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Estimated reading time — 7 minutes

Istanbul, Turkey
09:12:09 AM

I am at a small outdoor cafe just a few hundred yards from the teeming throng of a morning market, just in sight of the Bosporus. I love this city, and all its thick and violent contradictions. The rising heat of the day is already causing the linen of my suit to cling to my legs.

I awoke last night with a change of heart; you are owed an explanation, and even a warning. If I do as I have planned, I and my actions will be vilified, and misunderstood. Please believe me, I am doing this for all the right reasons. You may not see it now, but in ten or twenty years, you will see a new world born. That is worth any sacrifice.

I have done my work here in Turkey, the first of many great cities to see, and I board a plane tomorrow. Don’t bother looking for me here.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan
05:04:20 AM

I am in one of the oldest settlements of mankind, and her majesty overwhelms me, just as her descent saddens me. Once the jewel of Alexander’s conquest, and the capital of Tamarlane’s empire, she has fallen into disrepair and goes fallow with neglect. I must confess knowing this already, but forgive my sense of romanticism; I did want to see this place, once.

I have no work to do here; once the junction of trade lanes between East and West, Samarkand has become isolated and useless to me. But the ghosts of her history and past bring me strength and resolve. The case that I carry with me is heavy in my hand, it is my burden, but with each stop, that burden lessens.

I have allowed myself this one folly, leaving the web for a moment, but I will not linger long.

Munich, Germany
08:05:18 AM

The city still sleeps late into the morning on Saturday, and in many places the streets are still empty. There is a grand majesty of Munich’s remaining prewar buildings, and I remarked on its beauty to my local driver. “It was a lot nicer before the British bombed us,” he said without a hint of irony. He was at least two generations removed from the war, and did not seem, or want, to understand when I told him that London had the same problem.

Most of humanity is horrified by the specter of the war, of what happened here. They wonder how man could be so inhumane. These people know nothing of the world, or of nature, red in tooth and claw. These are the people that artificially elevate humanity above the animal kingdom, people that maintain an ephemeral barrier between our particular primate sub-grouping, and the rest of life on Earth. I never understood these people.

I deposited one more device downtown, in a massive state-of-the-art theater complex. I hid it carefully, and set the little slaved atomic clock to my own. My flight departs in a few hours, and if you are following me, you will have no luck in Germany.

London, England
05:09:19 AM

London shows her war wounds with flat gray office towers, and plain, blocky apartments, yet her age and history bleed through the scars as I stroll down the Thames, scarcely aware of the brackish odor of the oily waters. The trash and detritus in the river don’t sadden me, the way I imagine it would for you.

You draw some artificial line between a hamburger wrapper and the fallen leaves of a tree that I will never understand. You distinguish between nature and humanity in a way that puzzles me. We are nature, our cities, our roads, and our orbital satellites are no different than a termite colony, or a birds nest, except perhaps in scale. There is nothing unique about humanity. I know that I am all but alone in this conceit, but history and nature herself will prove me right.

The devices I planted here are in the Underground; silently waiting for the day to come when I will activate them, and they will open their ceramic filters and gently release their payload into the air. I burned the last decade of my life like a candle to forge the perfect weapon, hardened against the air, hearty and undeniably alive, burning with the will to survive.

I have chosen the stations because the first letters of each station spell my name. Consider it an artist’s signature. I wouldn’t tell you this if I wasn’t sure this would be useless information, and I doubt you have even uncovered who I am.

As always, I will be gone before you arrive.

Chicago, Illinois
02:15:03 PM


Chicago is the hub of a great wheel of airline traffic; along its thousand intersecting lines, millions of passengers will pass through, robbing the stale airport air of oxygen and expunging carbon dioxide. Even these sterile, atmosphere-regulated glass and steel tunnels, I still see nature, green and red with life.

I need to make a distinction. I know that what I am doing seems to be wrong, evil. However, I also understand that morality is an artificial device we used to guide tribal behavior, a useful conceit in creating harmony and growth in small populations. But there is no real weight to good and evil. Nature is beyond that. There is nothing evil about the wasp that implants her young into a living caterpillar. Our concepts of ethics are as fragile as our bodies, and just as impermanent.

A few devices in the ventilation systems will infect millions. You can search for them if you want, but there is a great deal of redundancy in my plan. You can grind yourself to the bone attempting to undo my work, but in the end, you will fail. If you are wise, you will cease pursuit and begin to prepare for the inevitable struggle ahead.

