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Countdown

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Countdown

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Author: Mira Grant
Publisher: Subterranean Press, 2012
Orbit, 2011
Series: Newsflesh

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Book Type: Novella
Genre: Horror
Sub-Genre Tags: Zombies
Apocalyptic/Post-Apocalyptic
Near-Future
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Synopsis

Hugo-nominated Novella

"Countdown" is the first novella set in the world of Feed, and tracks the early days of the Rising, from well-meaning medical research to the dead beginning to walk. Meet the accidental creators of the zombie apocalypse, and ask yourself for the first time: When will you Rise?

The year is 2014, the year everything changed. We cured cancer. We cured the common cold. We died.

This is the story of how we rose.

Republished in 2012 by Subterranean Press as When Will You Rise? Stories to End the World, including the unrelated Mira Grant short story, "Apocalypse Scenario #683: The Box".


Excerpt

"The Rising is ultimately a story of humanity at both its very best, and at its very worst. If a single event were needed to represent all of human history, we could do worse than selecting the Rising."
- Mahir Gowda

"People blame science. Shit, man, people shouldn't blame science. People should blame people."
- Shaun Mason

May 15, 2014: Denver, Colorado

"How are you feeling today, Amanda?" Dr. Wells checked the readout on the blood pressure monitor, his attention only half on his bored-looking teenage patient. This was old hat by now, to the both of them. "Any pain, weakness, unexplained bleeding, blurriness of vision... ?"

"Nope. All systems normal, no danger signs here." Amanda Amberlee let her head loll back, staring up at the colorful mural of clouds and balloons that covered most of the ceiling. She remembered when the staff had painted that for her. She'd been thirteen, and they'd wanted her to feel at ease as they pumped her veins full of a deadly disease designed to kill the disease that was already inside her. "Are we almost done? I have a fitting to get to."

"Ah." Dr. Wells, who had two teenage girls of his own, smiled. "Prom?"

"Prom," Amanda confirmed.

"I'll see what I can do." Dr. Wells took impatience and surliness as insults from most patients. Amanda was a special case. When he'd first started treating her, her leukemia had been so advanced that she had no energy for complaining or talking back. She'd submitted to every test and examination willingly, although she had a tendency to fall asleep in the middle of them. From her, every snippy comment and teenage eye roll was a miracle, one that could be attributed entirely to science. Marburg EX19 - what the published studies were starting to refer to as "Marburg Amberlee," after the index case, rather than "Marburg Denver," which implied an outbreak and would be bad for tourism - was that miracle. The first effective cancer cure in the world, tailored from one of the most destructive viruses known to man. At thirteen, Amanda Amberlee had been given at most six months to live. Now, at eighteen, she was going to live to see her grandchildren... and none of them would ever need to be afraid of cancer. Like smallpox before it, cancer was on the verge of extinction.

Amanda lifted her head to watch him draw blood from the crook of her elbow. Any fear of needles she may have had as a child had died during the course of her cancer treatments. "How's my virus doing?" she asked.

"I haven't tested this sample yet, but if it's anything like the last one, your virus should be fat and sleepy. It'll be entirely dormant within another year." Dr. Wells gave her an encouraging look. "After that, I'll only need to see you every six months."

"Not to seem ungrateful or anything, but that'll be awesome." The kids at her high school had mostly stopped calling her "bubble girl" once she was healthy enough to join the soccer team, but the twice-monthly appointments were a real drain on her social calendar.

"I understand." Dr. Wells withdrew the needle, taping a piece of gauze down over the small puncture. Only a drop of blood managed to escape.

"All done. And have a wonderful time at prom."

Amanda slid out of the chair, stretching the kinks out of her back and legs. "Thanks, Dr. Wells. I'll see you in two weeks."

Daniel Wells smiled as he watched the girl who might well represent the future of mankind walk out of his office. A world without cancer. What a beautiful thing that would be.

* * * * *

Dr. Daniel Wells of the Colorado Cancer Research Center admitted in an interview this week that he was "guardedly optimistic" about having a universal cure for cancer by the end of the decade. His protocol was approved for human testing five years ago, and thus far, all subjects have shown improvement in their conditions...

May 15, 2014: Reston, Virginia

The misters nested in the ceiling above the feeding cages went off promptly at three, filling the air in the hot room with an aerosolized mixture of water and six different strains of rhinovirus. The feeding cages were full of rhesus monkeys and guinea pigs that had entered five minutes earlier, when the food was poured. They ignored the thin mist drifting down on them, their attention remaining focused entirely on the food. Dr. Alexander Kellis watched them eat, making notes on his tablet with quick swipes of his index finger. He didn't look down.

"How's it looking?"

"This is their seventh exposure. So far, none of them have shown any symptoms. Appetites are good, eyes are clear; no runny noses, no coughing. There was some sneezing, but it appears that Subject 11c has allergies."

The man standing next to America's premier expert in genetically engineered rhino-and coronaviruses raised an eyebrow. "Allergies?"

"Yes." Dr. Kellis indicated one of the rhesus monkeys. She was sitting on her haunches, shoving grapes into her mouth with single-minded dedication to the task of eating as many of them as possible before one of the other monkeys took them away. "I'm pretty sure that she's allergic to guinea pigs, poor thing."

His companion laughed. "Yes, poor thing," he agreed, before leaning in and kissing Dr. Kellis on the cheek. "As you may recall, you gave me permission yesterday to demand that you leave the lab for lunch. I have a note. Signed and everything."

"John, I really - "

"You also gave me permission to make you sleep on the couch for the rest of the month if you turned me down for anything short of one of the animals getting sick, and you know what that does to your back." John Kellis stepped away, folding his arms and looking levelly at his husband.

"Now, which is it going to be? A lovely lunch and continued marital bliss, or night after night with that broken spring digging into your side, wishing you'd been willing to listen to me when you had the chance?"

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...

Copyright © 2011 by Mira Grant


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