Jen poked my side. She brought her helmeted head as close as she could, clanking the two plastic materials on us together. Her voice came out as a whisper, “Are you sure that can be counted as cured?”
The person in front of us acted as if she hadn’t heard, which she probably didn’t. She looked like a regular person wearing regular clothes—if regular people had disfigured faces. Her right eye was missing. Her left eye noticed Jen and I staring, and she gave us a smile filled with gaps between her teeth. I waved at her, and she nodded in return.
“Well, she’s certainly not infected,” I whispered back to Jen. “And if she’s not infected, then she’s cured.”
Jen sighed. It came out muffled since it was passing through two motorcycle helmets. “She can’t speak. She’s as dumb as a child. The majority of her teeth are missing. And most of the time, she stands there without moving.”
“But she’s not infected, right?”
The girl in front of us was the reason the chief had a message sent out via radio, asking people from all the nearby camps to come to the garrison. She was the only infected from the ten that I had given him that had survived the loss of fungi in her body and became cured. According to the chief, the fungi had infected a significant portion of her brain. After the fungi died, the parts of her brain that had been worn away didn’t grow back, leaving her unable to speak along with greatly lowering her intelligence. As for her teeth, which infected bothered brushing? Nearly all of them had already rotted away, leaving a couple of molars behind. However, all of these negatives couldn’t change the fact that she was cured. Maybe it was a blessing she wasn’t very bright. She didn’t have to remember eating people.
“But she’s just the prototype, right?” Jen asked. “The next person to be cured won’t have as many side effects?”
“That’s hard to say. Chances are, most of the infected we cure are going to end up like her. Someone becomes infected once the fungi infected them reaches their brain and takes over a certain part.” I’m not sure which, the hippocampus maybe? “And the parts it takes over doesn’t come back after the cure kills the fungus. Maybe only the smart infected that we ran into will end up normal if it’s cured. But with the cure people don’t have to panic after being bitten or scratched.”
“We both know how hard it is to get bitten or scratched,” Jen said. “That doesn’t really kill anyone these days.”
That’s true. If someone winds up in a situation where they’re getting bitten through three layers of clothes, chances are they’re buried underneath a mass of infected and going to die regardless of cure or not. I was tempted to tell Jen the truth about the infection and the cure: how anyone with a weakened immune system could turn at any time. “Yeah, you’re right, but having the cure still reduces a lot of mental pressure while facing off against infected.” But I couldn’t. Jen was a bit of a blabbermouth, and once she found out something like that, so would everyone else, and the whole garrison might fall into a panic. Though most of the people living here were young, there were a few pushing fifty.
Jen shook her head. “Well, I, for one, dislike the cure.”
“Because it gives us more work.” Jen nodded. “Think about it. How many people came here after that announcement? The prison’s so full! I’m practically walking someone to the bathroom every five minutes. Speaking of which”—Jen nudged my shoulder with hers—“someone has to go. It’s your turn.”
I sighed. Jen was joking, but she was right. The influx of people wasn’t a joke, and quarantine was still important despite the cure existing. The cure had to be taken over a long period of time; it wasn’t like everyone could be given a full dosage upon entry to bypass the quarantine even if that’d be extremely convenient. With the prison, we could identify the infected and cure them. Though it may be a bit unethical, the chief also wanted me to experiment with people to figure out how the cure worked: what was the lowest dosage we could give someone who was bitten to cure them? How long of a time period was needed before someone was fully cured? Solving these can only be done through testing. According to the chief, without a proper laboratory to perform blood tests, the only way to find out was to find out via trial and error. If someone ended up under-dosed and became an infected anyway, at least they could be cured. But thanks to these tests, the people who were infected had to stay in quarantine for at least eight weeks, eight times longer than normal.
Jen nudged me again. “You’re not going?”
“Didn’t we agree I’d let out the men and you’d let out the women?”
“When we agreed, I didn’t know women needed to pee more than men. Now that I know, isn’t it unfair that I have to do more work? It’s your turn.”
Well, Jen was leaving the prison a lot more than I was, and there wasn’t anything else for me to do. I went up to the cage holding the woman who needed to pee and opened the door. Like walking a dog, I tied a rope to the one keeping her arms behind her back and led her outside. The bathroom is at a spot near the fence. That way, the smell keeps the infected uninterested, and the people inside don’t have to smell it—though, it still stinks due to the sheer quantity. It’s an outhouse with a door, so at least this woman doesn’t have to worry about her privacy, but I still have to stand guard as per my job. Usually, I stare off into the woods, keep myself distracted from the sounds. Most of the times, I don’t see anything, but this time, I swear I saw someone in camouflage clothes at the top of a nearby tree. When I wiped my visor and looked again, there wasn’t anyone there. Was I mistaken? If I wasn’t, it was probably someone scouting the garrison before deciding to come in. He must be a pretty smart person. The garrison could use some more people like that.