Just the Flip of a Coin
Justin Lo, 7338 (November 19, 2005)
I awoke huddled next to Kyra, the coarse, fibrous cloth draped over our weakened bodies. She was still asleep when I wearily opened my eyes to the rays of sunlight, so I simply sat still, gazing at her, gracing her pale face with my sight’s caress.
The horizon was that same sickly, dusty gray that it had been for so many years now, ever since the outbreak of Blue. It once had an official, scientific name, but ever since it became a neighbor in the same sense that Kyra is my neighbor – in that same close, intimate sense, I mean – since that day, we’ve always been on a first name basis. There are two things I ought to explain at this point: first, that the usage of neighbor no longer designates people inhabiting adjacent housing units, since there are no such things any longer, and second, that Blue is the first word in a string of mumbo-jumbo describing the plague that had over the course of the past few years, ravaged across species and continents, returning the creations of this world to dust.
And on dust we sat, in the middle of the alley. The miasma filled with dead cells and Blue wafted through the corridor between the tall, dilapidated buildings. And yet, through it all, I could always stare at Kyra for relief, at her smooth, gorgeous, pock-free skin, the only remnant of beauty left in this world. Yes, our hair was tangled and unkempt; our clothes were ragged, and even prom and wedding dresses were reduced to simple, unattractive garments; our teeth were yellow from the dirty water that we drank. But we were not sick, and that was all that mattered.
“Orphan,” muttered Kyra as she stirred out of sleep. My given name had been Maxfield, but Kyra and the rest of the members of our alley-settlement called me Orphan, because I was one of the few Hets whose parents both succombed to Blue. It was hardly something pleasant to be reminded of, but when Kyra said it, it sounded just as sweet as if she had said “Angel.”
“Do we have any food for tonight?” she asked.
I looked into our torn canvas bag. Empty.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “We should drop by the lab, shouldn’t we?”
“Yeah,” she replied unconvincingly, nodding back off to sleep. I gave her a little nudge.
“Come on,” I whispered. “Let’s go get some food.”
Kyra shook her eyes, not bothering to open her eyes. Then, abruptly and with the nimbleness of an Olympic hurdle-jumper, she grabbed me and kissed me on the lips ferociously, slobbering somewhat in a feral manner that reminded me of just how uncivilized this world had become.
Withdrawing, she clutched my shoulders tightly with her fingers, gripping so that it almost hurt. Almost, but we were too starved to have any appreciable muscular strength.
“Orphan, we’ve been married for four years. Let’s have a child.”
\ We’d been through this before, many times. Married for a year, married for two years, married for three years, and now married for four.
“We can’t,” I protested with as much of a voice of reason that I could.
“The hospital takes good care of newborns and mothers,” she said softly, adamantly even though I knew she was simply rambling out of desperation. “So why can’t we, huh? Why can’t we?!”
Kyra was angry, ramming her head against my chest insistently.
I sighed, answering as one had to: “You know that we can’t, Kyra, not until you can look into my eyes and said straight out that you would not be shaken if we got Tails.”
“Hets and Tails,” she murmured, quoting the famous pun that had become a mainstay of the spoken jargon. Hets, you survived, Tails, you didn’t. You see, Blue is a bacterium of the blood. In only a matter of days, and in a frenzied rash of destruction, it enters the various tissues of the body and reduces them to piles of rubble, untouchable by the normal immune system. Kyra and I are protected because half of our white blood cells become sticky balls that clobber the bacteria, while the other half are perfectly normal. And for that, we are eternally thankful.
And because of that, we are also cursed; as Hets, short for “heterozygote,” half of our potential children would either have completely sticky white blood cells or completely normal ones. The former would die of the common cold, while the latter would die of Blue. Therein lay our dilemma.
“But Orphan,” said Kyra after a long, reflective pause. “There are only a few thousand of us left in the world, aren’t there? Even if it hurts … don’t we have to do it?”
I shook my head. “It’s not worth it, Kyra. Wait a few more months, let Blue burn itself out, find yourself a charming Tails from the hospital. That’s the only thing I could accept.” The scientists had been repeating that Blue would be gone in a few more months for the past six years. We knew it was a lie – although it used up hosts like an SUV uses up gasoline, Blue also had a remarkably stable dormant form, and until all the susceptile creatures and plants of this world had been completely wiped out, it would never go away. But still, in my deluded state, I kept repeating those words of hope, kept believing that maybe there were still Tails in the hospitals somewhere, even though even that was only a rumor.
Only a few brave Hets dared to have children, and we came to believe that perhaps the new “transfers” who arrived at the entrance of our homely alley were simply the product of breeding of Hets and Tails in the hospital, for a lack of a better term to describe childbirth solely for the purpose of repopulation. But we had never seen a live Tails with our naked eyes.
“No,” said Kyra, denying my misguided optimism. “Stop lying to me.”
“What should I do?! What do you want anyway?”
“I want a child to hold,” she said sadly. “We are shiftless, aimless. I want life back, that’s what I want. And if I can create it, then that would be everything, wouldn’t it?”
“And what if you fail?”
“I’ll try again. Death is not in my hands,” she stated sagely, holding my hands in hers, “But I believe that Life is. So that’s why ….”
“Maybe that,” I quipped, “Or maybe you’re just trying to find an excuse to have some real sex for once.”
A mysterious smirk was the only reply I got. And so, after years of stasis, of death, of helpless resignation, the human race climbed back onto its feet and breathed forth life.