We’re getting close to the end of what I feel comfortable sharing from Strain. I imagine the first three chapters or so will be the excerpt when it goes up on the Riptide website, and today’s segment comprises the end of Chapter Two. Take this with a grain of salt, because this section is one I know that is going to see a lot of tweaking when it goes through edits, due to a ton of infodumping. All critical information that needs to get out very early in the story, but we all hate lengthy chunks of exposition, so I’m sure Sarah Frantz and I will be working very hard to make this feel less clunky.
In this section, Darius and Xolani and the rest of their squadron have rescued Rhys (Part 1 and Part 2) and Jacob from an attack by revenants on the monastery where they’ve been sheltering for the last seven years. Rhys, who is still concussed and disoriented from an earlier fight with Jacob, wants to know what is going to become of him, which leads to a discussion about the nature and origin of the virus to which they’ve been exposed in the attack.
Rhys nodded slowly. Some of this he’d learned in history lessons with his mother, also. “Did they succeed? In creating the super soldiers?”
“After a fashion.”
“I don’t understand. How did it turn into the Rot?”
“Because the virus was designed with a second purpose, which was to weaken the enemy. Imagine you’re one of these super soldiers and you’re wounded in battle. Maybe even killed. Any force strong enough to do that needs to be weakened, either to slow their offensive or cripple their defense. So, when exposed to air, the Alpha strain in the blood of the infected troops would mutate into a Beta strain, which any nearby enemies would take back to base with them to infect their comrades. Beta was airborne as well as blood-borne, which meant they could spread it easily. It wasn’t supposed to be permanent or fatal. Just a bad rash and a flu-like malaise for a while, nothing more. Enough for our guys to get in, wipe them out and leave, or set up shop and take over.”
“Oh.” Rhys hesitated, trying to make sense of it. The kitchen had gone virtually silent, the attention of the strange soldiers a little disconcerting. “But wouldn’t that end up making our soldiers sick, too?”
Darius shook his head, giving Xolani an irritated look. “Alpha gave them immunity.”
“But the Rot is deadly. It’s not just a rash and a flu.”
“Yeah.” Xolani looked grim, zipping her pack shut with a hard jerk. “The live trial went to shit once it was deployed in the field. No one really knows what happened. Best theories are that it was influenced by another virus, something local to the region of Russia where Alpha was first administered to a battalion of test subjects—the Juggernauts, or Jugs, as they called themselves. Or possibly it was affected by radiation from all the uranium that ended up floating loose around there. At any rate, it didn’t do what it was meant to do. It mutated. The rash became necrotic lesions, and what was intended to be an exhausting malaise was so severe and debilitating that the infected victims were left pretty much catatonic, trapped inside their bodies while their tissues decayed. But before all this became apparent, some of the wounded, Alpha-infected troops brought it home when a bureaucratic snafu sent them back to the States to recuperate instead of into quarantine, so Beta started spreading back here as well. That’s when reports of the Gamma mutation first appeared. There were probably revs in Russia, too, the military just managed to hush it up.”
Rhys wiped a hand over his mouth, the nausea that had been plaguing him since he regained consciousness redoubling. He’d known the Rot was bad but hearing it described that way, it sounded a lot worse.
“Well, it’s wonderful you folks came along when you did!” Jacob said brightly. “Who knows what would have happened to me—us—otherwise.”
“What’s going to happen to us? Are you going to quarantine me and Jacob like you do the other survivors you find?” Rhys asked. That would be just great, stuck with Jacob alone without even Cady there.
Darius sighed. “We ain’t taking you back to base and putting you with the other survivors.”
Something in his voice made Rhys’ head snap up. “Why not?”
“Because there’s very little chance—statistically speaking, zero, really—that you’re not infected.” Xolani’s eyes were gentle, full of pity. “I’m sorry. You took a faceful of blood there, kid, and even if you hadn’t, you were in too close of proximity to those revs.”
“Oh.” Rhys swallowed hard. Everyone’s voices became fainter as a low humming grew steadily louder in his ears. His headache kicked up another notch with the increased force of his pulse in his temples. “I’m still going to die. Okay.”
There was something wrong with his numbed acceptance of that fact, though he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what. After all, he’d known he would die from the moment Father Maurice ordered him to use himself as bait to distract the revs so the rest of them could get away.
Then he looked up in alarm, the humming in his ears became an unnerving drone, a cold sweat prickling his skin. He felt dizzy and his head throbbed mercilessly.
“You have to kill us. Both of us. Now. We’re endangering you.”
“What?” Jacob squawked in alarm and started protesting, but Rhys had no attention to spare for him. His eyes were fixed on Darius and Xolani, who were glaring at each other for no reason he could understand. His knees felt weak and he gripped the edge of a stainless steel table for support.
“Don’t worry.” Xolani never took her eyes off Darius. “You won’t infect us.”
The droning turned into a deafening klaxon and dark spots began to spread across his field of vision. Rhys’ whole body tingled like every part of him was falling asleep, except his head, which hurt so terribly he almost wished they would kill him.
“Oh. So, you’re Jugs.” He gave a short, hysterical giggle. “Guess that explains how you broke up the pews, then.”
The terra cotta tile floor leapt up to smack him in the face before he could decide what he thought about that.
Strain will be released in January 2014 from Riptide Books.