Taylor got up to answer the door.
When she opened it, she saw 3 people standing on her front porch. Two of them were wearing Covid Compliance vests - the third was a city cop.
"Good afternoon Ms. Fein!" said the first C.C. officer. "My name is Jen, and we're from the Health Department. Have you been tested for Covid19 recently?"
"Hi! Um, no, I haven't," Taylor replied.
"OK," said Jen. "Well did you have contact with a... Ms. Laura Thomas last Saturday?"
Taylor thought for a moment. She hadn't seen Laura that recently... had she?
"Um... I'm not sure," she replied. "I've barely left my house at all."
That last part was true, of course. She had barely been outside for 6 months. Her skin was even getting extra pale from lack of sunshine. She knew it probably wasn't a healthy way to live, but she wanted to do her part to fight Covid, by staying home. She was doing it for others - not for herself.
Jen pulled out her tablet and explained, "TraceX has a record of you being within 30 feet of Ms. Thomas for over an hour, and 10 of those minutes involved a distance of less than 15 feet."
Now she remembered. It was at the park! The little one down at the corner of 4th. She ran into Laura there while they were both walking their dogs, and they chitchatted for a bit. And apparently the bit was for an hour! It hadn't seemed that long...
"I guess time really flies when you're having human contact for the first time in weeks, heh," Taylor joked, sheepishly.
"Oh I totally understand!" exclaimed Jen, with a bright smile on her face. "I spent like, all day outside that day, it was so nice out. Probably came into close proximity with a lot of people," she mused, a hint of mischief in her voice. "But thankfully none of them were positive!" she said, placing her hand on her chest with gratitude.
And then another voice chimed into the conversation: "That's why the app is so handy! It really gets a good record of who's been in contact with who, and who's infected. It makes the whole thing really simple and efficient."
"Oh, I'm sorry, this is Keith!" said Jen, introducing her colleague.
Oddly enough, Taylor thought she had disabled the app. She was usually pretty big on privacy, and didn't like the idea of anyone "tracking" her movements. How was the app working if she disabled it? Come to think of it... there was that new iOS update... the one that made the app no longer capable of being disabled. Ah. That was it.
"Yea, those apps sure are... helpful!" Taylor said, a little unsure.
At this point, the conversation took on an awkward air. Everyone knew what was coming next.
"So..." Keith trailed off, as he and Jen glanced at one another.
"So do you want to go get your things?" Jen asked.
Taylor knew it. She had to go with them.
"Well, can't I... take a test now?" she asked, even though she knew the answer.
"Oh you'll get tested at the Facility once you're there, for sure," Jen assured her. "They're equipped with everything. You don't have to worry about that."
"But we obviously can't rely on a test now", said Keith, "since the test takes several hours to return a result, and it wouldn't be safe to permit free movement while your status is unknown."
Taylor started to feel afraid. She was quite sure she hadn't displayed her white supremacy, and had in fact completed all of her weekly Zoom kneelings, on time, for months. She was up to date on all the self-crit.
Why would they be targeting HER? Were they, in fact, targeting her? Or did Laura really test positive? Surely it must be a simple trace-flag, and nothing more.
"OK, let me get my things", she replied.
"Great! We'll be right out here when you're ready", Jen said. The county cop gave Taylor a little nod of approval from behind his sunglasses.
Taylor pulled her bug-out backpack from the closet. She kept it handy for spontaneous day-trips and the like. It was small, since day-trips rarely required large bags. But she had no idea how long this "trip" was going to last.
After attempting, with futility, to cram two weeks worth of clothes and supplies into the tiny bag, she opted instead for her larger bag, which she used for camping trips. Nice and roomy. That'll do! She filled it with everything she thought she could possibly need over the upcoming fortnight.
Then it dawned on her. What about Candy?
A lump quickly rose in her throat. Who would watch Candy while she was away?
She made a frantic series of phonecalls to friends, begging them to house-sit Candy for the upcoming weeks. After trying 5 people, the 6th finally worked out. It was her friend Dillon. He agreed to come over and walk Candy twice a day.
With that, Taylor emerged from her house, ready for... an adventure. That's what she told herself. "Gotta stay positive!" she silently assured herself, before remembering that "positive" wasn't a good thing anymore. Everyone was dreadfully afraid of being positive, these days. "Gotta stay optimistic", she corrected herself.
She left her keys in the bushes for Dillon to retrieve, and walked out to the padded police van waiting for her in the street.
"Where exactly is the facility, again?" she asked the Compliance officers. The word "again" wasn't really right - since she never knew in the first place.
"Sooo... the location is actually not publicly disclosed, for safety reasons," Jen said, as her voice trailed off.
