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Authors: Mira Grant

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BOOK: Blackout
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None of this was right. Even if there was some sort of experimental treatment to reverse amplification,
someone would have been there to explain things to me.
would have been there. And there it was, the reason I couldn’t believe any of this was right: I remembered him pulling the trigger. Even assuming it was a false memory, even assuming it never happened,
why wasn’t he here
? Shaun would move Heaven and Earth to reach me.

I briefly entertained the idea that he was somewhere in the building, forcing the voice from the intercom to tell him where I was. Regretfully, I dismissed it. Something would have exploded by now if that were true.

“Goddammit.” I scowled at the wall, turned, and started in the other direction. The hunger was getting worse, and it was accompanied by a new, more frustrating sensation. I needed to pee. If someone didn’t let me out soon, I was going to have a whole new set of problems to contend with.

“Run the timeline, George,” I said, taking some comfort in the sound of my voice. Everything else might have changed, but not that. “You were in Sacramento with Rick and Shaun, running for the van. Something hit you in the arm. One of those syringes like they used at the Ryman farm. The test came back positive. Rick left. And then… then…” I faltered, having trouble finding the words, even if there was no one else to hear them.

Everyone who grew up after the Rising knows what happens when you come into contact with the live form of Kellis-Amberlee. You become a zombie, one of the infected, and you do what every zombie exists to do. You bite. You infect. You kill. You feed. You don’t wake up in a white room, wearing white pajamas and wondering how your brother was able to shoot you in the neck without even leaving a scar.

Scars. I wheeled and stalked back to the mirror, pulling the lid on my right eye open wide. I learned how to look at my own eyes when I was eleven. That’s when I got my first pair of protective contacts. That’s also when I got my first visible retinal scarring, little patches of tissue scorched beyond recovery by the sun. We caught it in time to prevent major vision loss, and I got a lot more careful. The scarring created small blind spots at the center of my vision. Nothing major. Nothing that interfered with fieldwork. Just little spots.

My pupil contracted to almost nothing as the light hit it. The spots weren’t there. I could see clearly, without any gaps.

“Oh.” I lowered my hand. “I guess that makes sense.”

I paused, feeling suddenly stupid as that realization led to another. When I first woke up, the voice from the intercom told me all I had to do was speak, and someone would hear me. I looked up at the speaker. “A little help here?” I said. “I need to pee really bad.”

There was no response.


There was still no response. I showed my middle finger to the mirror before turning and walking back to the bed. Once there, I sat and settled into a cross-legged position, closing my eyes. And then I started waiting. If anyone was watching me—and someone
to be watching me—this might be a big enough change in my behavior to get their attention. I wanted their attention. I wanted their attention really, really badly. Almost as badly as I wanted a personal recorder, an Internet connection, and a bathroom.

The need for a bathroom crept slowly higher on the list, accompanied by the need for a drink of water. I was beginning to consider the possibility that I might
need to use a corner of the room as a lavatory when the intercom clicked on. A moment later, a new voice, male, like the first one, spoke: “Miss Mason? Are you awake?”

“Yes.” I opened my eyes. “Do I get a name to call you by?”

He ignored my question like it didn’t matter. Maybe it didn’t, to him. “I apologize for the silence. We’d expected a longer period of disorientation, and I had to be recalled from elsewhere in the building.”

“Sorry to disappoint you.”

“Oh, we weren’t disappointed,” said the voice. He had the faintest trace of a Midwestern accent. I couldn’t place the state. “I promise, we’re thrilled to see you up and coherent so quickly. It’s a wonderful indicator for your recovery.”

“A glass of water and a trip to the ladies’ room would do more to help my recovery than apologies and evasions.”

Now the voice sounded faintly abashed. “I’m sorry, Miss Mason. We didn’t think… just a moment.” The intercom clicked off, leaving me in silence once again. I stayed where I was, and kept waiting.

The sound of a hydraulic lock unsealing broke the quiet. I turned to see a small panel slide open above the door, revealing a red light. It turned green and the door slid smoothly open, revealing a skinny, nervous-looking man in a white lab coat, eyes wide behind his glasses. He was clutching his clipboard to his chest like he thought it afforded him some sort of protection.

