Chapter One: Patient Zero
“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.” –T. S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men"
The tale of the next great pandemic begins in Saddle Arabia, where Fancy Pants sits at a café, enjoying a daisy sandwich. This poor colt was completely unaware of the fact that he would soon come face to face with the greatest killer this world had ever seen, that he would spread it to hundreds of others, and that it would soon bring about his own demise.
Fancy Pants had just finished taking the last few bites of his sandwich, when he looked down to his watch. “2:03” it read. Fearing that he may be late to his meeting, he quickly paid for his meal and left a generous tip, before rushing out the door.
After racing up and down the streets, and asking for directions twice, Fancy Pants had finally made it to his destination. It was an old silk processing plant for him and his wife Rarity’s business. It sure had grown since she had left Ponyville almost a decade ago.
As soon as the stallion opened the door, his ears were assaulted with the typical loud noises of any factory; machines slamming together, the hiss of steam, and the occasional chatter amongst workers.
“Hello Mister Fancy Pants,” said a cheerful voice with an Arabian accent.
Fancy Pants looked to his left to see three colts in suits looking at him. He assumed that the maroon pony in the center was the one who had greeted him, since his, clearly faked, smile was larger than the others’.
“Good morning, sir.” He replied.
“To you as well,” replied the pony in the center before he gestured towards a nearby door. “Right this way please.”
After what seemed like endless pages of paperwork, it was finally time for Fancy Pants to tour the factory. He questioned the usual things like wages, work hours, and what not as each section of the plant was shown. But, when he reached the part of the factory responsible for boxing the finished silk, he heard a loud coughing from one of the workers. He was a little concerned but not too worried.
Then, as Fancy Pants was being lead to another part of the factory, this same pony, who was putting a box of silk onto a loading ramp, tripped and fell inches from his hooves. Instantly, he was scolded by the three managers, but Fancy Pants, learning a thing or two about generosity from his wife, helped the pony up. As he did so, he noticed that the colt had bloodshot eyes, looked rather clammy, and seemed extremely pail.
“Could you give this colt some off time? He looks absolutely horrible,” he asked.
The three ponies looked at each other, before the middle one gleefully replied “Of course, sir. Now, please come with us to the next part of the factory.”
Fancy Pants followed the three, but looked back at the ill colt before entering the next room. He just couldn’t shake this odd feeling he had about him.
As Fancy Pants sat in the airship terminal, awaiting his flight to be called, he couldn’t help but feel as though yesterday’s venture had gone well. However, he soon found his mind drifting back to the sick pony. The stallion dearly hoped that he would never catch an illness that bad, but he simply shrugged it off as overworking.
After a few hours, Fancy Pants found himself growing extremely bored. He was honestly considering reading the travel guide on a nearby table when a young mare sat down next to him. Suddenly one of the luggage cases she was holding slipped off of her hoof. “Shoot!” she exclaimed.
“It’s fine, I’ve got it,” said Fancy Pants as he lifted the carrier over to the cream colored pony.
The mare smiled and gladly took it, completely unaware that this colt had unintentionally given her a second gift. This chance encounter would soon leave her dead and 35 others infected with many of them deceased as well.
“Thanks, it’s nice to know there’s still good ponies in this world.”
Fancy Pants let out a modest chuckle. “Quite right.”
“I’m Sunflower,” said the pony as she outstretched her hoof.
The white unicorn outstretched his own and shook her hoof. “I’m Fancy Pants... Now, please forgive me if I’m wrong, but you’re accent sounds rather Equestrian.”
“Born and raised in Manehatten.”
Fancy Pants raised his brow in surprise. “You’re kidding? My sister in-law lives there.”
The mare smiled and laughed lightly. “Huh, small world.”
The white unicorn nodded. “Indeed it is.”
Suddenly a voice came on over the intercom. “Flight 63 to Canterlot is now boarding. Again flight 63 to Canterlot is now boarding.”
Quickly Fancy Pants looked to his ticket and began picking up his belongings. “That’s my flight.”
“Oh, well it was nice talking to you.”
“You as well.” And with that, Fancy Pants turned and left.
After a moment’s walk, Fancy Pants had made his way to the airship. Though, as he pulled out his ticket, he didn’t notice the change in the floor’s elevation, causing him to trip. As he fell he was quickly caught by the flight attendant.
“Are you okay sir?” she asked in a concerned tone.
Fancy Pants’ face turned a bright crimson as he regained his posture. “Yes, I’m fine. Just tripped,” He then began to trot over to his seat when the mare asked “Ticket?”
Instantly, his face turned an even brighter shade of red. ‘Dear goddesses, how did I forget that?’ he thought as he gave the mare his ticket. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s okay sir. It happens more than you may think. Have a good flight.”
