CHAPTER 41 – The One-Armed Robot and the Undercover Zombie, by Dulce Garcia

©Filipe Romão, «Passagem para a escuridão da terra», Carvão sobre papel, 56 cm x 76 cm, 2020 /fsromaogmcom

Translated by Kim Olson

Edited by Paul Crick

“This bundle of genetic material wrapped in a protein shell, one one-thousandth the size of an eyelash, exists much like a zombie; it is almost not considered a living organism.”

“Thank goodness I found you.”

Teresa felt the beginnings of a howl in the back of her throat, but almost immediately, like dry fire, the burst of anger died in her mouth without producing a sound. 

It had been a long time since she’d last experienced such wild and intense emotion, clearly disrespectful of the international code of fear, and her body responded to the unwarranted freedom with an increase in adrenaline. 

She figured her audacity was fuelled by the forbidden and highly reprehensible desire to merge her flesh with the silicone and ligaments of the machine. Moreover, a machine she herself had designed. She felt like a young mother breathing in the suddenly eroticised body of her child. In another era, she could be tagged incestuous and even burned alive.   

“What are you doing here? At this hour, in broad daylight … Have you lost your mind?” 

“I need to talk to you.”

“And I need you to leave me alone. I’m tired of talking to zombies, one-armed robots and deferred corpses. The virus doesn’t get to take everything, you know.”

“Teresa … calm down.”

“Not another step further. Stay where you are! It’s time we put an end to this foolishness. I’ve had my suspicions about you for a long time. I’ve watched you, spied on you, dissected your every move. A lot has become clear to me in recent weeks. There is something very wrong with the way you have acted through all of this. You’ve so completely entrenched yourself among us that not even death was able to annihilate you.  Because in fact you’re not actually alive, right?

“Listen …”

“That’s one of your more perfidious traits: you’ve spent the last million years perfecting your ability to survive without really being alive. A zombie in constant mutation, dying and resuscitating before our very eyes. In the form of a minor fever, as inconspicuous as a ghost and more resilient than passion itself, you took over everything. How could I be so stupid? How could I let myself be fooled by your studies and complicated theories, by your sudden disappearances and strange resurrection?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I …”

“But I know who you are. I know now. How could I not have seen it earlier if it was so obvious … you plague-ridden Trojan horse!”

And, grabbing a light green file off the top of the lab bench, she opened it and began to read in a mechanical way, her voice quivering with rage yet also a hint of glee:

“This bundle of genetic material wrapped in a protein shell, one one-thousandth the size of an eyelash, exists much like a zombie; it is almost not considered a living organism. However, upon entering human airway passages, it hijacks cells in order to create millions of replicas. Before its first host even develops symptoms, it is already attacking new victims.”

Ricardo took a step backwards, without, however, appearing surprised. Or changed. On the contrary.

“I think you need to rest. Maria’s death was a shock. And a lack of vitamin D, as we all know, can give rise to mental confusion and even make one susceptible to hallucinations like … “

“Shut up! Haven’t you heard that it’s impossible to fool all of the people, all of the time?”

And shoving the file towards Ricardo, she forced him to pick it up, insisting:

“Start at the third paragraph. Read!”

“Outside the host, the virus remains dormant, without any form of metabolism, movement or reproductive ability. When it finds a host, it uses the host’s surface proteins to unlock and invade its cells. It then takes control of the molecular mechanisms of these cells to produce more virus. It is able to correct errors that occurred during the replication process. And this capacity for mutation helps it adapt to new environments, whether in the intestines of camels or the respiratory tract of humans. Once inside a cell, a single virus can make 10,000 copies of itself in a matter of hours. After just a few days, those infected will carry hundreds of millions of viral particles in each teaspoon of their blood.”

Teresa’s eyes threw off sparks, one second dimming in anger and the next burning with indignation.

“Now I understand how you were able to survive for such a long time, you miserable traitor!” 

And while Ricardo recoiled, with no comeback whatsoever, Reboredo, pale as the machine he had been in the beginning, spluttered from the back of the room

“So, he is the virus …?”

Read the original chapter in Portuguese

Dulce Garcia was born in Alcochete in 1970. She studied Social Communication and was a journalist for 27 years. Between 2017 and 2019, she worked as a publisher and editor of Portuguese fiction for Planeta. Currently, she is a member of the Department of Communications for the Ministry of Justice. In 2017, she published her debut novel, Quando perdes tudo não tens pressa de ir a lado nenhum, which was selected to represent Portugal in the best newcomer category at the Budapest International Book Festival. Her latest book will be published in 2020 (virus allowing).

Kim Olson is a Portuguese and Spanish translator and editor, living in Fairfax, Virginia, outside Washington, DC. She has worked for over thirty years as a freelancer, specialising in international development, education and science journalism. Early on, she spent several years in Rio de Janeiro where she earned a degree in translation from the Pontifical Catholic University. She has spent the past few years dipping her toes into the pond of literary translation, which she finds to be quite delicious.  

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