Tokyo, Japan
09:18:05 PM

Tokyo must be a hell to those who see nature as only forests or mountains or clean ocean waters. To me, it is a wonder of that natural world. The lights and madness of Roppongi are just as wondrous and alive as the synchronized flashing of fireflies. This is nature, and if you will allow me a moment of species-self congratulation, this is nature at its finest and most wonderful. But nature has no apex. It will only grow and learn and become more beautiful. It brings tears to my eyes.

I was asleep for so many decades, laboring in a lab for a pharmaceutical giant. (Which one is not important. It will not help you find me, especially not this late.) I wish I could tell you that there was some epiphany, some concrete lesson I could share with you to make you understand why I have chose this path for us all. The truth is sadly mundane: the influx of money from a chain of discoveries gave me the time to think, and become aware of the world and its systems, slowly and gradually. The money also gave me the resources to act once I was determined.

The world regulates itself. People ascribe some sort of special malevolence to the acts of man, unaware that we are not the first species to war, to commit genocide. Foolish. This is not unique to man. Many other species before us outstripped their habitats, and sowed the seeds of their own destruction. They simply are no longer among us to act as a warning. Evolutionary strategies either work, forever sustainable, or they do not, and the species die. This is the only rule in nature. Live for the future, or be buried in the past.

It should be clear now, to all of us, that despite our species’ meteoric growth, we have not opted for the former strategy, and it is only a matter of time before we collapse.

I will not stand for that. I am as much a part of nature as anything else, and so are my weapons. I will be the regulator. We will adapt, or die. But be brave: no matter the outcome, the world will be bettered. And I sincerely hope you will be there to see it, so that you can know that I was right.

The devices here are spread randomly, one is buried in a planter box that struck my eye as I walked the streets, another beneath the table of bustling cafe. You must know now that finding them will be impossible. Please, for your own sake, the time for pursuit and prevention is long passed. It’s time to prepare.


San Francisco, California
00:00:00 AM

I never imagined that I would remain uninfected, despite my precautions after so much exposure; I had elongated the viruses dormancy for just this reason, to buy myself a little more time. I have not finished my web yet, as I had originally envisioned it, but my infection models show I have done more than enough. I will rest a little now, and I will try not to regret my part in this. Not my actions of course, but my inability to see the fruits of my labor.

Humanity would have died without me. We’ve grown soft, slow, no longer a viable organism. We would have slowly, subtly altered the environment until the world itself was toxic to us, and then we would have vanished with a whimper. Those who think that Man has the ability to destroy the world labor under the same strange anthropocentrism as those who think we are somehow divorced from the rest of the kingdom of life. We could no more end the world than we could create it. We only can kill ourselves, and take a few million unstable species down with us. Is this how you want to end? Slowly poisoned or drowned by our inability to see the long term?

This is not the way, and I will not allow it.

Humanity, I am giving you a great gift, though I know you will never see it as such. I am giving you competition. You will work together, you will merge your resources and be reforged and tempered in the fires of struggle and crisis, together. Or you will die. You will blossom into something new, or you will fertilize the fields of the next competitor for space and resources. But you will change. It’s inevitable now, and it brings me pride and joy even as the lining of my lungs slough free and I drown in infected blood.

I have left you something. One last breadcrumb, woven into these letters. It may be the key to your salvation. If you find it, it will set you onto the path to the cure. You understand that I can not just hand it to you, that would defeat my whole purpose. Believe me when I say that I want you to live, but I must be strong not to undermine the grand struggle that will shape you for centuries to come.

It’s over now. If you still wish to seek me, you are only wasting your precious little time, anything that could help you, I have already sent. The rest, I have burned and erased. The triggers on the devices will release soon. Very soon.

But, if for some foolish reason, you want to see the meat and bones and fluids I will leave behind, you will know where to find me. I will be Patient Zero.

CREDIT: Josef K. / Cameron Suey

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87 thoughts on “Zero”

  1. “I am giving you competition. You will work together, you will merge your resources and be reforged and tempered in the fires of struggle and crisis, together. Or you will die.”

    Did anyone else read this and think that he was creating a new species and we would have to work together with THEM to survive?

  2. finaly someone who agrees with me that humanity should go out with a bang! haha! only it should be nukes, not a virus, cus no matter what, you can’t cure a nuke. haha! take that little animal suckers!!!

  3. Did anyone else actually take the time to decode anything?
    Someone made a mistake, because it reads “I LIED THERE IS BO CIRE” Ooops! Other than that fairly well done! Go Joseph K!

  4. “Evolutionary strategies either work, forever sustainable, or they do not, and the species die. This is the only rule in nature. Live for the future, or be buried in the past.”