Fancy pants nodded to her before finding his seat. He was rather thankful that there wasn’t a single foal in sight. ‘Maybe I can actually get some sleep on this flight’ he thought.
As Fancy Pants laid his head down, the flight attendant he had ran into earlier, was currently giving the two pilots a cup of coffee. After she had finished this, she would go on to give out drinks and hot towels to many of the passengers. By the time her first symptoms would arise, this pony would unknowingly infect 124 others, each going to and from different parts of the world. Six days from now she and many of them will be dead.
As Fancy Pants opened the door to his apartment, he immediately could smell the overpowering scent of oregano and tomato sauce. Then suddenly, he let out a sneeze for no apparent reason. He sniffled a little before entering with a smile. He was far too preoccupied with thinking of the meal he was bound to enjoy, not to mention seeing his wife.
Just as he was about to announce his presence, Rarity came trotting around the corner. “I was beginning to wonder when you’d ever get home,” she said with a smile.
Fancy Pants smirked before trotting over to her and pressing his lips to hers. “Sorry about that, the meeting took longer than I was expecting, but it was a tremendous success.”
Rarity beamed with joy. “That’s wonderful dear! Now come, I’ve prepared a spectacular dinner and I intend for you to eat every last bite of it.”
“Oh trust me I know. I could almost smell the pasta sauce from the other side of the door.”
Fancy Pants took his seat at the couple’s dining table, directly across from Rarity, and began eating. Upon his first bite he noticed something bizarre; it didn’t taste normal, it tasted strange, almost bland. Wanting to inquire where the odd taste was coming from, Fancy Pants went about asking in as polite a way as possible.
“Did you use a new recipe, darling?” he asked.
The white coated mare raised an eyebrow. “No, it’s the same as usual. Why do you ask?”
“I’m not sure, it just seems different. I just don’t know how.”
At that moment, Rarity noticed something she hadn’t upon Fancy Pants’ arrival; his eyes were slightly bloodshot and his coat just didn’t look right. “Um, Fancy Pants, are you feeling okay?”
The stallion cocked his head. “Whatever do you mean, dear?”
“Oh it’s nothing; you’re probably just tired is all.”
Just as Rarity finished her sentence, Fancy Pants began to cough. At first lightly, but then growing in intensity.
“Here,” she said, holding out a glass of water.
The stallion gladly took it and began to drink. After a few sips he was beginning to feel better. However, Rarity was starting to think her husband wasn’t just bushed. So the mare got up and trotted over to him. Once she laid her hoof upon his forehead, she could immediately tell that he had a fever.
“You feel a little warm honey. Why don’t you go take a nice shower and I’ll put up your plate for later.”
Fancy Pants considered protesting, but decided that a hot shower didn’t sound like such a bad option right now. “Okay dear, but I can assure you I’m fine.”
As Fancy Pants let the warm water wash over him, he could feel the aches and stresses of the day wash away as well as the hot, dense steam cleanse his lungs. However, one spot in his body wouldn’t grant the warm vapors entrance; his throat. No matter how deeply he breathed, or how many times he cleared his throat, he could always feel a slight tickle.
The stallion tried his best to ignore it and go about scrubbing in his shampoo, but it was still there gnawing away at his esophagus. He tried his best not to cough, but the urge was becoming harder and harder to fight.
Finally, the colt gave in. He let out a single light cough, it was like a massive flood gate had suddenly burst open for then came another and then another. Each cough seemed to grow in intensity until the stallion looked down and saw a small droplet of blood upon his hoof. Despite this, the coughs persisted. Suddenly, Fancy Pants coughed so violently that he slipped in the shower. There was a loud crack as his skull made contact with the porcelain rim of his bath tub.
Alerted by the abrupt crash, Rarity came rushing in and shrieked at what she saw. There, her husband lay, covered in soap, water, and a few splotches of blood. Instantly she began sobbing, assuming that he was dead. Then she saw it, he was still breathing.
Rarity bolted into the other room with tears streaming down her face. She frantically began dialing for and ambulance when finally an emergency service operator answered.
“Canterlot emergency services, what is your emergency?”
“M-My husband he fell in the shower. Please send an ambulance,” Rarity cried.
“What is your address mam?”
“I live in the North Canterlot apartments number 127, please hurry!”
As soon as Rarity had stated what she needed to, she darted back into the bathroom and crouched down next to Fancy Pants. Levitating a towel off of the nearby rack, she began to wipe off his face and head. ‘This is all my fault,’ she thought. Closing her eyes, Rarity began to sob even harder, then without warning, she felt Fancy Pants lay his hoof on top of her’s.
“Don’t worry. I’m okay. I think I just got knocked out for a second,” he said with a reassuring smile.
