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Bag Men: Hydra (Book 7)

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Episode 14- Tibet

Silas Jackson

Patient Zero

October 17th, 2025

The Himalayas towered against a deep blue sky — jagged, saw-like peaks, desolate as the wastes of another world. The peaks glowed orange — godly torches in the light of the sunset, sloping downward into craggy gray cliff-faces and chasms full of pooling purple shadows. Banks of mist drifted through the crisp air, like wispy clouds dropped from the atmosphere to settle at the roots of the mountain. There was a stillness there as old as time. And amid all that ancient stillness, a shape cut through the sky far overhead, circling through shadows, catching fire in flashes as it passed through beams of sunlight. It was a golden eagle — soaring over the mountains, sharp eyes probing the foothills and fields below.

As rooted as the Himalayas, a lone man stood on a high ledge, watching the eagle. Swaddled in thick furs, head wrapped in a long, wooly scarf, he stared intently as the massive raptor circled — focused so completely on its movement that an onlooker might think he was controlling it with his will. He was the bird’s trainer. Since he was a boy, he had lived alongside the raptors. The eagles were essential to the way of life of his tribe; they lived among the men, women and children so closely that he had always thought of them as members of the family. His earliest memories included the powerful, pensive presence of the birds woven into the tapestry of everyday life. Sometimes soaring overhead on the hunt, sometimes resting peacefully, hooded with handmade masks of leather, tasseled with colorful yarn; perched on the arms of men wearing huge, thick gauntlets. Gauntlets like the one he now wore.

A boy no longer, he was a hunter. For years and years, he had trained the eagle that soared above him, both their eyes peeled for wolves moving across the icy tundra below. Finally, he saw a speck of movement in the foothills; as one, he and the eagle converged — he, loping over the treacherous ground in a tireless sprint; the eagle, diving down through hundreds of feet of icy air, hurtling towards the wolf as it dashed for the cover of the cliffs. Like a cannonball, the huge golden eagle slammed into the wolf, massive talons shredding hide and sending tufts of fur scattering into the misty air. A sharp yelp cut the silence like a knife; as the eagle pinned the wolf and finished the kill with its razor beak, the yelping trailed off and was drowned again in silence.

The man reached the crater in the snow where the struggle had scattered the dry powder. Holding out his arm, he waited while the eagle flitted up; its weight thudding onto his forearm, powerful claws closing around the thick leather and wood built into his gauntlet to protect him from the hooked talons and crushing strength of the raptor. He stooped, lifting the wolf carcass and slinging it over his shoulder. It was small and thin, not offering much meat — but it would be a meal. Tonight, his family would not go to sleep hungry.

Walking back over the snowy ground, he cut off across the flat field towards the labyrinthine crags and ravines in the roots of the mountains. He would have a long, gradual climb into the foothills before he reached the cluster of yak-skin yurts where his tribe awaited him. He traced his own footsteps through the ravines from a thousand other days.

But this day was unlike any that had come before it. Today, something new caught his eye — glinting several hundred feet above him, embedded in the gray, beetling cliffs far below the last glowing red peaks that caught the final rays of the plummeting sun. What he saw in that cliff face glistened in the weakening light like black glass, as massive as a boulder, but not a boulder — surrounded by shattered rock, bare of snow, as though it had been thrown against the mountain by a giant. It held a strange allure — merely because it was so strange, so utterly unlike anything in that natural vista of stone and snow. Its blackness was too deep, its sheen too glossy. Like deep, cold water, covered by a crust of ice…

When he returned to his tribe, he carried a gift for his wife. A jagged, black piece of strangely glossy stone that was not stone. He had climbed up the beetling cliff, and pried away a fragment of that strange, cracked boulder with his knife. She took the thing and held it to her chest in her hands, dazzled by the strange way the candlelight played upon the obsidian surface…

They had no language for “microbe.” They had no concept, in that circle of yurts, of “virus” or “infection.” But nonetheless, as he broke that gift from the obsidian boulder in his bare hands, as his wife cradled it against her skin, a microbe like the world had never seen came off of that stone, and clung to the microscopic grooves of their epidermis; it passed from their hands with every careless, unconscious wipe of their eyes, mingled with the fluids of their bodies as they ate with their fingers, migrated unstoppably into their bodies and took roost in their innards. It attacked their DNA, it malformed their proteins into poison; it hijacked their cells and made them factories to replicate itself. There was no stopping what had begun in that circle of yurts clinging to the snowy foothills.

December 10th, 2025
Qinghai Province, China

“Ting! Bu´ yao dong`!” The soldiers beside the stalled truck raised their rifles, glaring through the driving snow that swept over the desolate expanse of lowlands surrounded by snowy mountains, southwest of the Gobi Desert. Their voices were lost in the moaning wind, as out of the blinding storm, a line of several dozen human shapes ambled in loose, scattered formation. They moved slowly, but the formation looked hostile. The two soldiers had been focused on their truck, tinkering with the engine after it stalled in the frigid tundra. It was sheer luck that one of them had noticed the approaching line of strangers. They could barely see them in the whiteout at first, but they were more visible now as they continued to approach.
“Bu´ yao dong`! Bu´ yau` jruh` yiaum`!” The soldiers gave one last warning, were ignored, and opened fire. The bright cackle of automatic rifles split the monolithic drone of the storm; bullets whizzed through the driving snow and tore into the tattered shapes. But they did not fall. They did not slow. They ambled forward through the gnat-stings of bullets, not making a sound. The two soldiers exchanged horrified looks, wild panic in their eyes, lips blue in the cold, powder collecting on their brows, on the brims of their caps, and in the wrinkles of their clothes. They kept firing until they emptied their clips into the marauders; they moved to reload, but the things had already reached them. They could finally see the hideous faces, lurching out of the blizzard. They could see the gaping mouths, black bile streaking down their chins, frozen against gray, papery skin; they could see the vacant, milky white eyes, glazed over with ice. They could see the stiff, half-frozen hands reaching out towards them.

The screams were drowned out by the shrieking wind. The red smears across the snow were quickly covered over by new powder, and it wasn’t long before the bodies were interred by advancing drifts. Even the dark, blood-stained shapes of the advancing undead eventually froze solid on their feet. When the battery finally died and the headlamps of the stalled truck flickered out, there was nothing but darkness and howling wind left in those wastes. Until the storm ended and the sun rose…

The undead began to thaw, and, little by little, they shuffled forward again through the snow.

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