“Miss Mason? If you’d like to come with me, I’d be happy to escort you to the restroom.”

“Thank you.” I unfolded my legs, ignoring pins and needles in my calves, and walked toward the doorway.
The man didn’t quite cringe as I approached, but he definitely shied back, looking more uneasy with every step I took. Interesting.

“We apologize for making you wait,” he said. His words had the distinct cadence of something recited by rote, like telephone tech support asking for your ID and computer serial number. “There were a few things that had to be taken care of before we could proceed.”

“Let’s worry about that
I get to the bathroom, okay?” I sidestepped around him, out into the hall, and found myself looking at three hospital orderlies in blue scrubs, each of them pointing a pistol in my direction. I stopped where I was. “Okay, I can wait for my escort.”

“That’s for the best, Miss Mason,” said the nervous man, whose voice I now recognized from the intercom. It just took a moment without the filtering speakers between us. “Just a necessary precaution. I’m sure you understand.”

“Yeah. Sure.” I fell into step behind him. The orderlies followed us, their aim never wavering. I did my best not to make any sudden moves. Having just returned to the land of the living, I was in no mood to exit it again. “Am I ever going to get something I can call you?”

“Ah…” His mouth worked soundlessly for a moment before he said, “I’m Dr. Thomas. I’ve been one of your personal physicians since you arrived at this facility. I’m not surprised you don’t remember me. You’ve been sleeping for some time.”

“Is that what the kids are calling it these days?” The hall was built on the model I’ve come to expect from CDC facilities, with nothing breaking the sterile white walls but the occasional door and the associated one-way mirrors looking into patient holding rooms. All the rooms were empty.

“You’re walking well.”

“It’s a skill.”

“How’s your head? Any disorientation, blurred vision, confusion?”

“Yes.” He tensed. I ignored it, continuing. “I’m confused about what I’m doing here. I don’t know about you, but I get twitchy when I wake up in strange places with no idea how I got there. Will I be getting some answers soon?”

“Soon enough, Miss Mason.” He stopped in front of a door with no mirror next to it. That implied that it wasn’t a patient room. Better yet, there was a blood test unit to one side. I never thought I’d be so happy for the chance to be jabbed with a needle. “We’ll give you a few minutes. If you need anything—”

“Using the bathroom, also a skill.” I slapped my palm down on the test panel. Needles promptly bit into the heel of my hand and the tips of my fingers. The light over the door flashed between red and green before settling on the latter. Uninfected. The door swung open. I stepped through, only to stop and scowl at the one-way mirror taking up most of the opposite wall. The door swung shut behind me.

“Cute,” I muttered. The need to pee was getting bad enough that I didn’t protest the situation. I glared at the mirror the entire time I was using the facilities, all but daring someone to watch me. See? I can pee whether you’re spying on me or not, you sick bastards.

Other than the mirror—or maybe because of the mirror—the bathroom was as standard-issue CDC as the hallway outside, with white walls, a white tile floor, and white porcelain fixtures. Everything was automatic, including the soap dispenser, and there were no towels; instead, I dried my hands by sticking them into
a jet of hot air. It was one big exercise in minimizing contact with any surface. When I turned back to the door, the only things I’d touched were the toilet seat and the floor, and I was willing to bet that they were in the process of self-sterilization by the time I started washing my hands.

The blood test required to exit the bathroom was set into the door itself, just above the knob. It didn’t unlock until I checked out clean.

The three orderlies were waiting in the hall, with an unhappy Dr. Thomas between them and me. If I did anything bad enough to make them pull those triggers, the odds were good that he’d be treated as collateral damage.

“Wow,” I said. “Who did you piss off to get this gig?”

He flinched, looking at me guiltily. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

“Of course not. Thank you for bringing me to the bathroom. Now, could I get that water?” Better yet, a can of Coke. The thought of its acid sweetness was enough to make my mouth water. It’s good to know that some things never change.

“If you’d come this way?”

I gave the orderlies a pointed look. “I don’t think I have much of a choice, do you?”

