I haven’t seen Vasquez for at least a year. I haven’t seen a white man either, up here in the Torres de Conciones. But I promised to keep in cell phone contact and Vasquez of the People’s Republic of San Augustin called me and said it was urgent. And here is Vasquez’ jeep coming up the switchback with the new flag of the People’s Republic.
He stops the vehicle and gets out and looks at me. We do not embrace, as we did the last time. He makes no sudden move toward me, as i’d told him, because if he had the Yaquis would have killed him. I stop ten feet from him and say coldly, Well?
Chad, I need to talk to you, he says, not without urgency.
So talk, I say.
This is hardly the place…
What’s wrong with it? What’s so important that…oh, hell, i’ll get in your jeep, I say.
When I am inside he says, When I told you at Caborca that you going to die of the virus from that bite I didn’t mince words, did I? He says.
No, I say.
Then i’m not going to mince words now. Chad, we can cure you.
My tired mind wont process this information very fast. Finally I say, You mean you can treat it. Stop the progression of the disease indefinitely like they do with AIDS drugs.
No, Chad. I mean a complete and total cure. That’s what i’m offering you. But you’ll have to come back to San Augustin with me.
You mean a real cure? The only thing medicine can cure is a bacterial infection, with antibiotics. A cure in that sense?
Yes. But the cure isn’t as benign as antibiotics. In fact it’s very toxic.
More like chemo for some cancers.
That’s pretty bad.
It’s up to you, he says. But the sooner you do it the easier it’ll be on you.
How long have I been up here? I say. Seems like years.
Just months. You look awful, guy. You could be dead in months.
Give me some odds, I say.
If you survive the treatment you’ll be cured. Completely. If you don’t you’ll be dead, but without it you’ll be dead anyway.
I cant believe you went out of your way to do anything for me, Vasquez. There have only been two people ever infected with this virus and one of them’s dead.
I didn’t. It came out of research for a vaccine. Pure serendipity.
Have you tested it on anything? Rats?
Just rats. But given the urgency of your situation we only did basic protocols.
When? How soon do I have to…
I’ll understand if you want a little time to think about it but don’t take too much…
There’s nothing to think about, I say. Let’s go.
Vasquez starts the jeep and we drive on the nauseating switchbacks until we are at the stop sign where dumb fucks almost killed me once. Then onto the highway that bisects the Plain of San Augustin. Finally my silence gets on Vasquez’ nerves enough that he says, You’re really quiet. Feeling bad?
No. There’s just nothing left to say.
Are those Yaquis in the mountains your friends?
I guess they are. At least they don’t talk too much.
It may have only been a few months but San Augustin looks and feels completely different. More people, especially the younger ones, out walking in the dry weather on the palm-lined streets. Ambience not like the war town I left, but more like that of a city on old Earth. People living, laughing, talking, making love, people with a real future. A whole generation that knows nothing of the dumb fuck horror will grow up and age before my eyes-that is if Vasquez’ treatment works.
A mural on the brick side of an old building. An avuncular looking officer of the People’s Army with a paternalistic arm around a peasant couple. In English, Spanish, French and German the inscription: From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.
I point the mural out to Vasquez and say, I saw one like it in Oldenburg. But that was from the days of the Autarchs. More Marxism?
He says gently, A kind of collectivism is what the cylinder needs for the problems ahead. And before you complain about the recycled Marxism, Get your head around this: You are an official hero of the People’s Revolution.
I look at him and say, Revolution? Which one? And laugh raucously.
Well, i’m glad I made you laugh, Chad.
I take it the dumb fucks are gone? I say.
Completely, he says. Now we have other problems, like overpopulation.
When do I start treatment? I say.
Don’t you want a tour?
Of what, Vasquez? This isn’t my home. And i’m sure not a tourist.
Well, let’s start it tomorrow. You can drive to the hospital right now and i’ll get you checked in.