"I'm sorry," Kallie whispers sadly the next morning. She can barely look me in the eyes. I feel myself deflate. She has nothing to be sorry for. She didn't do anything wrong. It's not her fault I have memories that have the power to destroy me. I wish I didn't. I wish I could stay strong and let them slide off my back. I wish I could control the way my mind wanders through the horror show that has been the past few months.
"It's okay, you didn't do anything wrong." I tell her, lifting her chin up with my finger. Her eyes meet mine; they are full of such sadness. I want to erase that sadness.
"I shouldn't have said anything." She says quietly but she doesn't try to look away.
"No, I shouldn't have said anything." RJ says. He lifts Kallie up into his solid arms and hugs her closes. "What you went through was horrible and I shouldn't have pushed. I was being selfish."
"No," I say. "You were worried about your family. I would have done the same thing. You didn't know anything about us."
Is this what it's going to be like always? Are we no longer going to be able to talk about our experiences, our lives, without losing ourselves to the burden of the memories? Is our new world, the one we're so desperately trying to create, going to be laid upon a foundation of egg shells? What do we do then? Our old society fell so easily, we're more rugged now, more able to survive, but we're also more breakable than ever. Our minds have become battle weary and worn, will that be our permanent state? I don't want it to be. It can't be. If it is then we're doomed. If it is than we will never survive. We have to find the cure to this plague that's taken over our lives but we will also have to find a cure for the effects of the memories we carry within us. I fear that one will be the most challenging.
"Regardless, I'm sorry." He says and the only thing I can do is accept his apology and hope that we aren't too far gone.
"Can I ask you something?" He asks Dr. Melchionda as we are finishing our breakfasts.
"Of course, anything." Dr. Melchionda says, wiping his mouth with a napkin and placing his empty omelet bag to the side.
"How will you know that you've found the cure? What do you have here to help you find it even? I don't mean to sound rude but how do you plan on accomplishing anything when you don't have any equipment?"
"It's not like it's his fault we don't have the equipment here, he's doing his best." Nadine says, defensively. RJ shakes his head rapidly, backtracking.
"That's not what I meant." He says. "I didn't mean to suggest that he wasn't, I was just curious."
"It's all right," Dr. Melchionda says. "It's a valid question."
We all wait for his response. I've had the same question. All he has is the folder I found in CCBSE and the information he's gathered from what I went through. I can't imagine how anything else can happen. How can there be progress when we are frozen in time. We don't have equipment. It's just a fact of our situation. I don't even know where we would go to get what he needs. I don't know if any of us would know what we were looking for if we did go back out into the world to try to find it. Just as I'm starting to think he isn't going to say anything else he begins to speak.
"You are right; I don't have the right equipment to do anything with the information that I've gathered so far. We know that B- blood is immune and if not immune than resistant. We're assuming everyone with that blood type reacts differently because of the two people we know who have the blood type and were infected both of them showed different symptoms. Unfortunately, Ellie's mother did not survive long after she was infected so we do not know if Ellie's delayed reaction was a good example of what will happen to anyone with B- blood once they are infected and have been for some time. There are still so many questions that we don't know the answers to but I think I've pieced together some of the story from the research in the folder from the Campbell Center of Biological Science and Engineering where the virus originated from.
"What I do know is this; this is a virus, not an infection. I know both terms have been floating around but it is a virus. I know this because it cannot be treated successfully with antibiotics. Now, viruses can be tricky. We know that they need a living host for them to survive, but we also know that this one virtually kills the host. When the virus enters the blood stream, it circulates through the body rapidly with the flow of blood through the arteries and veins. As soon as it hits organ tissue, within a matter of seconds the organ dies. This happens throughout the entire body except for select parts of the brain that are left active so that the host can remain animated and as a result, the virus has an empty canvas to grow and get stronger and multiply. Its sole purpose is to reproduce, to find a new host to take over, and have the whole process start over again.
"We know that in Ellie the virus entered her blood stream through an injection. She was infected and she could have infected others if she had not been careful. Her immediate reaction was the whitening of her eyes and a series of blackened track marks on her arm where the virus was introduced. She was also re-infected not long after from a bite to her arm but no new symptoms appeared after that. She, however, was not entirely immune; the virus's symptoms were just very slow moving. Eventually, the slow moving virus took effect and she went through the same process as anyone else who's infected, only it happened a lot slower so her body was able to form antibodies against the virus. Instead of the effects being instantaneous and all of her organs failing immediately after she was infected, it happened weeks later and the organ failure was slower which meant we could treat it and her body could fight. Luckily, she survived and now she can no longer infect another person and her body has the antibodies against the virus.
