I want to thank you all for joining me on such short notice.

Some of you may know me, but many of you do not. My name is Melissa Hart. I am the director of the CDC. I have held this position proudly for five years now. There have been fewer missteps under my administration than under any director before me. I know my personnel and I know my labs.

It is common knowledge that the CDC retains samples of dangerous pathogens in order to study them. The primary purpose of this research is to develop treatment strategies in case there is ever a recurrence. The CDC has also engaged in viroengineering.

This information was not shared due to concerns that it would be interpreted as a violation of prohibitions against research into bioweapons. I wish to state explicitly that the CDC's viroengineering research has never been weaponized. The CDC has strict procedures in place to defeat attempts to weaponize our engineered pathogens. The pathogens are engineered by the CDC in order to better understand what causes viruses to behave in certain ways and to produce certain symptoms. It makes the CDC more able to develop treatment strategies should any similar pathogens ever surface in an uncontained environment.

On Tuesday, the 4th of April at UTC 14:23, a researcher put on a blue suit and entered a biocontainment area to perform her work. Three hours later the subject exited the biocontainment area. She followed all safety procedures. She inspected her suit for punctures after exiting the area, according to procedure. She acted faultlessly. Two hours later, she left the CDC campus and returned to her home. Nine hours later she departed for Reagan National Airport, and two hours after that she boarded a flight to Seoul to attend a medical research conference.

On the 5th of April at UTC 15:08, a breach was discovered in the subject's suit during a routine inspection. It was determined that an engineered pathogen had entered the breach and had likely come into contact with the subject's skin while she had been wearing the suit. The engineered pathogen was skin-penetrating. The CDC, adhering to procedure, immediately determined the status of the subject and attempted to contact her. CDC employees whom the subject came into contact with after leaving the biocontainment area but before leaving the campus were quarantined. The CDC similarly quarantined everyone that the subject was likely to have come into close contact with before her departure from Reagan National. Fourteen of the thirty-eight quarantined people tested positive for infection by the pathogen.

The subject kept her mobile phone turned off for the duration of her travel, which included layovers in Chicago and Beijing. The particulars of her flight booking were not known by the CDC ahead of time. To every major airport in the country, the CDC issued instructions to airport personnel to intercept the subject if she was seen. But by this time the subject was already airborne, en route to Seoul from Beijing. The CDC proved unable to contact the subject until after she had arrived in Seoul and turned her mobile phone back on, on the 5th of April at UTC 17:45.

The subject immediately met WHO officials at Incheon International Airport and was quarantined. She tested positive for infection by the pathogen.

That was eighteen hours ago.

None of those known to be infected have exhibited symptoms. The engineered pathogen is believed to have an incubation period of approximately two years. That means it takes two years for symptoms of the infection to fully manifest. In the interim, those infected are not likely to experience any more severe symptoms than congestion or occasional minor headaches.

After the two-year incubation period, the pathogen's more severe symptoms are expected to emerge. Those infected with the pathogen will experience seizures and brain hemorrhaging. They will experience irrecoverable and likely lethal brain damage within two weeks of the appearance of the pathogen's severe symptoms.

There is currently no treatment strategy for this pathogen. Our models suggest that it has already spread too far for a worldwide quarantine followed by vaccine development and distribution to be tractable; by the time a quarantine were to be effectively established, a majority of the global population would have already been infected by the pathogen. Furthermore, we believe the long incubation period would cause people to disregard quarantine directives, since not they would not see any immediate threat to justify a quarantine in their minds.

The CDC has prioritized research into mitigation and treatment of the pathogen's symptoms, and research into a cure for the pathogen. The CDC will do everything in its power to defeat this pathogen. We will be transporting samples of the pathogen to numerous virology facilities worldwide so that they can aid in the effort.

With the best possible minds putting forth their best possible efforts all over the world, we believe we stand a considerable chance at developing a treatment strategy. But I must emphasize that it may not be enough. It may not be possible to treat this pathogen. If we prove unable to develop a treatment strategy before the end of the incubation period, our species will be enormously reduced. We estimate that one in twenty thousand people may be immune to the pathogen, or may experience reduced symptoms. That would leave fewer than half a million survivors, across the whole globe.

It is not a pleasant thing to contemplate, but we must prepare for this eventuality. We must ensure that if the rest of us go, those remaining will have the infrastructure necessary to sustain a modern manner of living. The packets that are being distributed now contain proposals for ensuring that survivors of the pathogen may prosper in our absence if no treatment strategy is developed in time. Please take heed of them. If we fail to save ourselves, we must not fail to ensure that those who survive us may still have a future.

