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“And…we’re clear!” said one of the production assistants, as the cheery strains of the station break music began to play. The anchor kept smiling. “Great job, Dave. You’re doing fantastic. Can I get you anything?”

“I’m good,” said the anchor, and kept smiling. No one seemed to have noticed that they had no footage, no reports from experts or comments from the man on the street. All they had was a press release from the governor’s office and strict orders to read it as written, with no deviation or side commentary. They were being managed, and no one seemed to care, and so he kept on smiling and waited for the commercial break to end.

There was no footage. There was always footage. Even when good taste and human decency said not to air it, there was footage. Humanity liked to slow down and look at the car crash by the side of the road, and it was the job of the news to give them all the wrecks that they could stomach. So where was the wreck? Where was the twisted metal and the sorrowful human-interest story? Why did they have nothing but words on a teleprompter and silence from the editing room?

“And we’re back in five…four…three…” The production assistant stopped in mid-countdown, eyes going terribly wide. “Dave? Do you feel all right?”

“I’m fine. Why?” He kept smiling.

“You’re bleeding.”

The news anchor—Dave Ramsey, who had done his job, and done it well, for fifteen years—became suddenly aware of a warm wetness on his upper lip. He raised his fingers to touch it, and looked wide-eyed at the blood covering them when he pulled away again. His smile didn’t falter. “Oh,” he said. “Perhaps I should go clean up.”

When the broadcast resumed, his co-anchor was sitting there, a cheerful smile on her face. “We have an update from the Centers for Disease Control, who want us to reassure you that a vaccine will be available soon—”

* * *

News anchor Dave Ramsey passed away last night of complications from a sudden illness. He was forty-eight years old. A fifteen-year veteran of Channel 51, Dave Ramsey is survived by his wife and three children…

July 26, 2014: Denver, Colorado

Suzanne Amberlee’s nose had been bleeding for most of the morning. It had ceased to bother her after the first hour; in a way, it had even proven itself a blessing. The blood loss seemed to blunt the hard edges of the world around her, blurring things into a comfortable gray that allowed her to finally face some of the hard tasks she’d been allowing herself to avoid. She paused in the process of boxing Amanda’s books, wiping the sweat from her forehead with one hand and the blood from her chin with the other. Bloody handprints marred every box and wall in the room, but she didn’t really see them anymore. She just saw the bitter absence of Amanda, who was never coming home to her again.

In Suzanne Amberlee’s body, a battle was raging between the remaining traces of Marburg Amberlee and the newborn Kellis-Amberlee virus. There is no loyalty among viruses; as soon as they were fully conceived, the child virus turned against its parents, trying to drive them from the body as it would any other infection. This forced the Marburg into a heightened state of activity, which forced the body to respond to the perceived illness. Marburg Amberlee was not designed to fight the human body’s immune system, and responded by launching a full-on assault. The resulting chaos was tearing Suzanne apart from the inside out.

For her part, Suzanne Amberlee neither knew nor cared about what was happening inside her body. She was one of the first to be infected with Marburg Amberlee, which had been tailored to be nontransmissible between humans…but nothing’s perfect, and all those kisses she’d given her little girl had, in time, passed something more tangible than comfort between them. Marburg Amberlee had had plenty of time to establish itself inside her, and paradoxically, that made her more resistant to conversion than those with more recent infections. Her body knew how to handle the sleeping virus.

And yet bit by bit, inch by crucial inch, Kellis-Amberlee was winning. Suzanne was not aware, but she was already losing crucial brain functions. Her tear ducts had ceased to function, and much of her body’s moisture was being channeled toward the production of mucus and saliva—two reliable mechanisms for passing the infection along. She was being rewired, cell by cell, and even if someone had explained to her what was happening, she wouldn’t have cared. Suzanne Amberlee had lost everything she ever loved. Losing herself was simply giving in to the inevitable.

Suzanne’s last conscious thought was of her daughter, and how much she missed her. Then the stuffed bear she was holding slipped from her hands, and all thoughts slipped from her mind as she straightened and walked toward the open bedroom door. The back door was propped open, allowing a cool breeze to blow in from outside; she walked through it, and from there, made her way out of the backyard to the street.

The disaster that had been averted when the Colorado Cancer Research Center burned began with a woman, widowed and bereft of her only child, walking barefoot onto the sun-baked surface of the road. She looked dully to either side, not really tracking what she saw—not by any human definition of the term—before turning to walk toward the distant shouts of children playing in the neighborhood park. It would take her the better part of an hour to get there, moving slowly, with the jerky confusion of the infected when not actively pursuing visible prey.

It would take less than ten minutes after her arrival for the dying to begin. The Rising had come to Denver; the Rising had come home.