Home > World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War(8)

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War(8)
Author: Max Brooks

We had plenty of contacts in the biomed industry, with plenty more up on the Hill and Penn Ave. We could have a working proto in less than a month and a proposal written up within a couple of days. By the eighteenth hole, it was handshakes all around.

What about the FDA?

Please, are you serious? Back then the FDA was one of the most underfunded, mismanaged organizations in the country. I think they were still high-fiving over getting Red No. 2 1 out of M&Ms. Plus, this was one of the most business-friendly administrations in American history. J. P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller were getting wood from beyond the grave for this guy in the White House. His staff didn’t even bother to read our cost assessment report. I think they were already looking for a magic bullet. They railroaded it through the FDA in two months. Remember the speech the prez made before Congress, how it had been tested in Europe for some time and the only thing holding it up was our own “bloated bureaucracy”? Remember the whole thing about “people don’t need big government, they need big protection, and they need it big-time!” Jesus Christmas, I think half the country creamed their pants at that. How high did his approval rating go that night, 60 percent, 70? I just know that it jacked our IPO 389 percent on the first day! Suck on that, Baidu dot-com!

And you didn’t know if it would work?

We knew it would work against rabies, and that’s what they said it was, right, just some weird strain of jungle rabies.

Who said that?

You know, “they,” like, the UN or the…somebody. That’s what everyone ended up calling it, right, “African rabies.”

Was it ever tested on an actual victim?

Why? People used to take flu shots all the time, never knowing if it was for the right strain. Why was this any different?

But the damage…

Who thought it was going to go that far? You know how many disease scares there used to be. Jesus, you’d think the Black Death was sweeping the globe every three months or so…ebola, SARS, avian flu. You know how many people made money on those scares? Shit, I made my first million on useless antiradiation pills during the dirty bomb scares.

But if someone discovered…

Discovered what? We never lied, you understand? They told us it was rabies, so we made a vaccine for rabies. We said it had been tested in Europe, and the drugs it was based on had been tested in Europe. Technically, we never lied. Technically, we never did anything wrong.

But if someone discovered that it wasn’t rabies…

Who was going to blow the whistle? The medical profession? We made sure it was a prescription drug so doctors stood just as much to lose as us. Who else? The FDA who let it pass? The congressmen who all voted for its acceptance? The surgeon general? The White House? This was a win-win situation! Everyone got to be heroes, everyone got to make money. Six months after Phalanx hit the market, you started getting all these cheaper, knockoff brands, all solid sellers as well as the other ancillary stuff like home air purifiers.

But the virus wasn’t airborne.

It didn’t matter! It still had the same brand name! “From the Makers of…” All I had to say was “May Prevent Some Viral Infections.” That was it! Now I understand why it used to be illegal to shout fire in a crowded theater. People weren’t going to say “Hey, I don’t smell smoke, is there really a fire,” no, they say “Holy shit, there’s a fire! RUN!” [Laughs.] I made money on home purifiers, car purifiers; my biggest seller was this little doodad you wore around your neck when you got on a plane! I don’t know if it even filtered ragweed, but it sold.

Things got so good, I started setting up these dummy companies, you know, with plans to build manufacturing facilities all over the country. The shares from these dumbos sold almost as much as the real stuff. It wasn’t even the idea of safety anymore, it was the idea of the idea of safety! Remember when we started to get our first cases here in the States, that guy in Florida who said he’d been bitten but survived because he was taking Phalanx? OH! [He stands, mimes the act of frantic fornication.] God freakin’ bless that dumbass, whoever he was.

But that wasn’t because of Phalanx. Your drug didn’t protect people at all.

It protected them from their fears. That’s all I was selling. Hell, because of Phalanx, the biomed sector started to recover, which, in turn, jump-started the stock market, which then gave the impression of a recovery, which then restored consumer confidence to stimulate an actual recovery! Phalanx hands down ended the recession! I…I ended the recession!

