“Good question,” said Dr. Abbey. “Now, as I was saying, if we know what species the mosquitoes are derived from, we’ll know what temperature range they can tolerate. If we’re looking at Aedes aegypti—the mosquito responsible for the American yellow fever outbreaks—then we’re dealing with a mosquito confined to warm climates. Like so.” She pressed another button. The image progressed, printing an orange zone on top of the red. “That’s the maximum projected range for Aedes aegypti. They won’t be able to get a foothold on the colder parts of the country, although it’s doubtful we’ll be cleaning them out of the Gulf Coast anytime soon.”
“What are our other options?” asked Mahir.
“We have about a dozen possible candidates, although some are more likely than others. If you want to see the doomsday option, look no farther than Aedes albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito. It’s been nominated for the title of ‘most invasive species in the world,’ in part because the damn thing can survive anywhere. It sets up housekeeping, and that’s the end of that. Reach for your bug spray and kiss your ass good-bye.” Dr. Abbey clicked her remote again. The image pulled back, showing the entire continental United States. A third band of color appeared around the first two. This one was yellow, and extended almost all the way to the Canadian border. “Good night, North America. Thank you for playing.”
“Isn’t there anything we can do?” asked Maggie.
Becks leaned forward in her seat. “I have a better question. Why are you telling us this? We already knew things were bad. You could have just given us a written report.”
“Because I wanted you to understand exactly how bad things are out there.” Dr. Abbey pressed a different button. The map was replaced by a slideshow of pictures out of the flooded streets of Florida—still flooded, for the most part, even this long after the storm, because no one had been able to get past the ranks of the infected long enough to clear out the drains.
Mobs of blank-eyed, bloody-lipped zombies waded through the dirty water, their arms raised in instinctive fury as they closed ranks on the rare remaining uninfected humans. Their numbers were great enough that they clearly weren’t trying to infect anymore; they had the critical mass the virus always seemed to be striving for. There was nothing left of the people they’d been before the storm touched down. All that remained was a single, undeniable command: feed.
Maggie gasped as a still picture of a young boy with his abdomen ripped completely open flashed across the screen. She twisted and buried her face against Alaric’s shoulder. He raised one hand to stroke her hair, his own eyes never leaving the screen.
This is horrific, said George.
“Yeah,” I whispered. “It is.”
We knew how bad things were—there was no way we could avoid knowing—but the government had been doing a surprisingly good job of suppressing images from the infection zones. Something about the way journalists who tried to sneak into the cordoned areas kept winding up infected, shot, or both was doing a lot to discourage the curious. Most of the pictures that made it out were fuzzy things, shot from a distance or using cameras attached to remote-controlled drones. These pictures weren’t fuzzy. These pictures were crystal clear, and the story they told was brutal.
“Where did you get these?” asked Mahir. He seemed to remember that he should be descending the stairs. He trotted quickly down the last few tiers, settling at the end of our row.
“I have my sources,” said Dr. Abbey. “Most of these were taken in the last week. Since then, the body count has continued rising. We’re looking at a death toll in the millions.”
“I heard a rumor that the government is going to declare Florida officially lost,” said Becks.
“It’s not a rumor. They’re making the announcement next week.” Dr. Abbey pressed another button. The still pictures were replaced with a video, clearly shot by someone with a back-mounted camera as they were running for their life. A mob of infected pursued the unseen filmmaker down the flooded, debris-choked street, and they were gaining. Maggie glanced up, hearing the change in the room. As soon as she saw the screen, she moaned again, and pressed her face back into Alaric’s shoulder.
“They can’t do that,” said Becks.
Yes, they can, said George.
“Yes, they can,” I said. The others looked at me, even Maggie, who raised her head and stared at me with wounded, shell-shocked eyes. “Alaska. Remember? As long as they can prove they’ve made every effort to preserve the greater civilian population, the government is not only allowed to lock down a hazard zone, they’re required.” Shutting down a state would mean proving they’d done it to save the nation. Somehow, I didn’t think that would be all that hard of a sell. Things were too bad, and people were too frightened.
“We have to go to Florida,” said Alaric abruptly. “We need to get Alisa.” He sat up in his seat, almost dislodging Maggie. “The refugee camp is inside the state borders. When they closed Alaska, they didn’t evacuate all the camps.”
Becks, Maggie, and Alaric started talking at once, all of them raising their voices to be heard. Even George got in on the action, although I wasn’t relaying her comments to the others—yet. If they didn’t settle down quickly, I’d probably start.
Mahir beat me to it. “Quiet!” he roared, standing. He walked over to the rest of us, focusing his attention on Alaric. “I’m sorry, Alaric, but there’s no way. Going into Florida would be suicide.”
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