“Hey, Mahir. There a reason you always feel the need to invoke the divine when I call you? Is that just how they’re saying hello in London these days?”
“It’s four o’clock in the bloody morning, Shaun, and I’m awake to take your call. That might tell you a little something about how worried I’ve been.” A door closed in the background, and the sound of distant traffic filtered through the phone. “Try remembering that I’m eight hours off your time zone and give me the all-clear a little sooner next time, won’t you?”
“Hey, sorry, dude. I figured Alaric would keep you posted.” One of the London magazines did a profile on Mahir after the Ryman election—he was a local boy involved in a huge American political scandal, which was sort of a big deal. The picture they ran with the article was of him standing on the wide balcony outside his apartment, looking out over the Thames River with the sort of serious “I am an intellectual artist” expression that George and I always used to make fun of. That was the scene I pictured now, listening to the traffic rushing past behind him: Mahir on the balcony, surrounded by the weight of the London night, while cars packed with paranoid commuters went whizzing past below.
“He did. So did Magdalene. But at the end of the day, Shaun, the only person I trust to tell me your condition is you.”
“I’d feel flattered if I didn’t know that you expected me to die.”
“Isn’t that your intention?”
I stopped for a moment, suddenly and sharply aware of George’s silent presence at the back of my head. Lying to Mahir would border on impossible, even if George was willing to let me, and in the end, I didn’t bother trying. “Eventually, yeah. But not until after we’ve found the people who killed George. Did you get those files I sent you?”
“I did,” Mahir admitted. “How much of them did you understand?”
“Not enough. I’m guessing you understood a little bit more.”
“Enough to make me think I’ll never sleep again.”
“That’s good—means the files are what Dr. Abbey said they were. I need you to do something for me.”
“Find a virologist with nothing left to lose and get them to check her work.”
Now it was Mahir’s turn to fall briefly silent. Finally, tone wary, he asked, “Do you understand what you’re asking me to do?”
“Yeah, I do. I feel like a total ass for doing it, but I do.”
Mahir went silent again. Honestly, I couldn’t blame him.
North America lost a lot during the Rising. Big chunks of Canada and the lower parts of Mexico have never been reclaimed from the infected. We held the line in Alaska as long as we could, but in the end, the infection was too strong and we had to let the entire state go. Almost every part of the United States has its little dead zones, places that are too damn dangerous to take back. None of that can hold a candle to what India lost. Because what India lost… was India.
The conditions in pre-Rising India formed a perfect model for pandemic spread of Kellis-Amberlee. We studied it in school as part of the standard epidemiology curriculum: Combine highly concentrated populations with large stretches of rural farmland, a polluted water supply, and large, unconfined animals, and you were basically setting up the ideal conditions for losing everything. According to the reports—the ones that made it out of India, anyway; there aren’t many—the virus first started showing up in Mumbai, where it went from zero to chaos in the streets in less than thirty-six hours. While India was throwing all its resources at trying to save the city, the infection was taking hold in the country, claiming villages and small towns so quickly that no one had time to sound the alarm. By the time anyone realized that the quarantine couldn’t possibly have held, it was way too f**king late to do anything but evacuate.
The first handheld blood testing unit was invented by an Indian scientist named Kiran Patel. Dr. Patel had isolated his family when the first signs of trouble started to show; thanks to his quick thinking and willingness to use lethal force against the infected, he managed to keep his entire apartment building clean of the live virus during a six-day siege that should have left them all casualties. When he wasn’t standing watch, Dr. Patel was modifying his own diabetes kits to look for something a little more crucial than blood sugar. By the time the UN soldiers fought their way into that sector of Mumbai, he had a crude but reliable way of proving someone’s infection status in minutes. The whole building checked out. Two of the troops who’d come to their rescue didn’t. Acceptable losses for a piece of technology that no one else had even taken the time to think about, much less put together.
Dr. Patel went into a diabetic coma on the helicopter that airlifted him and his family out of the city. He never made it out of India. His widow went to the UN and demanded refuge for the survivors of her country in exchange for her husband’s notes. She got everything she asked for. The people who made it out of India were allowed to settle anywhere they wanted, bypassing all the normal citizenship requirements. The Indian consulates staye open and issued passports to the children of the survivors; as far as I know, they still do. When the disease is defeated, they say, they’ll be ready to go home.
Whether that’s true or not, London has one of the largest Indian communities on the planet, second only to Silicon Valley—although Toronto is a pretty close third. Mahir was born in London. He’s never been to India, and as far as I know, he’s never wanted to go. That’s not true for everyone. A lot of people want to reclaim their heritage. They may like living where they are, but they want it to be a choice, not an exile. There are doctors and scientists in the Indian community who answer only to the government of a nation that currently doesn’t exist, pursuing research whose only motive is “get us home.” But racism doesn’t die just because the dead start walking, and there are some folks who watch the displaced communities carefully for signs that they might be “turning against us.” If Mahir did what I was asking him to do—if he went to one of the virologists who was working out of his home, rather than out of a government lab, and asked him to explain Dr. Abbey’s work—he was putting them both at risk of a terrorism charge.