Page 2

Alexander sighed. “You don’t play fair.”

“You haven’t left this lab during the day for almost a month,” John countered. “How is wanting you to be healthy not playing fair? As funny as it would be if you got sick while you were trying to save mankind from the tyranny of the flu, it would make you crazy, and you know it.”

“You’re right.”

“At last the genius starts to comprehend the text. Now put down that computer and get your coat. The world can stay unsaved for a few more hours while we get something nutritious into you that didn’t come out of a vending machine.”

This time, Alexander smiled. John smiled back. It was reflex, and relief, and love, all tangled up together. It was impossible for him to look at that smile and not remember why he’d fallen in love in the first place, and why he’d been willing to spend the last ten years of his life with this wonderful, magical, infuriating man.

“We’re going to be famous for what we’re doing here, you know,” Alexander said. “People are going to remember the name ‘Kellis’ forever.”

“Won’t that be a nice thing to remember you by after you’ve died of starvation?” John took his arm firmly. “Come along, genius. I’d like to have you to myself for a little while before you go down in history as the savior of mankind.”

Behind them in the hot room, the misters went off again, and the monkeys shrieked.

* * *

Dr. Alexander Kellis called a private press conference yesterday to announce the latest developments in his oft-maligned “fight against the common cold.” Dr. Kellis holds multiple degrees in virology and molecular biology, and has been focusing his efforts on prevention for the past decade…

May 29, 2014: Denver, Colorado

"Dr. Wells? Are you all right?”

Daniel Wells turned to his administrative assistant, smiling wanly. “This was supposed to be Amanda’s follow-up appointment,” he said. “She was going to tell me about her prom.”

“I know.” Janice Barton held out his coat. “It’s time to go.”

“I know.” He took the coat, shaking his head. “She was so young.”

“At least she died quickly, and she died knowing she had five more years because of you.”

Between them, unsaid: And at least the Marburg didn’t kill her. Marburg Amberlee was a helper of man, not an enemy.

“Yes.” He sighed. “All right. Let’s go. The funeral begins in half an hour.”

* * *

Amanda Amberlee, age eighteen, was killed in an automobile accident following the Lost Pines Senior Prom. It is believed the driver of the vehicle in which Amanda and her friends left the dance had been drinking, and lost control while attempting to make a turn. No other cars were involved in the collision…

June 9, 2014: Manhattan, New York

The video clip of Dr. Kellis’s press conference was grainy, largely due to it having been recorded on a cellular phone—and not, Robert Stalnaker noted with a scowl, one of the better models. Not that it mattered on anything more than a cosmetic level; Dr. Kellis’s pompous, self-aggrandizing speech had been captured in its entirety. “Intellectual mumbo jumbo” was how Robert had described the speech after the first time he heard it, and how he’d characterized it yet again while he was talking to his editor about taking this little nugget of second-string news and turning it into a real story.

“This guy thinks he can eat textbooks and shit miracles,” was the pitch. “He doesn’t want people to understand what he’s really talking about, because he knows America would be pissed off if he spoke English long enough to tell us how we’re all about to get screwed.” It was pure bullshit, designed to prey on a fear of science. And just as he’d expected, his editor jumped at it.

The instructions were simple: no libel, no direct insults, nothing that was already known to be provably untrue. Insinuation, interpretation, and questioning the science were all perfectly fine, and might turn a relatively uninteresting story into something that would actually sell a few papers. In today’s world, whatever sold a few papers was worth pursuing. Bloggers and internet news were cutting far, far too deeply into the paper’s already weak profit margin.

“Time to do my part to fix that,” muttered Stalnaker, and started the video again.

He struck gold on the fifth viewing. Pausing the clip, he wound it back six seconds and hit “play.” Dr. Kellis’s scratchy voice resumed, saying, “—distribution channels will need to be sorted out before we can go beyond basic lab testing, but so far, all results have been—”

Rewind. Again. “—distribution channels—”

Rewind. Again. “—distribution—”

Robert Stalnaker smiled.

Half an hour later, his research had confirmed that no standard insurance program in the country would cover a nonvaccination preventative measure (and Dr. Kellis had been very firm about stating that his “cure” was not a vaccination). Even most of the upper-level insurance policies would balk at adding a new treatment for something considered to be of little concern to the average citizen—not to mention the money that the big pharmaceutical companies stood to lose if a true cure for the common cold were actually distributed at a reasonable cost to the common man. Insurance companies and drug companies went hand in hand so far as he was concerned, and neither was going to do anything to undermine the other.