Tennet casually glanced at another page on his clipboard and said, “All right, John, I think we’re in good shape here. What we’re going to do is observe you overnight—standard procedure, don’t read anything into it—and tomorrow morning we’ll do this all again, so we can cross-check the results. Between now and then I want you to really mull this over: if you were carrying the parasite right now, how would you know?”
John didn’t answer. Tennet stood, pulled the clips from John’s fingers and as a good-bye, said, “You are now aware that your lower jaw has weight, and that it requires effort for you to hold it up. Good evening.”
7 Hours Until the Massacre at Ffirth Asylum
Amy was in the Zombie Response Squad’s headquarters, aka an old RV Josh inherited from his parents. Parents who Amy suspected were fairly rich. One wall featured a rack of five guns that Amy had never seen outside of an action movie or video game. Josh insisted on showing them all to her, and the footlocker of bullets and shotgun shells they had stockpiled. She nodded and tried to act impressed but she had no idea what she was looking at. The guns all looked like they would knock her over if she tried to shoot one. Josh insisted this wasn’t the case and that he would show her how to shoot if she wanted. He asked her if she wanted anything to drink or to eat or, you know, anything else because he was there for her. Massages, boob inspections, whatever.
Amy couldn’t get John on the phone but at this point she expected that and, to be honest, hated his guts for it. Josh was on his laptop now, showing her a map of Undisclosed that somebody was updating with zombie sightings. There was a big red blob in one corner and Amy asked if that meant there were a lot of zombies there or if there was just one flamboyant zombie who was really easy to see.
“Uh, that’s the hospital there, they’ve fenced it off and used it as a quarantine. They’ve got the place built up like a supermax prison now, but it got so bad that not even the CDC staff could stay inside it. Now, it’s a dumping ground. When somebody in town turns up infected they move them there, behind the fences. So that area is pretty much one hundred percent infected, because if you’re not but they stick you in there anyway, well, how long are you going to last?”
“But they don’t know for sure who’s infected and who’s not?”
“So if your neighbor or whatever calls them and says they suspect you are infected, you get dumped into that camp or whatever. Which is full of hundreds of people who are infected and have turned into monsters and stuff.”
“That’s what we’re hearing, yes.”
“Oh, wow, that’s like the worst thing I’ve ever heard.”
“That’s what I was saying at the meeting. If you’re the government, and your job is to make sure this thing doesn’t spread, and once you’ve finished sweeping the town and have everybody who might be infected all in this big red blotch here, and you know for a fact that they can’t be cured, what do you do with the red blotch? I’m thinking one MOAB would do it. Fuel-air bomb that will cook everything within a square mile to four thousand degrees.”
“I bet the guy who invented that had a really weird relationship with his mother.”
“Do we know when they plan to do it?”
“I checked the list on their Web site, David wasn’t on there at all. What do you think that means?”
“I think it means that keeping people informed isn’t their top priority. Look at this.”
Amy leaned over Josh’s shoulder and watched a black-and-white video clip play out. It didn’t look like anything. Some dark squares and tiny dots. At the center were white crosshairs, and some numbers were ticking off in the corners.
“It’s aerial video. A military pilot leaked it, I think it’s a gun camera. This big dark bunch of rectangles here, that’s the hospital. If they zoomed out, you’d see the REPER HQ buildings to the upper left, but it’s offscreen on this view. See this? You can sort of see the fencing and stuff around the edge of the quarantine. He’ll zoom in in a second, to get a view of the yard…”
The shot blinked in as the pilot upped the magnification. Much clearer now—Amy could make out the dots as people, and make out the shapes outside the fence as tents and trucks.
It zoomed in again. Now she could see the people in some detail, enough to tell the difference between someone sitting and standing, and when someone raised their hand to their mouth to smoke or eat something.
She said, “Wait, that’s inside the fence? Those are the infected monster zombies? They’re just standing around. They look like people.”
“No. See this blotch here? That white part in the middle, that’s heat. Fire. See all this stuff jutting out on all sides? Look close. Those are bodies. Skeletons, of uninfected victims they’ve killed. They seem to be burning them in some kind of primitive ritual—”
“That’s David! I see him!”
