“I spent more time studying the virus itself than the actual zombies.” Daniels attempted to shy away from the question. “Anything I say about their behavior is sheer speculation.”
“But it’s your speculation that caused us to the leave the quarantine,” Boden said.
“No, a brutal zombie attack did that,” Daniels corrected him.
Boden’s expression hardened. “You’re arguing semantics. You’re the one who said that the zombies weren’t going to stop coming, that there were too many of us together making our scent too strong.”
“Yes, that is what I believe,” Daniels said. “But I can’t say that it’s an absolute fact. I can’t say much for certain about the zombies.”
“Well, what do you believe then?” I asked.
“They’re attracted to us, possibly by our pheromones, possibly by something else that we don’t even know about.” Daniels stared off as he spoke. “They’re getting smarter, and they communicate in some way more than sounds.”
Nolita gazed up at him, her face aglow from the fire, and she had an expression of pure unabashed reverence and love. She took his hand in hers and squeezed it, but Daniels didn’t seem to notice. He was too lost in thought.
“They do talk to each other,” Boden said. “We’ve heard their death groans and howls.”
Daniels shook his head “The death groans are just sounds. I think they make them unconsciously. The howls they do to alert the others when they’ve found food, but they have to have another way to communicate with such a vast group and to organize in the way that they are.”
“To say that they do something unconsciously suggests that they do things consciously, that they have a consciousness.” I rubbed my forehead, trying not to think about the implications.
“Maybe not individually, but they seem to have a collective consciousness,” Daniels explained. “A hive mind, like bees or ants.”
“How?” I asked. “How is that possible?”
“I don’t know.” Daniels shook his head again. “But I don’t fully understand how any of this is possible. Even in a particle form, the virus would communicate with itself.”
“What do you mean?” Boden leaned forward, listening intently to Daniels.
“I would isolate individual viruses and keep them in separate petri dishes,” Daniels said. “In one dish, I would expose them to human blood, and the virus would immediately rush to it and infect it.
“When I put the virus under the microscope, they would be moving towards the infected blood, going towards where the virus was already invading,” Daniels went on.
“How do you know the virus wasn’t just drawn to the blood?” I asked.
“They were, when they were close enough to it,” Daniels said. “But since it was only a drop of blood, it had to be in the same dish for the virus to notice. If I had uninfected blood near the virus but not in the same dish, when I looked at the virus under a microscope, I saw no change in its reaction. The virus simply moved aimlessly around the dish.”
“So you’re saying the virus can communicate with itself?” I asked. “And that form of communication can span a distance far greater than the scent of blood or any other clue we’re giving off?”
“That’s what I think, yes,” Daniels nodded.
“When a zombie finds us, everything infected with the virus knows about it,” Boden summarized. “And the larger the colony of zombies, the louder the virus gets, attracting more zombies, and so on.”
“Exactly,” Daniels said. “That’s why we needed to leave the quarantine. We’d attracted far too many zombies, and they’re strong and determined.”
“What happened when you exposed the virus to my blood?” I asked.
“Your blood?” Nolita looked confused and glanced between Daniels and me. “What’s special about your blood?”
“I’m immune to the virus,” I said, brushing her off. At this point, I didn’t care who knew about it. I just wanted to find out what Daniels knew. “So, what happened with my blood?”
“When I put your blood in a petri dish, the virus didn’t do anything,” Daniels said. “Normally, it rushed toward the blood. But with yours, it only interacted with your blood when it accidentally came in contact with it.”
“Then what happened?” I asked.
“It tried to attack your blood, the way I’d seen it do before,” Daniels said. “But when it engulfed your cells, the virus acted strangely. Instead of expanding and growing, latching onto things and mutating them, it moved erratically. Then it died.”
“It died?” I asked. “My blood actually kills the virus?”
“Well, viruses can’t die, not exactly,” Daniels said. “But it froze. It stopped moving or interacting with anything, so essentially, yes it died.”
“Holy shit,” Nolita said, looking a little stunned.
“Your blood like poison to them,” Daniels said, then exhaled deeply. “Unfortunately, I was never able to figure out why or how to harness that.”
“So you know that the zombies are strong and they can talk to each other,” Boden said. “But you have no idea how to stop them?”
“Essentially, yes,” Daniels nodded grimly.
All those months, after everything they’d done to me, and they hadn’t learned a single thing. I wanted to yell at him. I wanted to swear and punch him. But I didn’t. I just balled up my fists and closed my eyes.
And not just because it would wake everyone and freak them out if I just started randomly beating the shit out of Daniels.
Because despite everything, I knew that I would’ve done the same thing as him. Maybe I would’ve given the patient more pain meds, but I would’ve tested for everything, tried anything to learn how to stop this.
In the end, it was the lack of a cure that frustrated and pissed me off, not everything I’d endured for it.
“But you’re sure they don’t like the cold?” Boden asked.
“Like most other things, when exposed to the cold, the virus slowed down considerably,” Daniels said. “At the right temperature, it stopped moving completely. The cold doesn’t kill them, but it can freeze them.”
“And unlike us, they don’t know how to bundle up or create fire,” Boden said.