"This is where I've had to start piecing things together. B- blood has only the B antigen on the red blood cells but it doesn't have the rhesus factor that positive blood types would have. The Rh factor just means that there is an additional antigen attached to the red blood cells, the D antigen, positive blood types have it, negative blood types don't. Additionally, B blood types also have the A antibody in the plasma and A blood types have the B antibody. AB types have neither and O types have both.
"I think the virus targets the D antigen, the B antibody in the plasma, and the A antigen on the red cells. Meaning…"
"I'm only immune on a technicality." I say.
"Basically an oversight." Dr. Melchionda agrees.
"Damn," Nadine says. "What are the chances that there would be a mistake in the making of this shit to allow for only one blood type to be immune and without that we would never have had the chance for a cure?"
"The chances are almost nonexistent that everything would work out exactly this way. However, it could have worked out slightly differently and another blood type could have been immune. For instance, the virus could have targeted the D antigen, A antibody, and B antigen and then A- blood types would have been immune. However, if that were the case, Ellie and her mother would not have been immune and they would have turned when they were infected. We never would have gotten the information that we have and would have no chance of finding the cure.
"And, of course, I could be completely wrong."
I stare unblinking at the lamp in the middle of our circle. I don't know what to make of any of this. Nothing has changed, not really, I knew I was immune before this conversation and I knew the reason was my rare blood type but it's different once it's been put into terms. Because Nadine is right, the chance that everything would work out this way seems impossible. Even with my immune blood, the chances of us finding CCBSE when we did, getting the folder and meeting Ambrose Riley are so impossibly thin. We might save the world. We could do it. We've come so far and overcome so much but it's impossible that we have made it to this point; even more impossible to consider actually finding the cure someday.
"Everything Charles has told us is merely speculation." Dr. Collins says seeing all of our crestfallen expressions. We are all united in a morbid sense of impossibilities and what ifs. "And it doesn't matter, we know that people with the blood type B- are immune or resistant and we have the folder with a lot of the research into the making of this damn plague so it doesn't matter if it had to take a million miracles to get it into our hands. We have it and we're going to find the cure. That's what we should be concentrating on."
"How are we going to do that?" Amanda asks. "We have so much work ahead of us."
"That's true." Dr. Melchionda says. "But that's never stopped us before; it certainly hasn't stopped me before. That's how we are all still alive. We don't give up or back down. This is our final obstacle, that's all it is, and once it's behind us and the world is better it's going to seem like only a blip on the radar of our lives. When this is behind us, you're going to see that it was all worth it. I promise."
"What do you think?" Shawn asks me as we sit on the roof watching another painting wash over the sky in front of us. We haven't said much since this morning when we discussed the progress of the cure. I've spent a lot of time sitting up here today, processing everything. It was weird to hear my experiences with the virus laid out so scientifically, so clinically. It was like he was talking about someone else, but in my heart I'm happy it happened to me because I know how real everything he was saying is. I know he's right because what he used as an example was something I went through. In a strange way, that's how I know everything he said will work out.
"I think its good news." I tell him honestly. "It's nice to finally understand everything better and I don't care how small the chances were that it would happen this way but I'm not going to question it. We're lucky, finally, and I'm thankful for that."
"Me too," he says. "Things can start moving forward now. Things need to change and for the first time it feels like things might actually change for the better."
"Exactly." I say with a small smile. He reaches out for my hand without looking away from the horizon and runs a finger along my wrist. My smile widens at his touch. It's nice to be with my best friend through all of this. We got so lucky, more so than most, and there isn't a day that goes by when I don't recognize that. No one is guaranteed to actually find their soulmate and when you do; when you do it's the greatest feeling in the world. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I'd been single going into my adult years. I would have been okay on my own but that can get lonely. Who would I have ended up with if not Shawn? I can't imagine life spent with anyone else.
"So, what do we do now?" Shawn asks.
"We wait," I tell him, "for more people to find us."
"And then what?" He asks, squinting against the golden sunlight sinking behind the mountains and rubble.
"We change things, bring them back to the way they were before - only hopefully better than it was before."
"And then what?" He asks with one eye closed against the leaking sunset. He smiles as I catch his open eye.
"And then we get to live." I say.
"I like the sound of that." Shawn says lying back against the warm concrete as the last dregs of sunlight begins to disappear, just out of our view.
"Me too." I say and mean it more than I've meant anything in a really long time.