"You know, cause of the far-right attacks and all", Keith reminded her. "Remember when those facilities in Ohio were attacked by the rightwing extremists, back in November or something?"
Taylor vaguely remembered hearing about it. It had been in the news, but she wasn't paying that much attention.
"Was that the... Proud Boys or something?" she asked.
"Yea," Keith replied. "Remember when they were caught, how they said they were trying to "liberate" the facility?" he chuckled. As he said the word "liberate", Taylor could hear the derision in his voice.
"Fucking rightwing nutjobs, amiright?", Keith continued. "Like, ok, let's LIBERATE you from staying HEALTHY! Let's LIBERATE you from CARING about others!" he laughed to himself.
"Yea, pretty funny, heh", Taylor replied, attempting to sound relaxed.
* * *
The inside of the van had no windows. "It's for your safety," the cop said, as he pulled back the metal bars to allow Taylor inside. "We can't have everyone knowing about where the facilities are, or else those whackjobs would try to storm in."
The ride was long, and Taylor felt sick to her stomach through most of it, not being able to tell what direction she was going in.
* * *
The facility was gray, metallic, and fluorescent... but clean. As she was escorted through the hallways to her room, she noticed a lack of shared areas. Of course, no mingling was allowed, since this was a pandemic they were dealing with. Any social activity between inmates would risk spreading the virus.
They tested her on the first day, and surprisingly, she was positive! She didn't know where she had gotten the disease from. Perhaps Laura? She hadn't gotten close enough to pick it up... or so she thought... Maybe it was from a clerk at the supermarket? "I should have just used Amazon, like everyone else", she thought.
There was no communal cafeteria; all meals were delivered through openings on the doors of each cell. Each inmate had their own private bathroom. Outdoor exercise was allowed once per day, for 30 minutes, with strict protocols for making sure no one got within coughing distance of anyone else. There was a tiny running track, and a series of lifting-weights (which were dutifully disinfected after use by each inmate). Guards stood by to ensure that no one mingled.
It was very, very lonely. Almost like solitary confinement. It WAS solitary confinement - or it would be, if not for the internet. Thankfully, there was internet access - although it was all managed through a software program called SafeGuard. Every program she used had to go through it. Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Google - all web browsing - everything - was filtered through Safeguard. Taylor didn't understand what the point of the stupid thing was. Why couldn't she just... you know... get on Youtube? Why did it have to go through this slow-ass, clunky program?
As she communicated with her friends through social media, things started to seem somewhat normal again. It wasn't all that different from being at home. She stayed almost entirely within her room for the previous year... What was the big deal about staying in this room now? In some ways, it was even more convenient! At least she didn't have to go get groceries! But as the days stretched on, she really started to miss Candy. "Soon!" she thought.
At the two-week mark, they tested her again. To her shock, it still said positive.
"Yea, it sometimes takes a while," the nurse told her. "But don't worry, you'll be healthy again in no time."
"I AM healthy..." Taylor thought. But she dared not say it out loud.
The nurse then left the room. When she came back, she was carrying the latest update. Taylor knew what to do. She rolled up her sleeve.
The nurse administered the update, and then scanned Taylor's tattoo to put it in the system.
That night, she had terrible nausea and nightmares, just like she did when she got the previous 3 updates.
Another two weeks went by. She got tested again, and to her horror, she was still positive. "When will this end?" she asked the nurse, as she spontaneously broke into tears.
"Oh honey, don't be sad," said the nurse, in a motherly tone. "You gon' be fine. You jus' hang in dere."
She pulled a vial of the next update out of her kit.
"Can I... um... decline?" Taylor asked, as the nurse prepped the needle.
"Why would you want to do dat?" asked the nurse, confused.
"Well it's just... I feel really... bad... after I get them."
"But dis is to protect you from dee virus, and to protect oddas. Dey not gween to let you go back home if you don't have all dee updates."
Taylor knew that all societal freedoms now depended on compliance with the Gates Foundation's vaccine schedule. Reluctantly, she rolled up her sleeve.
The nurse cheerfully injected her, scanned her tattoo, and shared a quote from Psalms in her thick Caribbean accent, which she apparently believed Taylor would find comfort in. The guard escorted her back to her room.
She tested positive again, two weeks later. She was expecting it.
"Oh well... I guess it's what I must do... to protect others. I'm not selfish... am I? No. I'm a good citizen."
Sometime during the 7th week, something strange happened. While she was watching a cat video on Youtube, a message appeared on her computer screen. It was unlike anything she had ever seen before.
It said, "Attention, user! You are in the prison! Your government is lying you! There is not a Covid, and all is lies. Stand up for freedoms, say No to the tyrants! Rise up! You are free!"
And after the message appeared, everything closed out. Youtube was gone. Facebook was gone. All that remained was one video box, and some kind of video started playing.
