Josh said, “Okay, very quickly. Here’s what we know. For some of you this will be repeat information, just bear with me here.”
A blue slide appeared, with white writing in Comic Sans font. It said, ORIGINS?
“We don’t know where the infection originated from. We may never know. Since it behaves in a way that’s different from anything known to science, I prefer to think it’s man-made. In fact, I also happen to think that the pathogen was specifically engineered to ‘zombify’ the victims, for the psychological impact. Humans have been scared of walking dead since hunter-gatherer days. Zombies are burned into our genetic memory. I was just reading about that in a book. Fredo…”
Next slide. This one had a line graph, starting at zero and spiking rapidly upward. The left-to-right axis was ticking off the days since the outbreak.
“OGZA estimates are that the infection rate within the borders of [Undisclosed] was at twenty percent as of last Wednesday. It exceeded fifty percent yesterday, and will be at ninety to one hundred percent within forty-eight hours.”
Gasps from the crowd. Amy thought, that couldn’t be true, could it? And who was OGZA?
Fredo hit the next slide. It said, WHO IS OGZA?
“For those of you who haven’t been to previous meetings and who have been following this story in the mainstream press, let me quickly fill you in. A group of resistance fighters have formed inside town, gathering supplies and scouting secure locations where they can hole up as the situation deteriorates. They call themselves Outbeak Ground Zero Alpha.”
He brought up his final slide, which said, SO WHAT ABOUT THE GOVERNMENT?
“One final point I want to make, and I leave this for last because it’s what you need to keep with you when you watch TV tonight. An anonymous source within the government has leaked a series of e-mails between the Centers for Disease Control and the task force for Rapid Exotic Pathogen Eradication slash Research, outlining what they call Operation Leppard. From these e-mails we know that REPER determined within forty-eight hours of the outbreak—based on autopsies of infected dead—that the physiological changes caused by the infection are radical … and irreversible.”
Another “let that sink in” pause from Josh.
“Even if they could kill off the agent of the change—the bacteria, virus, parasite or whatever it is—the subject’s entire nervous system is no longer recognizable as human. There is nothing to be done for the infected. From there they have made the logical conclusion that quarantine is not separating the infected so that they may be isolated and cured. They are being separated—and concentrated in one location—so that they can be wiped out in one step. Just like amputating an infected limb.”
He let that sink, too.
“And our goal, as of now, is to do whatever we can to help them accomplish this.”
The room erupted in cheers.
8 Hours Until the Massacre at Ffirth Asylum
John found himself packed into the most depressing room he’d ever been in—and in Undisclosed, that was really saying something. It was a gymnasium in the depressing old Ffirth TB asylum, a building that had been old, abandoned and almost certainly haunted since his father was a kid. Inside, the place was even more of a rotting, mildewing shithole than out. The long boards in the old gym floor had warped and curled up over time, creating a rippling floor that, if painted blue, would look like the surface of the ocean on a windy day.
He didn’t see Amy there but he wouldn’t have even if she were—there were partitions with curtains set up to divide the gym into dozens of little rooms containing cots. Teams of guys in those spooky Darth Vader space suits were rolling a cart from one “room” to the next, taking blood samples from everyone. John wondered what exactly they were checking for. He wondered what his blood-alcohol level was.
John’s hands were still bound behind him. Everybody else was getting a standard checklist read off a clipboard (“Are you having hallucinations? Any unexplained urges or mood swings? Are you experiencing any unusual sores or lesions in the mouth area?”) but they came back to his cot twice after his interview, asking him his name, asking how he knew Dave and Amy, and so on. Finally they asked him if he knew Amy’s whereabouts, and John felt a Gatorade bucket of relief get dumped over his head.
They don’t have her.
On the fourth visit, they brought a white space suit that contained a smiling, gray-haired guy who John instantly disliked.
“Hello there, John. I’m Dr. Bob Tennet. How are we today?”
“I know you somehow…”
“I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure of meeting, but I know your friend David.”
“Right, right, you’re his crossbow therapist.”
