It was November.
My dad and I were in some place about forty minutes north-east of Enterprise, California; inside the Mendocino Forest. We’d driven nearly three and half hours up the 101 from Treasure Island, where we lived. Then we turned onto some poorly paved road and went further on. The road led us over some hills and past Lake Pillsbury. There were some shops when the road opened up, and followed the lake north. One had a giant, steaming mug of coffee. Against the woods there was a gas station. None of them looked open as we passed. Then there was the gravel airport, which didn’t look well kept. Then more dirt.
One time we went too fast and almost lost control; our truck veering to the right while it felt like the weight was fishtailing off to the left. My dad let out a nervous chuckle and grinned at me. Point taken, it seemed to say. Although I hadn’t said anything; I’d watched quietly from the passenger seat, staring out at the mountains in the distance, and the never-ending horizon.
Being from the Bay Area, I’d gotten used to artificial horizons. But this, this was awesome. I rolled the window down to feel the air. A hot, dry gust of wind shot in. It must be close to a hundred degrees, I thought. I could smell the pine trees and something else, something sweeter I couldn’t place. I stuck my hand out the window.
“What’s that smell,” I asked him.
“You mean the trees?” He said.
“No, the other one,” I told him, “The sweet one.”
My dad pointed his nose in the air and took a whiff. “I don’t know,” He said. “Do you know how far the hospital is from here?”
I pulled the nav. device out of the backpack between my legs and turned it on. I’d put it away for a while because it said we were supposed to go in a straight line until we got there. I didn’t remember how far it said we should go, but what appeared as a little line on the map felt like hours. The machine in my hands lit up and I watched as it loaded our trip.
The Francis E. Seymour Children’s Research Hospital was one of California’s leading research facilities. That’s where my brother was being treated; and he was the whole reason we were there.
We were supposed to be celebrating the end of AIDS. The cure, as far as we knew, was a copy of the HIV virus, rebuilt to destroy the real virus and replicate healthy T-Cells that were specifically designed to repair the damaged DNA in cells already affected by HIV using pure code from stem cells. A man, a doctor named Henry Robertson made this breakthrough; and the FDA rushed to allow him to administer his cure to all of his patients.
This wasn’t entirely experimental now these days. Scientists were beginning to make designer hearts and lungs for patients a little more frequently. But it was still rare. The cost of such an endeavor was extraordinary, and most of these cases were research-related success stories. Doctor Robertson’s research was the single most important advance against the HIV pandemic. And my brother was being treated by him.
We were invited to participate in their special ceremonies the next day, tomorrow. The governor had become intimately involved in all of the happenings around the first injections and probably took this as a great photo-op. The guy even dug into his personal coffers to fund the party. Since the official announcement of the cure, the hospital had been swamped with reporters. We’d even gotten a few calls.
My dad didn’t want to talk to the reporters; and he forbade me to as well. He said our business was our business. He wouldn’t even let Clive be filmed getting the injection. I tried to talk him into at least interviewing. But he would have none of it. So I resigned myself to waiting for the day I’d see my brother again.
Mom thought she got away from the danger when she finally quit shooting, when I was four, and she found out she was pregnant with Clive. But it just didn’t work that way.
Clive’s thirteenth birthday is in a month. Mom died giving birth to him and he has HIV like she did. This was back in the day when doctors thought most babies born with it were doomed to live life in the hours. But Clive was a fighter. In any normal circumstance, I could have blamed Clive for killing my mom on the way out. But this was something she did to herself, to all of us. I still missed her; even though I had more pictures than memories.
I loved my little brother. He was always nice, he always shared. Sure, whatever, he’s my little brother, he gets into my stuff and tries to be me. But I liked that. There was a time I remembered that Clive stayed healthy for a few years. Those days were the best. We did lots of family stuff. But he got sick again.
The rest of the time, Clive was sick, fighting some flu or a cough. Every sniffle or fever seemed cause for concern. The last year and half was the worst, though. We didn’t think he was going to make it. He pretty much lived in the hospital.
The doctors in Oakland didn’t have the expertise to handle him, though. And that’s how he got here. They kept calling Dr. Robertson for advice. So dad eventually decided to put him in The Francis E. Seymour, where he could receive Robertson’s specialized care and expensive advice personally.
They had to airlift him in because the campus was so remote. When I asked why it so far out here, my Dad told me it was therapeutic. But I could tell Dad didn’t really know why, as he searched the endless horizon for the building. Clive had only been there for a few months and he was already making history.
I ran my fingers in the wind, tracing the outlines of all the hills I could see. All the while I was thinking of how life would be with the new Clive.
“What do you think about the vaccines?” I asked.
The governor had agreed to give half a million vaccines and a million cures to Africa.
“With our tax dollars,” Dad noted.
Delegates from the African Union would be there to accept them. And they’d scheduled the ceremony for the day after the cures were administered. That meant tomorrow. We were invited to stay and participate in the ceremony, but dad and I weren’t trying to get on any evening news reports. We just wanted to get Clive back.
Dad said the whole thing was covered in subterfuge. …My dad believed in aliens and ghosts and pretty much applied to any of those whacked out theories he could put some evidence behind. Even Bigfoot. When I asked him about Africa’s vaccines, he snorted.
“Diplomatic positioning,” My dad called it.
This whole event was staged, he told me. Doctor Robertson signed with a major pharmaceutical producer shortly before they announced the cure publicly. Of course, we had known long before then. It was a coincidence that Drug Corp. International already had other DNA treatments ready to be released in combination with a drug like this. Dad stressed the word coincidence. They offered Dr. Robertson an untold sum for the patent. Rumor was the amount was in the billions. But the doctor didn’t seem any different than when we first met him. He did look happier.
When we pulled up to the hospital, the first thing I noticed was the red ground. Even below the grass, in the huge clearing surrounding the hospital, it was blood red. When I looked back at the navigation system, there was a tag that read “Bloody Rock”, right next to the location marker I was surprised the system could even find local information. Our phones had lost signal as soon as we drove over the first ridge. Great, I thought. The hospital was on top of a hill, smack-dab in the middle of no where. But that might be underestimating it.
The Francis E. Seymour was a large, imposing building made of smooth, red brick. On all four sides was a perforated metal façade that curved outwards at the tops and bottoms, with larger square-shaped holes cut for windows, and a larger, rectangular incision made for the cafeteria and its second-to-ground floor ramp. The entrance-way was encased by a large quarter-arch that split at the bottom like a snake’s tongue, with a staircase that led out to the main parking lot. It looked like some modern art monstrosity.
Even though the façade covered most of the roof, I could see the blades of a helicopter peeking out over the edge, and what looked a little like the rotor-top, and folded blades of another. These guys are definitely making use of their funding, I thought.