It was some kind of documentary. There was a doctor - or some guy dressed like a doctor - speaking in an obvious Russian accent. As he spoke, he said that the Covid tests were something called a "PCR", which stood for "poly-something chain reaction." And as he went on, he explained that the tests are "fake", and can be manipulated to produce any result the testers want.
"25 doublings makes always a negative, 40 doublings, makes always a positive."
"Po-zi-teef", he said, in his Russian accent.
"Zee tester decide if he gonna wanna make you positeef or negateef, and zen, he choose zee number of doublings, to produce dees result."
This reminded Taylor of something she had heard, many months ago, in what now seemed like another lifetime. She had read something... something shared by a Facebook friend... something from a right-wing, Trump-supporting page, which was talking about the tests being fake. The presenter had likened them to the "e-meters" used by Scientologists, where the guy plays with the dial underneath the table, to make the meter swing this way and that, as he chooses, to match the answers of the person dumb enough to sit down for it.
She hadn't thought much of it, back then. After all, it was coming from an obvious right-wing source.
But now... she wondered.
"Eenternet ees censored, to prevent zis informations to come to you. Safeguard will be back up shortly, do whatever you can to spread word!"
He talked for another couple of minutes or so, about some really wild (or were they?) conspiracy theories revolving around the pandemic. Taylor didn't want to believe them... but considering what was happening to her, she started to consider that maybe there was some truth to them after all.
He was starting to say something about the connection between the Covid vaccine and Bill Gates...
...when all of a sudden, he was abruptly silenced by the electricity to Taylor's entire room going out.
The electricity stayed out for some time. It seemed like an hour. An hour of utterly silent darkness.
During that time, as she sat in the dark, Taylor thought about what the video guy had said.
Come to think of it, she still didn't know anyone who had died of the virus. She knew one person who had died while on a ventilator - but she wasn't sure whether it was the virus or the ventilator that had killed him. She was friends with a hospital nurse, who had explained to her just what the ventilation protocol entails, and how horrific it is. And upon learning of it, she realized that it would be enough to kill even a healthy person. Even a person in perfect health could die from being immobilized like that, for weeks at a time, with tubes going into every orifice.
All of those people who had died from Covid in hospitals... How many of them had actually died from the ventilators, rather than the virus?
"No, no" she told herself. "Don't buy into this. These are conspiracy theories. That guy was Russian. This is right wing stuff. Trump stuff. We voted him out for a reason. Biden and Kamala wouldn't do this to us. They wouldn't do this. They're kind, and empathic. Biden is a warm grandfatherly figure, and Kamala is a woman or color. They wouldn't do something like this. They're not Trump."
She repeated these assurances to herself for what seemed like hours.
She didn't know when it started, but at some point, she found herself rocking back and forth on her heels, crying.
She missed Candy. She missed her room. Her house. Food from Trader Joes. She didn't miss her friends and family so acutely, since she hadn't interacted in person with them for the past year anyway - but she missed having the freedom to do so. She hadn't used that freedom when she had it... but just having it was something. She just wanted to have that freedom... even if she didn't plan to use it. Something about just having it...
"Freedom is a right-wing word!" a part of her mind snapped at her.
"You're here for your safety!"
"And the safety of others!"
"No one said facing a pandemic was easy!"
"We all have to make sacrifices to do what's right!"
"To protect others!"
"For the greater good!"
She thought back to that Harry Potter movie, about the Grindelwald guy. His slogan was "For the Greater Good." And in the name of that concept, he had committed many terrible crimes.
"That's fiction!" her internal voice snapped.
"Flatten the curve!"
"Caring about others!"
"We're in a pandemic!"
"Lying xenophobic racist bigot deplorable white-supremacist far-right extremist Russian collusion Mango Mussolini fascist no justice no peace black lives matter asymptomatic carrier"
Everything from the past year was now racing through her mind, and she was powerless to stop it.
The words all blended together into one indistinguishable mass.
Eventually, the lights came back on.
A week later, Taylor got tested again. She got tested 3 more times after that - all saying positive.
Months went by.
Late one night, she heard a sudden commotion coming from the hallway. People were running down the corridor, shouting, and banging doors. Suddenly, her own door swung open, and there, standing in front of her, was...
He had an enormous, terrifying AR-15 assault rifle, with an American flag hanging from the barrel. His shirt was a "Don't Tread On Me" picture. Across his face was a Confederate flag bandana.
"Git yer shit n' lets GO, slowpoke!" he shouted at her.
She heard several other doors being opened, and several other... men... shouting similar commands... or invitations... or whatever they were...
"Well do you want yer freedom or not?" he asked her.
She stared at him, wondering what to do.