Tennet grabbed a rolling office chair and dragged it over. He sat on it backward, straddling it so that he could cross his arms over the back in a casual, folksy way, which looked absurd in his huge, bulky hazardous-materials suit. He pulled out a device with a series of clips dangling at the end of thin wires.
“Your left hand, please.”
Tennet clipped the five clips to John’s fingers. At the other end of the wires was a box with a small screen. Tennet punched in some settings. Was this thing going to give him a manicure?
“Now please answer the following questions honestly. They might seem odd to you, but reading your reaction will give us vital insight into your condition.”
John said, “Whatever. Wait, you said ‘know’ David, present tense. Is Dave still … around?”
“We’ll explore that in a moment. As you can imagine, John, we’re working just as hard as we can to give a clean bill of health to the people who don’t need our help so we can devote as much time and attention as we can to the ones who do.”
“And by help, you mean throwing them behind that goddamned prison camp you’ve built next door?”
“You feel what we’re doing here is unethical.”
“Is that … some kind of a joke? You can’t tell me the government knows what’s really happening here. We have … rights and shit.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Why do I say there is such a thing as human rights? Wait, what is all this? Who are you?”
“You understand the irony of you asking that question, when my entire role here is figuring out who—or what—you are. You and the rest of the patients in this facility.”
“We have rights either way.”
“But you may no longer be human.”
“Jesus Christ. Look at me. You know damned well there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m sitting here having a rational conversation with you. In English.”
“There is a species of carnivorous turtle whose tongue has evolved to look exactly like the worms local fish are known to eat. The fish swim right into its mouth, going after the ‘worm’, only to have their heads severed by powerful jaws. If, say, a hypothetical predator of humans had learned to mimic human speech and mannerisms in order to make it a more efficient predator, that would hardly make it human, or guarantee it rights under our Constitution or any common system of morality.”
“Holy shit. The whole world has gone insane out there, hasn’t it? So you just throw everybody in a concentration camp and figure you’ll sort it out later? That’s where things are at?”
“Ah, your friend called the quarantine a prison, but you have elevated it to concentration camp! Your generation does have a flair for the hyperbolic when it comes to describing your own adversity.”
“Wait, so you did talk to David? So he’s alive?”
Tennet looked up from his readout and said, “Let’s explore that. That’ll be a good jumping off point for us. If David were here, but was infected, would he still be David?”
“Say his personality remained exactly the same, but the parasite caused his head to transform so that his face was replaced with the face of a leech, complete with circles of tiny teeth for sucking human blood. Would you still consider him to be your old friend?”
“Are you saying he’s infected, or are you just fucking with me?”
Instead of answering, Tennet studied the screen on the device hooked to John’s fingers and made some notes on his clipboard. “Good. Now let’s say the opposite happened. Say he still looked, spoke and acted like David, but was, in reality, an inhuman predator. How would that make you feel? Please answer.”
“Are you serious?”
“Please, we have a lot of patients to get to.”
“It would make me feel bad.”
Tennet nodded and checked something off of his clipboard.
“Now let’s say that he was not infected, but was sent to quarantine with hundreds of people who are, and that their infection has dissolved the part of their brain capable of making moral decisions. And let’s say that they overpowered David, restrained him, defecated into his mouth and taped his mouth shut with duct tape, and left him there to writhe and slowly swallow feces all week, how would that make you feel?”
“Who are you?”
A check of the screen. A mark on the clipboard. “Almost done. Now, if you had to choose, either to have Amy Sullivan gang-raped by twenty-seven infected males in town over the course of ten days, or to have David’s digestive tract surgically restructured so that his large intestine fed directly into his mouth, which would it be? And please provide support for your answer.”
“You’re fucking crazy.”
Tennet glanced at his clipboard and said, “If you had to choose, and if you were not allowed to see either ahead of time and had no other information to go on, would you rather fight Mindcrow or Gonadulus?”
“This isn’t a government operation, is it?”
“If it wasn’t, tell me how that would make you feel.”
“You’re behind this. All of this. You people released that thing in Dave’s house. You set all this in motion. What’s your real name?”