Rise a newsflesh collect.., p.1
Table of Contents
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For those who choose to rise.
I am forever proud of you.
The book you are holding in your hands right now is the culmination of a lifelong dream: my very own short fiction collection. It’s my personal Frankenstein’s monster, assembled one piece at a time and now brought to beautiful, terrible life by the combined efforts of my publisher, my editor, and you, the reader, whose willingness to follow me into this house of horrors has made everything possible. It may sound sappy, but I am grateful to you, down to the bottom of my heart, for this incredible gift. I hope it will mean as much to you as it has meant to me.
If you’re here looking for a new full-length Newsflesh novel, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed: This is not a novel. This is, as I mentioned above, a collection, a trip through the various side streets and territories of the greater narrative. You may have been to some of these places before. This volume contains every piece of formally published Newsflesh fiction, from Countdown and “Everglades” through to Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus. It also contains two new novella-length adventures, showcasing old favorites in places and situations where we’ve never seen them before. I hope those two novellas will be enough to tempt you into picking up the book, if you haven’t done so already. (If you have, thank you. I, and my hungry cats, appreciate it.)
Because this is my first formal introduction for a piece in the Newsflesh world, I want to take a moment to talk about where it all started: with a series of dinners. My friend Michael used to live in Berkeley, California. Every Wednesday night, I and our mutual friend Jeanne would head over there for a home-cooked meal, a movie, and long, sprawling conversations about anything and everything that struck our fancy.
One night, while I was walking to the house, a bush shook suspiciously. Being me, I asked myself, “What if that was a zombie raccoon? What if we lived in a world where raccoons could be zombies? What if we lived a world where the zombie apocalypse happened and we didn’t lose?”
I spent the next two years talking endlessly about this setting, mostly over those Wednesday night dinners. It was a thought experiment masquerading as a world, and I loved poking it from every angle I could find. My friends were… well, they were marginally less tolerant. Finally one night, Michael said, “Write the book.”
“There’s no story,” I said.
“Find it,” he said. “Or no dinner next week.”
One week later, I had four chapters, a plot, a setting, and a cast of characters with whom I had fallen fully and immediately in love. What came after that was a lot of hard work and a lot of long nights, and I don’t regret a moment of it. I am forever grateful to Michael for threatening to take away my access to his cooking, which turns out to be an excellent way to motivate me to write a novel. I am forever grateful to everyone who had to listen to me talk during the two years I spent slow-cooking this setting (with special thanks to Tony Fabris, for the loan of his kitchen table during the last three chapters of Feed). Most of all, I am forever grateful to each and every one of you. Thank you for reading. Thank you for following me this far.
Thank you for following me just a little bit further. There are monsters in these trees; there are dangers waiting for the unwary. But I’ll show you the way, if you’ll let me. Only trust me, follow me, and when I tell you that the rustling in the bushes is only the wind, believe me. That’s all you have to do.
Now come on. We’ve got work to do.
When I first finished writing Feed, I thought it was a stand-alone novel. I was quickly disabused of this notion by, oh, anyone who had ever met me, and by the time it was approaching release, I was living 24/7 in the post-Rising world, sticking my nose into every nook and cranny—and there were a lot of them. I wrote book two. I wrote book three. I started writing short fiction set in the same universe. I started really figuring out the pieces that had previously been obscured by fences, or walls, or piles of corpses. And, as is my wont, I started getting twitchy.
When I am twitchy I generate words.
Thirty days from the release of Deadline, I went on my blog and posted the first in a series of entries chronicling the lead-up to the single most important in-universe event in the world of Newsflesh: the Rising. I began with the roots of both Marburg Amberlee and the so-called Kellis cure, a tailored strain of the common cold that was intended to protect against its virological cousins. I followed them through their release, and through their inevitable spread across the world. For thirty days, I posted something new every day, tracing not only the viruses that would trigger the Rising, but the people who would shape its course.
I’m not going to lie. It was pretty damn exhilarating.
Those thirty posts, collected and revised, became Countdown, the very first Newsflesh novella. It went on to be picked up by the Orbit Short Fiction Program, was nominated for a Hugo Award, and now it’s leading off my very first collection.
Not too bad for a whim.
“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.”
“People blame science. Shit, man, people shouldn’t blame science. People should blame people.”
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 viruse
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.”
“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…
June 9, 2014: Manhattan, New York
The video clip of Dr. Kellis’s press conference was grainy, largely due to it having been recorded on a cellular phone—and not, Robert Stalnaker noted with a scowl, one of the better models. Not that it mattered on anything more than a cosmetic level; Dr. Kellis’s pompous, self-aggrandizing speech had been captured in its entirety. “Intellectual mumbo jumbo” was how Robert had described the speech after the first time he heard it, and how he’d characterized it yet again while he was talking to his editor about taking this little nugget of second-string news and turning it into a real story.
“This guy thinks he can eat textbooks and shit miracles,” was the pitch. “He doesn’t want people to understand what he’s really talking about, because he knows America would be pissed off if he spoke English long enough to tell us how we’re all about to get screwed.” It was pure bullshit, designed to prey on a fear of science. And just as he’d expected, his editor jumped at it.
The instructions were simple: no libel, no direct insults, nothing that was already known to be provably untrue. Insinuation, interpretation, and questioning the science were all perfectly fine, and might turn a relatively uninteresting story into something that would actually sell a few papers. In today’s world, whatever sold a few papers was worth pursuing. Bloggers and internet news were cutting far, far too deeply into the paper’s already weak profit margin.
“Time to do my part to fix that,” muttered Stalnaker, an
He struck gold on the fifth viewing. Pausing the clip, he wound it back six seconds and hit “play.” Dr. Kellis’s scratchy voice resumed, saying, “—distribution channels will need to be sorted out before we can go beyond basic lab testing, but so far, all results have been—”
Rewind. Again. “—distribution channels—”
Rewind. Again. “—distribution—”
Robert Stalnaker smiled.
Half an hour later, his research had confirmed that no standard insurance program in the country would cover a nonvaccination preventative measure (and Dr. Kellis had been very firm about stating that his “cure” was not a vaccination). Even most of the upper-level insurance policies would balk at adding a new treatment for something considered to be of little concern to the average citizen—not to mention the money that the big pharmaceutical companies stood to lose if a true cure for the common cold were actually distributed at a reasonable cost to the common man. Insurance companies and drug companies went hand in hand so far as he was concerned, and neither was going to do anything to undermine the other.
This was all a scam. A big, disgusting, money-grubbing scam. Even if the science was good, even if the “cure” did exactly what its arrogant geek-boy creator said it did, who would get it? The rich and the powerful, the ones who didn’t need to worry about losing their jobs if the kids brought home the sniffles from school. The ones who could afford the immune boosters and ground-up rhino dick or whatever else was the hot new thing right now, so that they’d never get sick in the first place. Sure, Dr. Kellis never said that, but Stalnaker was a journalist. He knew how to read between the lines.