a novella by benjamin kerstein

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Patient Zero had disappeared from the public stage following his initial brush with fame. Under the spotlight he had always emphasized his desire to embrace the miracle of normalcy. His celebrity was a temporary state of affairs, undertaken in the cause of Valintism. Soon to be abandoned once the new revelation had taken hold.

He was true to his word. After a year of whirlwind publicity and worldwide fascination, he vanished.

He did not vanish. He vanished in the historical sense. He dropped out. He became a normal American citizen. He married Julia Menken, founder and president of his fan club, and took up residence in a northern New Jersey suburb. He went to night school, where he excelled, and received a degree in business administration. He was licensed as a CPA. He and his new wife eventually had two children. A boy named Derek and a girl named Valint. She was mercifully referred to as Val. The young family bought a two story house on a tree lined street in a town of identical two story houses and tree lined streets. He worked for the local bank. Julia became a homemaker who dabbled in real estate. The children went to public school. They owned a German shepherd. The occasional request for a follow up interview was always turned down. Nothing disturbed Patient Zero’s normality. Perhaps the most hard-earned normality in human history.

The police were called at 7:55 am on Tuesday, December 12. As is normally the case, the neighbors complained of an unpleasant smell.

They found the door unlocked and the front parlor deserted. Patient Zero was discovered sitting on his living room sofa watching daytime television. The German shepherd lay next to him. Its head lay on a frying pan in the kitchen. White neck bones were visible through the ragged flesh.

Julia was also in the kitchen. Her skull was shattered on the left side by several blows from a blunt object. The blunt object was an aluminum bat. It was resting against the stove. It was streaked with blood and white matter. On which a cloud of flies were feeding.

Derek was upstairs in his bed. The blanket and been pulled down and the boy’s chest ripped open. Apparently with bare hands. The heart had been removed. It was never found. The police concluded that his father had ingested the organ.

Valint was in the bathroom. She had been drowned in six inches of water in the bathtub. Except for the inevitable bloating and discoloration her body was undamaged.

The murderer himself was singularly disturbing. He denied nothing. He answered all questions with impressive precision. As he did so, the true horror began to reveal itself.

Pateient Zero had never graduated night school, despite his obvious intelligence. His CPA license was acquired through forged papers and hacking into the municipal computer system. In the days following his arrest, the bank where he worked began to untangle the astoundingly complicated web of thievery and embezzlement woven by their star employee over the course of half a decade. The sum of 3.5 million dollars was eventually recovered. Investigators estimated that this likely amounted to less than one third of the actual amount. The remainder was secreted in anonymous and perpetually dormant bank accounts, collecting eternal interest in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.

There was more. The two story house on the tree lined street was triple mortgaged under five different names. His children’s college funds had been siphoned off. His wife’s stock portfolio was in his own name and that of several aliases. All of them anagrams of Derek Valint. His entire family had been the engine of a massive fraud.

The money did not go unspent. There were frequent calls from his cell phone to a five thousand dollar a night escort service. Generally, between three and five girls were ordered at any one time. His body showed signs of a regular and massive intake of cocaine and barbiturates. His frequent “business trips” to the Far East were high priced sex tours. Generally geared towards the traffic in extremely underage girls.

This discovery led the case to its hideous climax. With the aid of Interpol and the FBI, police began to draw unavoidable connections between Patient Zero’s frequent travels and a serious of unsolved murders of young prostitutes in Thailand and Burma. All of them under the age of sixteen. Two of them were eleven years old. All had been battered to death. Their chests had been ripped open. Internal organs were often missing. In three cases, the heads had been removed and placed in a frying pan on the kitchen stove.

The modus operandi was the deciding factor. The conclusion was clear: Patient Zero was a homicidal psychopath. And had been for a very long time.

Implications were no longer. They had arrived at the absolute of murder.

Initially, it was believed that Patient Zero had simply reverted to his previous state of derangement. Doubts were almost immediately raised. An historical examination of his case revealed that Patient Zero had never displayed homicidal tendencies despite his intense schizophrenia. His only violent actions had been self-directed. The team of police psychiatrists who examined him following his arrest discounted the possibility of regression. Patient Zero was pathological in the extreme, but he showed no signs of dissociation. In fact, they had never seen a more integrated personality.

The full magnitude of what had occurred became clear only with Doctor Valint’s testimony at the trial. Patient Zero’s lawyer had decided, despite his client’s objections, to plead temporary insanity. This would be the first time that the terms “precipice moment” and “auto-personal deconstruction” were heard by the general public.

Contrary to the myths that continue to surround the incident, Doctor Valint did not dissent from the official diagnosis. Patient Zero was certainly an extraordinarily integrated personality. But he was very far from normal. He displayed extremes of behavior which could only be described as unique in their configuration and integration. These included a near total disregard for personal danger. A total lack of compassion for and identification which his fellow human beings. A startlingly rapid capacity for analytical thought. An almost total lack of such elementary emotions as sadness, joy, or anger. And, of course, a propensity for sudden and exceptionally brutal acts of spontaneous violence. His primary reaction to his surroundings was a studied indifference leaning towards outright contempt.

Neither the court nor the millions watching the live satellite and internet broadcasts were shocked by this testimony.

It was Valint’s second day on the stand that set off the explosion. Despite the fact that some of the Doctor’s more devoted disciples pointed out, after the fact and with the benefit of hindsight, but nonetheless correctly, that there had been numerous anticipations of Doctor Valint’s statements in his earlier work.

