17.4.12

48 hours is a long time.

When you spend two days, completely alone, in PTA (or Puretoc anagennmenou) quarantine, wondering if, in a few hours, you'll stop breathing and have to be destroyed, fear and loneliness and desperation can actually change you. The first time I had to endure it, I was changed.
As a kid, I was shy, pensive, fearful almost. I would avoid human contact any time possible, particularly after my mom died. However, the moment I stepped out of that red and white, sterile room, I felt a difference in me. I wanted to hug everyone I saw after that. Harper, my supervisor told me to go home til I was less shocked, and come back with a full report on everything I'd assessed from the live sample.
The desire to constantly be in contact with someone has faded, but never completely gone. I've been in isolation twice since then, once because of a chemical spill and the other because of an injury. All three times, I've come out alive, and each time that panic hits as soon as I escape that tiny room. And each time, I go home for a couple days and the desperation fades.
Thankfully, I don't have to go home to an empty room. All of us who work for the government are assigned rooms. For those who still have family, they have little condos. For singles, like me, there is the equivalent of a pre-PTA hotel or motel room. Mine is on the third floor, with a little balcony, overlooking what was probably, ten years ago, a fantastic theme park, here in Cincinnati Ohio. By the time I moved in, however, the signs were all but destroyed so all you can make out is K------and. There's a sliding door which has had the glass replaced with steel and equipped with an air-tight locking seal. The room inside is beige on beige on beige, with a queen size bed with a worn down comforter (burgundy floral print), a little love seat (burgundy floral print), a small table with two chairs, a dresser with a TV, a bedside table with a lamp, a corner desk, a bathroom (burgundy floral print), and a kitchen equipped with sink mini fridge and microwave. We aren't allowed to keep pets, as it's too easy for them to get outside and infect us, but we're allowed to have someone move in, as long as they pass a few tests, drug tests, infection tests, common sense and priority law tests and the like.

So, for the first few hours after getting home from my first quarantine, I cried and panicked and paced my room, trying to think of how to survive a world like this, and I couldn't sleep, so I started walking. I walked for hours, with my oxygen mask strapped on my face, and finally I made my way around the safe perimeter, and back to the vast parking lot of Kand, that old decaying park across from my room.
I found an old bench and sat, looking at a huge metal wheel. What did they call them? I'd heard them when I was a kid... Tetris Wheel? Terrace Wheel? It'll come to me... I was sitting there staring at this massive construction thinking about loneliness and the human instinct toward community, and out of the corner of my eye I saw movement. I wanted to run at first, but then I realized I didn't need to. There was no point in running. If I was meant to be dead, I'd be dead. I had no one to protect, provide for, find the answer for, other than me. So I waited.
The movement got closer and I watched it. Every so often, it would stop, I could feel it watching me back. Then it would start again, making its way closer in the pitch black darkness. Finally, I looked away, up to the stars, and felt a little gloved hand rest on my knee. I looked down and made eye contact with what, at first, appeared to be a scuba diver. I tiny scuba diver. I looked into the mask and saw little eyes peering out. Little blue eyes, so deep they were almost purple, blinked at me.
"I'm tired, miss," said a little girl's voice from out of the scuba helmet. "I've been walking for two days. Could I please sleep here tonight?"
"Out here? On the bench? Where are you from?" I asked.
"Yes, miss. If it's not ok, I'll go on. I'm from Dublin, Ohio," she answered.
Dublin's a good two days walk away from my room. Something about her struck a chord in me, "Have you been disease tested?"
"Yes. I'm healthy."
"Do you have your social identity card?
"Yes, ma'am."
"Follow me, you'll have a real bed to sleep in tonight."
I got up and started walking home, and the girl didn't follow at first, but I guess the dropping temperature of the night time air was making its slow creep to her skin under her suit, because she decided started following me.  I took her to my room, she was processed at the receiving desk, and a quick vial of blood and two hours later, she was settling down in my room, and I gave her the bed, and I slept on the couch.
Within an hour, she was asleep, but before she passed out completely here's what I learned: She had bright red hair and freckles. She was 12 years old. Her name was Belle. Her mother had un-died and killed her whole family, three brothers, a sister and a father, before her local sheriff came and shot them all. She ran away and never looked back. Her story was fascinating, even though it was told in short spurts between dozing off. Her mother had become aggressive in only a week after her original symptoms started.She had come to a few hours after death, just like the rest do, but she had learned at a much faster pace than my live sample or any undead in stories I'd read about.
Forty-eight hours is a long time to spend alone, especially when you know there's no one waiting at home to make you feel better. The only thing that's made it bearable the last two times was thinking of my reason to keep going, to keep looking for an answer: Belle.

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