originally published in By the Sounding Sea,
the blog of Buffy Meissonier, February 11, 2040
Quarantine procedures hit different social and economic classes in different ways, just like outbreaks. When Kellis-Amberlee breaks out in an urban area, it hits the inner cities and the business districts the hardest. Thats where you have the largest number of people coming and going, experiencing the closest thing we have these days to casual contact. Interestingly, you tend to have more fatalities in the business districts. The slums may not have the same security features and weaponry, but theyre mostly self-policing and fewer people try to conceal injuries when they know amplification isnt just going to cost them their coworkers; its going to cost them their families. Inner cities and business districts turn into ghost towns when the quarantines come down. If you pass through while theyre under quarantine, you can feel the inhabitants watching you, waiting for you to make a move.
Middle-class zones also tend to seal themselves off, but theyre less blatantly aggressive about it; windows too small or too high for a person to get in through can be left open, and not every glass door has a steel shield in front of it. You can enter those areas and still believe people live in them, even if those folks arent exactly setting out the welcome mats. Theyll kill you as quickly as anyone else will if you try to approach them. If you dont, they wont interfere.
The hall where they held the keynote speech was far enough from the Center that it wasnt technically in the quarantine zone. Street traffic was down to practically zero, but there were no retractable bars over the windows and no steel plating over the doors. Local businesses were open, even if there werent any customers. I looked around as Steve pulled up to the first checkpoint, and I hated these people for being able to ignore what was going on outside their city. George was dead. Rick and Mahir said the whole world was mourning with me, but that didnt matter, because the man who did itthe man I intended to blamewasnt even inconvenienced.
If the guard thought there was something odd about us arriving in a dusty, dented SUV over an hour after the Center went into lockdown, he didnt say anything. Our blood tests came back clean; that was what his job required him to give a damn about, and so he just waved us inside. I clenched my jaw so hard I almost tasted blood.
Calm down, counseled George. Its not his fault. He didnt write the news.
Go for the writers, I muttered.
Steve shot me a look. Whats that?
We parked next to a press bus that had doubtless been loaded with reporters who were now thanking God for their timing, since being on assignment with a bunch of political bigwigs meant they werent available to be sent out to report on the quarantine. Local Irwins would be flocking to the perimeter, getting footage of the CDC men as they locked and secured the site. I wouldve been with them not that long ago, and been happy about it. Now Id be just as happy if I never saw another outbreak. Somewhere between Eakly and George, I lost the heart for it.
Steve and I got into the elevator together. I glanced at him as he keyed in our floor, saying, You dont have a press pass.
Dont need one, he said. The Centers under quarantine. By contract, Im actually obligated to circumnavigate any security barricade between myself and the senator.
Sneaky, I said, approvingly.
The elevator opened on a sickeningly normal-looking party. Servers in starched uniforms circulated with trays of drinks and canapés. Politicians, their spouses, reporters, and members of the California elite milled around, chattering about shit that didnt mean a goddamn thing compared to Georges blood drying on the wall. The only real difference was in their eyes. They knew about the quarantinehalf of these people were staying at the Center, or worked there, or had a stake in its continued successand they were terrified. But appearances have to be maintained, especially when youre looking at millions of dollars in lost city revenue because of an outbreak. So the party continued.
Poe was right, I muttered. The man with the blood tests was waiting for us to check in. I slid my increasingly sore hand into the unit he held, watching lights run their cycle from red to yellow and finally to green. I wasnt infected. If being shut in a van with Georges body didnt get me, nothing was going to. Infection would have been too easy a way out.
I yanked my hand free as soon as the lights went green, held up my press pass, and ducked into the crowd. Steve was right behind me. I dodged staff and guests, arrowing toward the room where I had last seen Senator Ryman. They wouldnt allow him to leave after the Center went into lockdown, and if he couldnt leave, he wouldnt have left the room where he had his surviving staff and supporters gathered. It just made sense.
People recoiled as I passed them, eyes going wide and suppressed fear surging to the front of their expressions. I paused, looking down at myself. Mud, powder burns, visible weaponseverything but blood. Somehow, Id managed to avoid getting Georges blood on me. That was a good thing, since shed died infected and her blood would have made me a traveling hot zone, but still, it was almost a pity. At least then she would have seen the story find an ending.
Senator Ryman sounded astonished. I turned toward his voice and found him half standing. Emily was beside him, eyes wide, hands clapped over her mouth. Tate was on his other side. Unlike the Rymans, the governor looked anything but relieved to see me. I could read the hatred in his eyes.
Senator Ryman, I said, and finished my turn, walking to the table that looked like it held all the survivors of the Ryman campaign. Less than a dozen of us had been at this stupid speech; less than a dozen, from a caravan that had swelled to include more than sixty people. What kind of survival rate were we looking at? Fifty percent? Less? Almost certainly less. Thats the nature of an outbreak, to kill what it doesnt conquer. Mrs. Ryman. I smiled narrowly, the sort of expression thats always been more Georgias purview than my own. Governor.