managed to wear that plague-doctor-inspired costume yesterday—even in January it could get pretty warm at midday in this part of Mexico—or how he did it again today. And now here Larry was himself, in his official henchman outfit as Patient Zero’s lackey: All black, with a ski mask/dark goggle combo and neck scarf hiding his heavily scarred features, as did his long-sleeved shirt, cargo pants, trench coat, shoes and leather gloves.
Hiding his scars but making him sticky and damp. Making it hard for him to breathe. Patient Zero hadn’t had much in the way of official henchman tasks for Larry until now, so the former guard was unused to the ensemble. He hadn’t worn it since he’d been told to try it on for the first time last month.
I have a feeling I’ll be wearing it more and more often now.
Today was the same client as yesterday, apparently—represented by an American man in a linen suit and two Mexican bodyguards dressed like they had just stepped away from a beachside cabana bar. A second meeting with Patient Zero, and Larry wasn’t sure why he was along for the ride.
Except maybe that Gustavo just wants to parade me about in my “costume” to remind me he can demand I do anything, no matter how weird or uncomfortable.
“A pleasure to meet you again and set our deal in stone with the first half of the payment,” Patient Zero said, holding out his hand as if to shake, though the man with the briefcase simply nodded heavily and deeply, almost a shallow bow, rather than risk touching the transhuman.
Larry could feel the smug smile that his boss was sporting under the mask, behind the leather beak and goggle-like lenses.
What does it feel like to be so fundamentally feared, Larry wondered.
“Oh, and forgive my rudeness,” Patient Zero said. “This man with me is my associate, Malady.”
“I’ve never heard of you travelling with a costumed henchman before,” the American man said. “Why now?”
“I sometimes like to have someone carry my weapons for me,” Patient Zero said. “And my money. You can hand the case to him, and we’ll be on our way to start our work.”
The American man paled, then stepped halfway to Larry and dropped the briefcase, quickly stepping back, a hand covering his mouth and nose.
‘Carry my weapons’ indeed, Larry thought. Gustavo’s weapons are contagious. And this guy rightly worries about whether I’m loaded.
And then the clenching of his gut as Larry realized why he was along for this ride—why he had been officially trotted out now after nearly two months of being with Gustavo.
Just like the prison break. Patient Zero’s gonna make me carry a virus for him on this job.
* * *
“You’ve always passed along your viruses on your own before. At least I assume so. Before me working for you,” Larry said, a near-whine in his voice. “Why change now? The prison I understand; it was the only way to do the job. But you don’t need me to do this.”
“But I want you to, Malady,” Patient Zero said. “What’s the use of having you hench for me if I don’t actually put you to use?”
“You’ve had henchmen before me, and they didn’t carry for you. Not viruses, I mean. Maybe they carried other…”
“But none have been so…intimately…linked to me before, Malady,” Patient Zero said. There was something sultry in his voice, but it wasn’t sexual. It wasn’t seduction. It was something deeper and worse. A reminder that he had put something so fundamentally life-altering as a deadly virus into Larry once before.
Something that, while it hadn’t killed him, had riven his body with scars from his head to his waist.
Something that had made him complicit in the murder of at least a couple thousand people and probably more—every time he went to a computer to look at how many the prison break scheme had killed, Larry felt faint, and decided that ignorance was, if not bliss, at least a good set of blinders to keep him on a path that wouldn’t drive him insane.
“What do you want me to do?” Larry warbled.
“Our target is a drug lord,” Patient Zero said. “So is our client—the employer of the nice man with the briefcase that we met with. Our client drug lord wants the rival drug lord murdered, and many of his crew, in a very frightening, personal, infectious and humiliating way. Our target lives in a well-guarded compound in the middle of a somewhat remote town. His men like to frequent a brothel there. You will pass along a very contagious and very lethal sexually transmitted disease—to which you will be immune—to the women in the brothel. They will give it to most of our target’s best men—who are frequent customers—and many others in the town as well. You will spread the love, Malady. And our target will get to watch so many of his people and his town die from that love.”
Larry shuddered. “A whorehouse isn’t about love, and what I’m supposed to do’s not spreading love. That’s spreading a disease.”
