If only half the people showing up as potential Kellis cure infections were sick with this sickness that wasn’t a sickness at all, then that meant that this stuff was spreading like wildfire and there was no way they could stop it. If they put out a health advisory recommending people avoid close contact with anyone who looked excessively healthy, they’d have “cure parties” springing up nationwide. It was the only possible result. Before the chicken pox vaccine was commonly available, parents used to have chicken pox parties, choosing sickness now to guarantee health later. They’d do it again. And then, if the Kellis cure had a second stage—something that would have shown up in the human trials Alexander Kellis never had the opportunity to conduct—they would be in for a world of trouble.
Assuming, of course, that they weren’t already.
“Still think we shouldn’t be too worried about a pandemic that just makes everybody well?”
“William.” Chris raised his head, giving a half-ashamed shrug as he said, “I didn’t hear you come in.”
“You were pretty engrossed in those papers. Are those the updated maps of the projected spread?”
“They are.” Chris chuckled mirthlessly. “You’ll be happy to know that our last North American holdouts have succumbed to the mysterious good health that’s been going around. We have infection patterns in Newfoundland and Alaska. In both cases, I was able to find records showing that the pattern manifested shortly after someone from another of the suspected infection zones came to town. It’s spreading. If it’s not already everywhere in the world, it will be soon.”
“Have there been any reported symptoms? Anything that might point to a mutation?” William Matras filled his mug from the half-full coffeepot sitting on the department hot plate, grimacing at the taste even as he kept on drinking. It was bitter but strong. That was what he needed to get through this catastrophe.
“I was wondering when you’d get to asking about the bad part.”
“There was a good part?”
Chris ignored him, shuffling through the papers on his desk until he found a red folder. Flipping it open, he read, “Sudden increased salivation in the trial subjects for the McKenzie-Beatts TB treatment. That was the one using genetically modified yellow fever? Three deaths in a modified malaria test group. We’re still waiting for the last body to arrive, but in the two we have, it looks like their man-made malaria suddenly started attacking their red blood cells. Wiped them out faster than their bone marrow could rebuild them.”
“The Kellis cure doesn’t play nicely with the other children,” observed William.
“No, it doesn’t.” Chris looked up, expression grim. “The rest of these are dealing with subjects from the Colorado cancer trials. The ones that used the live version of the modified Marburg virus. They’re expressing the same symptoms as everyone else…but their families are starting to show signs of the Marburg variant. Somehow, interaction with the Kellis cure is teaching it how to spread. That, or it was already spreading on a subclinical level, and now the Kellis cure is waking it up.”
William stared at him, coffee forgotten. “Oh, Jesus.”
“I’m pretty sure he’s not listening, but you can call him if it makes you feel better,” said Chris. He handed his colleague the folder and the two of them turned back to their work. They were trying to prevent the inevitable. They both knew that. But that didn’t mean they didn’t have to try.
* * *
Effective immediately, all human clinical trials utilizing live strains of any genetically modified virus have been suspended. All records and patient lists for these trials must be submitted to the CDC office in Atlanta, Georgia, by noon EST on July 10th. Failure to comply may result in federal charges…
July 10, 2014: Reston, Virginia
The sound of the front door slamming brought Alexander Kellis out of his light doze. He’d managed to drift off on the couch while he was waiting for John to come home with dinner—the first time he’d slept in days. His first feeling, once the disorientation passed, was irritation. Couldn’t John be a little more careful? Didn’t he know how exhausted he was?
Then he realized that he wasn’t hearing any footsteps. Annoyance faded into concern. “John?” Alex stood, nudging his glasses back into place as he started, warily, toward the foyer.
Jonathan and Alexander Kellis lived in a sprawling house that was really too big for just the two of them, something they’d been intending to fix once Alex’s research paid off and early retirement became a viable option. Neither of them really wanted to have children without knowing that one parent, at the very least, would be able to be home for the first few years—and whether they adopted or found a surrogate, they’d always known that one day, they’d fill that empty house with children.
At the moment, however, all that filled the house was silence. And the silence was somehow terrifying. “John?” he repeated, and stepped into the darkened foyer, fumbling for the light switch with one hand. He found it and clicked it on, illuminating the room…and then he froze, eyes going wide, mouth going dry as he tried to process what he was seeing.
How John had managed to make it into the house under his own power was a mystery that might never be solved. Into the house, and no farther. He was collapsed across the hardwood floor, limp and boneless. A smear of blood on the wall showed where he had tried to grab hold as he was falling.