    That bothered me. It spits in the face of adaptation, which is what evolution is actually about. Other than that, the pasta was delicious.

  5. Amazing story *__*
    The only thing that bothered me was the “Patient Zero” end, but google fixed that and made it even better.

    “In the early years of the AIDS epidemic, there was controversy about a so-called Patient Zero”

    I love this story

  6. This was an interesting story. The title and first few paragraphs made it seem like 9/11, but then it became obvious that it is a worldwide biological plan.

    Very nice.

  7. I’m just wondering why there are some random characters in this timpestamp coding such as ‘ B’ and the stations spelling his name?

    Due to that annoyance of mine 8/10 otherwise it’d have a perfect 10!

  8. Actually, if you think about it, it is obvious that there is no cure. After all, if there was, then he could be around to see the fruits of his labour after planting the illness by taking the cure

    Also, with him calling himself Patient Zero, that made me think that the devices are clay pots filled with fecal matter…

  9. I feel like this would be a good film plot, or at least an interesting book, perhaps not unlike Angels and Demons? I’d enjoy it at least.

  10. T-Virus? :o

    That was an amazing story, it kept you gripped and reading til the end. I gotta admit, I ruined the secret, but I was too lazy to correspond all the numbers. =3 All in all, was a good read. Hope more of these get posted.

  11. holy shit. this wasn’t so much creepy, but it was beautifully written and i wish you would flesh this out and write a book of it. jesus, am i envious. i can only sit back and wish desperately that i could write with even the slightest bit of intelligence that you have.

    “We could no more end the world than we could create it. We only can kill ourselves”

    awesome. this makes me shiver.

  12. I don’t think I should be revealing this, but:

    Every number in each of the timestamps, in order, refers to a letter. 1 = A, 2 = B, and so on. In order, these stamps spell out: “I lied. There is no cure.”

  13. Not to be a downer…but wouldn’t a gas mask be the end of that problem? It was a lovely story before I thought of that, and even after too.

  14. The Missing Page

    I don’t know if I should go to all these places and look for strange ‘devices’ or not…

    Very well done, I sure hope it’s only a story.

  15. “There is nothing evil about the wasp that implants her young into a living caterpillar.”

    Omg I saw that on Animal Planet too. NASTY NASTY.

  16. “I have done my work here in Turkey, the first of many great cities to see”

    Turkey is a country, not a city!

  17. Darth Skeletor

    Yeah but what I’m trying to figure out regards this line: “I have chosen the stations because the first letters of each station spell my name”

  18. hehehahahahahahaha! this story is EXACTLY what i dreamed of doing after gettting out of college. this guy just shown what i will do soon…..

  19. As always great work from Joseph K., if a little lengthy. But hell, I can take a few extra minutes out of my day to read works of this caliber.

  20. Darth Skeletor


    On another note, what is the name spelled out by the underground stations?

  21. Wow…. beautifully made pasta. But, there’s a problem here. I understand it, but I don’t understand it. (Maybe that’s just because I read it a bit quickly. I’m not sure.) Anyway, again, beautiful. I love Josef K.’s stories.

  22. Genius, Beautiful, Inspiring, Satisfying. I absolutely adore this pasta, it speaks to me like no other I’ve read. Not directly scary, but feels so grand and mysterious that it has “flavour” that way. The bonus treat that there may be a hidden message somewhere in there is a great finishing touch to this already delicious pasta.

    Would definitely order this again.

  23. MisterVercetti

    Once again, Josef K. fails… to disappoint.

    One of the best Pastas I’ve read in a while. Makes you wonder what would happen if this were real…

  24. diabolical…

    and yet it makes perfect sense because a plan like that just might fulfill its purpose.
    People would unite to survive. And if they did, they would come out of it completely changed.
    The only thing that would inspire humans to change for the better might just be possible extinction.
    The narrator’s connotation that he makes between mankind and nature is scary in itself because man has always thought of itself to be special.
    When in reality, we might not be.

  25. Who is this is?

    I read this first on Josef K’s site – still an excellent story. Did he spruce it up a little from last year?

  26. I remember this particular story.

    Wasn’t there a hint in the time stamps or something?

    But I think it was “There is no cure.” Or something of the like.

  27. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Reminds me of the Joker mixed with Tyler Durden, two of my favorite characters. Josef K’s stories are an absolute treasure. Not creepy so much as inspiring, but definitely well worth the read!

  28. Not necessarily creepy, but still great pasta none the less. It actually kinda made me think a little bit. Overall, great job.

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