“Even when we’re lying to them?”
His silence was all the answer I needed.
“Please sit,” said the man from the CDC.
Grudgingly, I sat. The others did the same. Only the man from the CDC remained standing.
“The first thing you need to understand is that the KA virus, being manmade, bonds tightly to anything it encounters,” he began, in the sort of easy, lecturing tone that all doctors seem to learn in medical school. Ignoring the tension in the room, he produced a remote from his pocket and pointed it at the nearest screen. The Kellis-Amberlee model displayed there began to rotate. “This tendency created the hybridized virus to begin with. And it is what has complicated our cure for the infection.”
Shaun frowned. “Complicated your search for a cure?”
“No,” said the man from the CDC calmly. “Complicated our cure.” The model was suddenly surrounded by smaller, semi-spherical images that looked something like slides I’d seen of pre-Rising flu virus. They began attacking the larger KA virus, surrounding it before engulfing it entirely. “We’ve managed to create several treatments that work remarkably well, destroying the Kellis-Amberlee infection in nine out of ten afflicted.”
We all stared at him, even Steve. It was Alaric who found his voice first, asking slowly, “Then why haven’t you released it?”
“The Kellis-Amberlee virus has become so entwined with our immune systems that killing it kills them as well. Without a functioning immune system, the cured become targets for every opportunistic infection that comes along. None of our subjects have lasted long.” The image on the screen reset itself, returning to the single Kellis-Amberlee virus, floating serene and undisturbed. “To put it in simpler terms: Kill the virus, kill the population.”
“So why don’t you just tell people that?” demanded Shaun. “We’re not idiots!”
“Try telling Alexander Kellis that people aren’t idiots,” suggested the man from the CDC. “We cannot say ‘there will never be a cure.’ People need hope. The hope that someday, Kellis-Amberlee will be banished, and we will be free to resume the lives that we remember.”
“Why?” asked Alaric. He shook his head slowly. “We can live with the virus. The reservoir conditions are proof of that. We can find a new status quo.”
“One where anyone could become a zombie, anytime, and you don’t dare shoot them because they might—might—recover their senses? This nation barely recovered from the Rising when the lines were clear and infection meant death. I doubt we could hold together as a people if we were told that recovery was an option.” I was starting to hate the absolute calm of the man from the CDC’s delivery. He continued to watch us coolly. “A cure may be impossible, but a solution will be found. A strain of the virus that doesn’t generate anomalous reservoir conditions will be discovered, and will be used to standardize the tragically incurable condition that now informs our society. No one will ever need to know that a cure is not possible. No one will ever need to give up hope.”
“No one except for all the people who would have recovered if you’d just failed to shoot them in the head,” said Shaun. The bitterness in his voice was strong enough to worry me. I put a hand on his arm, praying that would be enough to keep him from doing anything stupid. “The ones who would have gotten better.”
“Sacrifices must be made,” said the man from the CDC.
Something in his tone provided the last piece I needed to fully understand what he was saying. “You want to infect the entire world with the same strain of the virus,” I said slowly.
“You’re going to need a better distribution method if you’re planning to accomplish that. You can’t be sure of everyone getting exposed the natural way.”
For the first time, he looked uncomfortable. Alaric, meanwhile, was staring at him, mouth actually falling slightly open in shock.
Finally, Alaric said, in a hushed tone, “You built the mosquitoes?”
“ ‘Built’ is a strong word—” began Rick.
“They were never intended to reach the American mainland,” said President Ryman.
I had heard that man speak with conviction a hundred times on the campaign trail; I had heard him make promises he damn well intended to keep. I had never heard him deliver a party line with that little sincerity. He wasn’t lying. He might as well have been. “What happened?” I asked. “Was there a leak?”
“No,” said Shaun, before anyone else could speak. “They let them go. They wanted to bury the news cycle, keep what happened in Memphis from getting out. Isn’t that right?”
“The storm was an unexpected complication,” said the man from the CDC. “The carrier mosquitoes were never intended to make it out of Cuba.”
I was busy holding Shaun’s arm, keeping him from doing anything we might regret later. I didn’t think to grab Alaric. Neither did Becks. Before any of us had a chance to react, the normally nonviolent Newsie was launching himself at the man from the CDC, locking his hands around the taller man’s throat and slamming him into the wall. The crystal display screen shook dangerously, but didn’t fall.
“YOUR COMPLICATION KILLED MY PARENTS!” shouted Alaric, slamming the man from the CDC against the wall again. No one moved to pull them apart. “THEY WERE IN FLORIDA! YOU KILLED MY FAMILY TO BURY A NEWS CYCLE, BECAUSE YOU COULDN’T READ A FUCKING WEATHER REPORT!”
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