In the eighteenth chapter of Deadline, I am going to need my life to stop giving me terrifying things to read one after another because this week has been stressful. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Deadline.
Alaric swore. In two languages! I think that properly conveyed just how fucked up this whole situation is. Even worse, most of chapter eighteen is a waiting game. When will Mahir wake up? What other news does he have for the team? How will my heart be destroyed further? This conversation, whenever it happens, will not be good. There will be no joyous discoveries or revelations. That’s clear to me, and the calm before Mahir’s arrival was an omen. It was also realistic, too, because it really drove home the idea that After the End Times was stuck in Weed, California, far away from any new information, and that they were limited by their resources. Their lives couldn’t be a non-stop plot twist, especially since they couldn’t roam the U.S. freely.
Which only makes the twist at the end of this chapter even worse, but I’ll get there.
The group, including Kelly, can only speculate about what Mahir has brought them, and even Kelly can’t piece everything together. As I suspected, studying viral parasitism in and of itself wouldn’t get someone fired, so something else happened. OF COURSE! Conspiracy! Mahir uncovered a conspiracy on top of a conspiracy! It is Conspiracyception.
I shouldn’t be joking. At the time, I did want to joke about this. Like, okay, how could this get worse? Honestly, I started entertaining the notion that this wasn’t going to reveal more of the conspiracy. Instead, I bet Mahir got a name. The information he carried all the way over from the UK was pinpointing who was behind all of this. Clearly, someone wanted to keep the world population infected for their benefit, and now we’d find out who.
Ha. If only I knew.
But before Grant starts dropping some truly bewildering and indecipherable exposition, After the End Times eats. I appreciated that the whole gang was here, though it made me sad that Buffy, Rick, and Georgia weren’t around. It felt slightly incomplete while being as complete as it could be. Mahir was finally more than a character on the phone or seen through a video chat. He was here, and for two paragraphs in this whole book, it’s peaceful. They eat. They talk, and it’s nice. Really nice, too. But all good things must end, and finally, Mahir has to tell them why he took the risk of coming to Weed. What made it necessary? Why is he getting a divorce? What was so bad that it was worth all this trouble?
I’ll admit it’s been nearly a decade since I took any sort of science class, and even then, it was a remedial course of Marine Biology. (Which, side note, was the first class I ever got a D in. It was at 8am, and despite that I have always been a morning person, I decided to take 21 units my freshman year, and it was a terrible decision, so I was constantly late to the class. I still have nightmares about that class, y’all, and they are awful.) That means I understood very little of what was going on. I read each line carefully, but, like Shaun, it was so confusing that I couldn’t put it all together. I was having such a hard time understanding the small details that I was unable to see a big picture. And for the record, that’s not Mira Grant’s fault. Through the interruptions of other characters who understood things before me, I was able to understand a lot of this information on a basic level, but I wasn’t an expert by any means.
Once Mahir brought out the strain designations, I was pretty lost. I understood the concept of mutations, I understood that it was strange that there were spikes in the death rates whenever a new substrain was discovered. I knew it was bad that so many people with early forms of a reservoir condition surrounding these mutations was bad. But it didn’t allow me to assign malevolence to anything. As we read in Countdown, viruses don’t have morals. You can’t get angry at a virus. It just does it thing. And why would this information inspire a doctor to commit suicide? I was clearly missing something.
This is made even more bewildering when Mahir reveals that all those deaths? Totally random.
“There is no dominant cause of death among the victims in these regions. They just… die. They get hit by cars, they fall from ladders, they take their own lives, they die. As if it were any other day, as if theirs were any other deaths. The patten is in the absolute lack of a pattern, and it’s everywhere, and a month later, there’s a new strain of Kellis-Amberlee running about, more virulent than the one that was in that region prior to the deaths. Three to five years after that, the first reservoir conditions linked to the new strain start showing up, and then it’s another two years before the cycle starts over again.”
I DON’T FUCKING UNDERSTAND. I don’t! And I have no shame in admitting that. I don’t understand how this is possible, and I don’t understand how this is a thing that makes a person kill themselves. It’s a cycle, sure, but what does it mean?
“I would say that there are no naturally occurring viral substrains of the viral chimera generally referred to as Kellis-Amberlee.”
BUT WHAT THE FUCK MAHIR JUST SAID THERE WERE. Y’all, I just need you to know at this point I basically turned into Shaun, shouting at my Kindle because this wasn’t making any sense to me.
“They exist, but they aren’t natural,” I said.
It was at this point where I put my head down on my desk, and I honestly didn’t want to read the next paragraph. It was going to destroy me. This meant that the viral substrains were artificial.
Someone created them.
“These are CDC analyses of the structure of Kellis-Amberlee. They were acquired legally; they’ve all been published for public use. People have been trying for years to figure out how something this intricate and stable has been able to mutate without once creating a strain that behaved in a manner different from it’s parents. The answer is simple: It can’t, and it hasn’t. Every strain after the original has been created in a laboratory and has been released following what can only be an intentional culling of the individuals afflicted with reservoir conditions. It’s a bloody global study, and we’ve been all invited to participate.”
So, I have a lot of fun making videos to go with these, even when I’m reading something upsetting. I am thankful no one bought a video for this, because this paragraph made me sob out of pure rage. I could not help but think of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, or the way the Reagan administration ignored the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, or all the physicians who have ever used the mentally and physically disabled to “experiment” with sexually transmitted diseases or to be unwilling participants in their studies, or the way the Salk brothers deliberately infected people in a mental institution with influenza, or the Stateville Penintentiary Malaria Study, or the horrific things U.S. researchers did to the citizens in Guatemala, and I have to stop. I can’t. People in positions of power and privilege will use the marginalized and the downtrodden for their own scientific ends; they have done it before, and they will do it again. It infuriates me, and it made me sick to read this. The CDC and whoever else is a part of this deliberately infected unwilling people with viral mutations and killed off the people who could have survived it.
“Where are we going?” asked Alaric.
“The only place I think we might have half a chance of breaking into that’s going to have the resources to tell us where we’re supposed to go next. I looked challengingly at Kelly. She didn’t look away. Instead, she nodded, acceptance blossoming in her expression.
“We’re going to Memphis,” she said.
This fucking book, y’all. I cannot begin to deal with what I’ve just been told. Fuck.
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