“Oh, but it is love, Malady,” Patient Zero insisted. “My viruses love to infiltrate healthy human cells. I love to see them do their work. And you love your children. If you don’t do this, what will happen to them when everyone finds out you’re still alive, and that secret trust fund you set up for them is located and seized? You will show your love to them in the brothel. Through what you will do to those women. You will go there for a week. Every night. You will get there early and linger long, so that you can visit two or three women each night and all of the sex staff there more than once—just to make sure the virus takes.”
“And how am I supposed to infect them through a condom?”
“Condoms!” Patient Zero scoffed. “Really, Malady. Really? If these women don’t make enough money, they’re out on the street, Larry. Offer enough money and almost all of them will forgo the condom, if they even have any in their little nightstands to forgo.”
“And they’ll sleep with a guy dressed all in black in a ski mask and goggles? You think they’ll even let me in looking that way?”
“No, you’ll go in like Larry Blanchard.”
“And that won’t look odd. An American in a backwater Mexican town?”
“As scarred as you are, Malady, they’ll probably assume you think you can only get laid in a backwater Mexican brothel or that you’re on the run from someone or both. You wouldn’t be the first. As long as you don’t have any guns on you but have plenty of money and keep spending it, they won’t care at all about your nationality.”
“Yes, the scars. About that. I’m sure those will make me popular with the ladies.”
“Ladies of the night, Malady. If you have money, they’ll look past anything your face may have to offer. No matter how hideous.”
Larry winced at the slight. Especially since those scars were intentionally inflicted on him. To mark him and trap him. Patient Zero’s property. Forever.
Or at least until that cancer finally kills me, Larry thought hopefully.
“Why this way? Why…sexual as…sex?” He moaned, unable to finish the pair of words that spoke the truth of what his act would be, aside from murderous. “Why are you making me do this? This…this…way?”
“Because I can, Malady, and because I want to make sure you know your place. Because it means something in the grander scheme of things. This is…educational. Trust me. You’ll learn from it. We both will.”
Trust. As if. I have to obey. But trust will never enter the equation.
“And what about the big, bad drug lord? Isn’t he supposed to die, too? How can you be sure he’ll go to the brothel?”
“I can’t, and he hardly ever does. But his fate, dear Malady, is a surprise. First, spread the love for me, Larry. Spread the love. And then we’ll move on to phase two.”
* * *
Larry was impressed that the prostitute on the bed before him didn’t flinch at the sight of his face or his hands. No look of disgust in her eyes, though certainly she must have felt it in her mind.
It made him feel bad about what he was about to do.
Pay her. Fuck her. Infect her.
He wondered if his actions were worse than mere murder or worse than a straightforward rape.
His pants slid to the floor.
The woman didn’t even bother to speak to him in mangled English or get him to say anything in equally botched Spanish. She just beckoned him over.
It didn’t take her long to make him hard.
Larry was glad for that. Because he wasn’t sure he’d be able to have done it on his own.
He entered her, and slid in and out quickly and firmly. He needed to be done with this before he lost his nerve.
Patient Zero making him do this. The woman whose name he didn’t know making him hot and erect and ready to explode.
It’s not my fault.
Thrusting above her faked moans.
Filling her. Taking her fully. Her making me hard. Take. Make. Taking. Making.
“Uuuuuuunnnhhh!” Larry groaned, as he delivered his infected seed.
The first of three women that night. The first of six women over the course of a week—well, eight, really, if you counted the two who insisted on condoms each time. But they had escaped Patient Zero’s plans—they didn’t matter.
In any case, all eight of them made Larry hard, he thought, thank God.
* * *
“I’m so proud of you, Malady,” Patient Zero said. “You’ve done so well. People have started to show symptoms, now. Just a few; just the start. And I doubt anyone’s made the connection to the brothel yet. But we must move fast to complete phase two. To get our real target, so that he can watch his people sicken and die even as he begins to just barely sicken himself. And then have most of his most-trusted gone from his life as he dies painfully as well.”
“I’ll be glad to have this over with,” Larry said.
“Oh, I’m not so sure you will be, Malady. Methinks the henchman doth protest too much.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I think you liked having power over those women. Power over their bodies. Over their lives. Admit it.”
“No, I didn’t ra…I didn’t want to have sex with them. You made me. And they’re just…”
“Sexy? Soft? Helpless? Whores?” Patient Zero prodded. “You know, Larry, I have a theory about you.”
