The Red Rose Fever hit the states hard. It started in the east, in Georgia I think. No one knows the actual origin, but it has been speculated to have started down in the South. It spread like wildfire, consuming Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida, seemingly all at once. It burned strong through the north in a matter of months. Then it hit New York. The Big Apple was burning. Panic hit the streets. People began dying, and no one seemed to know what was causing it. Then it spread through the hospitals. Doctors, nurses, inpatients, outpatients, even ambulance drivers became infected. Children, soccer moms, grandfathers, taxi drivers; everyone was vulnerable.
The West was starting to get nervous. Raiden tried to keep things calm, but failed miserably. The airlines began cancelling flights to and from the East. Families were split up. People began assembling and picketing outside airports and bus stations. Military help was called in to break them up. People began rioting and trying to force the issue. The militia responded in kind. People were killed. More rioting. More problems. Police brutality was escalating. Arrests were frequent. Violence was even more so. The small amount of unity that Trystix and Raiden had inspired was falling apart. People were turning on each other. So ended the American Dream.
It was only a matter of time before both the virus and people started getting through the barricades and quarantines. Soldiers got sick, but didn’t mention it to anyone. Before long, the rioting died out, but the protests still took place via the internet from undisclosed locations. It’s amazing to me how many people know how to post things on the internet but not how to move out of their parents’ basement and earn their own money. Food for thought.
Life in Seattle was fairly slow. I spent most of my time in the complex by the waterfront, inside the gates. Raiden didn’t seem to have much work for me at this point, so I spent a lot of time in the gym in the basement or watching bad TV shows. Raiden paced and fretted endlessly in his office; I could hardly blame him. Here was a man who owned half the country, let alone several health care groups, and he couldn’t even seem to keep his own city virus-free. A lot of blame fell on him, but most of the blame was from himself. He was buckling under the weight of the world, which he took by his own choice. We talked periodically about solutions. I wasn’t much help. He was convinced he was the nation’s salvation, but he couldn’t figure out how to save it. I tried talking sense into him, only to be told to stop being negative. He truly believed he could save everyone.
Weeks went by with no solution. I swear Raiden grew gray hairs overnight. He was so different from Trystix. Trystix always seemed to be trying to benefit himself; Raiden wanted to help everyone else. He was spending thousands on research and testing. He drastically cut prices on fever-reducing pain-killers and started giving out hand sanitizer like candy. I was impressed by his generosity, but disgusted by his counterpart.
In the East, Trystix sat in his tower, in his office, and no one was allowed to visit him directly. No one who worked in Tryst Tower ever left the building. Everything brought in to the tower, including food, was sanitized by ultra-violet light rays and run through insane amounts of tests. Everyone ouside the tower seemed to be ignored. Chicago was suffering, and Trystix didn’t seem to care.
The fever was about the only thing the media covered. They tried to inspire hope based on the slowing in the West. They encouraged everyone to wash their hands and avoid unnecessary human contact. They coined the name of the virus The Red Rose Fever not long after it started. People had about a month to live once the symptoms showed up.
Like I said previously, the virus itself was not unlike ailments the world had seen before, but it didn’t respond to the normal treatments. I’m no scientist, but from what I understand, that’s not a good thing. Apparently, some viruses mutate over time, which makes them more difficult to treat. The fever seemed to be keyed to a certain genotype; a very common one. I heard that on the TV and radio on a nightly basis. Man, I hate TV.
The nation was constantly reminded of the symptoms; an extremely high fever, chapped lips, dehydration, excruciating headaches, loss of sensation in the hands and feet, and ultimately, the skin would begin to wilt and peel off. Death was close after the molting began…usually no more than a day or two. Research showed that most deaths occurred about a month after the symptoms started. Once the media announced the expiration date, hospitals overflowed with people thinking they had the fever. Unfortunately, this caused more people to be exposed to the virus and therefore caused more cases almost overnight.
