Valley Of Shadows – Snippet 15

Curry paused and took a bite of popcorn from the bowl on the table and then drained his coffee cup. Behind him, Jones passed him a bottle of water.

“Any questions on that bit, because it isn’t the most important part.”

“Assume some sort of cure,” Rune said. “Does the…afflicted have a chance of regaining…”

“No,” Tom replied curtly. “There have been some people who have naturally thrown off the virus after going through all the symptoms. They’re…pretty much the same. Sometimes with slightly higher or lower levels of aggression but always nonsentient. Once you’re a zombie you stay a violent zombie or remain in a vegetative state. No take backs.”

Tom had planted that question with Rune because it was important to the rest of the discussion. There was no murmur this time, just brief glances.

“The second and most important new bit of data is confirmation of what you all suspected: the rate of the spread of the disease is accelerating,” the virologist continued tightly. “If we can’t begin manufacturing a vaccine in industrial amounts very soon we’ll have no hope of getting in front of the disease. We don’t have long, not very long at all.”

Curry stopped, swallowed, then closed his eyes for a moment before proceeding.

“The good news, for values of good, is that we have been given a green light to proceed with plan to start making a vaccine. It won’t be a cure, but it should block further spread of the virus. The virus concentrates in the afflicted nerve tissue of its victims, which so far are limited to higher order primates. What we need is to harvest the nerve tissue of higher order primates saturated with the virus.”

“Does that mean we need to start sourcing rhesus monkeys, chimpanzees and so forth?” Rune perked up. He hadn’t been told the reason for the planted question. “Can’t be too many of those in the city. We’ll probably have to look international–”

Curry looked unhappy, but replied.

“The amount of raw materials needed rules out zoo animals and imports,” Curry said, shaking his head. “You get, maybe, one dose of vaccine from a green monkey, the most available primate. And they’re being swept up in Africa in job lots for research. Very few are available on the market and the price is staggering. Being absolutely blunt: There is only one large-scale source of higher order primates currently available.”

Faces around the table looked puzzled. Slowly comprehension dawned. Tom watched the team work through the obvious. Jones’s face was stone.

Someone knocked their chair against the table, loudly. About to speak, Curry looked up, irritated. Down the table, Skorpio’s chair knocked against the conference table again, as he scratched his ribs vigorously.

“Hey, Phil,” Smith said, looking down the table. “PHIL!”

* * *

Someone was calling his name. Kept calling his name.

Irritated, and feeling itchier by the second, Skorpio looked up.

What the fuck was under his suit? Goddamn…

* * *

Tom cursed himself. The existing bank protocols were entirely inadequate. From the time that his trusted security deputy had screamed, then roared and started tearing at his clothes, to the moment when Smith had drawn his bank-issued SIG Sauer P226 and staged the trigger, only two seconds passed. Fully aimed, Tom waited until others had moved away from Skorpio. He’d waited a further fifteen seconds until it became obvious that there was neither a Taser in the room nor time for a security detail to make it to their floor, high in the Bank of the Americas’ tower. Then he floated five empty casings, putting every round into the newly turned zombie’s center of mass.

Instantly two things happened.

Skorpio dropped, flailing, to the carpeted floor and writhed, screaming all the while. And Tom’s hearing was overlain with the siren song of damaged cochlear cells–tinnitus–which provided a semipermanent ringing sound that contributed to the unreality of the scene: Tom shooting another employee in his own fortieth-floor conference room.

His shots must have struck the zombie’s spine while avoiding the heart, because Skorpio had begun very slowly crawling across the floor towards the cluster of people now scuttling behind Smith, including Rune, Curry and others. With single-minded, predatorlike determination, the mostly naked zombie buried its fingers in the plush carpet and pulled itself by main force towards its intended quarry.

Tom sidestepped away from the group and put his back to the conference room glass wall, which looked out over a dirty brown East River. He kept his pistol at a low ready and scanned the rest of the group, who looked back at him uncomprehendingly.

“Everyone stand up straight, show me your face.” This from their resident mad scientist. Unsurprisingly, Curry mentally got there first. “Show me your eyes!” he commanded.

“Do what he says,” Smith added. “New rules, is anyone feeling sneezy or itchy? Everyone look left, look right–examine them like your life depended on it.”

Comprehension dawned on the group, and they began looking at each other and back at the zombie. It was still several feet away, slowly working its way across the plush carpet, leaving a broad and slippery red trail.

“No visible symptoms, Mr. Smith,” Curry said. “I just got focused on the business problem and didn’t see his.” He gestured to the zombie, which was within ten feet.

Smith looked at the group one more time and coldly barked: “Security rounds!”

He fired once more, striking Skorpio in the head. The zombie dropped, motionless, yellow brain matter visible from the exit wound.

Smith decocked and reholstered; his face was drawn with anger.

“This simply won’t do.”

He looked over at the door, which had just been flung open, and where Durante had just skidded to a halt, pistol drawn. Kaplan bumped into him from behind, having run from the elevator with a few others.

“Congratulations, Dr. Curry,” Tom said. One side of his mouth twitched a bit in what might, charitably, be called a smile. “You now have some live virus with which to proceed.”

* * *

“You are officially insane,” the city attorney said, quietly addressing the head of the OEM. If his statement bothered her, it wasn’t obvious to the audience.

Kohn had been making her case to manufacture the attenuated vaccine since she had co-opted the status report and update being delivered by the deputy mayor for Health and Human Services.

You could see the individual beads of sweat across the brows of some city administrators, even though they were miles away. This unhelpfully clear detail was usually a positive feature of the high-definition tele-presence display that covered the entire wall of the underground conference facility beneath city hall. Each participant was rendered in life-size scale, enhancing the feeling that all of the attendees were actually there in person. This time though, the details didn’t inspire confidence.

The visible underarm stains and sweaty collars were there for all to see. Grim looks or blank faces predominated.

Kohn was smiling on the inside, where no one could see. Fear was to her advantage.

The city of New York enjoyed excellent communications infrastructure, especially for the channels serving critical disaster response and crisis management functions. After 9/11, a combination of federal funding and fees collected from the financial services sector had built a large integrated surveillance and communications system.

Initially dubbed the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, it first focused on protecting the city’s life blood, the bankers and insurers clustered in lower Manhattan from which location they generated the revenue that made the entire city possible. Later, the system had grown to cover most of the island and the important areas of the adjoining boroughs. Supported by major technology companies, the effort eventually grew into the integrated City of New York Domain Awareness System, and now it could connect NYC officials by video anywhere in the city, as well as control tens of thousands of cameras, street barriers, traffic lights and special sensors.