May 12, 2013
After a long time abroad on a research trip to Southeast Asia, Professor Margery Evans was finally heading back to the US. It had been a difficult return flight- layovers at Hong Kong, San Francisco, and Phoenix- and she couldn't wait to get home. As her plane neared its final destination of Yuma International Airport, she glanced out the window and caught a glimpse of her hometown, the suburb of Ligurta Vista:
As a professor of linguistics, Prof. Evans had spent the last three months studying an under-researched Tai language spoken by a single village named Phong Sec, which lay on the border between northern Laos and southern China:
As fruitful as the trip had been, Professor Evans was glad to be back in Ligurta Vista and its dry summer heat. Her husband Carl picked her up from the airport and drove her back to their house. Ligurta Vista was merely an outer suburb of Yuma, but one of the fastest growing suburbs in the city. Its suburban homes sprawled out into the desert scrubland, with even more development planned to keep up with the number of people loving in.
Ligurta Vista's town center was dominated by the Southwestern Arizona University, where Professor Evans and her husband both taught.
The campus was small but pleasant, with well-tended fields and several decent sports facilities.
At the main academic building, the university taught over 5,000 students each semester. While many of its academics were considered average, Southwestern Arizona University had two particular strengths: one of the best medical programs in the Southwestern US, via the LS Medical Center; and strong undergraduate programs in sociology, anthropology, and linguistics.
Over the next few weeks Margery settled back into her home life. Still on academic leave, she spent her days writing up her formal research papers and attending department meetings, while her husband taught courses on East Asian history. On June 9th, she noticed reports that China and Laos had both closed off the border region where Phong Sec was located, officially due to problems with local rebels. This struck her as odd because she hadn't noticed much trouble with rebel groups in that area, but she didn't look very closely into the issue. Her department was locked in an argument with the university administration over funding, and she still had her research results to formally submit.
On June 20th, nearly six weeks since she'd returned, Margery developed a cough. The next day, she felt a little ill as well. She reasoned that it was probably the flu, which despite being out of season, had been going around on campus. So she took some Benedril and went back to work.
On June 23rd, she had a fever. Her husband Carl insisted she go see a doctor, but Margery insisted she was fine. She was only 47 and in good health; she could handle the flu. But when he continued to press, she agreed to see a doctor if she felt any worse tomorrow.
On June 24th, she was dead.
An autopsy should have taken place, but a problematic employee at the local hospital decided to skip the procedure so he could leave early that day. He fudged his work and listed the official reason as complications due to influenza. After a brief funeral, her body was laid to rest at the local cemetery on the edge of town, overlooking a seasonal creek:
And that might of been the end of it, if all she'd had was the flu. Or if the hospital employee had conducted a proper autopsy. Or even if Margery, while she was still in life, had reached out to her contacts in Laos to find out what was going on there. But none of these things happened.
For a week, things were the same in Ligurta Vista as they'd always been. Then one Monday a handful of people came to the medical center complaining of a severe flu infection. Then a dozen came. Then several dozens. And then the waiting rooms were full, and people were standing outside waiting to be let in...
And what was happening in the village of Phong Sec?
The same illness was rapidly infecting people in the village, and throughout that entire region. Fearing a potential pandemic on their hands, both nations had moved fast to clamp down on the problem. The border region was quarantined, with the true reason why being withheld from the media. And military forces were deployed, with authorization to use any means to contain the disease...
Its symptoms looked like the flu. It spread like the flu. But time would show it to be something far, far worse...