“Are … are you sure? At this resolution I couldn’t even tell you which ones are women and which are—”
“Oh my god, he’s right there. Oh my god. I have to tell John.”
Josh was still protesting, but Amy could have read David’s body language from outer space. He was staring at the fence, with his arms folded, and he was really really mad.
She said, “We have to get him out of there. Tonight. Or tomorrow morning. How soon can we get down there?”
“Amy … even if we wanted to risk a breach of the quarantine, do you want me to point out all of the military vehicles surrounding that place? Plus whatever aircraft this video came from? You heard me say it’s a gun camera, right?”
“Then I’ll go myself. That’s what I was trying to do, get them to take me to that place. That’s what I was doing and you stopped me and now I’m here and David is there and they’re going to heat it to four thousand degrees.”
“Amy … if that’s really him, and he’s in there with those … things, then it might not really be him anymore. In fact, it almost certainly isn’t.”
“Uh huh. So how soon can we be down there?”
6 Hours Until the Massacre at Ffirth Asylum
TJ claimed it was around 9 P.M., which he said he could tell by looking at the moon. That sounded like bullshit but it didn’t feel like he was off by much. He and Hope were in my room, the latter heating a coffeepot full of water over a Sterno can. She said, “The last bunch of supplies had boxes of macaroni and cheese but we don’t have enough heat to boil the water that long. You know it never occurred to me until now how much energy it takes to heat water. I mean, I’ve had science classes and I understand that’s why they use water to put out fires. But like when you’re at home you don’t think about it. You run a hot shower or let hot water run in the sink while you brush your teeth and you don’t realize that somewhere down the line it took like several pounds of coal to make enough electricity to heat it. We are soooo wasteful.”
TJ said, “Goddamnit, Hope, why did you have to mention hot showers? You wagin’ a psychological torture campaign against me tonight. Don’t know what I did to offend you.”
She dipped her finger in the water. “Okay, we got two flavors of Ramen and they both taste exactly the same.”
There was a moment soon after that, as we sat around the room eating noodles out of coffee cups, hearing muffled conversation from the hall, when everything seemed normal again. We could have been camping. I felt a strange sense of calm and realized what I was feeling was the release of responsibility. Nobody expected me to be at work the next day. Nobody was trying to call me. I had no e-mail to check. Ghost enthusiasts weren’t stalking me on Facebook. Our responsibilities were stripped down to the bare biological basics: thirst, hunger, cold. All at once I could see why lifelong convicts got to where they couldn’t function outside of prison walls. You’re almost functioning more at a level for which the human brain was intended.
I asked TJ, “What’s the deal with the colors? The red and green? How’d we wind up on teams?”
“Well, that’s the thing. Nobody knows. Everybody went through decontamination and when you stepped out of the chemical shower you were handed coveralls. Half got red, half got green. They didn’t tell us nothin’ or put us in different sections. Just, ‘here, put this shit on.’ But it don’t take Dr. House to figure out that the reds are way more likely to spider out. Carlos was a red, Sal was a red. Danny, Marcus, that fat Muslim dude. It’s not a hundred percent but it’s not within margin of error, either. Red means ‘high risk’, seems pretty common sense. Everybody figured it out before anybody said it out loud. The colors started separatin’ to themselves. As colors tend to do.”
“Owen has the only gun?”
“Yep. Until somebody finds another. Owen has appointed himself the de facto President of the Quarantine based on the fact that he happened to find a sidearm that got left behind in the melee. Lot of human history works like that.”
We had boarded up the broken window, but could still hear the bonfire crackling down in the yard. TJ continued, “The lobby and the bit of yard outside the lobby, that whole patio area, that’s shared territory. The second floor, that’s where the hospital still functions as a hospital. The doc and two nurses got left behind, they’re treatin’ the sick. The regular sick, you know. People keep cuttin’ themselves on broken glass, about a dozen people got them nasty shits that’s goin’ around. You ever talk to the doc, by the way? Since you been back?”
“No. Tomorrow.” I had a thing about doctors, for a very good reason.
TJ continued, “So, then the third and fourth floors are all red territory. We’re here on the fifth and up, those are the green floors. The two sides, we don’t shoot each other on sight but it gets tense, as you saw. And you can tell which side has the gun, by who got the lower floors.”