Sustenance is Overrated

Colin woke up at 7 am, the same as he did every other day, quarantine or not. They’d taken so much away from him already, they sure as hell weren’t going to take his routine.

Turning on his sun lamp and rolling out his yoga mat, he did his customary dozen good mornings. The irony of the whole thing never failed to make him laugh. He doubted he could even define the word “good” anymore.

Was it good when he was found to be an asymptomatic carrier for the plague the first time? Then a second time six months later? And a third time a year after that?

Was it good when the CDC doctors discovered parasites in his body that made him an asymptomatic carrier of just about every deadly disease imaginable, from SARS to smallpox to the Black Death?

Was it good when scientists wearing haz mat suits which looked like they were made for morbidly obese Wookies tested his blood, tissue, and just about everything else to see where else the parasites had gone to?

Was it good when they forced him into isolation, but not until after the people over at Cackler media doxxed him, making him an instant supervillain, the 21st century version of Typhoid Mary?

Was it good when the scientists told him they had a cure for him, but that this cure involved starving out the parasites coursing through his veins, lungs, and even synapses?

He didn’t know the answer to those questions anymore. While Colin couldn’t define what was good, but he could define what he hated. At first he hated being a pariah, then he hated being a lab experiment. But now, what Colin really hated was being famous. And starving to death. He couldn’t forget that.

Colin remembered the first time the CDC doctors talked to him about the starvation diet; they were absolutely giddy. He hoped that giddiness was out of excitement that they finally found an effective cure, and not sadism over all the pain that the treatment would cause. Given how quickly they shoved the waiver form in his face, Colin wasn’t too confident it was the former.

The diet itself, if it could even be called that, was equal parts innovative and hellacious. According to his doctors, the parasites fed on proteins. While Colin, like everyone else, assumed that would just mean a low-protein diet. He was wrong.

Apparently, proteins included a wide variety of compounds which could be created from amino acids found in all sorts of foods. The doctors’ solution was simple: they wouldn’t give Colin any food at all.

Instead, they would test a scientific breakthrough on him. Sun lamps had been around for a long time, helping people with Vitamin D deficiency, as well as those who lived in places where it was night for months at a time. Now, the doctors told Colin they’d figured out a way to do the same with the other major vitamins and minerals, and that he would be the first human clinical trial.

Not only had they come up with a way to give people vital nutrients, but they’d manage to shrink the size of the delivery mechanism from a lamp to something the size of a smart phone.

In fact, they’d even gone through all the trouble of downloading the programs onto Colin’s phone while he was sleeping. Each of the programs required roughly forty minutes of exposure per day. While it was a massive accomplishment to get the necessary duration down to that level, the programs were more meant for people who had deficiencies in one specific nutrient group, not all of them.

To make up for that, the CDC’s tech team had somehow integrated each program into an app on his phone, the one “luxury” he was still allowed in his quarantine. Colin remembered the public outcry the time somebody leaked to Cackler that he had a PlayStation, with representatives from both parties talking about it as a massive waste of taxpayer money, comparing Colin to felons, who certainly didn’t deserve it. As for TV, well, that was pointless, as a subscription to any of the dozens of streaming services would not be allowed for the same reason gaming consoles weren’t.

While he was certainly angry about his “diet,” Colin at least felt a sense of purpose in what he was doing. Not to mention an excuse to go on his phone all day.

After he’d first been doxxed, Colin did everything he could to get off the internet, deleting his social media, asking archives to clear his old data, especially an embarrassing old fan fiction blog from when he was back in high school. Thankfully, the Cackler vultures didn’t find that in time.

But after everything that happened to him, criticism on social media didn’t mean a thing to him anymore. It’s not like the people constantly shitting on him could do anything worse than the government already did to him. He didn’t have a job to be fired from, and a girlfriend wasn’t exactly possible from prison.