I don’t want to know. I don’t want. I don’t…
“What?” Larry said instead, a whispered croak.
“You were a correctional officer, Malady. You chose a career of being a law enforcement officer in a prison. Not a patrol car or a walking beat where you might deal mostly with giving tickets and only maybe see an actual scuffle once a month at best. There isn’t a more concentrated den of potential violence and brutality, and along with that opportunities to abuse people, than a prison. Deep down, you want to use others. Hurt others. Assault others. Overpower others. Hence your career choice. You just never admitted it to yourself.”
“No. I did it as a duty. The prison work, I mean…not the women…I wasn’t a guard to use prisoners. Or anyone else. I didn’t…”
“Didn’t get hard to fuck those women, Malady? Even a man as handsome as me knows about performance anxiety. Yet you got hard every time. Even knowing you were killing them by doing so. Every time. You were curious. And then you liked it. You even got to love it. Spreading your love of what you were doing. I told you this task I set you to in the brothel would be educational.”
“Yes, Malady. Yessssss. Loving it. And time to do it once more,” Patient Zero said, and led Larry to an adjoining room, where a woman lay on the bed, seemingly asleep. Limp and unresponsive to the presence of the two men. “I told you I was moving fast on phase two. Meet the girlfriend of our true target. Well, his most treasured girlfriend, and one I am almost certain he will fuck within the next few days and complete our job before he has a chance to figure out the danger he’s in—though, of course, we’ll stick around to make sure. To watch the lovely, ailing carnage.”
“You want me to…”
“Spread the love, Malady. To her. Quickly, though, before the drug wears off, so we can get her back to her home and cleaned up and none the wiser that she was ever anywhere but alone in bed.”
“I can’t. I can’t do this again.”
“Oh, yes you can. You will. If you have to imagine her being your ex-wife, whom you hate. If you have to imagine her as the hottest of supermodels. You can and you will. Remember, Malady, if you don’t do what I say—if you stop me or disobey me—everyone will find out you’re still alive. And if you don’t obey me, your children won’t get that money. Everyone will know. Either I’ll tell, or one of my associates will if you kill me. And your children will know what kind of a monster you are. They’ll live and die with that knowledge, and they’ll probably do it in poverty, too.”
Patient Zero paused.
“Mostly, though,” the transhuman villain continued. “You’ll do it because deep down, you really want to.”
Without argument, Larry pulled down his pants and approached the bed.
“You’ve gotten very good at this. I may have you do it again sometime, Malady, for some other job. Or just because. Since you’re getting such a taste for it. And you’ll be with me for a long time.”
“Only as long as the cancer lets me. Remember?” Larry spat out. “You figured that out from the start. That I was doing the prison break for you and letting myself risk being infected by you because I knew I was dying anyway. Henching for you to provide for my kids. I have an expiration date.”
Patient Zero smiled, and Larry paused atop the woman, wondering why his employer was so smugly gleeful. Slowly entered his victim. A victim making him hard.
Not my fault. It’s her…it’s…it’s not my fault.
“Oh, the cancer, Malady? The cancer that I launched a viral attack against weeks ago? The tumor cells that are being killed one by one by little viral friends of mine? The cancer that will soon be gone, so that you can stay with me a long, long time? That cancer, my dear, dear henchman?”
And Larry wept. Wept as he carried out his task. Never flagging. Never failing. In control of this task at least. This woman. He didn’t notice when the tears stopped and the grunts began. Take her. Do the deed. Finish the job. Do it!
Spreading Patient Zero’s love. Making his own mark. Asserting his own small measure of power.
Wondering when the next chance like this would come.
And before he’d even finished with this task—this woman—he was already waiting.
For the next time.
Image used above to represent Patient Zero in costume is based on the photo “here (at least as of June 17, 2014 – if the link takes you to Flickr’s home page, you can copy-paste this link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lethalpossum/12949898365/in/photostream/). Use of the image on my site is based on Creative Commons license “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)” The original image was modified by me in Photoshop, applying color to the “beak” and changing the brightness and contrast, as well as applying the poster edges filter twice. Use of this image does NOT imply the author’s knowledge of my use nor suggests any endorsement of my site, this story or their contents.” by Thomas Leplus, which is presented below as a thumbnail and can be seen on Flickr