“No, I suppose you don’t,” he said. “As I said, a precaution. You understand.”

“Not really, no. I’m unarmed. I’ve just passed two blood tests. I
understand why I need three men with guns covering my every move.” The CDC has been paranoid for years, but this was taking it to a new extreme.

Dr. Thomas’s reply didn’t help: “Security.”

“Why do people always say that when they don’t feel
like giving a straight answer?” I shook my head. “I’m not going to make trouble. Please, just take me to the water.”

“Right this way,” he said, and started back the way we’d come.

There was a tray waiting for us on the bolted-down table in the room where I’d woken up. It held a plate with two pieces of buttered toast, a tumbler full of water, and wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, a can of Coke with condensation beading on the sides. I made for the tray without pausing to consider how the orderlies might react to my moving faster than a stroll. None of them shot me in the back. That was something.

The first bite of toast was the best thing I’d ever tasted, at least until I took the second bite, and then the third. Finally, I crammed most of the slice into my mouth, barely chewing. I managed to resist the siren song of the Coke long enough to drink half the water. It tasted as good as the toast. I put down the glass, popped the tab on the can of soda, and took my first post-death sip of Coke. I was smart enough not to gulp it; even that tiny amount was enough to make my knees weak. That, and the caffeine rush that followed, provided the last missing piece.

Slowly, I turned to face Dr. Thomas. He was standing in the doorway, making notes on his clipboard. There were probably a few dozen video and audio recorders running, catching every move I made, but any good reporter will tell you that there’s nothing like real field experience. I guess the same thing applies to scientists. He lowered his pen when he saw me looking.

“How do you feel?” he asked. “Dizzy? Are you full? Did you want something besides toast? It’s a bit early for anything complicated, but I might be able to arrange for some soup, if you’d prefer that…”

“Mostly, what’d I’d prefer is having some questions answered.” I shifted the Coke from one hand to the other. If I couldn’t have my sunglasses, I guess a can of soda would have to do. “I think I’ve been pretty cooperative up to now. I also think that could change.”

Dr. Thomas looked uncomfortable. “Well, I suppose that will depend on what sort of questions you want to ask.”

“This one should be pretty easy. I mean, it’s definitely within your skill set.”

“All right. I can’t promise to know the answer, but I’m happy to try. We want you to be comfortable.”

“Good.” I looked at him levelly, missing my black-eyed gaze. It always made people so uncomfortable. I got more honest answers out of those eyes… “You said you were my personal physician.”

“That’s correct.”

“So tell me: How long have I been a clone?”

Dr. Thomas dropped his pen.

Still watching him, I raised my Coke, took a sip, and waited for his reply.

Subject 139b was bitten on the evening of June 24, 2041. The exact time of the bite was not recorded, but a period of no less than twenty minutes elapsed between exposure and initial testing. The infected individual responsible for delivering the bite was retrieved from the road. Posthumous analysis confirmed that the individual was heavily contagious, and had been so for at least six days, as the virus had amplified through all parts of the body.

Blood samples were taken from the outside of Subject 139b’s hand and sequenced to prove that they belonged to the subject. Analysis of these samples confirmed the infection. (For proof of live viral bodies in Subject 139b’s blood, see the attached file.) Amplification appears to have begun normally, and followed the established progression toward full loss of cognitive functionality. Samples taken from Subject 139b’s clothing confirm this diagnosis.

Subject 139b was given a blood test shortly after arriving at this facility, and tested clean of all live viral particles. Subject 139b was given a second test, using a more sensitive unit, and once again tested clean. After forty-eight hours of isolation, following standard Kellis-Amberlee quarantine procedures, it is my professional opinion that the subject is not now infected, and does not represent a danger to himself or others.

With God as my witness, Joey, I swear to you that Shaun Mason is
infected with the live state of Kellis-Amberlee. He should be. He’s not. He started to amplify, and he somehow fought the infection off. This could
change everything… if we had the slightest fucking clue how he did it.

—Taken from an e-mail sent by Dr. Shannon Abbey to Dr. Joseph Shoji at the Kauai Institute of Virology, June 27, 2041.

BOOK: Blackout
4.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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