The white mare smiled and pulled him into a tight embrace. “Oh thank the goddesses!”
Rarity paced back and forth in the halls of the hospital, desperately awaiting news from any of the doctors. She dearly hoped he would only have a concussion at the most, but she knew at the worst he may have a skull fracture. But none of those were really fatal, right?
Suddenly the doors to the ER swung open to reveal a tall grey furred colt with a grim look upon his face. Rarity raced over to him and upon seeing his expression, instantly assumed something was horribly wrong.
“Is he okay doctor? Please tell me there’s nothing wrong with him,” she cried.
The doctor looked down briefly and then back to Rarity. “I’m so sorry, but despite our best efforts, he didn’t respond and… Passed away.”
“What?!” she screeched. “He just hit his head! That’s it!”
“We know, and his head isn’t what did this. He only had a slight skull fracture and a concussion. It appears that his respiratory system was failing then his internal organs began shutting down. It happened so quick we weren’t able to treat it. Now we’re currently looking into all options, but he did test positive for influenza. So we’re sending samples to the EDC, but we think it could just be seasonal.”
“The flu!? How could the damn flu do this!?” she wailed, tears streaming down her face.
“Mam, I honestly don’t know, sometimes people react to different strains differently. Again we are all very sorry for your loss. However, I’m afraid you must come with me.”
“What!? Why!?” she asked.
“I’m afraid you need to be put into quarantine until we know what actually caused the infection.”
“Fine! Do whatever you want! After all you did such a good job with my husband!”
The doctor took a few steps back. “Mam, I’m sorry, but we need to keep others safe for now. Do you understand?”
Rarity wiped away a few tears and replied, in a lower voice “Yes, I’m sorry. I understand.”
A young blue colored colt sat at a computer monitor dearly wishing the test results would finish loading faster. Just then a young tan Pegasus came trotting in. “Any luck?” she asked before taking a seat next to him.
“I wish,” he replied. “We know it’s influenza, but these tests are taking longer than I thought.”
“Huh, that’s odd. Do we know which species?”
The colt placed his hooves over his face and sighed. “No, it could be bird or swine based, but I’m leaning more towards bird.”
The tan pony tilted her head. “Why’s that?”
He shrugged. “Just a hunch, plus it killed pretty fast.”
The mare chuckled briefly. “Hey, don’t go telling everyone there’s bird flu in Equestria. You’ll start a panic.”
“Heh, yeah I guess you’re right.”
Just then, the screen had a new window pop up. Instantly the pair’s eyes shot to it with beaming looks of anticipation. However, once they began reading through the data, their expressions began to change to that of pure horror.
“This can’t be right,” said the mare, her voice full of fear.
The stallion clicked on the screen a few more times, going through each separate set of data. “Oh, it’s right.”
The mare leaned back in her chair as she ran her hooves through her mane. “Then if those genomes and species are correct-“
“Then we’re looking at the beginnings of a pandemic virus.”
This is the part of the story where I explain the facts behind my fan fiction as well as answer questions.
What I'm trying to portray in this chapter is how easily the virus will spread in the early stages before anyone knows about it. I'm also showing how quickly the number of infections will climb. And how there will be great confusion amongst health officials in the first few days as they try to figure out what type and strain of virus it is.
Is there a virus that could actually cause a pandemic this severe?
Yes, in fact, my entire story is based off of, the very real, H5N1 influenza A virus, however there are still others that could cause such a pandemic. H7N9 has a 25% mortality rate and is more easily able to mutate than H5N1 which was the talk of the town in 2006 with a 55-60% mortality rate. Then there's NCoV in Saudi Arabia, killing a little less than 50% of it's victims. However, I do expect this number to drop, since most of the infected had preexisting medical conditions.
Is a flu pandemic imminent?
Yes, they happen regularly on average 30 years apart, however mother nature doesn't care about the calendar. For example, the Asian flu and Hong Kong flu occurred only 11 years apart. And with today's speedy travel and exposure to new viruses, it becomes more and more likely that we will have more and more pandemics. But each pandemic's severity is still in question. However, a recent study showed us how easy it is to make H5N1 go airborne and spread like the Swine Flu, but still kill 55% of it's victims. Frighteningly, it only needs three more mutations before this happens. However, this strain may also become weaker during this airborne mutation and kill none of it's hosts, as conducted in another test. It's really a 50/50 chance on how the genes line up. And another strain, H7N9 has been found to possibly be only two gene mutations away from sparking a pandemic. Yet, we are unsure of it's potential severity as a pandemic, though it should be treated as if it could kill 25%.
Do you have information to back this up?
Yes, please ask me what you'd like to know and I'll gladly give you a link to the World Health Organization's publications on that topic.