The Doctor testified the following: Patient Zero was no longer completely human. Biologically he remained the same. His genetic structure could not be differentiated from that of normal human beings. Nonetheless, asserted the Doctor, the subject was something else entirely. Something for which we did not yet have a name.

If the historical dialectic proposed by Valintism was correct, and humanity had defined itself through its terror of death, then our civilization, including our spoken and unspoken moral laws, all drew their origin from this initial realization of mortality and its concomitant angst.

Patient Zero’s existence had an entirely different and unique origin. It was L61938. The previous basis could have no meaning for him.

Death was not an unknown and unknowable phenomenon for Patient Zero. He had experienced it personally. Thus, non-existence had become an inalienable part of his personal history. Existence and non-existence had integrated themselves in the psyche of Patient Zero. A phenomenon previously unknown in human history.

The result was an infantile state. The total breakdown and reconstitution of the personality. Valint referred to the phenomenon with the term “auto-personal deconstruction”. This process began with the initial return from the effects of L61938 and reached its climax with a “precipice moment”, at which the entirety of the subjects socially and historically determined attributes collapsed entirely as a result of his alienation from their origin. The result was the annihilation of the personality and its total alienation from normal human society.

Patient Zero had committed his crime precisely at this precipice moment.

Doctor Valint freely admitted that the next stage of the process, “auto-personal reconstruction”, was mostly theoretical at the present moment. It was simply unprecedented and therefore unknown. There was only one subject to examine, and he was currently at the mercy of the court. However, if the dialectic of Valintism proved correct, as it had thus far, the newly reconstructing personality could well be the most fully reconciled psyche that had ever existed. Freed of the traumatic fear of mortality, existing in harmony with existence and non-existence, neurosis and pathology would be completely alien phenomena. Angst would become an antiquated theory. The possibilities could only be guessed at. But there was no doubt that they would be spectacular.

Patient Zero was not a maniac. He was the sanest human being who had ever existed. He was not a monster. He was a harbinger. The first fruit of the new human era predicted by Valintism. He was proof of Valintism’s psycho-historical dialectic. The entire human race would eventually undergo the metamorphosis Patient Zero had already begun. The question, Doctor Valint proclaimed before the astonished faces, was not whether we looked into the abyss or the abyss looked into us, but what we were going to do on the other side.

The outcry was indescribable in its size and virulence. Within two weeks of the testimony Times-Newsweek, ltd. Published a special issue featuring a glossy photograph of Doctor Valint’s smiling visage underneath the words, “The Mad Doctor: A Post-Modern Frankenstein?” Religious leaders who had held their peace while the growth of Valintism appeared unstoppable saw their opportunity. The Pope issued an official denunciation of Valintism and publicly called for an international ban on all research involving L61938. Reverend Everett Clawthorn of the Southern Baptist Coalition preached a sermon in Atlanta before a crowd of fifty thousand in which he denounced Valintism as “a sickening affront to God and a moral depravity akin to atheism and Nazism.” Secular humanists denounced Valintism’s amorality. The American Atheists Association called Valint’s testimony “an atrocity that has no connection whatsoever to secular humanist morality.” The anti-Valintists suddenly found themselves on the same lecture circuits, television talk shows, and bestseller lists that had been previously dominated by their nemesis. Baumgartner himself published a hastily assembled collection of lectures and interviews entitled “Valintism and the Cult of Scientific Murder”. It became an instant bestseller. Traffic on his personal website jumped by a factor of seven thousand. It was redesigned and relaunched within two weeks as the homepage of the newly founded Anti-Valintist Society. Within a month, the president himself felt compelled to announce that he had signed an executive order requesting the formation of a congressional subcommittee to investigate Valint and his research. The NIH was ordered to suspend all funds earmarked for L61936 studies. Doctor Valint was suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigation.

But Doctor Valint had already handed in his resignation.

The only thing more striking than Doctor Valint’s embrace of his fame was his abandonment of it. He simply disappeared. The gates of the Maryland compound were locked. Guards and security cameras manned the perimeter. All requests for interviews and official statements were refused. None were issued. The remaining faithful followed suit. The total silence emanating from the Valintists only intensified the ferocity of the attacks against them. The anti-Valintists now dominated all discourse on the subject. Doctor Valint was on his way to becoming the hated man in America, if not the world.

Then the Schism came. And it was as if nothing that came before it had ever happened.

Patient Zero was sentenced to death for twenty-one counts of murder in the first degree and three in the second degree. It was ruled that the death of his family was likely not fully premeditated. However, intense interest in his case on the part of several anonymous government agencies, including, it was rumored, the White House itself, and the extreme likelihood that he would be called as a witness before the congressional subcommittee on Valintism, resulted in him being remanded to the perpetual custody of United States Federal Marshals at Fort Leavenworth pending the outcome of various inquiries.

Leavenworth was destroyed in a missile barrage during the border campaigns. Like thousands of others, Patient Zero was listed as missing, presumed dead. Rumors persist to this day that he survived, and remained secretly in the custody of his creator, who continued his experiments into synthetic death. No evidence of this has thus far been discovered. Of the fate of Patient Zero only one thing is certain.

He was never heard from again.

About Me

My photo
Benjamin Kerstein is an Israeli-American writer, editor, and novelist.

Michael J. Totten, the prize-winning author of The Road to Fatima Gate, has called him "one of the finest American-Israeli authors of his generation."

Jay Nordlinger of the National Review has referred to his work as "some of the most intelligent, clearest, most honest writing I have read in a long time."

He lives in Tel Aviv.

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