They spent the first few minutes at the diner quietly staring at each other, ignoring the waitress' attempts at taking their order. Jonathan Blaine seemed to be on the verge of saying something more than once but decided against it. Finally, he took a very deep breath and started his explanation. Ronan never forgot that moment and the torrent of feelings it evoked.
"What I'm about to tell you will probably shock and confuse you, but I would like to ask you to let me finish first before asking any questions." Jonathan said and took another deep breath. Ronan gave him a slow nod, so he went on.
"On the 27th of February, approximately six months ago, the United States of America came under an attack of massive scale and coordination, the likes of which had never been encountered before. None of the intelligence agencies had detected any sign of it and we were all caught completely unawares.
First came the nukes. Our satellites detected multiple missiles heading towards our largest cities, being launched from several locations around the globe. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles were the first targets. Funnily enough, it was thanks to the nearly 50 years of fearing the Russians during the Cold War that we managed to react in time and prevent the destruction of those cities and the loss of countless lives.
People started being evacuated to bunkers in the thousands and military law was declared almost immediately. They managed to shoot most of them down in time before they found their targets. Nevertheless, the sheer number of missiles was above even the worst-case scenarios envisioned when these defence systems were built. This forced the military to cherry pick their targets and let some of them through. It was not a pretty sight and the cost in both lives and money is immeasurable.
The fight against the nukes, which we now refer to as the Weeks of Terror, lasted about three weeks. Every single member of the military, the police and the fire brigade, as well as a huge amount of volunteers had been drafted to help man the defence, ensure an orderly evacuation of civilians and help the injured. All anybody had time to do during that time was follow orders and eat rationed food. There was nothing on the Internet, TV or radio other than evacuation instructions. Sleeping was out of the question and so was everything else."
Noticing the wide-eyed expression on Ronan's face and the fact that he was neither blinking nor breathing regularly, Jonathan Blaine stopped for a moment in order to allow this information to settle. He waived the waitress over, ordered some food and drinks for both of them and continued.
"I'm afraid that this is where things get even worse. As I was saying, we did all we could do to prevent the missiles from finding their targets. During that time, everyone was so focused on scanning the skies and reacting to these attacks that no one noticed what was happening on land.
It was right at the end of the Weeks of Terror that the effects of the second wave of the attack started getting noticed, but it took some time before anyone realized what was really happening. At first, people started fainting in large numbers. There was no obvious pattern to these incidents and it was happening all around the country. After having fainted, other than a slight loss of appetite and a feeling of weakness, no further symptoms would appear for about two weeks, which was long enough for people to get checked up and discharged.
After those first two weeks, the symptoms intensified and people grew progressively weaker. By the end of the first month after the attacks started, patients started falling into a coma one after another. The only means of slowing it down enough to prevent people from dying was to force-feed them an intravenous solution with very high amounts of sugar. Hospitals, schools, conference rooms and any other type of building that could fit beds and basic medical equipment was used to accommodate the Sleepers.
With more than ten percent of the population in a coma and two months passed since the start of the outbreak, we were quickly running out of space to house the patients as well as medical supplies to treat them with. In a desperate attempt to ration the supplies and avoid total collapse, the United Nations created a set of criteria on who got to receive food and medical care.
The sick and wounded were cut off first, as they were deemed a liability. It, however, wasn't enough to make any significant impact and the measures got much stricter. People above the age of 60 weren't even admitted anymore. Anyone over that age showing the symptoms was sent home and left to fend for himself.
You must understand that no health system is built to sustain such a high number of casualties at any given time. Doctors and nurses around the world were working twenty-four seven with a decreasing amount of supplies as well as staff since the start of the outbreak.
It was a few weeks after banning people over 60 that they stopped admitting people altogether. The ones already hospitalized would be cared for until supplies lasted, but there was nothing that could be done past that point. Nearly a billion people were doomed, not including anyone yet to be infected by the virus.
At that point, the situation truly got out of hand. Panic and fear took over and millions of guns in the hands of scared men and women did a much better job at destroying the country than the nukes ever could have. The police and military tried to contain the situation as best they could but countless lives have been lost.
The combined death toll of the nukes and subsequent violent riots since the spread of the virus exceeded one billion people. Blaine took a very big sip of his coffee and remained silent for a full minute.
If it wasn't for the men and women of the Institute of the Americas, we'd most likely be dead by now. They realized that in the year leading up to the attacks, there had been minor outbreaks of the same symptoms in various parts of the country. Due to their small scale, they went largely unnoticed by the medical community and it was extremely difficult to retrieve any information during and after the Weeks of Terror.
You, Mr. Waters, were one of the last recorded cases before the attacks started. The terrorists had been experimenting in the past year, testing and perfecting their virus in small pockets of the population. They used the missile attack as a means to gather massive amounts of people in one place and then released the pathogen inside the bunkers.
The IoA found some of the early victims of the virus and used their blood in order to devise a cure. Luckily, the antidote was effective enough to jump-start people's immune systems and after a few rounds of improvements, the cure was completed. It takes about a month for a normal person to fully recover and twice that for those who've been exposed for a longer time. They started with injecting patients in the order they fell in the coma, making you one of the first to be cured.
The military have created and maintain safe zones such us this one where law and order still hold but the struggles continue in remote areas of the country. At the current rate, I expect that it'll be a very long time before the country is truly back in one piece."
The moment Jonathan finished talking, he started calmly eating his steak and slowly sipped the large beer he'd ordered. Ronan, who hadn't even touched his own meal, stared at him in disbelief and desperately tried to structure his thoughts and ask any of the millions of questions that went through his mind.
Long after Jonathan had finished his meal, Ronan still hadn't said a single word or done anything else for that matter. All he had managed to do was bring his breathing under control and his heartbeat down to a regular pace.
"Take me home", Ronan suddenly said.