I was so intent on the lights and what they could mean about my future that I didnt hear the footsteps behind me over the drone of the positive pressure units, or feel the hypo until it was pressed against my neck. A wash of cold flowed over me, and I fell.
The last thing I saw was a row of lights, settling on a steady green. Then my eyes closed, and I didnt see anything at all.
* * *
the question I have been asked most frequently since my transition from the traditional news media to the online world is Why? Why would I want to give up an established career to strike out into a new field, one where my experience would not only be laughed at, but would actually work against me? Why would any sane manand most people regard me as a sane manwant to do something like that?
For the most part, Ive replied with the pretty, expected lies: I wanted a challenge, I wanted to test myself, and I believe in telling the truth and telling the news. Only that last part is true, because I do believe in telling the truth. And thats what Im doing today.
I married young. Her name was Lisa. She was smart, she was beautiful, and, above all, she was as crazy in love with me as I was with her. We were still in college on our wedding day. I was going to be a journalist, and she was going to be a teachera career path that got put on hold when, three days after graduation, the pregnancy test came up positive. That was a test we passed, and gladly. It was the only test we passed.
Our son, Ethan Patrick Cousins, was born on April 5, 2028. He weighed eight pounds, six ounces. And routine testing of his bodily fluids and vital signs revealed a system crawling with the Kellis-Amberlee virus. His mother had condemned him without ever knowing it; further tests showed that the virus had set up camp in her ovaries, reproducing there without infecting her or changing her life in any way. Our son was not so lucky.
I was fortunate. I had nine good years with my son, despite the precautions and quarantines his condition entailed. He loved baseball. On his last Christmas, he wrote to Santa Claus and asked for a cure, so Mommy and Daddy wont be sad anymore. He underwent spontaneous viral amplification two months and six days after his ninth birthday. Posthumous examination of his corpse displayed a final body weight of sixty-two pounds, six ounces. Lisa took her own life. And me? I found a new career.
One where Im still allowed to tell the truth.
From Another Point of True,
the blog of Richard Cousins, April 21, 2040
I woke in a white bed in a white room, wearing white cotton pajamas, with the cloying white smell of bleach in my nose. I sat up with a gasp, screwing my eyes shut in an automatic attempt to keep them from being burned by the overhead lights before I realized that Id opened my eyes while I was lying on my back. I looked directly into the lights, and it hadnt hurt at all. A lack of sensitivity to pain is one of the many warning signs of early Kellis-Amberlee amplification. Was that why the CDC decided to attack us? Was I in some sort of f**ked-up research facility? Rumors always abound, after all, and some of them just might be true.
Cautious now, I reached up to touch my face. My fingers found a thin band of plastic resting above my eyes, balanced to put next to no pressure on either the bridge of my nose or the sides of my head. I knew what it was when I felt it; theyve been using polarized UV-blocker strips for hospital treatment of retinal KA for about fifteen years now. Theyre expensive as helljust one can add five hundred dollars or more to your bill, even after insurance, and theyre fragile, to bootbut they filter light better and less noticeably than any other treatment mechanism weve found so far. I relaxed. I wasnt amplifying. I was just a CDC kidnap victim.
It says something about the situation that I was able to find this reassuring.
I began studying the room. It was empty, except for me, the white bed with its white sheets and white duvet and white pillowcases, a white bedside table with foam-padded edges that rendered it effectively useless as a weapon, and a large tinted mirror that took up most of the wall next to the door. I squinted at the glass, looking into the sterile hallway beyond. There was no one watching my room. That spoke well for my continued nonzombie status. Theyd have had guards out there if I was infected, assuming they had some reason not to have just shot me already.
If it hadnt been for my ocular condition, that mirror would have seemed like the real thing, allowing me the illusion of privacy while letting any attending physicians watch me from a distance. The days of beeping monitors and bulky machines are over; everything is streamlined now, all micromesh sensors and carefully concealed wireless monitors. Its as much for the protection of the doctors as it is for the comfort of the patients. After all, every reason to go into the room with someone who might go into viral amplification at any moment is another reason to stop practicing medicine and go into a safer profession. Like journalism.
Not that journalism seemed particularly safe at the moment. I closed my eyes. Buffy was right there waiting for me, looking up with virus-dark eyes as the infection took hold and the essential core of her dissolved. I got the feeling she always would be there. For the rest of my life, shed be waiting.
Kellis-Amberlee is a fact of existence. You live, you die, and then you come back to life, get up, and shamble around trying to eat your former friends and loved ones. Thats the way it is for everyone. Given what my parents do and what happened to their son, it might seem like its had a huge impact on my family, but the fact is, all that happened before Shaun and I were old enough to understand. The virus is background noise to us. If it hadnt existed, Shaun and I would have found something else to do with our spare time, something that didnt involve poking zombies with sticks. Until Chuck and Buffy, it had never actually taken anyone away from me. It touched people I cared about. It killed acquaintances, like the security guards we lost in Oklahoma, or Rebecca Ryman, who I knew from pictures, if not from actual meetings. But it never touched me. Not until Memphis.