Nella tried not to think about the hundreds of people nearby, all rotting in their sleep, but the raspy hum of the flies was almost overwhelming. The heat trebled the intensity of the rotting sewage smell that hung in a cloud over them. It would be worse when they woke up and began moving around. What would they think of each other? Of themselves?
“Be ready to take notes,” Professor Taylor told his small crew, “Remember to stay back from the Infected- er Cured until the soldiers say it’s safe and then I want you to try to observe them as closely as possible. We don’t know if they will remember anything after infection, but for many that will have been traumatic. They may be exhibiting confusion, fear or even mild aggression. You are the only people left in the world that are trained to deal with this. History is depending on your faithful recollections and hard work on this day.”
Nella tapped a pencil on her legal pad nervously and walked down the slope where the soldiers had their weapons aimed squarely at the sleeping Infected. There was no breeze and she could clearly hear Rick Framden orating his broadcast from fifty yards away, even over the insistent buzz of the insects.
“This is it ladies and gentlemen. In just a few moments the sleeping darts should wear off and the whole world will be able to see whether the Cure has worked. This could be the beginning of the end of this terrible plague . . .”
“No pressure right?” sighed an attractive Indian girl at Nella’s elbow.
Nella grinned in spite of the situation. “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be over with the film crew?” she asked.
“Nah, the Great Rick Framden sent me to shoot b-roll. I’m not much more than an intern. And I’m stuck behind these louts. I’m barely going to get a shot of anything except uniformed backs.”
Nella liked her already. “We can’t let someone like Rick Framden dictate what gets recorded for history. No offense.”
“Believe me, none taken. Sevita Das by the way.”
“Dr. Nella Rider. Stick close to me and get ready.”
Slow movement on the field caught her eye and her smile faded. It was happening. One of the Infected was stirring. Nella looked around as a restless shuffle traveled through the soldiers. These weren’t hardened veterans. They were kids and homemakers and retirees. All that was left that could prop up a weapon. She thought to herself that they were going to be as desperate for psychiatric care as the Cured after today. If they didn’t accidentally shoot each other first. Nella pushed her way forward.
“Hey, I wouldn’t do that if I were you-” began a young soldier next to her, but suddenly he stopped. One of the Infected, a man, began to stand, rising from the crushed whorl of long grasses. Sevita pushed in next to Nella and began filming. “Hold still!” shouted the young soldier. The Infected man held his hands up. The nails were long and jagged and his hands and cheeks were black and scaly with old blood. He was shaking.
“Identify yourself!” yelled the soldier and Nella felt him tighten like a guitar string stretched too far.
“Isaac- my name’s Isaac Green.” His voice was stronger and clearer than Nella had expected. The man caught sight of the blood on his arms and brought them in front of his face. He was shaking more now.
“Mr. Green,” Nella broke in, “Isaac. Listen to me, you’ve been ill for a long time, but it’s going to be okay now.” She took a few steps toward him and the still slumbering mass of Infected behind him.
“Don’t-” the soldier said, but Nella kept walking. Sevita followed her, camera focused on Mr. Green.
“Ill?” said Mr. Green, “Was it all a dream? Was I just delirious?” He held his hands out in front of him as if he would drop them from his body if he could. He turned around slowly, his eyes widening at the sight of hundreds of people lying motionless on the field. He turned back and sought Nella’s face. “Where is my family? I need to find them. In my dream, I- I did terrible things- I need to find my wife-” Mr. Green began to weep, his face cracking into a deep grimace.
“It’s okay, Mr. Green,” said Nella, “We’ll help you find your family just as soon as we can. If you’ll come with me we’ll have a physician check you over and then we can add your name to the Found List-” she reached him and suppressing a shudder, placed a warm hand on his back. The rag that had once been his shirt was stiff and rough like sandpaper, caked with blood and dirt. He turned suddenly toward her and she jumped slightly. The soldier called, “Steady there!” and she watched the entire line of military personnel clench their weapons tighter. Nella held up her hand. “It’s okay,” she said.
But Mr. Green was staring at her. “What do you mean the ‘Found List’?”
Nella’s response was slow and deliberate, “Mr. Green, there have been some changes in the world while you have been ill . . .” She got no further.
“Oh my God!” screamed Mr. Green, “Oh my God! It was all real! It was all real! I killed them, I killed my own babies- my neighbors, it wasn’t a dream? Tell me it was a dream!” he grabbed her arm, but weakly. He was crying so hard that she physically had to help him stay standing for a moment.
“It’s over now,” she said helplessly, “It’s going to be okay for everyone now.” But even as she said it, she knew it was a blatant lie and she blushed with shame. Mr. Green dropped her arm.
He started shaking his head, “It wasn’t a dream.” He whispered and then he started running toward the soldiers.
“Stop!” they shouted, but Mr. Green didn’t listen. He limped in an awkward sprint toward them, his ankle or foot broken some time long before. The soldiers were unused to an Infected that could speak and weep. They hesitated to fire, and Mr. Green reached the young man Nella had pushed past. Isaac threw himself on the outstretched bayonet. The soldier had tears streaming down his face as he pulled the trigger. Nella was dumbstruck. She looked at Sevita who was still filming as the soldier dropped his gun and fled up the hill. Nella heard movement behind her. She turned and saw the mass of people slowly sitting up, stretching limbs and shaking their heads as if they could clear away the memory of the past two years. She looked back at Sevita and saw the pretty Indian girl turn the camera shakily toward herself. She tried to concentrate on the Cured woman beside her who was trying to stand and heard Sevita begin her broadcast in a dreadfully calm voice.
“Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. This is Sevita Das reporting live from the Cure facility. It has finally happened, the Cure has worked. And the Infected remember. They remember everything. The madness has cleared. As you have just seen, this will be a massive burden of guilt for the Cured to bear, and many, no doubt, will not survive. Remaining family members and friends are urged to make contact with the doctors here, who will be able to help with the intense therapy that will be necessary to repair relationships and rebuild not only the Cured, but everyone affected by this terrible disease . . .”
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