Last week, King showed us how the plague was spreading. We watched people getting sick, and we saw Joe Bob warn Hap and Vic about the CDC’s interest in the situation. Now we’re getting to a chapter that I find incredibly interesting. I tend to like stories about new diseases and how they spread like wildfire and kill a bunch of people, especially when the author shows us a lot of what the CDC does to contain it and try to find a cure.
I also really would have liked more information on exactly how this virus got developed and why. Unfortunately, King isn’t as interested in that as I am, so that will never get fully answered. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s plunge in.
We begin as Starkey looks through a bunch of papers. We are told that he’s been in the military for 36 years; he’s won awards, he’s advised presidents, and he’s seen a crisis or 5 in his lifetime. But right now, he is scared.
On impulse, he got up and went to the wall where the 5 blank tv monitors looked into the room. As he got up, his knee bumped the table, causing one of the sheets of flimsy to fall off the edge…someone standing over it and looking down would have seen this:
STRAIN CODED 848-AB
CAMPION, (W.) SALLY
ANTIGEN SHIFT AND MUTATION
HIGH RISK/EXCESS MORTALITY
REPEAT 99.4%. ATLANTA PLAGUE
UNDERSTANDS. TOP SECRET BLUE FOLDER
I really want to see the complete version of this memo. The most frustrating thing is that we don’t get to know much, even after everyone in the military dies and the facilities are abandoned. You’re telling me nobody got curious enough to start snooping?
Starkey turns on the TV screens, and we can see some of the damage.
It’s out there, straight ahead, Starkey thought. Project Blue.
I hope like hell that in this extended edition we get to find out what the fuck that is. Because in the edited version, we don’t.
The fright tried to wash over him again. He reached into his pocket and brought out a blue pill. What his daughter would call a “downer.”
I mean, shoot, if I were in this world, I’d probably use drugs too. Though I’m not sure why he’s using “downers” and I want to know which downers these are exactly and oh never mind.
He looked at the other blank monitors, and then punched up pictures on all of them.
One of the monitors shows the physics lab, where a centrifuge is still turning. Starkey thinks this is creepy and has been trying to turn it off, but “they” (whoever “they” are exactly) tell him they can’t, because it’s connected to the same circuit as the lights.
Starkey understood. Some more brass might come down from Washington and want to look at the dead Nobel Prize winner who was lying 400 feet under the desert less than a mile away. If we turn off the centrifuge, we turn off the professor.
Oh for God’s sake, just shut the fucking lights out already. It’s not like you couldn’t turn them on again if you had to, since apparently the fusebox is safely away from the deadly labs themselves.
Starkey pops another downer, and turns his attention to the other monitor, showing the cafeteria. A man is dead with his face in a bowl of soup.
Ok, so, Campion contracted the disease and didn’t die for several hours, but these people pretty much died immediately?
The rate at which this disease kills people is extremely flexible at the plot’s convenience. When King needs a creepy scene, it kills almost immediately. When King wants to show how the disease is spreading and get to know some minor characters, it kills slowly. I’m not sure if any viruses work that way in real life. Maybe they do, I don’t know.
Monitor 2 showed the Project Blue cafeteria. The accident had occurred almost perfectly between shifts, and the cafeteria had been only lightly populated.
He supposed it hadn’t mattered much to them, whether they had died in the cafeteria or in their bedrooms or their labs.
I mean, I guess? If it’s that quick it probably doesn’t matter, but in general I think I’d like to die in my bed where I’d be more comfortable.
At the same time, I like this line. Dead is dead, and it ultimately doesn’t matter to them where they died. They’re still dead.
Starkey then goes on describing more dead people, and it’s chilling.
A man and a woman in blue coveralls were crumpled at the foot of the candy machine. A man in a white coverall lay beside the jukebox. At the tables themselves were 9 men and 14 women, some of them slumped beside Hostess Twinkies, some with spilled cups of Coke and Sprite still clutched in their stiff hands. And at the second table, near the end, there was a man who had been identified as Frank D Bruce. His face was in a bowl of what appeared to be Campbell’s Chunky Sirloin Soup.
This is much more creepy than Left Behind managed to be. In fact, one of Fred Clark’s complaints about the book was that it was not creepy enough. I mean, I get that there’s no dead bodies to look at in Left Behind, but the raptured people left behind their clothes, jewelry, and other belongings. There should have still been plenty of material for haunting scenes like this one. At the very least, the authors of Left Behind could have described the clothes that the raptured people had vacated. In The Stand, Stephen King not only shows us what people were doing when they died, he even tells us what kind of soup the dead man was in the process of eating.
It seems like such a little thing, but these details lend an extra layer of detail to the story. It makes it seem so much more real. And incredibly creepy.
The first monitor showed only a digital clock. Until June 13, all the numbers on that clock had been green. Now they had turned bright red. They had stopped. June 13, 1990. 2:37am. 16 Seconds.
I like this part, too. Hauntingly creepy.
Just then, Starkey hears a noise behind him. I guess he’s not the only person left alive in this facility, because Creighton comes in. Creighton tells Starkey that all the men who were exposed to Campion at the gas station are all dead.
“Five for sure. There’s one–his name is Stuart Redman–who’s negative so far. But as far as we can tell, Campion himself was negative for over 50 hours.”
Wait, what? No.
Campion was showing signs of infection the minute he left the containment building. This paragraph was believable in the original edited version of the story that didn’t have the prologue. It is not believable here.
Of course, there was no way to tell if Campion was negative for 50 hours after exposure because you didn’t have him in custody. So how would you even know that? Did you get this information from talking to people who might have seen him at gas stations? Because Campion was showing symptoms the minute he got exposed.