Raiden was losing a lot of sleep and a lot of money faster than anyone ever expected. His financial advisors tried to convince him to re-raise the price on the fever-reduction pills, based on “supply and demand”, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He knew how badly the people needed the help, and he refused to lock himself away from the world. He started going out in to the city, which was way out of character, and trying to help in any way he could. The media began calling him a true humanitarian, and people began to look to him for guidance. Hell, I think I even bought into it. He was very good with the media, and was even better with children. Unfortunately, his finances and good deeds weren’t enough to stop the virus. You can’t convince a virus to stop because children are dying. You can’t bargain with one to stop in a little while. You can’t tell a virus what to do. There is no arguing with death.
It eventually dawned on me while I was watching Trystix on the news, trying to convince the world that he “was doing everything he could” to stop the spread of the virus in Chicago. Keep in mind this was also an interview done over a webcam. I really should figure out computers someday…Anyway, it got me thinking. If Trystix really wanted to convince people, he needed a big demonstration. As much as I hated him, the nation needed him. I brought my idea to Raiden, who seemed to think it would be a great help. He complimented me on helping my fellow man. I told him I just wanted to get back to burning things. He gave me a grim smile.
The next evening, Raiden set up a phone meeting with Trystix in his office by the waterfront. I was invited to listen in, along with many advisors to Raiden. He cautioned me to keep my silence, so Trystix wouldn’t know I was still alive. I agreed, and sat next to the suit of armor in the corner. Raiden turned on the speakerphone and dialed. I recognized the number he dialed; Trystix’s direct line. My anger ignited the second Trystix picked up the phone.
“Micah, what do you want?”
“Regan, we need to talk. Actually, I need to talk. You need to listen. An advisor of mine,” Raiden gave me an appreciative nod and smile, “had an excellent idea, but it requires cooperation on your part. This virus is out of control. Do you agree?”
“Of course I agree, you idiot. I have people picketing outside my office on a daily basis. I can’t get rid of them.”
“Did you try helping them? Did you offer them any help?”
“I offered them a free ride in a police car if they didn’t leave.”
“Regan, have you done anything for them lately? Does Chicago even know you exist anymore aside from your web casts?”
“Screw you, Raiden. Just because I’m not out there shaking hands and kissing babies doesn’t mean I’m not helping. I’ve sent out ambulances full of painkillers and fever-reducers. I marked up the price a bit based on supply-and-demand, but the pills are quite affordable now. Thanks for lowering your prices by the way.”
“You son of a bitch! Are you kidding me? You aren’t doing anything but riding my coattails!”
Now, wasn’t this interesting. Two of the most powerful men on the earth, fighting like schoolgirls. I can’t say it was too surprising. I knew they were exceptionally different, and Trystix definitely was under Raiden’s skin. I guess I had always thought they were at least civil with each other. But they seemed to be at each other’s throats. I knew why. My sister. My niece. The family Raiden had dreamed of. The family Trystix sold Raiden out for. The reason I was killed. At least, the reason Trystix tried to kill me.
“Oh please, Micah. You just wish you had a tower to work from.”
“Seriously, Regan! Grow up! You have done nothing! The nation needs you! The world needs you!”
“What do you want, really? Get to the point. As much as I love our chats, I have a lonely wife and a daughter who needs her father more than you need someone to bitch to.”
Ouch. That definitely stung Raiden. I saw the pain in his eyes as Trystix referred to Olivia and Lena. I doubt he even noticed the quip at the end of the sentence.
“We need your help, Trystix. You and you alone have the financial means and connections we need to find a cure for this sickness. I know you don’t like me, but you have to help our people. We need a cure. Your swooping in would look great to the public, and I think we both could use that.”
“Running out of good-boy money, huh? Need someone else to sell your bullshit, eh?”
“Why are you such an idiot?”
“Why are you such a coward?”
“Coward? Cow…What do you even mean by that?”
“Why don’t you come to Chicago and ask me face-to-face, man-to-man?”
“If I have to I will.”
“Please. Don’t even try to act like you have any real substance to you. You aren’t even close to the man I am.”
“No, actually I agree with you there. I would have to gain a couple hundred pounds to be the man you are.”
That one made me smile.
“I will not bail you out Raiden. I will not help you. You are doing plenty for both of us.”