The packet contains everything we know about the pathogen. Inside you'll find proposals for avenues of research into treatment strategies. Please share them with any researchers equipped to study the pathogen. This is our number one research priority from now until we find a solution.

Thank you all for attending. May God have mercy on our souls.

Bud Turner likes fire. When Bud was eight, he learned how to ignite his dad's papers by placing them on the stovetop and turning a dial. When Bud was ten, he burned down his house in the night. His parents and little sister perished in the blaze. The embers glowed brighter than the most spectacular fireworks he'd ever seen. When Bud was fifteen, he burned down the home of his foster parents. His foster mother died in the blaze. His foster father beat him so hard Bud was stuck in a hospital bed for a month. He started taking opioid pills to manage chronic pain, his newest companion. He kept playing with fire, but he learned better than to shit where he ate. A girl at school made fun of his limp so he burned down her house. A boy at school jeered at him and punched him in the gut so he burned down his house. He didn't burn down the house he lived in.

The cops knew the work of an amateur serial arsonist when they saw it. It didn't take them long to zero in on Bud. Bud was tried as an adult, convicted of arson in the third degree, and spent eight months in jail. He spent the time studying and he got his GED. When he got out of jail he learned that nobody wants to hire a convicted arsonist. He lied about himself to employers and got jobs that way. They usually only took a few months to get wise and fire him. Bud suppressed his compelling urges to burn down the places he got fired from. He burned down strangers' houses instead. It was release. It was better than sex. He learned to do it without getting caught. He always made it look like an accident.

Bud started wearing business suits. He shaved his beard and started grooming himself. He got a cane and started carrying himself straighter. The more respectable image meant employers stopped prying into his history. He worked behind desks doing work he was underqualified for, but nobody asked questions. He dreamed of something greater and more vicious than fire. He dreamed of explosions.

Bud sat watching TV in his apartment and noticed a commotion outside his window. He went to close it to shut out the noise. He saw a motorcade pass by on the street below. All the vehicles had Brazilian flags. Bud shut the window and returned to the TV. The noise outside got louder. He checked it out. There was another motorcade approaching. All the vehicles had Chinese flags. He switched the TV to news. On the screen he saw more motorcades and more flags. They were converging on a building ten blocks from his apartment complex. He put on his watch, grabbed a jacket and a briefcase, and stormed out of the apartment.

When opportunity knocks, you answer.

He walked as fast as his beating-deformed legs would allow for. He realized he'd forgotten his cane. He didn't go back for it. Another motorcade passed by. Bud didn't recognize the flags. He tried to slow his accelerated breathing. He failed. He felt light-headed. He collapsed onto a bench. He passed out for a few seconds. When he came to some kid was staring at him bug-eyed. Bud snarled. The kid fled.

Bud grunted and righted himself. He walked more slowly. He let his excitement mature into a delectable anticipation. He could taste the flames already.

A historic building four blocks away from Union Station shuddered. Flames replaced its windows. Flames soared out its front door. People ran out from it. They ran into traffic. Automobiles collided with flaming pedestrians. Their collective wail joined approaching sirens. Some guy in a sleek jacket with a nice watch and no briefcase watched from a bench across the street. Everybody who lived long enough to be transported to a hospital died within the next few days. The Vice President of the United States was sworn into office to replace his roasted predecessor. Nations across the world experienced similar transferences of power. Not all of them were peaceful.

The only living people who were aware of the full extent of the disaster released upon the planet by a breached blue suit were a handful of CDC employees. Three of them killed themselves after hearing of the explosion. One of them quit her job, left her spouse, and went on permanent vacation in Europe. The last one tried to spread the word. He was a glorified janitor. Nobody bought it.

Nobody could say why the subject and those she came into contact with had been quarantined, or what they had tested positive for. That information had been distributed solely on a need-to-know basis, according to procedure, and there was nobody left who knew. (Except the janitor, but nobody gave a shit about him.) The quarantined included the subject's fifteen-year-old daughter. She had not seen her mother since she was quarantined, according to procedure. The last time she saw her mother was when she left for the airport, two weeks prior. She told her mother she was a bitch for not letting her come visit Korea with her.

The CDC had the quarantined persons killed, according to procedure. Their corpses were disposed of, according to procedure. Their acquaintances were given benign explanations for the disappearances, according to procedure.

Two years passed. People started dying en masse. Nobody knew why.

Those who the pathogen didn't kill directly were killed by the unsanitary and unconscionable conditions produced by billions of corpses.

A few isolated communities survived long enough to starve after the supplies stopped flowing.

The last man put a gun in his mouth and fired.

Written by Sophie Kirschner