Walking up the driveway, she bent down and scooped up a rock from the garden. She bounced it in her hand to test its weight as she climbed the stairs to the porch and across to the front door. Not caring about being quiet or if anyone was looking, she hurled the rock through the thin window beside the door. Careful of the shards left, she reached in and undid the deadbolt, unlocked the door, and went inside.
This was not somewhere she wanted to be, but for her, wants and needs had rarely ever aligned.
He put her backpack and container down in the entryway. Her shoes caused her angst. Not taking them off felt wrong, but she knew it just didn’t matter anymore. Leaving them on, she began to move through the house.
She made her way through the lounge, taking her time to run her fingers across the photos on the bookshelves. An old baby photo. Kinder photo of a girl on a wooden phone. Primary school portrait, blonde pigtails and ribbons. High school, black lipstick, black eyeshadow, mascara, and eyeliner. Hair dyed a red so dark it was almost indistinguishable from black. Uni graduation, mortarboard, masters in molecular biology under her arm, Goth phase well gone. Wedding photo, probably shouldn’t have happened but there you go. Grandchild, so small and delicate; too, too delicate. One last photo, graduating in a floppy hat this time for the development of a CRISPR based therapy for Seasonally Affected Allergic Rhinitis. That one made her pause and soften for just a sliver of a fraction of a second. It was such a short time ago, so close; but yet an eon of fucking pain and anguish and torment stretched between then and now. An epoch had faltered and crumbled and fallen since, and that photo was not even a year old. Her core hardened again, anything soft and squishy was finally excised out. She slammed the photo down hard enough to break the glass, turned and continued on through the house.
She ransacked the kitchen, grabbing a few basic essentials – a bit of food, some painkillers, half-filled matchbox, an empty stubbie, and a tea towel. Same for the bathroom – a few more medical supplies, a towel, two brushes – one for hair and one for teeth. A quick stop in the main bedroom to pull the doona up and over the pillows, over their bodies like a shroud. Over her parents. She didn’t linger. She said nothing. There was nothing she could say that she hadn’t screamed and wept into the night in the last months.
Past the front door again to collect the container. One last journey through the house, this time to liberally splash the petrol she’d brought all over the floor, the furniture, the photos – especially the photos. Over every surface. The books, the beds, the potted begonia. She finished at the front door, grabbing her backpack and half filling the beer bottle with petrol before leaving the petrol can there and walking outside. For the second time in a week, she sat down in front of a house, stuffed a tea towel in a bottle half full of petrol and waited.
She tried not to think and failed – badly. She’d done enough of that in the last few weeks. From the moment the CRISPR enzyme had rewritten a portion of the influenza virus in one of her test subjects until now, she’d had nothing to do but think. What she had inadvertently created was potentially one of the great breakthroughs of science. She would never receive the recognition for it. No one would recognise it. No one could recognise it. No amount of reexamination of what she had done would change anything. It was all too late.
She stood up, took one last look at the house. She had killed her parents, there was no doubt about that. She lit the towel and threw the molotov cocktail through the front window. Turning and walking away she could feel the slight exhalation of air as the house caught fire followed by the inhalation as the fire breathed in the oxygen. She couldn’t bear to bury them, but she could at least cremate them as she had her husband and daughter. She had killed them too, there was no escaping that.
With any luck, the fire would spread and engulf the street, the neighbourhood, the city. She’d cremate them all.
She had killed everyone.
The Cassandra Virus (also known as the Pandora Epidemic, or the Melbourne Flu) was the virus that was responsible for the total collapse of human civilisation in 2018. Believed to be an engineered virus, it is unsure if the release was accidental or intended. Regardless, the virus all but wiped out humans from the earth within four months of the first recorded case.
It is understood that the Cassandra Virus was either based on, or evolved from, a particularly virulent and hardy strain of rhinovirus. Estimates place the virus’ out of host survivability at in excess of 72 hours allowing for widespread transmission by contact with infected surfaces. It also shared the base rhinovirus’ ability to infect through aerosol means. Infection upon contact was an unprecedented 100%, fuelling the idea that the virus had been engineered.
The infection went through three main phases in the patient. The first phase presented essentially identically to the common cold, lasting approximately one week. It is thought that this is the primary cause of it’s extensive spread, it was not identified as being out of the ordinary. The patient then entered a second – apparently symptomless – phase. During this phase, the patient was still highly contagious, furthering the spread of the virus. This phase tended to last approximately eight to weeks allowing maximal contact and spread. The final phase lasted up to a week, depending on the strength of the patient. In this final phase, the Cassandra Virus attacked the pulmonary sacs in the lungs, causing them to break down and fill the lungs with fluid. The patients essentially drowned over an extended time period. The were no known survivors of this third phase. Estimates place mortality from the virus at 100% with a 6 sigma confidence.
From pieced together historical records, the survival rate of the pandemic was roughly one in 750,000. Within the four month course of the pandemic, the worldwide population dropped from nearly 7 billion humans to less than 10,000 individuals. A common behaviour of survivors was the wholesale burning of population centres as a method of disease control and the retreat to isolated areas.
The names Cassandra Virus and Melbourne Flu are seen as indicators of it’s rumoured designer and origin. Dr Cassandra Wilkins was a highly talented molecular biologist working on gene splicing technologies in Melbourne, Australia. It is not believed that she was working on viruses at the time. From what little information is left after the Pandemic, it is understood that she may have survived.