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Something about the haunted tone in Matt’s voice made Stalnaker sit up a little bit straighter. “Do you think it doesn’t work? Can you support that?”

“Oh, it works. Nobody’s had a cold in weeks. We’re the killers of the common cold. Heigh-ho, give somebody a medal.” Matt shook his head, glancing around for exits one more time. “But he didn’t finish testing it. Man, we created an invasive species that can live inside our bodies. Remember when all those pythons got into the Everglades? Remember how it f**ked up the alligators? This time we’re the alligators, and we’ve got somebody’s pet store python slithering around inside us. And we don’t know what it eats, and we don’t know how big it’s going to get.”

“What are you saying?”

Matt looked at Robert Stalnaker and smiled a bitter death’s-head grin as he said, “I’m saying that we’re screwed, Mr. Stalnaker, and I’m saying that it’s all your f**king fault.”

* * *

The trial of Brandon Majors and Hazel Allen, the ringleaders of the so-called Mayday Army, has been delayed indefinitely while the precise extent of their crimes is determined. Breaking and entering and willful destruction of property are easy; the sudden demand by the World Health Organization that they also be charged with biological terrorism and global pollution is somewhat more complex…

July 17, 2014: Atlanta, Georgia

“We have a problem.”

William Matras looked up from his computer screen and blanched, barely recognizing his colleague. Chris looked like he’d lost fifteen pounds in five days. His complexion was waxen, and the circles under his eyes were almost dark enough to make it seem like he’d been punched. “Christ, Chris, what the hell happened to you?”

“The Kellis cure.” Chris Sinclair shook his head, rubbing one stubbly cheek as he said, “I don’t have it. I mean, I don’t think. We still can’t test for it, and we can’t afford to have me get sick right now just to find out. But the Kellis cure is what happened. It’s what’s happening right now.”

“What are you talking about?”

“There’s been a development in one of the research studies we’ve been monitoring.”

“The McKenzie-Beatts TB treatment.” It wasn’t a question, because it didn’t need to be. William was abruptly glad that he hadn’t bothered to stand. He would have just fallen back into his chair.

“Got it in one.” Chris nodded, expression grim. “The patients involved in the trial died, William. Every one of them.”


“About an hour and a half ago. Dr. Li was on-site to monitor their symptoms. The first to start seizing was a twenty-seven-year-old male. He began bleeding from the mouth, eyes, nose, and rectum; when they performed the autopsy, they found that he was also bleeding internally, most heavily into his intestines and lungs. It’s a coin toss whether he suffocated or bled out.” Chris looked away, toward the blank white wall. He’d never wanted to see the ocean so badly in his life. “The rest started seizing within fifteen minutes. An eleven-year-old girl who’d been accepted into the trials a week before the Kellis cure was released was the last to die. Dr. Li says she was asking for her parents right up until she stopped breathing.”

“Oh my God…” whispered William.

“I’m telling you, man, I don’t think he’s here.” Chris rubbed his cheek again, hard. “You ready for the bad part?”

Numbly, William asked, “You mean that wasn’t the bad part?”

“Not by a long shot.” Chris laughed darkly. “Everyone who had direct contact with the patients—the medical staff, their families, hell, our medical staff—has started to experience increased salivation, even though the trial virus was certified as noncontagious. Whatever this stuff is turning into, it’s catching. They’re sealing the building. Dr. Li’s called for an L-4 quarantine. If they don’t figure out what’s going on, they’re going to die in there.”

William said nothing.

“The malaria folks? We don’t know what’s going on there. They stopped transmitting an hour before the complex blew sky-high. From what little we’ve been able to piece together, the charges were set inside the main lab. They, too, decided that they needed a strict quarantine. They just wanted to be absolutely sure that no one was going to have the chance to break it.”

There was still a piece missing. Slowly, almost terrified of what the answer would be—no, not almost; absolutely terrified of what the answer would be—William asked, “What about the Marburg trials in Colorado?”

“They’re all fine.”

William stared at him. “What? But you said—”

“It was spreading, and it was. As far as I know, it still is. Half of Denver’s had a nosebleed they couldn’t stop. And nobody’s died. The bleeding lasts three days, and then it clears up on its own, and the victims feel better than they’ve felt in years. We have a contagious cure for cancer to go with our contagious cure for the common cold.” Chris laughed again. This time, there was a sharp edge of hysteria under the sound. “It’s not going to end there. We don’t get this lucky. We can’t get this lucky.”

“Maybe this is as bad as it gets.” William knew how bad the words sounded as soon as they left his mouth, but he couldn’t call them back, and he wouldn’t have done it even if he could. Someone had to calm Cassandra when she predicted the fall of Troy. Someone had to say “the symptoms aren’t that bad” when the predictions called for the fall of man.