And then? When the outbreaks became more serious, and the press finally reported that there was no wonder drug?

Pre-fucking-cisely! That’s the alpha cunt who should be shot, what’s her name, who first broke that story! Look what she did! Pulled the f**kin’ rug right out from under us all! She caused the spiral! She caused the Great Panic!

And you take no personal responsibility?

For what? For making a little f**kin’ cash…well, not a little [giggles]. All I did was what any of us are ever supposed to do. I chased my dream, and I got my slice. You wanna blame someone, blame whoever first called it rabies, or who knew it wasn’t rabies and gave us the green light anyway. Shit, you wanna blame someone, why not start with all the sheep who forked over their greenbacks without bothering to do a little responsible research. I never held a gun to their heads. They made the choice themselves. They’re the bad guys, not me. I never directly hurt anybody, and if anybody was too stupid to get themselves hurt, boo-fuckin-hoo. Of course…

If there’s a hell…[giggles as he talks]…I don’t want to think about how many of those dumb shits might be waiting for me. I just hope they don’t want a refund.

AMARILLO, TEXAS, USA

[Grover Carlson works as a fuel collector for the town’s experimental bioconversion plant. The fuel he collects is dung. I follow the former White House chief of staff as he pushes his wheelbarrow across the pie-laden pastures.]

Of course we got our copy of the Knight-WarnJews report, what do you think we are, the CIA? We read it three months before the Israelis went public. Before the Pentagon started making noise, it was my job to personally brief the president, who in turn even devoted an entire meeting to discussing its message.

Which was?

Drop everything, focus all our efforts, typical alarmist crap. We got dozens of these reports a week, every administration did, all of them claiming that their particular boogeyman was “the greatest threat to human existence.” C’mon! Can you imagine what America would have been like if the federal government slammed on the brakes every time some paranoid crackpot cried “wolf” or “global warming” or “living dead”? Please. What we did, what every president since Washington has done, was provide a measured, appropriate response, in direct relation to a realistic threat assessment.

And that was the Alpha teams.

Among others things. Given how low a priority the national security adviser thought this was, I think we actually gave it some pretty healthy table time. We produced an educational video for state and local law enforcement about what to do in case of an outbreak. The Department of Health and Human Services had a page on its website for how citizens should respond to infected family members. And hey, what about pushing Phalanx right through the FDA?

But Phalanx didn’t work.

Yeah, and do you know how long it would have taken to invent one that did? Look how much time and money had been put into cancer research, or AIDS. Do you want to be the man who tells the American people that he’s diverting funds from either one of those for some new disease that most people haven’t even heard of? Look at what we’ve put into research during and after the war, and we still don’t have a cure or a vaccine. We knew Phalanx was a placebo, and we were grateful for it. It calmed people down and let us do our job.

What, you would have rather we told people the truth? That it wasn’t a new strain of rabies but a mysterious uber-plague that reanimated the dead? Can you imagine the panic that would have happened: the protest, the riots, the billions in damage to private property? Can you imagine all those wet-pants senators who would have brought the government to a standstill so they could railroad some high-profile and ultimately useless “Zombie Protection Act” through Congress? Can you imagine the damage it would have done to that administration’s political capital? We’re talking about an election year, and a damn hard, uphill fight. We were the “cleanup crew,” the unlucky bastards who had to mop up all the shit left by the last administration, and believe me, the previous eight years had piled up one tall mountain of shit! The only reason we squeaked back into power was because our new propped-up patsy kept promising a “return to peace and prosperity.” The American people wouldn’t have settled for anything less. They thought they’d been through some pretty tough times already, and it would have been political suicide to tell them that the toughest ones were actually up ahead.

So you never really tried to solve the problem.

