Author: Joanne Macgregor
Publication Date: May 14, 2016
Publisher: Joanne Macgregor
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When a skilled gamer gets recruited as a sniper in the war against a terrorist-produced pandemic, she discovers there’s more than one enemy and more than one war. The Game is real.
Three years after a series of terrorist attacks flooded the US with a lethal plague, society has changed radically.
Sixteen year-old Jinxy James spends her days trapped at home – immersed in virtual reality, worrying about the plague and longing for freedom. Then she wins a war simulation game and is recruited into a top-secret organisation where talented teenagers are trained to become agents in the war on terror. Eager to escape her mother’s over-protectiveness and to serve her country, Jinxy enlists and becomes an expert sniper of infected mutant rats.
She’s immediately drawn to Quinn O’Riley, a charming and subversive intelligence analyst who knows more about the new order of government and society than he is telling. Then a shocking revelation forces Jinxy to make an impossible decision, and she risks losing everything.
We all turned to follow her gaze. At once, the driver checked the doors were locked, then reached for his phone to call in the sighting, relaying our exact GPS coordinates to the operator while we stared at the man clinging to the pole of a street light a few feet away from us. On the left side of his body, he was wearing exactly half of a stained, white personal protection suit, which looked like it had been torn vertically down the middle seam. His right side was completely naked.
“Ugh, gagnasty,” said Graham, swallowing hard. “Imagine what he smells like.”
The man’s lips were moving furiously. Was he literally talking to a lamp post? Then he banged his head against the pole. And again. Over and over he banged it, perhaps in time to the inner rhythm of some hallucinated music that only he could hear. The skin of his forehead split open, and blood ran down into his eyes and mouth and beard and dripped onto the remnants of the PPE suit and the skin of his chest.
Without warning, he turned and hurled himself at the van, banged on its sides and windows, and screamed loudly enough for us to hear it through the sealed windows and reinforced panels. His bulging eyes were wild, unseeing, and washed red with blood. His skin was stippled with the purple-red rash and blotched bruises of the disease. His swollen lips twisted and split open as he howled. Then he slammed his head against my window, and the driver cursed and pulled off at top speed. Immediately he called ahead for a decontamination and disinfectant squad to meet us at our destination.
“Effing rabid!” said Bruce, his face twisted with disgust.
I stared at the smear of blood on the window. It looked black against the tinted glass. My heart was thudding somewhere in the region of my throat, and I fought the urge to throw up.
“I’ve never seen a rabid before,” said Graham who looked, if possible, even paler than before.
“Don’t call him that. He’s a human being,” I said.
“Not anymore he isn’t,” said Bruce. “They should take them all out.” He mimed aiming a rifle out the window and taking a shot, his lips popping a sound.
“How can you say that?”
“What?” Bruce held up his hands. “It’s not like there’s a cure for rat fever. Might as well put them down and save them the suffering. We do it for rabid animals, why not people?”
“Put them down, dude? Really?” said Leya. She turned to face Bruce, or maybe she was turning her back on the window so she didn’t have to see the blood. “Talk about a mouth-fart.”
“They’re people. They have a right to compassion and proper treatment,” I said.
Bruce made a dismissive noise. “What treatment?”
“President Hawke said they’re making progress with developing a vaccine.”
“As fast as they isolate and study the virus, it mutates. My aunt is an epidemiologist at the CDC, and she told me it evolves in two ways: gradually through random mutation, and very rapidly as different strains of the virus. It can even swap genes inside a single animal or person. Nature is always one step ahead,” said Graham. He sounded almost smug.
“One day there’ll be a cure,” I said.
“One day in the next week?” Bruce mocked. “By then, that one will be dead.”
“He might live,” I said. It was extremely rare, but some survived the initial illness.
“You can’t call that living. Going blind and lying like a dead vegetable with your skin peeling off. Just existing for a few more months until pneumonia or rotting bedsores take you out. There’ll never be a cure for that kind of brain damage. Once they’ve gone rabid, there’s no coming back. They’re not human anymore, they’re oxygen thieves.”
“You’re wrong. That man is someone’s son, maybe someone’s father or husband or brother.”
“Not for long he isn’t,” said Bruce.
“For an average of thirteen days and two hours,” said Graham. He was picking bits of lint off his PPE suit.
“You don’t agree with him, do you?” I asked Leya.
“Mostly I just feel really sorry for them. And their families,” she said.
“Me too, it’s freaking tragic.”
“Well, of course I feel sorry for them. Everyone does,” said Bruce. “But I think we should rather use all the money we put into trying to treat them and keeping the survivors alive into research. You know, trying to find a cure, or come up with a vaccine or treatment that actually works. Or into fighting the terrs.”
I was only half-listening. I’d heard all the arguments before — or, at least, read them on online forums and discussion boards aflame with the debate. We never spoke about the plague at home. Whenever conversation approached the topic, even tangentially, Mom would change the subject or leave the room, clearly upset, so Robin and I had learned not to mention it in front of her.
“Hey Jinx,” Leya said to me, “you’re really upset. Big hug.” People didn’t give hugs anymore, they only said them.
“It’s just … It could be any one of us.”
“Huh, not if I can help it,” said Bruce.
“We’re here,” said Graham, and I turned to look out a window. One without a smear of deadly blood.