If we didn’t have the prologue, we wouldn’t know that Campion showed symptoms pretty much immediately. Without the prologue, this fits. With it, it’s kind of confusing.
Starkey tells Creighton that letting Campion run off was “sloppy security.” Well NO SHIT.
“Arnette has been quarantined. We’ve isolated at least 16 cases of constantly shifting A-prime flu there so far. And those are just the overt ones.”
I am trying to find out more about “A prime” flus, but there doesn’t seem to be much. Most of the results I get are from sites discussing this book. But there does seem to be a flu called “Type A.”
Starkey asks if the media has found out. Apparently the media has been told it’s Anthrax.
Looking briefly at the symptoms for anthrax, that is a plausible cover story. The description of anthrax poisoning is very similar to the description of Campion’s body. It makes way more sense than trying to pass it off as frickin’ cholera.
And then we see that poor Joe Bob did not manage to keep his visit to Hap a secret. Which, um, yeah, no shit.
We picked him [Joseph Robert] 3 hours ago and he’s en route to Atlanta now. In the meantime he’s been patrolling half of East Texas. God knows how many people he’s been in contact with.”
Yeah, what the heck? Mr. I’m-gonna-go-warn-Hap-While-exposing-myself-in-the-process Joe Bob, did you never think that you might be a way of spreading the disease to others?
Starkey says, “oh shit,” and thinks about how 99.4% communicability also means 99.4% mortality, as the disease is 100% fatal to all who get it.
The human body couldn’t produce the antibodies necessary to stop a constantly shifting antigen virus. Every time the body did produce the right antibody, the virus simply shifted to a slightly new form. For the same reason, a vaccine was going to be almost impossible to create.
I just googled for “constantly shifting antigen virus” and got literally zero results. Odd. I thought I would at least get hits for this book, if nothing else.
So, for those of you wondering what the hell a “constantly shifting antigen virus” is, Google has no idea either.
I don’t have a problem with this. Stephen King is free to come up with his own disease that doesn’t work the way any actual disease would. I just wish he’d explain it more.
I know, I know, I’m not supposed to be looking into it….the disease is a plot device. It’s just a way to get lots of people dead. It is not the main point of the book. This is a little disappointing, but it doesn’t completely ruin the novel.
Creighton then tells Starkey that his son in law committed suicide.
“The Project Blue specs were on his desk. I guess he thought leaving them was all the suicide note anybody would need.”
Honestly, I kinda don’t blame him. At this point, one of 3 things is going to happen to him:
- He’s going to die of his own virus
- A bunch of angry people who have nothing to lose are going to realize he’s responsible and come kill him slowly and painfully
- He’s going to be one of the survivors and have to live with the guilt.
I’m not saying he should kill himself, mind you. Just that it is understandable.
Starkey thinks about how he’s going to explain all this to his daughter.
You see, somebody made a mistake with a box. somebody else forgot to pull a switch that would have sealed off the base. The lag was only 40 some seconds, but it was enough. The box is known in the trade as a “sniffer.”….. the boxes are put together in separate circuits by female technicians, and they do it that way so none of them really know what they’re doing.
Why female technicians? Is it because of the stereotype that females supposedly don’t know as much about things as men do? Are they designed separately so that the technicians don’t really know what they’re building, or are we supposed to read that the boxes are built by females so they don’t know what they’re really doing? Either way, I’m uncomfortable with the phrasing.
It seems like a lot of balls were dropped here, and the military is looking to blame someone else when really they should be blaming themselves for developing the virus in the first place. Why create something that you yourself aren’t immune to? It makes no sense to try and create something like this unless the goal is to try and take out the human race.
At any rate, Starkey clearly blames the women who put together the boxes. Not the people who designed the boxes and definitely not the man who designed the damn flu.
Anyway, Cindy, the last coincidence was that a man at the #4 security post, Campion, saw the numbers go red just in time to get out of the room before the doors mag-locked. Then he got his family and ran. He drove through the main gate just 4 minutes before the sirens started going off and we sealed the whole base.
And no one started looking for him until nearly an hour later because there are no monitors in the security posts.
Which seems like a serious oversight, though Starkey does point out that at some point you have to stop policing the police, or it just never ends. This doesn’t seem realistic to me, and indeed, in the miniseries it’s shown that there’s a security camera on Campion’s guard post that shows him running off.
Starkey thinks for a moment about how Campion was smart enough to use back roads.
Then someone had to make a command decision on whether or not to bring in the State Police, the FBI, or both of them and that fabled buck got passed hither, thither, and yon, and by the time someone decided the Shop ought to handle it, this happy asshole–this happy diseased asshole–had gotten to Texas…..
So basically, this could have been contained a lot quicker if you’d all had your shit together. Yes Campion still should not have left the base. He had to have at least suspected that he had been exposed.* But really, your desire for secrecy didn’t help, either.
Starkey thinks about the “chain of coincidences,” as he calls them. He thinks that none of this was his son in law’s fault, but his son in law was the head of the project, so son-in-law felt like it was.
And I’m going to argue that it was his fault. It is the fault of him and the idiot military who decided to develop a virus that they haven’t even been able to find a vaccine for. It’s their fault for experimenting with diseases as weapons in the first place. And it’s their fault for handling things so poorly that there was even an accident in the first place.
*Campion was, after all, in the same building as the disease.
In the miniseries, in my opinion, this is handled much better. In the miniseries, all Campion does is guard a gate. He was never in the same building as the disease, and so he honestly has no reason to suspect he has been exposed. I would guess that this was done to make us a bit more sympathetic to Campion.