Oh, c’mon. Can you ever “solve” poverty? Can you ever “solve” crime? Can you ever “solve” disease, unemployment, war, or any other societal herpes? Hell no. All you can hope for is to make them manageable enough to allow people to get on with their lives. That’s not cynicism, that’s maturity. You can’t stop the rain. All you can do is just build a roof that you hope won’t leak, or at least won’t leak on the people who are gonna vote for you.

What does that mean?

C’mon…

Seriously. What does that mean?

Fine, whatever, “Mister Smith goes to motherfuckin’ Washington,” it means that, in politics, you focus on the needs of your power base. Keep them happy, and they keep you in office.

Is that why certain outbreaks were neglected?

Jesus, you make it sound like we just forgot about them.

Did local law enforcement request additional support from the federal government?

When have cops not asked for more men, better gear, more training hours, or “community outreach program funds”? Those pussies are almost as bad as soldiers, always whining about never having “what they need,” but do they have to risk their jobs by raising taxes? Do they have to explain to Suburban Peter why they’re fleecing him for Ghetto Paul?

You weren’t worried about public disclosure?

From who?

The press, the media.

The “media”? You mean those networks that are owned by some of the largest corporations in the world, corporations that would have taken a nosedive if another panic hit the stock market? That media?

So you never actually instigated a cover-up?

We didn’t have to; they covered it up themselves. They had as much, or more, to lose than we did. And besides, they’d already gotten their stories the year before when the first cases were reported in America. Then winter came, Phalanx hit the shelves, cases dropped. Maybe they “dissuaded” a few younger crusading reporters, but, in reality, the whole thing was pretty much old news after a few months. It had become “manageable.” People were learning to live with it and they were already hungry for something different. Big news is big business, and you gotta stay fresh if you want to stay successful.

But there were alternative media outlets.

Oh sure, and you know who listens to them? Pansy, overeducated know-it-alls, and you know who listens to them? Nobody! Who’s going to care about some PBS-NPR fringe minority that’s out of touch with the mainstream? The more those elitist eggheads shouted “The Dead Are Walking,” the more most real Americans tuned them out.

So, let me see if I understand your position.

The administration’s position.

The administration’s position, which is that you gave this problem the amount of attention that you thought it deserved.

Right.

Given that at any time, government always has a lot on its plate, and especially at this time because another public scare was the last thing the American people wanted.

Yep.

So you figured that the threat was small enough to be “managed” by both the Alpha teams abroad and some additional law enforcement training at home.

You got it.

Even though you’d received warnings to the contrary, that it could never just be woven into the fabric of public life and that it actually was a global catastrophe in the making.

[Mister Carlson pauses, shoots me an angry look, then heaves a shovelful of “fuel” into his cart.]

Grow up.

TROY, MONTANA, USA

[This neighborhood is, according to the brochure, the “New Community” for the “New America.” Based on the Israeli “Masada” model, it is clear just from first glance that this neighborhood was built with one goal in mind. The houses all rest on stilts, so high as to afford each a perfect view over the twenty-foot-high, reinforced concrete wall. Each house is accessed by a retractable staircase and can connect to its neighbor by a similarly retractable walkway. The solar cell roofs, the shielded wells, the gardens, lookout towers, and thick, sliding, steel-reinforced gate have all served to make Troy an instant success with its inhabitants, so much so that its developer has already received seven more orders across the continental United States. Troy’s developer, chief architect, and first mayor is Mary Jo Miller.]

Oh yeah, I was worried, I was worried about my car payments and Tim’s business loan. I was worried about that widening crack in the pool and the new nonchlorinated filter that still left an algae film. I was worried about our portfolio, even though my e-broker assured me this was just first-time investor jitters and that it was much more profitable than a standard 401(k). Aiden needed a math tutor, Jenna needed just the right Jamie Lynn Spears cleats for soccer camp. Tim’s parents were thinking of coming to stay with us for Christmas. My brother was back in rehab. Finley had worms, one of the fish had some kind of fungus growing out of its left eye. These were just some of my worries. I had more than enough to keep me busy.

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