“You’re going to let people die? You’re going to make yourself nothing more than a king without a kingdom. A man without his people.”
“Actually, I’m about to make the best business decision of my life. I’m going to let you bury yourself.”
“You’re a monster.”
“You’re a dead man. Enjoy the virus, whenever you catch it. I’m going to stay here in my tower and let you rot. Then, when you are gone, I’ll turn you into a hero, a martyr. I’ll fund the research, find the cure, and you’ll be long gone. Then, I’ll be a lock for president. Then all will be as it should be. Maybe I‘ll build you a statue.”
“You have got to be kidding! You are using a national crisis as a means to more power? Screw you, Trystix. You are no better than dirt you built your castle out of.”
“Goodbye, Raiden.” The sound of phone hanging up followed in close succession. Raiden slammed the phone down, then grabbed the phone and threw it against the wall. Advisors cringed and shrunk to the corners. Raiden, red-faced and irate, cast a steely look across the room.
“Get out. All of you.” They ran like mice. I stayed.
“Told you it wouldn’t work.” I said.
“At a time like this, when the world is on the verge of collapse, you want me to pat you on the back? You want me to be happy that the idea you came up with, the idea that only you didn’t believe in, ended up not working after all? Are you serious? Are you sure you want to test me right now?”
“You were convinced Trystix was a reasonable man. I know better. I told you that. I may have come up with the idea, but I never thought it’d ever come to anything. You can’t expect an egocentric person to set his own happy little bubble aside for ‘the greater good’ or whatever. Now we move to the second phase.”
“A roadtrip to Chicago. Mine. Alone.”
“What? You only told me about…phase one I guess you’d call it. What are you up to?”
“He’s not the only one with power in that building. I know a few people. Important people. Ones who would be all-too interested in his removal from power. Also, a few people close to his bank accounts and other assets.”
“You have to give me more than that. I have kept you around because you swore you’d be useful. Tell me what you’re doing.”
“Seriously, my man, you don’t want to know.”
“Damn it! Tell me what the hell you are doing before I throw you out too!”
“You really need to settle down a bit.”
Raiden about ripped his desk in half after I said that. Everything on the desk was on the floor in an instant. It probably sounded like really expensive rich-guy stuff breaking. He was in my face before I could move an inch. I could hear hushed whispers outside the office frantically asking each other what they should do.
“What the hell gives you the right to tell me that?”
“Daddy, calm down. You’re scaring the children. Time to trust me, Raiden. I had to have it this way. You can’t fake raw emotion. You’ve played your part, now let me play mine. Get me to Chicago, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
“Am I going to have to cover something up? Like an assassination of the one man who can help fund the research I need?” I smiled.
“No…Not yet at least. His time will come. I have something else in mind. Robbing him of his happy place is my intent, not his death. I will need a way home, too. And I won’t be coming home alone.”
Raiden happened to be one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. Unfortunately, emotion was ruling his reason. It took him a few minutes to comprehend what I had just told him. When it did, he backed down, and a hint of a smile crossed his lips.
“I told you to trust me, Raiden. I hate him as much or more than you appear to, and I want him to be as fractured and broken as he left me. He stripped my world from me, then tried to kill me. I have similar intentions, but I plan to draw it out a bit. Apparently his humanity has lessened even more since I left.”
“He has to pay, Jared. But at least let me fly you out there in my personal jet. Just to be sure you get there in a timely fashion.”
“You can’t rush this, Micah. Let me do this on my time. Spend yours doing what you have been. The nation believes in you, and so do I. Just try not to get sick while I’m gone. And I really would rather drive…The sky seems to have issues with me. Must be something to do with burning the ozone layer or something.”
“You are an odd one, my friend. Anything; anything at all, just ask.”
“A fast bike. A Harley would work. I travel light. But I‘ll need a car in Chicago ready to leave on a moment’s notice. ”
“Sure. But what are you going to do? Rob him in his own home? He never leaves.”
“Better. He’s going to be robbed by a ghost. He won’t know what hit him. Then that ghost will leave him a message. Then he will be the one who’s haunted.”