With absolutely nothing to lose, he let the vultures have it, rather than cowering like most of their victims did out of necessity. Whether it was their favorite sports team getting caught cheating (again), their preferred political party getting walloped in elections, or just a bad picture of them they posted on Instagram, Colin gave back just as much venom as he received.

He even developed a bit of a cult following. Some were sympathetic to his story. Some had a burning hatred for the Cackler gang and the journalist class as a whole. Some just liked drama, even making a living off of it. And some just wanted the world to burn.

Whatever their reasons for following him, Colin liked talking with them almost as much as he liked fucking with the journos. They were his one true link to the real world. As much as he loved his family, Colin could only see a very small fraction of the picture from them; they avoided being negative out of kindness to him. Apparently they viewed being patronizing as the lesser of two evils.

On the other hand, his followers were much more forthcoming. They came from a wide variety of backgrounds: a rich girl from Florida who turned her back on the family fortune, an associate professor in Nebraska who could speak a dozen languages and swear in three times as many, a first-generation American from New York who had the spiciest alt he’d ever seen.

Colin relished these conversations, at times even feeling that he was better off inside than out given some of the news he heard. This feeling was always fleeting though, especially given his recent dietary changes. Now, it only lasted until his stomach grumbled, which wasn’t very long, even with all the nutrition he was receiving from the electronic cornucopia that was his phone.

Within a few days of starting the diet, that same feeling never came; it was replaced with alternating feelings of pain and numbness in his hands and feet. Colin’s skin was also discolored. No surprise given the hell his body was being put through. Drinking water, the only thing he could drink, did at least help with the headaches.

By the second week, the pain in Colin’s hands had gotten to the point where he could barely even open his phone, let alone type. Now he just lurked, much like the old days. He couldn’t really stay in touch with his followers anymore either due to his near-constant pain. Colin certainly didn’t even think of bringing this situation up to his family.

Finally, on the fourth day of the third week, Colin collapsed. He was taken to the infirmary for the first time he could remember. For the fleeting moment he was awake he remembered hearing that he had excess levels of Vitamins A, B6, C, and D. Colin figured that he would’ve heard the rest of the alphabet if he’d been conscious for more than ten seconds.

He came to several days later, almost ripping out his IV since the fluids he received weren’t water, but he was too tired to do that. Then several doctors came in. For the first time in years, they weren’t in haz mat suits. They didn’t even have to tell Colin that he’d been cured.

Several floors above Colin, the head of the CDC finished typing up his report from his corner office. The experiment had been a rousing success. And even more surprisingly, the boy had survived. A shame they had to lie to him about his condition, but in the end no harm was done. The world had a new feel-good story and more importantly, their ass was covered.

It took another three weeks, but Colin was finally ready to go home. His skin was back to normal, his hands were no longer numb, just uncoordinated, and he could even hold down solid food. He walked out of the hospital ready for anything, well, almost anything.

Going through his discharge papers, Colin noticed several pages that were out of place. Deep in the “doctor communications” sections, buried in between mundane messages about IV dosing and plan of care estimates, there was a bombshell.

It was just one email chain, but it showed everything. How the viral outbreak supposedly started by him came after a safety mishap at a CDC lab, how the agency couldn’t handle another mishap after the events of the last decade, how they introduced smallpox and SARS antibodies to him during their initial tests, then introduced samples of even more diseases in later tests to “prove” his condition, and how the military needed to test the risky new nutrition program for the war that was soon to be waged in the Arctic.

Colin could barely believe what he read, but he knew his followers would. He scanned the documents as fast as he could, posted them on every account he had, and laid back, letting the electronic entropy machine called the internet work its magic.

Freddie Bastiat is a law student whose real name you’ll find out once Andrew Kaczynski doxxes him. He’s a fan of Yoko Taro games, college football, and the restoration of the Byzantine and Achaemenid Empires. You can find him on Twitter

Bookworm. Futurist. Malcontent.

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